Why is “single” still a dirty word?

“Ten Bad Habits that are Keeping you Single” my computer screen screamed at me one morning, when I innocently logged on to the Internet feeling a little worse for wear. These are the kind of mind-numbing diatribes that make it to home page of MSN and, needless to say, it was accompanied by images of a suitably dejected-looking man and woman, who seemed to be hovering somewhere between befuddled and suicidal.

The actual content of this gem of an article was nothing new. It suggested all single women were desperate, entertaining overly romantic expectations or were downright insecure and, in turn, all unattached men were chalked up as lechers, commitment-phobes or, bizarrely, just really REALLY bad kissers.

What interested me so much wasn’t the terribly trite advice offered, but the cold, hard evidence on my computer screen that this pathologisation of being “single” continues so relentlessly. It seems that “riding solo” (as Jason Derulo would charmingly dub it) is not simply an alternative to a relationship, but rather indicative of a total inability to conduct anything approaching normal social intercourse with the opposite sex.

From “don’t invade her personal space”, to warnings against fart jokes and excessive flirting (for the lads), to accusing women of refusing “to make time for a social life”, having a “low tiff tolerance” and sensitively reminding them “too much facepaint makes you look desperate”, the article seemed to have been written by someone not only without any ounce of tact, but who presumed a single status meant an actual inability to function.

Surely, I thought, certain social traits, such as cripplingly low self-esteem, could just as easily explain why someone would remain perennially chained to another as why they’d remain on their lonesome?

I’d always hoped that this peculiarly chronic strain of singleton stress was reserved, if not for Jane Austen’s audiences, then at least for the “Bridget Jones” generation; that legion of thirty somethings who, according to popular culture, obviously spend their whole lives being exclusively invited to parties that demand plus ones, where they’ll be shunned by all “smug marrieds” if they mention they’re sans a suitor.

But in the last couple of years I’ve been surprised at how many university friends have demonstrated a genuine fear of remaining without a significant other, even though they’re supposed to be at the very age where being footloose and fancy free has never been so much fun.

Now I won’t pretend I haven’t been prey to this kind of “argh-I’m-single” angst on more than one occasion. I have a well-thumbed copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You” (dreadful title, annoyingly accurate) on my bookshelf, somewhere alongside my delightfully mind-numbing chick lit and I have certainly indulged in more than one chocolate/ white wine binge when the anxiety attacks.

But there seems a particularly persistent strain of paranoia in many of my peers that certainly appears all too premature. No matter how hard society tries to thrown off the shackles off its socially conservative past, certain expectations remain. And it seems the concept of “settling down” is no exception, no matter how young you are.

I listened in genuine horror when one friend from back home told me of an encounter with her doctor. She’d visited her local GP to be put on the pill for some rather pesky period problems and soon found herself treated to the “why are you still single?” Spanish Inquisition. Though she assured the doctor that she wasn’t using the pill as a replacement for condoms and that (when sexually active) she used prophylactics, the deranged doc still pityingly recommended she find herself a boyfriend. Pronto.

The stereotype seems to remain that anyone without a relationship is either tragically bereft of attention or a rampant nymphomaniac desperate to rack up more and more notches on their bedpost. Whether it’s your granny asking you whether you’ve found a new partner yet or you best friends fearing you’ll ditch them on a night out for any passing pervert on the dancefloor, singletons seem to be attacked from all sides for remaining this way.

Now admittedly the MSN musings did finally suggest single-ness was acceptable to those leading semi-decent lives, but it seemed like a reluctant, half-hearted concession to the other side and, interestingly, one only directed towards women.

Somewhere during my compilation of femme-friendly music and my perusal of all charity shop shelves for self-help guides I realised something rather disappointing – that most cultural moves dedicated towards empowering the single person were somewhat gender restricted.

From books and music to the championing of solo sex toys for the modern woman, it seems society is in no rush to empower its single men. We could conclude it’s simply a shallow marketing ploy designed to tap into the Bridget Jones archetype but from my own time as a Facebook agony aunt (and I’ve sat through more than a few crisis summits in my time), I’ve found it’s the menfolk who are often the most insecure about having no one on their arm.

Good job then that the advice I am about to oh-so sagely dispense is geared towards the guys as well as the girls. Yes, those of you who have persevered with this article eagerly awaiting words of wisdom are about to be rewarded.

The key to ditching those single blues lies in quashing those stereotypes that pop culture endlessly promulgates. It’s time to remind yourself that just because your Facebook status currently reads “single” you’re NOT a social pariah.

I don’t mean assuring yourself of your own attractiveness by chronically going “on the pull” – it’s hardly a long-term solution if you want a hope in hell of actually passing your degree. There’s nothing wrong with swapping saliva with a stranger in Klute – as long as you don’t bank on them giving a damn the next day (though there’s always the sweetheart/ stalker that will).

The biggest secret to winning back your sense of self worth if it’s been cruelly dented by another – or even simply by a long spell without anything approaching love – is to find yourself a new friend. A rebound fling might fill that empty space in your bed but if you’re convinced there’s a hole in your heart then nothing paves it over better than acquiring a brand new bessie.

It has all of the novelty value of finding fun with someone new, without any of the awkward aftermath. The best thing I’ve gained after losing guys is always a newfound friend – hey, they can even fill that pesky plus one spot! Long after the ex has all but evaporated elsewhere (well mentally, maybe; geographically, not so much), you’ll still have someone to help you shirk all those painful stereotypes.

Because it’s unlikely that you’re any more socially stunted than your loved-up counterparts – it’s just society telling you so!

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