Eight days into the project and, I must confess, I’m feeling a lot more angst than I anticipated after such a short period of time. There’s not even been a short period where felt relief for the action I’ve taken. Instead, inside, I just feel lonely and want to continue sizing people up as potential dating material.
At the same time, I’ve discovered a sociologist by the name of Bella DePaulo, who’s been single for her entire six decades of life (by choice!) and has devoted much of her work to studying prejudice against single people. She’s decided to dub this form of oppression “singlism.” Through her work, she’s chronicled ways in which singles face discrimination, from snide remarks by family and friends to disparities in income taxes and health benefits and even discrimination in housing, DePaulo’s work is an important step in exposing the pervasive believe that being single is inferior to being coupled.
I hope to examine singlism in depth in some future posts, especially through a queer lens. For now, I want to focus on a concept found in a 2011 book DePaulo edited, Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It. See, like other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and transphobia, DePaulo believes singlism can be internalized when the single person comes to believe the singlistic prejudices they hear about themselves. This internalized singlism strengthens the prejudice and leaves it unchecked, contributing to a feeling that the world is right: we should not be single and there is something wrong with us if we are.
Think about old Disney movies: how many of them were about a strong, single person living their life and fulfilled? This is especially true of those that have female protagonists, who always need to be rescued by their Prince Charming and living happily ever after. Dating sites advertise they’ll alleviate me of the curse of singlehood. I’ve seen others treated like immoral aliens in both the straight and the queer world because they dare to declare they have no interest in a relationship. I’m bombarded constantly with the message that I need one other person in my life, and I’m just not normal if I don’t find that person. It can feel like a demoralizing, constantly repeating message that I just can’t get around, so I think it’s only natural that my brain, after being raised in such a society, believes that the way forward is to find someone else to fulfill me.
The funny thing about internalized singlism is we’re never happy being single, even if we don’t particularly want the trappings that come with being in a relationship. So, we make ourselves miserable trying to live up to a standard that won’t make us any happier than we started. In fact, one interesting thing that DePaulo says is that, after a few months, those who get into a relationship are unlikely to be any happier than they were when they were when they were single.
So, as I’m taking this information to heart, I realize how much cognitive dissonance I have around the subject of relationships. When it comes down to it, I like my space and I prefer to live alone. The times in my life when I’ve had roommates have often been some of the most miserable. Yet, there’s a feeling within me that I’m incomplete, and the only solution is to date someone.
Like all forms of internalized oppression, I think one of the first steps towards overcoming it is realizing it’s there. Even if being in a relationship is what I truly want out of life, there’s no reason to believe I’m less than because I’m living as a single person in a world that privileges coupling above all else. What is truly wrong with a single life if one is predisposed to it?
When I think back to all the media I’ve been exposed to in my life that presented coupling as the norm, it’s no wonder I have so much baggage. Reflecting on it, I started dating in middle school not because I particularly wanted to, but because it was something I felt like I was supposed to do. Relationships became a way for me to try to feel normal, and, as I now can see, they’ve failed miserably at this goal. If anything, the pursuit of a relationship has left me feeling more hollow and empty than I did before, and I’m left to conclude that something has gone terribly wrong.
So one of my early tasks in this project seems to be to root out these instances of internalized singlism and, in their aftermath, find out if a relationship is what I truly desire, or if I’ve really been searching for the elusive sense of being normal. DePaulo’s book offers very little guidance in this area other than to say it’s been done. She is a sociologist, after all, not a self-help guru, so I don’t know that it’s reasonable to expect her to have all the answers for me. There’s work for me to do as well.
After only a short time of doing this work, though, I’m finding myself feeling lighter on the inside. I’m realizing that the masks I wear didn’t all fall off when I came out as a queer person. To be queer is to see what one us underneath once the masks fall off. I want to keep letting these assumptions about my life drop away and see what, if anything, is still there in the aftermath. I want to life the life that will leave me fulfilled, not the one that society expects of me.