Stop telling single people why they are not married. If you are so sure that becoming unsingle is the ultimate and tyrannically powerful life goal of most single people, you probably believe a lot of other things about singles that just aren't true. It's time for some debunking.
Here are the top 10 myths about people who are single. For some of them, I'll provide just a brief version, with a link to the more detailed dethroning.
Myth #1 about single people is that if you are single, you are interested in just one thing: getting coupled. Single people, according to the myth, are home crying in their beer, distraught that they don't have a sweetie. You can think that, as long as you never ask singles what they want. But those pesky social scientists are always asking questions. When they asked a national sample of single people, in 2005 and again in 2010, whether they were looking to get married, fewer than half said yes! Younger people are more likely to say they are looking, but they get over it. The unmarried people who are least likely to say that they want to get married are the ones who already tried it: those who are divorced or widowed. In later life, men are always more eager to get remarried than women are, but even for them, if they have good support for friends, then they are no more interested in signing on again than are women. Now let me tell you about a category of single people you may not have heard about: people, like me, who are single at heart. For the single at heart, being single is who we really and truly are. We are not people who are "unlucky in love" or afraid of getting rejected or any of those other dopey stereotypes. We are not "marking time" until we find "the one." We just love our single lives. We love striking just the right balance between the time we spend with other people and the time we spend in sweet solitude. We love pursuing our passions. Single is who we are.
Myth #2 is that there is a dark aura around people who are single. The myth insists that if you are single, you are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic. Maybe you have heard that there are scientific studies showing that if you get married, you will be happier and better off in all sorts of ways than if you stay single. Well, I'm a social scientist, and I read those articles in the professional journals. Not what the media claims about the findings; I read the actual reports. I've posted my conclusion here.
Myth #3 is that if you get married, you will be healthier and you will live longer. Not so! Find out what the research really shows here.
Myth #4 about single people is that if you are single, everything is always about you. According to the myth, if you are single, you are like a child. You are self-centered and immature, and your time isn't worth anything because you have nothing to do but play. Meanwhile, the myth says, married people are out there helping other people, supporting their parents, and maintaining communities. They, supposedly, are the selfless ones. Except that they are not. Read about two national surveys that debunked that myth here.
Myth #5 is really a set of myths that include all the scare stories that are told about single women. Listen up, all you single women! According to the myths, your work won't love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don't get any, or, if you do, you're promiscuous. These myths are ways of undermining anything that single women might love about their lives. Are you a single woman who has a great job that you are passionate about? Better be careful: that job won't love you back! And besides, while you are busying yourself with your work that you only think is making you happy, your eggs are drying up. (There's still another myth in there, that if you are a woman, you are yearning to have kids. How could anything, other than landing a mate, matter more?) Notice also the part about sex. One presumption is that if you are single, then you are probably promiscuous. But if it seems obvious that you are not the promiscuous type, then there's still another myth ready to take you down: you poor thing, you are not getting any. Myths about single people always get you coming and going; no matter how you lead your life, there's a myth out there that can be used to demean you.
Myth #6 is also a set of myths, this time including all the scare tactics told about single men. So listen up, all you single men! The myth-makers know who you are. You are horny, slovenly and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay. (And of course, they think that the gay part is a bad thing.) Notice how this parallels the catch-22 that was applied to single women. (Read more here.)
Myth #7 is aimed at single parents. It is very simple. The myth says: Listen up, single parents, your kids are doomed! I know you've heard this one before. Try to raise children as a single parent, the myth insists, and those kids will end up as drug-addled juvenile delinquents having kids while they are still kids themselves. The myth-makers seem to think that kids raised by married parents have two loving parents, who have perfectly harmonious relationships with each other and with each of their kids, and who both lavish untold amounts of time and resources on those kids in a home free of conflict. But "Leave It to Beaver" was a TV show; it wasn't real! I'm a social scientist. I've read the journal articles that supposedly show that the kids of single parents are doomed. Some of the studies show no differences at all between the kids raised by single parents and those raised by married parents. Sometimes there is a difference, but it is nothing like what you have been led to believe. (Read more here.)
Myth #8 about single people is the pity myth: Aw, you poor, single people, too bad you are incomplete; you don't have anyone, and you don't have a life. What is so amazing about this myth is that people try to pin it on some of the most accomplished and beloved single people. (Read more here.)
Myth #9 is going to sound very familiar. It is a favorite myth for scaring single people into getting coupled. It says that if you are single, you will grow old alone, and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks. You know what kills me about this? How does getting married guarantee that you won't die alone? Unless you and your spouse die at the exact same time, then either your spouse dies first and you are left "alone," or you die first, in which case, well, you're dead! But what about the part about growing old alone? That's interesting, too, because there is a lot of research on that. Studies show that it is hard to find a group of people any less likely to be lonely in later life than women who have always been single. I think it is because they don't pick out one person to be "the one" and then stick everyone else on the back burner. They attend to the friends and family and other important people in their lives, and that pays off.
Myth #10 is the family values myth. It says: Let's give all the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values. Who gets the breaks on car insurance, health insurance, vacation packages and gym memberships? Married couples do! The singles who pay full price are subsidizing them. If you have followed the same-sex marriage debate, you probably already know that there are 1,138 provisions in federal laws in which marital status is the basis of benefits, rights, and privileges. Some of these are big things. If you are married and you die, your Social Security benefits go to your spouse. If you are single and you die, your benefits go back into the system. And if someone who really cares about you dies, they can't give their Social Security benefits to you, a single person, even though you may have been their best friend for life. That's one of the reasons the GLBTcommunity wants in on official marriage. But guess what? Every single person, whether gay or straight or anything else, is left out of this treasure trove of perks and privileges. Making marriage the basis for privilege is what a lot of people call family values. That's a myth. I call it discrimination.
For even more about myth-demolishing research, check out "Singled Out," "Single with Attitude" and this post.