Hi there and welcome to Relationship Stigmas 101. My name is Charlotte and I will be taking you through the main relationship stigmas surrounding single people, married people and divorced people. Just before I get started, stigmatisation refers to the way society categorizes and devalues some of its members because of behavioral or physical characteristics.
I have never been in a relationship before, never even been close to one and for me that’s totally fine. I mean, sure, I have days where I think it would be nice to have someone to trust, and more importantly, to eat with…but, it really just depends on my mood. Most of my friends are in relationships and I’ve lost count of how many times they’ve asked me “Why are you still single?” or the number of times they’ve tried setting me up with their friend.
The good news is (by good, I mean sad), I’m not alone! According to a 2015 Gallup poll, the percentage of young adults who report being single and not living with someone has increased dramatically.
Why is this the case though? and is it a bad thing?
An article published in Psychology Today, discusses multiple professional views and statistics. I personally found the view of Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist and author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized and Ignored and Still Manage to Live Happily Ever After to be quite interesting. DePaulo says that:
“Some people are simply meant to be single—they are “single at heart” and live happier more fulfilling lives if they stay single than they would if they bought into society’s mandate to couple up.”
I can neither agree or disagree with DePaulo’s statement as I have never been in a relationship, so don’t have the life experience to say that “I’m meant to be single”. In my nearly 20 years of being single, the one thing I can say for sure is that guys reactions to finding out I’ve never been in a relationship range from pity and disappointment to confusion and apathy.
This is just my personal experience with males so either I’m very unlucky or there aren’t many decent men left in the world. In saying that, I can’t be the only one experiencing these interactions and feeling the way that I do about relationships as recent statistics are showing that there are more people living single than ever before.
A study released earlier this year in the Women’s Journal of Health found that the 79, 094 women involved became healthier after separating from their partners. Signs of improved health included a decrease in BMI, waist size and diastolic blood pressure, as well as healthier eating and more physical activity.
Which brings me to the next stop on our relationship stigma tour; marriage. There aren’t exactly stigmas surrounding marriage as it is a more socially acceptable stage in life but there are still some negative connotations surrounding married couples. The ones that I’ve heard of are:
- That married people place themselves higher than single people because of their married status
- In most married couples, one partner, sometimes both, will participate in infidelity
Unfortunately, I didn’t find any academic research regarding married people placing themselves higher than single people so movie depictions will do.
A book written in 2012 by Jeanine Basinger, I Do and I Don’t: A history of Marriage in the Movies discussed how in the movie industry, even with its high standards, has difficulty depicting a happy marriage in a dramatically compelling way. Basinger’s exhaustive study reveals the variety of strategies used to depict married couples.
The best example can think of is Bridget Jones Diary, one scene in particular is perfect in demonstrating Hollywood’s depiction of married couples’ interactions with a single person.
In regards to my claim on infidelity in marriage, I did manage to find some recent statistics. According to the Associated Press and the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 22% of men say that they’ve cheated on their significant other at least once during their marriage, and 14% of wives admit to straying. Infidelity is subjective as individuals perceive it differently. According to a 2014 survey by Victoria Milan, there are some clear distinctions between how men and women view cheating.
The survey conducted on 5,000 anonymous website members found that 72% of men feel that sexual affairs were worse than emotional affairs whereas 69% of women said emotional affairs were worse than sexual affairs.
Disclaimer: the results are based on heterosexual couples, so there’s obviously a big subset of the population that’s not included in those statistics.
The way my generation is heading, we may not even have to worry about dealing with the negative assumptions that come with being in a married couple. A study conducted by Bentley University found that the median age for a first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men; up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. This study is backed up by research released in 2014 by the Pew Research Centre that found that 25% of millennials are likely to never marry.
The fact is that marriages in real life are hard and don’t always end happily ever after, but if you think the assumptions surrounding married people are harsh, try being a divorcee. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it’s normal for us to equate divorce with failure. As a society, we don’t like quitters. Culturally, we believe that divorce reflects weakness and selfishness, but this shouldn’t be the case.
When it comes to divorce, both men and women face social stigmas. According to the Cultural Sociology of Divorce: An Encyclopedia edited by Robert E. Emery, many women find themselves blamed for the end of the marriage. For divorced women, the stigmas around being single and needing to be in a relationship are used against them. Whereas for men, there is a recurring stereotype that they tend to blame their ex-spouses for the end of their marriage.
It can be very hard for the couple in an unhappy marriage to discuss divorce between themselves and then eventually tell their family and friends. My parents discussed it multiple times with my little sister and I before ultimately deciding that they needed to separate in order to be happy again. It was heartbreaking as a kid knowing that your parents were unhappy and out of love but in the end everyone deserves to be happy and for my parents, the answer was divorce.
According to a study by Slater and Gordon UK, 1 in 10 individuals said that they would continue to work on their marriage because being in an unhappy marriage was preferable to being divorced. Half of the participants in the study said that they feel a sense of shame and failure, with women being twice as likely to feel shame after divorce. Given the social perception that men don’t express their emotions and keep everything to themselves, it’s worth noting that amongst the 1000 divorced individuals questioned for the study, the average time it took for people to feel emotionally ‘back on track’ was nearly four years.
What I’m trying to get through to you all is that there are always positives and negatives to everything. I am a big believer in fate and that things happen for a reason. If you’re still single, don’t worry about it. Someone will come along when they’re meant to…otherwise, you can always be a badass cat/dog lady or a bachelor. If marriage is on the cards for you, don’t let other people’s perceptions of your marriage affect it. Lastly, if you end up divorced, don’t think any less of yourself for it. We are all human beings and deserve happiness in whatever relationship status we’re in and if you’re not just remember there’s always food 🙂