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“Someone like you, SINGLE?”

A wild Daily Dot article appeared! 

There’s some weird stuff that I’m expected to take as a “compliment” in our society. For instance, when men on the street shout at me about my breasts. Or when someone gropes me at a party. Or, on the milder side of things, when a man asks me why I’m single.

Single women on dating websites or out in the offline world are probably familiar with this question, posed by an admiring or perhaps slightly suspicious man: “Wow, someone like you, single? How could that be?” The implication is either that the woman in question is so stupendously amazing that it just goes against the very laws of nature for her to be single—or, much less flatteringly, that there must be something “wrong” with her that she’s not revealing that explains the singleness. Or, in a weird way, both.

Earlier in my adult life I might’ve found this endearing, but now I just find it irritating. Here’s why.

1. Only women are ever asked this question.

I know, that’s a general statement; I’m sure some man is going to read this and recall a time when he was asked that question and then think that that invalidates the point I’m about to make. It probably happens. But it’s women who are overwhelmingly asked to justify their single status. Why?

Part of it is probably that being single is more stigmatized for women than for men. Now, not having sex—or, worse, being “a virgin”—is more stigmatized for men than for women. But when a man is single, the assumption is generally that he’s having a great time hooking up with tons of (probably attractive) people. When a woman is single, the assumption is generally that she’s pathetic, miserable, and broken—probably spending her free time sobbing into her ice cream while watching old romantic films. Our collective image of “single woman” is not someone who has tons of fun casual sex and doesn’t care for a boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s also not someone who isn’t really into romance or sex and prefers to spend her leisure time on other things.

Another part of it is this weird pedestal we put women on in our culture. (You know, “the fairer sex” and all that.) Some people mistakenly think that this is feminism. It’s not, though. It’s just putting pressure on women to be Perfect, Ethereal Beings who occasionally deign to bless the lowly men with their attention. Not only does this prevent people (especially men) from seeing women as, you know, actual human beings, but it’s a pedestal to which very few women actually have access. Women of color are never seen this way. Disabled women are never seen this way.

Presuming that an awesome woman must have a partner while an equally awesome man does not entails putting women on this rarefied and useless pedestal.

Read the rest here.

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    I’m sure some man is going to read this and recall a time when he was asked that question and then think that that invalidates the point I’m about to make.

    Warning noted. ;)

    I get this all the frickin’ time. Not just every now and then, but every single time my relationship status comes up in conversation with someone for the first time. (Which is fairly often, as it’s one of the first things people ask when they start getting to know a new person.) And I’m not really in the age group where people assume I’m having loads of fun, casual hook-ups any more… And then it does fairly often (i.e. almost always) lead down one of the routes you’ve identified.

    I certainly don’t want to get into any kind of debate about who has it worse, and I’m certainly not going to argue with your point that society regards singleness as particularly bad news for women (“spinster” obviously has far more pejorative overtones than “bachelor”), but we do have some different issues of our own. Since the bar for men is arguably set lower (in terms of attractiveness, effort, and so on) when people figure out that you’re well-presented, moderately personable, steadily employed, with money in your pocket and no obvious major defects, and yet you’re not only currently single, but have been single for quite some time, they very rapidly tend to head down the “so what the hell is wrong with you?” route. I’ve lost count of the number of strangers who have tried to psychoanalyse me in bars. I’m also very sick of unsolicited dating advice… ;)

    Another one which might be more specific to the male experience is that sometimes people flat-out assume that I’m lying. Apparently my mere existence is literally inconceivable to some people.

    So yeah, not arguing with or trying to invalidate your point in any way. Mostly just agreeing with you actually…

    • Chris Werner says

      I am with the men on this one; not every single time, but a good portion of time I am criticized for being single and its always in the direction that there is something wrong with me.

      These are the observations I have made based on the way others treat me when I am single and when I am in a relationship; if you are taller than six foot, in your teens, graduated high school, have a job, are really athletic, but don’t have a girlfriend you are mentally unstable or have a small dick. Clearly, my observations are bias and directed towards anyone who makes healthy life choices and is blessed with good genes and youth.

      When the topic of girlfriends or lack thereof gets brought up I get a hard time; my dad always mentions the “multiple girlfriends” I keep secret about or “that will change once you get to college”. Older ladies joke “a hunk like you?” or “bet you drive all the young girls crazy”. My brothers or male friends hassle me “when are you getting a girlfriend” or “why don’t you have one” (didn’t know I could just go to the grocery store and find the ladies aisle). Or the opposite sex “Your single? Whaat? Why?” or as Dunc said… They flat out don’t believe me. And I know that is not a gender specific phenomena.

