I’ll never forget the sheer disgust on a waiter’s face when I dared to ask him for a table for one during a busy lunch service. If I’d had the presence of mind, I’d have walked away and told him to keep his precious seating chart. I didn’t, and he seemingly sat me by the till where all the couples and families were paying as punishment. Much to his surprise, my book and I didn’t see much of them.
As a single 20-something female, I’m often dismayed by how people take my assertions that I am independent and have the audacity to enjoy spending time alone and misconstrue it as denial.
Cosmopolitan found that 52% of people have experienced single shaming since the start of the pandemic. Yet, in 2019, behavioural scientist Paul Dolan found that women are ‘happier without children or a spouse’ – so why does this stigma still exist?
I’ll break down some common phrases that have the potential to trigger self-doubt and anxiety that you may not even be aware of.
The game is rigged
The world is rigged towards couples, especially married ones. In the US, the Defense of Marriage Act benefits married couples with a staggering 1,138 different statutory provisions that single folks are not afforded.
Worldwide, couples take advantage of reduced tax, holiday rates, travel fares, gym memberships, fostering and adoption, dual-income to pay the rent, and cinema trips – the list goes on.
With sales tactics and phrases like “signs you’ve found your other half” or worse “your better half” tossed around by the media and friends, navigating the world of singledom without being shamed can be tough.
“How are you still single?”
Romantic relationships don’t define you: your compassion, drive, creativity, and skills are what make up your character. Your best friends see these traits and often say this as a compliment. They may not realise that it implies that everyone must have a partner. Don’t let it undermine your self-assurance.
Learning to make the most of your time alone in an un-lonely way is an underappreciated skill. A head’s up for the perennially partnered: sometimes the best, most empowering trips are the ones where all you have to rely on are your wits, instincts and timelines.
Just because we’re not honeymooning doesn’t mean that we’re not adventuring on holidays by ourselves, with our besties, cousins, or cool aunties.
“You shouldn’t be so picky.”
There’s a significant disparity in the way friends and family speak to those who have recently left a relationship and those who are reluctant to commit to one that might not be right.
It’s a sharp turn from “don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea” to “you shouldn’t be so picky – guys like that don’t exist”.
Expecting respect, accountability, and kindness is not being ‘unrealistic’ – they’re fundamentals of a good relationship of any kind. Having high standards reflects your self-worth, and you should be proud of that, not shamed into settling.
“It’s not natural!”
Since my early teens, I’ve been handed this phrase whilst attaining good grades, learning about myself, and pursuing passions such as dance and writing. My life is whole and active. I may want to experience romantic love, but I do not need it to fill any void. Yet, my singleness is ‘unnatural’ to some.
Your capacity to love should not be reduced to your ability to maintain a romantic relationship. It’s insulting. Paternal, fraternal, and platonic loves don’t seem to register to many people as just as vital to an emotional human experience.
It’s wholly dismissive of people in the LGBTQ+ community, such as those who identify as asexual or aromantic.
“When are you going to have kids?”
Asking any family-related questions should be a no-go: the choice (or, often, lack thereof) of having or not having children is not frivolously made.
Single women are often asked this question secondary to “when will you settle down?” (true to heteronormative fashion and perpetuating that the only way to raise a child is as a pair).
In 2020, five UK hospital trusts and six clinical commissioning groups had banned single women from accessing IVF because single mothers “place a greater burden on society in general”. Let’s not forget Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s criticism of single parents responsible for raising “ignorant, aggressive, and illegitimate” children, stoking the fires that further strip women of their autonomy.
Society has created a narrative that the only way to be happy is to be romantically loved–up –ludicrous. I want to be as cherished by a partner as I am by my best friends, so I’m not about to shame myself into settling for less in an attempt to play a part. I’ll dine with a great book, and a waiter’s eye rolls over a self-absorbed, open-mouthed chewer any time.
Written by Sophie Crabtree, follow her on Twitter @CrabSophie