‘Single shaming’: Why do people judge the un-partnered?


Even though the number of single people is growing, people continue to tell them they’ll find a partner soon. What’s the deal with all the pity?

Inquiring as to why someone is’still’ single and assuring them that they’ll ‘find their person soon’ may appear to be thoughtful, even sensitive, ways of checking in on single friends. However, these simple phrases constitute’single shaming,’ and they are more likely to be harmful than beneficial.


Single shaming stems from negative biases about people who aren’t partnered: they must be sad and lonely because they don’t have a partner; they must be actively looking for one but haven’t found a match yet; and there must be something wrong with them that is causing them to be alone. All of these stereotypes are motivated by pressures to conform to long-held societal standards: find a partner, share a home, have 2.4 children and a dog. and a person has gathered all of the ingredients for a happy life.

While people have been re-evaluating these social norms for decades, new research indicates that single shaming is still prevalent. According to data from a Match survey obtained by BBC Worklife, 52% of 1,000 single UK adults reported experiencing single shaming “since the start of the pandemic,” most likely as a result of the increased focus on who people could rely on during lockdowns. Even though 59% said they were “satisfied with their relationship status,” they were still subjected to intrusive questions.

In many countries, the persistence of these biases against singletons is not only demeaning, but also out of date. “Singlehood was once thought to be a transitional period, when people marked time until they married or remarried,” says Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. However, she claims that Americans now spend more years of their adult lives single than married. According to US census data from 1970, 40% of US households consisted of married couples and their children, while 17% lived alone as singles. By 2012, 27% of US households were made up of singles, with only 20% made up of parents and children.

Despite these shifting statistics, It’s clear from anecdotal evidence and research that people who aren’t in romantic relationships continue to face criticism from their coupled-up friends and family – and from themselves. Even as singles appear to embrace and choose their relationship status, the pressure to find dates isn’t going away. However, some progress may be on the way, as the growing representation of single people in the population may begin to outweigh the stigmatisation of singlehood.

The harms of single shaming


According to New York City-based psychotherapist Allison Abrams, single shaming is “negatively judging somebody for not being partnered up and not conforming to society’s expectations… of being married at a certain age”.

As a result, non-partnered people are treated “differently,” she claims. “When you’re single, people assume you’re bored and alone,” says Ipek Kucuk, a dating expert with the dating app Happn based in Paris.

In the study shared by Match, researchers asked about the common “shaming phrases” single people have heard from others, and 35% said they were told “you’ll find someone soon”. Twenty-nine percent heard “you must be so lonely,” and 38% felt sorry for their relationship status. According to DePaulo, myths about singletons include the belief that married couples have a special mastery of life that single people do not, that single people’s lives are “tragic,” and that being single implies being selfish. (In fact, some research suggests that these are myths, including a 2018 German study that found stereotypes about unhappy singles and happy couples to be incorrect.)

Stereotypes about singles are not only incorrect; they can also be harmful. According to psychotherapist Abrams, internalised shame from societal attitudes toward singles can have a negative impact on self-image. Even if a single person’s friends and family aren’t shaming them for their situation, failing to meet major life milestones like marriage and having children can be taxing, especially for someone who is actively looking for a partner, because it’s what society expects of them.

“I’ve seen that play a role in depression many times,” says Abrams. A normalised’script’ for a successful life can even force those who are content with their single status to reconsider, and seek out something they are fairly certain they don’t want, just to fit in with cultural norms.

52% of 1,000 single UK adults reported experiencing single shaming “since the start of the pandemic”


And single shaming comes from a variety of sources other than nosy parents and friends. Governments play a role by providing various benefits to legally married people that single people cannot access. Some believe that this sends a message about the “right way” to live life, providing positive reinforcement for partnered people while making it difficult for singles not to internalise the idea that they’re getting adulthood wrong.

In the United States, for example, an employee can add their spouse to their health care plan; however, single people cannot do the same for important people such as siblings or close friends, according to DePaulo. Couples and families also receive benefits that singles do not. ranging from vacation discounts to workplaces granting special allowances to those with nuclear families.

Spinster versus bachelor 


Single shaming, like any cultural stigma, is not distributed evenly. Women bear the brunt of it, and certain cultures place a greater emphasis on marriage and having children than others.

Consider the words used to describe single women versus men. While men are known as ‘bachelors’, women are called ‘spinsters’. The latter term originated in the late Middle Ages to describe women who spun wool professionally, the majority of whom were unmarried. The lower-status job was easier for them to obtain because more desirable jobs were generally reserved for married women who could afford the materials needed to do higher-status work through their husbands. Meanwhile, ‘Bachelors’ are frequently portrayed as fun, potentially suave (if not sleazy), living their best lives, and carefree – These favourable connotations can be traced all the way back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

The term’spinster’ has acquired even more negative connotations over time, and is now used to disparage unmarried (and young) women in popular culture, such as in Bridget Jones’ Diary (the titular character is in her early 30s with a good job in London, but she obsesses over her’spinster’ status).

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