      But, when I have a girlfriend, I am treated like the breadwinner and my quality of life improves overall. Like it defines whether or not I am an alpha or beta male; people become confused when their internalized cultural bias doesn’t match up with what they see. Its a personal choice people. Jeez.

      That said, I believe people are wired to be judgmental; it does not bother me. Not that I am excusing anyone making baseless assumptions. I view it as two different spectrum’s of reality and get a whole lot of amusement from others disbelief.
      Like what Mira said, just because I am awesome doesn’t mean I should be put up on a pedestal of expectation. (:

      This is a cool article and I enjoyed your perspective. I haven’t had a chance to think or write about this much. I think the distribution of gender bias is specific to the culture of the region you live in, population statistics, and generation. But yeah, I am definitely not an expert. Just going on personal experiences.

  2. Jazzpirate says

    I think one reason why women are more often posed that question is, because dating is still seen as a game, where men pursue and women choose. The implicit assumption is, that if a man is single, it’s because he hasn’t been successful yet and if a woman is single, it is because she’s rejected everyone. So it is assumed that a woman (especially if she’s attractive) is single by choice, which (under the false premisses) warrants the question why.

  3. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    1. Only women are ever asked this question.

    I know, that’s a general statement; I’m sure some man is going to read this and recall a time when he was asked that question and then think that that invalidates the point I’m about to make. It probably happens. But it’s women who are overwhelmingly asked to justify their single status. Why?

    Err…why not just use “This question is overwhelmingly disproportionately asked of women” and still make the actual point while avoiding this issue entirely (and being factually correct on a straightforward reading)? Is there a function of this roundabout approach that I’m missing (because A LOT of people seem oddly resistant to making this sort of minor change)? O.o

  4. James F says

    I actually get almost none of this myself; for whichever reasons, people tend to just assume there’s something wrong with me (sometimes very specific things that aren’t at all true) instead of asking about it directly. I’d almost prefer people did ask so I can either redirect the conversation or engage if I really feel like it with that person, but, that’s probably a function of almost always being able to redirect conversations without major backlash.

  5. Artor says

    Likewise, I’ve had this question asked as well, but in no way do I think it invalidates your point. I think the intended subtext is that “I think you’re hot; are you really free, and open to predation?” But it ignores the point that I, or you for that matter, might have values and needs that aren’t satisfied with random hookups. While I’m not opposed to an occasional random hookup when I am single, (3 years of celibacy at a time is too much) to actually be in a relationship with someone requires an uncommon alignment of tastes, values, chemistry, etc. So yeah, an attractive person can be single for years at a time, and no, chances are they aren’t going to respond to that line from another random stranger.

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      …are you actually assuming the author is or was married, or is this just a rhetorical redirect? O.o

      • says

        I suppose I’m kind of assuming a young person is more likely not to have been married than someone of my age. I have heard talk about how someone my age who , like me, hasn’t been married probably has something wrong with him or her.

  6. says

    1. Only women are ever asked this question.

    I know, that’s a general statement; I’m sure some man is going to read this and recall a time when he was asked that question and then think that that invalidates the point I’m about to make.

    Yep, that was going to be me! Except the invalidation part. Because I do understand what you’re getting at.

  7. says

    But when a man is single, the assumption is generally that he’s having a great time hooking up with tons of (probably attractive) people. When a woman is single, the assumption is generally that she’s pathetic, miserable, and broken—probably spending her free time sobbing into her ice cream while watching old romantic films.

    It is true. And also really bizarre. Who are these women that these men are hooking up with then? Well…I know part of the assumption is that it’s just a handful of women who are getting around. There’s that saying about some women being the village bicycle…everybody rides them. I guess that’s what people have to tell themselves to make the math sort of work out. But it’s a really bizarre dichotomy — as I’m sure you’re well aware — where there are two extremes of a spectrum and nothing in the middle.

  8. says

    But when a man is single, the assumption is generally that he’s having a great time hooking up with tons of (probably attractive) people.

    I think there is (as usual) a contradictory set of memes about single men. Single men may be presumed to be having lots of casual sex (that doesn’t track with my personal experience, but that’s not terribly material), but they are also presumed to be deficient in some way. Don’t “have a woman”? It’s because you’re not X or Y or Z enough. Somewhat hypocritically, men who have a bunch of short-term relationships because there is something wrong with them are seen as ‘successful’, whereas men who are perfectly desirable but simply haven’t met the right person are seen as ‘failures’.

