Standing up for singles in a world full of couples

Latifah says that even though some people look at singles as a sad, broken and maladjusted bunch, this couldn't be further from the truth for her. Photo: Freepik

Singles are often misunderstood, stereotyped and even discriminated against.

Social scientist and author of Single At Heart and Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, And How to Stop It, Dr Bella DePaulo, says that individuals who are single face various microaggressions in their daily lives.

These range from everyday slights (“getting invited by couples to lunch but not dinner, outings on weekdays but not weekends, kids’ birthday parties but not movies with grown-ups”) to “more serious instances of the stereotyping, stigmatising, marginalising", and discrimination, she says.

She adds that there is also a lot of scaremongering in the media about being single or living alone.

DePaulo uses the word “singlism” to refer to the “widespread stereotyping and discrimination against people who are single” and reveals where and how it “lurks in the workplace, marketplace, media, advertising, law, politics, society, educational institutions, and people’s everyday lives”.

She and her associates have also coined a second word – “matrimania” – which refers to the “over celebration and hype-up of marriages, relationships and weddings, which negatively impacts those who don’t participate in coupled life”.

DePaulo argues however that “singles flourish because they are single and not in spite of being single”.

According to her, singleness is a “joyful, meaningful, fulfilling, psychologically rich, and authentic life”.

For public relations manager Latifah L, even though some people look at singles as a sad, broken and maladjusted bunch, this couldn’t be further from the truth for her.

“Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely,” she says. “You can feel lonely even if there are people around you,” adds the 30-plus year old.

“While I’ve nothing against married people – in fact, I have friends who are happily married – I’ve also seen people who got married because they thought it was ‘the right thing to do’ by a certain age, and now, they’re the saddest, most depressed people ever!” she says.

My time counts

As a single, Latifah says that she is able to prioritise her own needs and wants.

“It frees me to do the things that I want. There’s no partner to hinder me from doing what I want or going where I want – travelling, the movies/TV shows I watch, the books I read, and the friends and family I spend time with,” she says.

“There’s also more flexibility in decision-making because it’s just my own needs to consider. And, I don’t have to share my finances with anyone else,” she adds.

“There is ‘less drama’ in my life than what I’ve observed with some friends and family members who are attached,” says Latifah.

But while there are many advantages, singles unfortunately do encounter many challenges too, she says.

“As a single, we face discrimination in many areas. We’re often expected to ‘sacrifice’ more for the sake of our married family members or relatives.”

We’re often expected to babysit for our married friends on special occasions, it’s as if people think we don’t have a social life. We’re also expected to be the main caregiver for aged or incapacitated family members and relatives because we’re deemed as having ‘fewer responsibilites’ than our married siblings, she laments.

According to DePaulo, singlism is the 'widespread stereotyping and discrimination against people who are single'. Photo: FreepikAccording to DePaulo, singlism is the 'widespread stereotyping and discrimination against people who are single'. Photo: Freepik

Project manager Neil L, 36, believes that he was transferred by his company to Kemaman, Terrenganu mainly because he was “single and without any family commitments”.

While the move was labeled as a “promotion” (with a very minor salary adjustment), Neil was suspicious, especially since there were two other seniors at his company who were technically more qualified and had more years of experience than him. But, one of them was newly-married, and the other, married and had young children.

“At the back of my mind, I felt I was singled out for the transfer instead of my two married peers because it would be easier and ‘more practical’ to relocate a single than a whole family,” he says.

“I wasn’t familiar with the concept of ‘singlism’ nor did I know that such a thing even existed at that time,” he adds.

In Neil’s case, he decided to take things in their stride and move to Kemaman.

“I looked at it as an opportunity to learn and made the move. But when I got there, I realised that discrimination against singles is a very real thing.”

“To prepare, I had gone a few months earlier to look for accommodation. But when most agents and landlords met me, they were hesitant to rent to me. I was told: ‘Sorry, the owner prefers to rent to married couples or families’, ‘Unfortunately, we don’t rent to single guys’,” he reveals.

When Neil asked why, he was given reasons like they believed a family – having double income – would be “less likely to default on rental payments”, would be “more responsible and take good care of the place”, as opposed to a single male who might “sublet to others”, or have “wild parties” and “trash the premises”.

After he finally managed to find an apartment to rent and had settled down, Neil thought that all was well.

However, he soon started getting requests from his company headquarters to take on projects during weekends and public holidays. He was told it’s part of the “company expansion plan”. And at his managerial level, he was not entitled to overtime pay.

“Initially, I thought ‘I’m far away from home and alone, I’ve nothing better to do during weekends or public holidays, so ‘why not?’,” he says.

But Neil shares that soon, he became burnt out because he was working “all the time” with “hardly any time to rest”.

“I was physically and mentally exhausted,” he reveals.

When the family probes

'When are you going to get married, ah girl?' Singles often face a barrage of awkward questions from relatives during family gatherings. Photo: Freepik'When are you going to get married, ah girl?' Singles often face a barrage of awkward questions from relatives during family gatherings. Photo: Freepik

Family gatherings can often be a bane for singles.

“Hari Raya is a difficult period for me as it’s a time for big family reunions. Predictably, uncles, aunties and cousins will interrogate me about my marital status: ‘When are you getting married?’, ‘Don’t you want kids?’, etc. When I try to laugh it off and tell them that I don’t want to get married, they will ask: ‘But who will look after you?’.

“It’s quite ridiculous, as if personal safety and longevity are dependent on marital status. Then what about those who are in unhappy marriages where they are abused?” asks Latifah.

There is still widespread prejudice against people who choose to be single and refuse to conform to “outdated” societal expectations, says Latifah.

“When you see governments – not just in Malaysia but in other countries too – giving special benefits to those who are married or having babies, it looks like they endorse the concept of traditional marriage and family, and that everyone should do it. But they often don’t consider the singles,” she says.

Neil shares that he also, too often, has to fend off the “concern” of family members. Being single at 36, he says, seems to be a problem to those around him.

“My parents constantly inquire about my status, whether I have a girlfriend, when I’m going to get married and settle down, when I’m going to give them grandchildren,” he says.

“My nosy relatives and other ‘family friends’ have even made derogatory comments about my single status: ‘Aiyo, if he’s still single at his age – almost 40 – there must be something wrong with him’, ‘Is it so difficult to find a girl to get married with meh?’, ‘Why still so immature?” he reveals.

“It came to the point where I would avoid family gatherings,” he says.

Neil reveals that he almost had a mental breakdown because of the burn-out and lack of support. He is currently seeing a mental health counsellor to work out his issues, and is trying to lead a more balanced life.

The role of media

Singles flourish because they are single and not in spite of being single, says DePaulo. Photo: 123rf.comSingles flourish because they are single and not in spite of being single, says DePaulo. Photo: 123rf.comAccording to Latifah, the media plays a role in upholding the notion of singleness being negative.

“There are countless films, TV shows, books, and music that depict sad and lonely singles – especially women because men don’t seem to get it as bad – who only find happiness when they enter relationships and have children.

“Some examples include Bridget Jones’s Diary and the entire Hallmark film catalogue. It does get disheartening when faced with all the marriage and relationship propaganda. Sometimes, I can’t help but feel socially excluded,” she adds.

“These days, I tend to just ignore it because, to me, being single is better than getting married and starting a family which would drain my finances and strip me of my individuality, at this juncture,” she concludes.

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