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Who Matters? A Guest Post by THE SPECIAL K TREATMENT May 4, 2009

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers.
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Onely likes guest posts by other writers who think about singles’ issues. The views expressed in our guest posts may or may not reflect Onely’s views, but we are always interested to hear from other singles advocates. Today’s post is by Special K, who we previously profiled in our Some Like It Single series. Special K is an “over thirty, single, psychologist in need of a balanced breakfast” who in the below post ponders why singles “matter” less than non-singles, how some singles respond to this stigma, and what to do about it. 

imagesIn general, in American society, single people matter less than those who are married, who matter less than those with are married with children, who matter less than those who are married with children and own property. Communities do exist where this is not the case: New York City, universities perhaps, Miami Beach. But for the most part, there is a pecking order of how much space is occupied equals social power.

“She must have done something right to get a husband” my co-worker (who happens to be a therapist even!) blurted out, when referring to an emotionally disturbed woman. “WHAT? That’s Crap!” I retorted out loud, and called him our on the fallacy of logic here. . . so she is automatically given some credit because she married? What about the man’s role in all of this? What about the fact that it was a very destructive union?

He responded by saying “didn’t mean to touch a nerve.” And that is what got me thinking here…  We don’t go around giving credit to people who stay single, and in fact, if we did, perhaps our divorce rate would NOT be so high… Let’s save the argument for another time about why this occurs and how we as a society should respond to it.

The focus today is on how this unspoken system stimulates singles to obtain artificial connections. Let me be clear here: we single bloggers are not necessarily anti-relationship/marriage/partnership. I am open to the notion of being married. Of having children.   At the same time, I fight against the presumption that something is more flawed about my personality/behavior compared to married people (we all have flaws, but I think it is often assumed single people have more flaws).  

Human beings are meant to be in social relationships. It is in our nature to create and sustain affiliations. To feel as if we matter. As if we belong. And thus, our relationships play a vital role in our well-being. When we are in constant defense (there’s nothing wrong with me) or resignation (what is wrong with me?), behaviors crop up that impede establishing thriving connections. Instead of being known, a  lot of single people settle for being noticed. We want to get noticed, in order to prove our mattering. When we don’t feel as if we matter to society, we engage in behaviors that often deprive us of the very thing we want: connection.

 Single people groan about the bar scene, but the notice-me trap festers there. A woman often only feels good/successful/attractive if a man buys her a drink. The man feels the same way if he can score with a woman of his choice.  I must matter because he/she responded to me with a mediocre glass of cab. This is a social pattern rampant in erroneous thinking…being noticed is more about others rather than YOU…the social drink is often more about his mood, who he came with that night, the lighting in the room, the other women in the room, and a variety of other external influences.

For the most part, being noticed doesn’t provide lasting sense of purpose at all. We want to be seen. To be known. My hunch is that when we start pointing out all the ways singles as a group contribute to society, the less we’ll rely on these immature crutches to defend or prove ourselves.

Mattering…how do singles matter less than others?

–Special K

PS. Onely here. I would also like to ask if anyone has noticed singles engaging in other self-defeating patterns of behavior as a result of being “told” they matter less than other people. This is similar, though not as detrimental, as for example minority children doing poorly in school because they’ve been “told” that they are expected to do poorly in school, or girls doing poorly in math because they’ve been given hint after hint from society that girls are not good in math.    -CC

PPS. Also, I am so glad that Special K’s coworker is not my therapist. I say this because of his “I didn’t mean to hit a nerve” comment. That is a passive-aggressive response disguised as an apology. Really it’s saying that Special K is the one with the problem because she *has* that nerve exposed in the first place. That is what I think.  –CC


1. Alan - May 4, 2009

I’ve notice a defensivenss too, and I also think it’s not good; if you want to be accepted as a single it would probably be better to remain calm when questioned, instead of striking out (even if your arguments are good ones).

I would like to point out that our need for relationships and affiliations vary…while we may all need them we may not need them to the same extent. America is a nation that is predominantly (about 70%) extroverts, so being outgoing and social and having lots of friends is seen as being good and normal. But that’s not true of all people, just like not all people are happiest when married.

Rachel - May 5, 2009

Alan: Could you explain what you mean by “defensiveness” in this context? I assume you’re referring to the reaction to the therapist’s comment, true? If so, why do you think that reaction is defensive?

onely - May 5, 2009

I got the impression that the therapist ended up being defensive. . . CC

Alan - May 5, 2009

I got the impression that the reference to “behaviors that deprive us of the very thing we want” was a reference to defenesiveness; though reading it again I’m not sure that was what was meant.

2. Lauri - May 4, 2009

I don’t particularly agree with the whole bar scene assessment. First, I don’t think there is a “bar scene” and I don’t the stuff described really goes down for most people. You seem to have more described the CHEESY bar scene. Second, when it does go down, I don’t think it’s an attempt to “matter,” it’s just an attempt to have sex.

In terms of single people mattering and getting noticed…I have one friend who has a serious boyfriend and isn’t technically single, but she has this fear of not fitting in. I don’t think she can handle the attention that’s being given to her other friends who are having weddings and kids. Lately I can’t get her off the subject of planning her wedding even though her boyfriend doesn’t seem close to interested in all that yet. I think she is desperately trying to “matter.”