    Of course, both sides of this self-contradictory meme complex are rooted in the idea that women are objects – rewards for successfully solving some sort of puzzle or task. That once a man does X and Y and Z, he will no longer be single. Single? It’s because you’re a ‘lady killer’ and/or because you’re a ‘beta male’, depending on perceived social status. While this reasoning extends to women as well, it lacks the crucial element of dehumanizing men as “rewards” for good behaviour, or at least puts a very different spin on it.

    There’s also an interesting age component to this. While I don’t necessarily agree with your assertion that it is considered ‘okay’ or at least ‘value neutral’ for a man to be single, this is undoubtedly more the case for older men than older women. There is, for example, no male equivalent to the ‘spinster’. Older, unattached men are ‘confirmed bachelors’ who have eschewed the romantic life, whereas older single women have failed to attract a man due to some personal flaw.

    • says

      Should clarify – when I say “as usual” above, I mean that gender stereotypes are usually self-contradictory. There are always opposing pieces of advice about what your gender “should” do to improve its romantic success.

  9. queequack says

    Are you mostly talking about OkCupid here? I wouldn’t read so much into it, honestly. The dynamic on that site is toxic and bizarre; the men are generally so desperate for any sort of attention from women that they will simply say whatever they think might get a response, and “You, single?” is nothing more than a shallow, insincere attempt at flattery. The reason women get it more than men is because women have it so easy on those sites and generally don’t have to send out queries at all.

    Your other points are interesting in a sort of abstract theoretical sense but again, I genuinely think you’re over-analyzing what is a hollow, completely insincere come-on. There is simply nothing to it beyond the goal of eliciting a response, any response at all.

    • says

      No, as I mentioned, it happens everywhere.

      And there is nothing I have experienced on OkCupid that I have not experienced elsewhere, including offline.

      Please don’t try to claim I’m “overanalyzing” something that affects me much more than it affects you.

      • queequack says

        Well ok, I do think I have a valid perspective here. You’re analyzing what you perceive as some of the assumptions that undergird that bad pickup line, ie you’re basically speculating on what sort of preconceptions about women, men and dating would prime men to be blown away by the fact that desirable women are single. But all I’m saying that I am skeptical that “You, single?!” comes freighted with all those assumptions about women, because I don’t think it is actually representative of the wannabe PUA’s genuine opinion; that is, his mind isn’t really blown by the fact that you are single. He’s saying words that he hopes will get you to talk to him, and their truth value is, to him, totally irrelevant.

        But that said, my first post in this thread was too flippant, I think. As I said, your points are totally valid in a more general sense, and of course the line can carry all those implications whether or not the guy actually intends it, or whether they are reflective of his personal views on women and dating and etc.

        • says

          I mean, I think this is kind of like that thing where someone makes a microaggression, and the targeted person calls it out, and everyone rushes to say that “how do you KNOW that they were really being racist/sexist/etc, maybe they would say that to men/white people/queer people TOO”

          Of course you don’t really know. But people who deal with comments like these day in and day out end up noticing certain correlations and patterns. They might not apply to every single instance, but after there have been dozens or hundreds of instances, you can usually come to some general conclusions.

          Anyway, language doesn’t stop having meaning just because it’s used casually or without much thought. Somehow all those guys thought that this would be read as a compliment, or would get the woman’s attention because of a perceived compliment. I don’t think it’s a genuine compliment, because it rests on these inaccurate assumptions.

  10. John Horstman says

    *Is* this a heavily gendered phenomenon? I hear it about men ALL THE TIME, not just people saying it to me, but about other men (and women). However, this is all between people who know each other, at least as acquaintances; perhaps when it’s strangers directly commenting to the person in question, it’s heavily gendered. I don’t remember anyone I don’t already know ever saying, “Wow, you’re single?” to my face or directly to anyone around me. I’m not necessarily disputing your assertion (though, like Azkyroth above, I’m never quite sure why many people seem so resistant to using clarifying/specifying qualifiers), especially since in my experience the direct questioning by strangers doesn’t happen, but I can imagine it might well happen to women more than men. Are you generalizing from you own/friends’ experiences or are their perhaps some interesting survey studies that indicate a significant gender disparity?

    I do think you’re spot-on in identifying ways single men and women tend to be viewed differently. And I also find the phenomenon extremely irritating, especially the implication that the person zirself must know why (and, as you point out, is necessarily interested in partnering). Reasons 2-4 are applicable across gender.