Marriage and relationships aren’t for everyone so why do we shame people into thinking otherwise?

For many singletons attending events and family functions such as weddings, there’s often a line of questioning that can be expected from enquiring relatives and friends:

“So… are you seeing anyone?”

“When are you getting married then?!”

“No girlfriend/boyfriend?”

If the answer is negative, it can frequently be met with pity as if to suggest that one’s life is clearly lacking without a partner. It’s followed up with somewhat patronising assurances of “you’ll find someone soon” or offers of “you know, I should introduce you to…” with that telling look of concern at your pathetic single life combined with enthusiasm at the prospect of being able to play matchmaker.

Such questioning can be innocent small talk, genuine (but misguided) concern or merely crass prying. But it remains unnecessary, intrusive and even presumptuous of one’s sexual orientation depending on how the question is framed. And for some, it can be a question that is anticipated with some trepidation; something no one should feel due to their relationship status. Yet it stems from the assumption and expectation within society that we should all want to be in a relationship and for many, aspire to get married.

Firstly, being in a relationship or being married is not an achievement under any circumstances whatsoever. It’s primarily a choice and a circumstance. There isn’t anything about being in a relationship that makes someone better than the next person or makes any aspect of a single person’s life inferior in contrast. And it’s ridiculous that such views still prevail. Not to mention, it’s a huge affront toward those that are single and an archaic attitude within contemporary society. If anything, those who choose to remain single, or not actively pursue a relationship, should be lauded for not conforming to society’s expectations.

Being single or not pursuing a long term relationship is an increasing and more than acceptable choice for some. It needn’t mean said individuals have anything wrong with them, cannot coexist in a relationship or cannot attract anyone. And in the case of heterosexual relationships, it doesn’t mean they’re homosexual either and vice versa. It can be a personal choice for a discrete or indefinite period of time, a reflection of someone’s preference for their own company, a decision to simply not actively pursue a relationship or anything else. As Mexican artist Idalia Candelas captured in a series of black and white illustrations of single women, single life needn’t mean sadness and forced loneliness either. There isn’t anything wrong with being single but society has suggested otherwise.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Consequently, society is ‘single shaming’; effectively applying stigma to those who choose to be single, or indeed those who just happen to be, because they don’t conform to tradition and more conservative behaviour. It’s an outdated, offensive and moronic perspective and no different to ‘slut shaming’. Instead, perceived promiscuity is merely replaced with a perception of what society deems a dystopian relationship status, rather than the Victorian values approach many still subscribe to.

Within many cultures and communities, marriage remains a measure of success for the couple and their families, hence the pantomime that so many weddings become. Being of sound character, accomplished (defined by one’s own gauge) and happy in one’s self can sometimes be deemed insignificant to being married or en route to it. Although with that line of thinking being so socially inherent, it can have a negative impact on one’s mental health for those that don’t conform to or desire such ideals. Nevertheless, a growing number of people are eschewing such notions or pursuits of a relationship and instead seeking happiness by their own definition.

Ironically, the impact of shaming people for being single merely creates forced and sham relationships where people feel obliged to pursue what society has deemed necessary for their completeness. Similarly, for those in a irreparable relationship, it’s fostered a fear of leaving a situation that just isn’t working. While separation or divorce is never an ideal scenario for a couple, it’s certainly more appropriate than remaining in a toxic or destructive relationship. Though many couples cling onto this rather than face the unwarranted stigma of being single or having been in a relationship that didn’t work.

It needs to be remembered that marriage is a social construct. It’s somewhat of an artifice that has traditionally benefited men in representing control and ‘ownership’ of women while providing mutual companionship, stability and avoiding the stigma of both parties being single themselves. However, despite it being important to realise that both men and women are subject to single shaming, women arguably have the raw deal when it comes to being subject to the stigma of being single.

Kate Bolick’s Spinster, an examination of the growing number of women choosing to remain unmarried, begins with ‘Whom to marry and when will it happen — these two questions define every woman’s existence, regardless of where she was raised or what religion she does or doesn’t practice’. And for many women, even in the twenty-first century and amidst successive generations of progression for women’s rights, this is sadly true. It may be subconscious for some women but it’s nonetheless a byproduct of the social construct that is marriage that begins even before marriageable age.

Many teenage girls clamour for boyfriends so as not to be left out from their friends. And those that don’t have boyfriends are often left feeling inadequate unless they have a strong enough indifference to the pursuit of relationships amongst their peers. Fast forward to their 20s and this inclination is intensified with many women worryingly feeling their lives are incomplete without a partner. Furthermore, by then, men too have joined in the obsession in seeking ‘completeness’ as if being single cannot fulfil that by society’s expectations.

Marriage and relationships are not indicators of being whole and society needs to refute the ludicrous and deep-rooted myth that one isn’t complete without it. While they can provide companionship, and for some, desirable units within which to start a family, marriage and relationships (and indeed said families) just aren’t for everyone and there isn’t anything wrong with that. Therefore we need to stop shaming single people for thinking just that.

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