Who Knew This was a Thing?
How in the world can it be shameful to be single? That’s like saying it’s shameful to have brown hair. You might not like your brown hair and you might want to change it, but is it shameful to have it? I was recently asked to write a post about social schemas as they relate to single people. Okay, first of all, what’s a social schema? Alleydog.com defines social schemas as “’Scripts’ or expectations an individual forms about how things operate within their environment. A schema is a cognitive system which helps us organize and make sense of information. Social schemas are developed by individuals for the people in their social environment.” So, what does this mean exactly? It means is that individuals decide for ourselves how things “should be” in our worlds. We create “schemas” for dealing with individuals, situations and events. We decide what’s “normal” and anything outside of this is considered “not normal,” which usually carries a negative connotation for us. This applies to single shaming because the majority of people in our society view being part of a couple as being normal. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be according to their social schema for adult behavior. Therefore, your singleness just doesn’t work for them.
Understanding is the first step to forgiving
It seems that everything around us points to being in a relationship, having a partner, walking down the street hand-in-hand. It’s because everything around us points to the ideal, not the real. Even people who are in relationships look at all of the media out there and know that its portrayal of couples is idealized. We single people think that everything is out to get us, to prove how great married life is and how pathetic our own lives are, but all of those idealized images make married people feel just as bad as they do us. Cuz they ain’t real! These images are shoved down everyone’s throat based on the social schema that people should be coupled up. And that they should be ecstatically happy to be coupled up. Plenty of people in relationships probably don’t even want to be there, but they never really looked at it as a choice because it’s just the way it’s supposed to be and everything around them supports this notion. But everything around them is also defined by this social schema and social schemas are just thoughts that we’ve thought over and over that have turned into beliefs.
It’s all in your head
This proves that it’s all in our thinking and can be changed. If you think of yourself as the third wheel or fifth wheel or whatever, then you will be. But if you think of yourself as spending a wonderful evening with two great friends, who just happen to be married to one other, then that’s what you’ll have. The way we feel about our singleness has less to do with reality and more to do with our perception of reality. I used to think that I couldn’t go to a restaurant alone. People see someone sitting alone and just assume they’re sad and lonely, right? In actuality there are a hundred reasons a person could be eating alone at a restaurant. Maybe they’re traveling on business and don’t know anyone in the town they’re in. Maybe they’re catching a quick bite between appointments. Or maybe they’re just tired of mundane conversation and want to focus on the enjoyment of eating instead. Because of my thoughts I felt that everyone would be looking at the single person and thinking, “Oh, how sad. She couldn’t find anyone to have dinner with.” Get real! People are so self-absorbed that they’re paying attention only to their own tablemates. Or more likely, their phones. You could be on fire and they probably wouldn’t notice you. Once I realized that no one was paying attention to me, I started eating out by myself all the time. All I had to do was change my perception of reality (my social schema) and reality changed into something that I didn’t feel was working against me.
What to do if someone single-shames you
As if having the media and restaurants all plotting against your singleness weren’t enough, sometimes you actually feel discriminated against for being on your own. I’ve actually experienced “vacation discrimination” as a single person. As you may know, I am a scuba diver and I go on group trips by myself. These trips are set up as a package, so you get your airfare, hotel room, meals, diving, transportation, etc with your trip fee. But again, the fee pertains to double occupancy in the rooms. Sure, you can have a room to yourself, but it’s going to cost you this many hundreds more on top of the multiple thousands you’re already paying for the trip. I’ve gotten around this by either finding a friend to room with or requesting a roommate if no one I know can go on the trip. I’ve actually made some great friends this way, so I’ve pretty much told discrimination to suck it, but obviously it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Aside from all of the ways society seems to gang up on the singles of the world, what probably gets to us the most are the attitudes about our singleness from the people we know well – our family, friends, coworkers. “When are you going to settle down and get married already?” “I just can’t understand why someone like you is still single.” “Don’t worry, someone will come along someday and then you’ll be happy.” We’ve heard them all. And these sentiments are from people who are supposed to love us. People are so programmed to think, to believe, that a relationship is what we all want, what we should want, what we need, what will make us whole, that we feel inadequate if we don’t have one. It’s getting past that feeling that sets you free. It’s changing your social schema about your own singleness that will allow you to hear these statements and laugh them off instead of going home and eating a pint of Chunky Monkey. If you really want to know how to respond to people in the moment who ask you why you’re single, I wrote a blog post with my top ten answers. You can read it at lesliekaz.com/being-happy-with-your-single-self.
Being single is enviable!
Here’s a little mind twist for you. What if all of those people who look down on you or pity you for being single are actually doing it for a reason that’s not even about you? What if their contempt or sympathy actually stems from a little bit of jealousy? Or maybe a lot bit of jealousy! Once you realize these things, you see what coupled-up people see about you that you don’t currently see. When we single women look at couples, we see all the good things about being in a relationship and we feel bad about what we don’t have. Don’t you think couples do the same thing? The grass is always greener, right? Your married friends are looking at your singleness and seeing all the good things about it that they don’t have!
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