In the midst of all this matrimania I’ve been engulfed in by friends, I can’t help but wonder if married people continue to “matter” so much once the big wedding and honeymoon are over and the baby photos have been sent and they’re up at 4 am feeding a screaming child. I think my friend above sees the shiny diamond rings and the baby showers and thinks that translates into “mattering.”

On the flip side of all this, I’ve been wondering what “matters” to married people. My friends- highly educated women, formally concerned about problems facing our society- are now single-mindedly focused on the most superficial of all superficial worlds. Diamond rings, seating charts, replication of their own genetic material. I can’t bring up articles I’ve read about the economy or the environment or education. If I bring up feminist issues, if I question if a wedding tradition is sexist or note that diamonds aren’t the most socially-conscious purchase, they don’t want to hear it. They scoff. They change the subject. I don’t know what happens to people and what they think matters when matrimania sets in, they completely change.

3. Rachel - May 5, 2009

There is definitely quite a bit of internalized singlism, which materializes in self-defeating behavior. I’ve noticed this in myself recently (yeah, I admit, I am not perfect ;-). It bugs the heck out of me as a proclaimed single by choice but somehow the attention I am getting from a guy matters to me (even if I know, intellectually, that I am not interested at all in dating). And as a feminist, it bugs me greatly because his attention seems to matter more to me than that of other women. I understand all this intellectually but there seems to be a rather strong emotional influence there. How do we overcome this internalized singlism and the emotional pull of matrimania?

Lauri - May 5, 2009

Rachel- recently I’ve been feeling the need to date and getting frustrated that I can’t seem to make it happen (I’m confined to online dating, I don’t have any other sources of men). I don’t know why I am feeling that need (I haven’t since my last boyfriend in 2007) and I don’t know why I am getting so frustrated that I can’t. I don’t even know what I want from dating- I can’t get myself into my friends’ mindset that once over 30, dating or having a boyfriend is useless unless it leads to marriage. And I I don’t feel upset because there are men I like that don’t find me attractive or something, it’s more that there are almost NO men around, and I don’t find the few I can come across attractive. Even though I feel this need to date, I can’t get any excitement or emotions up about it (because as I commented in another post, it takes too much for me to be interested in someone). I also know intellectually that I can’t do the whole relationshippy thing with the guy always around and coming with me to every G-D thing I have to do and wanting to meet up for dinner every night. But I don’t know what’s gotten into me- I’ve even resorted to missing my ex. I don’t have any answer, but I agree there is something inside that pulls me toward this every once in a while that completely defies logic. I wouldn’t say it’s a pull of matrimania- the more I am surrounded by matrimania, the more I feel backlash against it. I might go back to my old theory- that it is ALL about hormones and sex. But then I have to wonder- if my hormones are to blame, why can’t I seem to find anyone attractive enough?

onely - May 5, 2009

I think it doesn’t matter so much if you have those emotional leanings, as long as you can look at them from an intellectual perspective the way you have been. CC

Rachel - May 5, 2009

That’s a good point! Kinda viewing the “goal” of meditation as noticing your thoughts rather than stopping your thoughts, we could notice our singlist, matrimanic, and self-defeating thoughts as such (and as a reflection of living in the culture we live in). Rather than trying to eliminate them, we can build awareness of what these thoughts and pulls can do to us and then counter-act them accordingly…

4. Singletude - May 24, 2009

I, for one, agree with every word of this post, and the “wanting to matter” angle is one I hadn’t thought of before. Good insight!

On the subject of personal flaws, the assumption that singles have more of them is a stereotype that drives me crazy! And it’s so untrue. Some of the married/coupled people I know are also among the most troubled. If anything, I see a tendency for people with issues to settle down earlier because they can’t stand to be alone and will jump at the first proposal they get. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve noticed that lots of long-term singles are great catches, and the reason they haven’t been “caught” is because they’re comfortable being alone and have higher standards for their partners. Anyway, I think this is a topic worthy of further exploration.

To those people who DO have an urge to date, I’d say that you should stop beating yourself up about it. Evolutionarily, we’re programmed to have a strong mating instinct–not just for sex, but for the “high” of romance and for the security of companionship. This helped to ensure that people bonded to raise children and form tribes. Today, our culture is far enough removed from those days that we also prize things like education, emotional maturity, conversational skill, etc. that may not have been benchmarks for potential mates in antiquity. The result is that we’re still driven by the same biological needs but have become pickier about how to satisfy them. IMHO, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that we have this instinct OR with seeking to satisfy it. Full disclosure: I’m pro-single but not anti-relationship.

Rachel - May 24, 2009

Hi Singletude,

I was wondering if you could point me to some research on the evolutionary origins of mating… I am really curious about this, especially after reading Stephanie Coontz “Marriage, A History.” Historically, marriage was primarily for reproduction, not fulfillment, as it seems to be now. So, I’ve been wondering if the evolutionary urge is more toward sex than toward romance (granted that’s different from what you’re saying, so maybe my hunch is wrong…). But I have no idea where to even start looking… So, if you can give me some ideas that would be great :-).

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