Surely we all remember when Gloria Steinem quoted Irina Dunn and said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Well, some people weren’t listening.
Decades later, the pressure to marry is “greater than ever,” says Bella DePaolo, social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the book Singled Out.
The notion that a woman is better off if she finds a man remains prevalent, DePaulo told The Huffington Post. Even if you have a big career and lots of friends, the thinking goes, you can’t possibly be truly happy if you aren’t part of a couple; “that’s ridiculous,” DePaolo said. “The best friendships often last longer than marriages … you don’t have ridiculous expectations of your friends like you do a spouse.”
As such, here are some things you should probably quit saying to your never-married older friends.
1. “When are you going to get married already?”
Seriously? You’re still asking them this? Don’t be surprised if the short answer is “probably never.” Pew Research found that there were only seven first-time newlyweds ages 55 or older per 1,000 never-married adults ages 55 and older. Pew Research also projects that when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high number (25 percent) is likely to have never been married either.
Facebook follower Laura Altobelli says her best friend is 60 and never married. “She has learned to answer any and all questions with ‘Just got lucky, I guess,'” said Altobellli.
Never-married New Jersey veterinarian Margaret Yeaw, 67, turns it around like this: ”When people tell me they can’t believe how old I am (since I don’t look it,) my standard explanation is ‘no husband, no kids.'”
2. Speaking of kids … “Oh what a shame you never had any!”
News flash: Not everyone wants — or even likes — kids. And besides, plenty of unmarried people have them. In fact, single women can not only have kids without a husband, they can have them without even having sex, notes DePaulo.
But the kid issue runs deeper. As Elise Vazquez notes, “Even if you’re married, people feel sorry for you if you don’t have kids. They think there’s something wrong with you. I have eight nieces and nephews, all of whom I love, but we didn’t want to have children. People just don’t believe it.” For childless singles, it could go either way. Some may have wanted them at some point, others, never in a million years.
Stop thinking everyone should want what you want.
3. “Think of all the sex you are missing out on.”
So if you’re married, all you have to do is roll over and have amazing sex? Yeah, right, says DePaulo. That’s why divorce rates are so high and all.
The stereotypes are that single women are either promiscuous or don’t get any. “Both are a scam,” DePaulo says.
4. “You don’t want to grow old alone, now do you?”
No, but what’s marriage got to do with that? In every marriage, one person is going to fly solo in the end unless both partners are planning to do the “Sayonara” thing.
And since when did having children become a guarantee of company or caregiving in your final years?
Never marrieds may already have this covered anyway. They’ve built a strong support network of friends with whom they spend holidays and take vacations. They know how to spend — and appreciate — time by themselves.
5. “Aren’t you lonely?”
Right up there with the myth that getting married makes you happy is the one about how single people are lonely. There are actually lots of studies showing that single people are more connected to friends and neighbors and siblings and parents than married people are, notes DePaulo. A study that followed people as they went from single to married shows that they generally became more insular after they are married. People who get married become less attentive to friends and extended family members. An Oxford University study even put a number on it: Getting married will typically cost you two friends — people who get pushed out of your support network to accommodate the time and relationship demands of your new mate.
Surveys have shown that single people are more likely to visit, support, contact, and advise their parents and siblings than are married people. Singles are also more likely to encourage, socialize with, and help their friends and neighbors.
A study of people who were 65 and older did look separately at four marital status groups: currently married, divorced, widowed, and always-single. The widowed people were the loneliest, and the currently married, the least lonely. The divorced and always-single reported similar levels of loneliness. Within that, overall rates of loneliness for those who had always been single were low. Only 9 percent said that they were often or always lonely, and 46 percent said that they were never lonely.
Even Oprah gets it. Here she is telling an Indian audience why marriage isn’t for her.
6. “I can fix you up.”
This statement operates off the faulty but prevalent premise that all single people are desperate to be coupled. DePaolo points to a national sample of singles polled in 2005 and then again in 2010 that strongly suggests otherwise.
DePaolo looks no further than her mirror when she says this. “[There are] people, like me, who are single at heart. For us, being single is who we really and truly are. We just love our single lives. We love striking just the right balance between the time we spend with other people and the time we spend in sweet solitude. We love pursuing our passions. Single is who we are,” she said.
Many times, well-meaning friends offer to fix single friends up with people with whom they have little or nothing in common except that both are unmarried. One never-married reader who asked for anonymity said a friend recently tried to fix her up with a deeply religious man of another faith. “She told me that he was a recent widow and would likely remarry fast, so I needed to hurry up and meet him before he got snatched up. His existence was built around his church life and I’m Jewish,” she said.
7. “You are just too smart for all the men out there.”
If this comment is intended to make a woman feel good, it’s an epic fail. Is the speaker suggesting that women should dumb themselves down, brush up on their reality TV-watching skills and maybe lie about their success so that a potential mate won’t feel intimidated?
The “you are too smart” comment has a few first cousins: Never-marrieds don’t consider themselves “unlucky in love” or “commitment phobic.” They also are not “marking time” until they find “the one.”
8. “I didn’t invite you because you would have felt like the third wheel.”
Being excluded because you are single is one of the most painful things that happens to single people. When people say things like this, they are presuming to know what single people want instead of giving their unmarried guests the opportunity to decide for themselves. In a way, that’s treating single adults like children. And that’s something that happens to single people a lot, too, said DePaolo.
9. “I know you’re only just kidding yourself when you say you’re happy.”
Single people pretty much hate it when they say they’re happy and other people respond by saying that they are just telling themselves that. “It’s so insulting,” DePauolo says, “It treats single people like they don’t even get to be the authors and owners of their own feelings.”
The idea that getting coupled makes people happy, and that single people are all miserable and lonely, is one of the most pervasive myths around, notes DePaulo.
Did we miss anything? What other comments do single people hate to hear? Let us know in comments.
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