Recent research that single people may have more fulfilling lives than their married counterparts shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise, but for many people it did. According to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in Denver, there are a lot of amazing benefits of being single that we don’t talk about. But one of the most interesting parts of the research was the fact that in the studies Bella DePaulo, PhD, a scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara looked at — over 800— single people were almost never studied for their own merit. Studies that look at or address single people do it almost invariably as a foil to their married counterparts — society’s star of the show. They’re trying to learn more about married people and single people are only used as a mechanism to do that.
Why does this happen? It’s partly because we still act like it’s the 1950s when everyone gets married and stayed married — so there was less reason to study single people. But that’s not the case anymore. “Now, more than half of all Americans 16 and older are not married, and among those who do marry, they get to it much later (the median age at which people first marry is now 29 for men and 27 for women),” Dr. Bella DePaulo, study author, tells Bustle. “The rate of divorce is much higher than it was back then, and Americans spend more years of their adult lives unmarried than married. When just about everyone got married, there was probably little motivation to study single life. Things are vastly different now, but social scientists haven’t caught up and neither has the rest of society.”
The other reason is a more straightforward bias. “Americans are convinced that getting married makes people happier, healthier, more connected to other people and better off in all sorts of other emotional and interpersonal ways. They believe that science shows those things,” DePaulo tells Bustle. “But as I explained in my talk, most of those claims are grossly exaggerated or just plain false! For example, studies that follow people over time find that when people get married, they end up no happier than they were when they were single. At best, they get a brief increase in happiness around the time of the wedding, but then they go back to being about as happy or as unhappy as they were when they were single.”
It’s a hugely unfair bias against people who want to be— and are happily— single. Especially women, as men at least seem to have retained some power in the sexy, aging bachelor vibe. It has to change. Here are seven ways single people can fight the stigma against them:
1. Highlight Single People Achievements
Do you ever hear about all the amazing things being single makes you more likely to do? Nope. “Tell us about the research showing the ways in which single people are doing particularly well,” DePaulo says. And even if that’s just you bragging about how amazing single friend is doing and all the stuff she’s accomplishing rather than just talking about her as “your single friend“, that’s a start.
2. Stop Framing Benefits As “Silver Linings” To Being Single
Too many articles present benefits or exciting aspects of being single as “silver linings,” DePaulo says, “Don’t go along with framing that says, well, maybe single life isn’t so terrible.” All of these articles make it sound like being single is inherently undesirable and worse off place that you at most can “make the best of”. That’s bullsh*t.
3. Don’t Be So Skeptical Of Single Friends Loving Being Single
DePaulo explains we have to “Allow the more positive expressions of people who love their single lives” and I couldn’t agree more. When I was happily single I would feel this sense mistrust or suspicious when I talked about enjoying being on my own. It’s uncomfortable, patronizing, and also kind of gross. Tone down the dogma and turn up the trust.
4. … Or Researchers
Seriously. “For example, a just-published article about my talk said that I was biased because I was single,” DePaulo tells Bustle. “I asked the writer if she ever said that a researcher studying marriage was biased because she was married, and she admitted she hadn’t and that what she had done was an example of singlism – I was grateful to her for admitting that.” That’s unacceptable, but also not at all surprising.
5. Calm Down With The “Matrimania”
OK, I get that you want to join in and celebrate your friends’ happiness when they get engaged or married. I do the same. But we really could pump the brakes a bit on acting like it’s the be all and end all. “On the flip side of things, do we really need another story about some outrageous or heart-warming wedding proposal?” DePaulo says. “Even prom proposals are getting the same fawning treatment now! Enough with the oowing and aaahhhing over all things weddings and couples and marriage. (I call that matrimania.)” Or at the very least, go just as crazy for all of your single friends’ milestones and achievements.
6. Ask Your Friends About Their Lives, Hobbies, And Passions Before Their Relationship Status
I remember going to an informal high school reunion drinks a few years ago with people who I hadn’t seen in five years or more. So many of them only talked about who they were seeing — and the first thing they asked me was if I was dating. I had been single for like six years at that point. Things were really awkward and I was made to feel less than for not having a partner. Nobody asked me about my job, passions, or even my immediate family. It’s not OK. Yes, if a relationship is a big part of your life that’s great and you should be able to talk about it with people, but it doesn’t need to be the first question people ask each other.
“I think people are very invested in the belief that if they just get married, then all of the other pieces of their life will fall into place,” DePaulo says. “They will be happier and healthier and live longer and be more connected to society. I think they believe they will be morally superior, too, as married people. These beliefs are more like ideology than just another cultural narrative. People want those things to be true, they are invested in them, and I suspect that includes social scientists along with just about everyone else.”
7. Don’t Act Like Singles Are Only Lonely Or Hedonists
We tend to have a really polarized view of single people as either lonely spinsters or party animals. But they are people and the fact that they are single is not the only defining feature. Instead, let’s look at them for what they really are.
“How about recognizing that many single people see time alone as a wonderful opportunity, as something they embrace as a place where they enjoy enhanced creativity, rejuvenation, relaxation, and spirituality, instead of obsessing about how those poor single people must be so lonely?” DePaulo says. “How about highlighting the contributions of single people, how they are the ones who are especially likely to there for others who need help, such as aging parents? Again, that’s an example of how the research directly counters our favorite stereotypes, such as the one about how single people lead lives of unfettered pleasure-seeking. They don’t. They are doing more than their share of providing the help that others need and holding us all together.”