Societal norms have long placed the coupled relationship on a pedestal, defining single life against the so-called standards set by those in romantic relationships. However, an influential article recently challenges this narrative, advocating a shift in the societal and scholarly discourse to recognise the unique values, interests, and autonomy that characterise single life.
In an article, published in the Journal of Family Theory & Review, the Bella DePaulo, from the University of California, Santa Barbara makes an argument for the power and privilege of a single life, which is too often regarded through a deficit lens in both public discourse and scholarly literature. In particular, the author argues that the negative narratives about single life are often unintentionally perpetuated by social scientists who work under norms and ideologies that favor coupled people and devalue single people.
Traditionally, single people have been depicted as “alone” or “unattached,” with their families often being disregarded or labeled as “alternative” family forms. Their interpersonal relationships are typically viewed as mere substitutes for a romantic partner. This article instead advocates for a new lens: the singles-centred perspective. In this context, single life is a journey of freedom and autonomy, providing the opportunity for people to chart their own course in life, free from the constraints of a romantic partnership.
The author reveals that the social science surrounding singlehood often overlooks the systemic inequalities, including laws, policies, and practices, that favor coupled people and disadvantage singles. This institutional bias implies that difficulties experienced by single people are personally instigated, pointing to a supposed deficiency in them.
The article argues that the reality is far from this interpretation. Many single people thrive because of the investment they make in their single lives, echoing a 2020 study by Kislev. People identified as “Single at Heart” are revealed to view their single life as their best, most authentic, and fulfilling life.
The article further challenges the ideology that everyone desires coupling, an idea often propagated even by studies that find life satisfaction increases with age among single individuals. The author argues that being single is a joyful and fulfilling way to live, without needing to “come to terms” with not being in a relationship.
A strong argument is made for scholars to acknowledge and study the strengths of single people and the potential for flourishing in single life. For instance, instead of asking whether people who couple become happier or wealthier, they should consider whether these people enjoy the same freedoms and control over their lives that they had when they were single.
DePaulo suggests that the current narratives on singlehood are not just documenting experiences but are creating them. When people continuously hear negative depictions of single life, it leads to an inherent bias that single life is a lesser life that no one would willingly choose. This narrative impacts the rights and opportunities of single individuals in workplaces, healthcare, and social reforms.
The article ends by suggesting that the normalization of coupled life may be so ingrained that people believe they need to be part of a couple. However, it is crucial to remember that as long as systems of inequality continue to disadvantage single people, we will never fully understand how many people truly prefer and thrive in singlehood.