This article has been making the rounds on the social medias about how men now are lonelier than ever, spending all their time on dating apps devoid of women, and like, probably making their dicks fall off with too much jacking off. I dunno. It was interesting the first time I read it, but not nearly as interesting as the fact that a *ton* of married/partnered women in my social media sphere felt the need to jump in and lecture these men about what they needed to improve about themselves to get a girlfriend.
For the record, I’m a 37 (soon to be 38) year old woman who has spent about 5 years of her 30s being completely single, am currently single and not looking to date, and I feel more of a kinship with single men than I do with married women. Like, I read these kind of condescending opinion pieces, or facebook posts or whatever (and, I’m not wanting to start drama by naming names) but they generally go something like “Single women are the happiest demographic ever! Single men, you gotta step up your game to be worthy of their time!”
And I don’t want to disagree that single men — or anyone in American society — could benefit from learning more about communication, but these married women are the fucking problem. Anyone who buys into the argument that you need to change yourself to be worthy of love is the problem. Anyone who implicitly implies that the partnered state is superior to the un-partnered state is the problem. Anyone who wants to lecture single people while smugly slipping in “well, of course I personally am married” is the problem.
If you don’t have a lot of experience being single in modern American society, why the fuck do you think you are entitled to lecture people who are? If you’ve been happily married for 10 years you don’t know what life is like for actively single people today — I’m sorry — the world has changed since you have dated, and the issues facing un-partnered people today are different than they were 10 years ago. And I know this, because I was single 10 years ago also. Simply stated, covid changed the game for single people a lot because it weakened non-online avenues for meeting partners, and it weakened the strength of many community institutions (e.g. sports teams, religious groups that couldn’t operate, etc.) intensifying the loneliness of single people.
Something I think it’s important to keep in mind whenever you see a married person, is that this person has accepted a series of compromises in their life to be married. Maybe they were good compromises, maybe they were absolutely right for this person — but if you’re single, that doesn’t necessarily mean those same compromises are right for you. In particular, being partnered generally means less time for friends and less personal freedom in exchange for easier access to emotional connection. That is an absolutely valid trade off to make.
It is also valid to not want to make that trade off.
One of the reasons that I have begun to suspect partnered life may not be a good match for me, is I value my personal freedom *very* highly. I know several married women who can’t go on vacation without their husbands because their husbands get lonely when they’re gone and I’m just like… I would divorce someone who couldn’t handle being alone for a week. But, this seems to be a fairly normal stipulation of married life that many partnered women accept; I can no longer leave my husband alone. And, ok, if that’s what they want, that’s fine.
Problem is, many married women do not seem to be very aware of the personal trade offs they are making. They look at me with a kind of pity, thinking, “oh, poor Emma has to go it alone,” then try to do me and my ilk the weird online favor of convincing single men they need to “man up” so unfortunate single women like myself can finally find “the one.” In the meantime, I’m looking at how fucking stressed many of these ladies seem to be while doing disproportionate childcare, cooking, and cleaning while holding down full time jobs and I’m just like… I’m good. This is one blessing I can live without.
And, there are a lot of feminists out there saying this to women — marriage isn’t a great deal, are you sure you want this? — so a lot of single women are very aware of what they would give up to be in a relationship, and so can be happy with their choice to stay single.
However, there isn’t really a male equivalent saying the same thing to single men. Rest assured, though, married and partnered men do give things up to maintain their relationship as well. Historically it’s been a primarily economic contribution (and, still appears that way in many of the couples I know.) Men are expected to work long hours, sometimes in jobs they dislike, to financially support lower earning female partners, and eventually, children. In fact, I have witnessed men I knew in my 20s give up on their personal dreams and completely neglect all their friends after finding a partner. But hey, they have a steady job and acquired 2.4 kids, so we should consider their lives a success, right?
And, you know, if you like all that bully for you — keep living your best life.
But, maybe — maybe just maybe — a lot of these men are single because they don’t want that. Maybe these men are doing the male equivalent of what I did, and thinking to themselves “this marriage game doesn’t seem to be a great fit for me, honestly” so they don’t have success dating because deep down, they are ambivalent about the sacrifices they will have to make.
So, why are they unhappy if they don’t want marriage to begin with?
A lot of studies imply married men are happier than unmarried men, but there could be different underlying dynamics than the obvious ones. Many people (especially single women, interestingly) think society discriminates against single people. Is it possible that married men are happier than single men because they are not experiencing societal discrimination?
Personally, I do think “singlism” exists, and it’s interesting single women — although happier than single men — are more likely to believe in discrimination against single people. I would hypothesize that, if single men are less likely to believe in bias against single people, they may be more likely to internalize prejudiced behavior, and think there is something wrong with them for being single, rather than something being wrong with society for treating them badly when single. This mindset could easily lead to higher rates of unhappiness in single men.
Another issue that single men face, is we don’t have cultural examples of successful single men. In like, the 2000s, we started getting this image of a kind of city-going single woman in her 30s who was able to live an interesting and exciting life (think, like, Sex in the City.) There hasn’t really been an equivalent for single guys? This is especially true when it comes to being a single dad. “Single Mothers By Choice” has been a thing since it was founded by Jane Mattes in 1981, but the idea of “Single Fathers By Choice” is relatively new. And again, men often suffer here because we don’t have as strong of a concept, or as strong social support for single fathers as we do for single mothers (and, our support for single mothers is already shit.) Becoming a single parent of any gender is going to be difficult, but becoming a single father by choice nowadays is probably on par with difficulty with becoming a single mother by choice in the 80s; it’s a newer concept, and there aren’t as many examples as to how it can be done effectively.
I must confess, when this story about all the sad single guys started making the rounds, I kind of jumped on the bandwagon a bit. Yeah guys, learn some fucking communication! But, as I thought about it, and I saw how literally everyone was pushing the same message, I started having second thoughts.
Why are we so quick to send single men the message that they are unlovable? And more importantly, who benefits from that message?
I don’t think it’s the single people who would be dating the men who benefit; honestly when I date single men, I don’t find that the problem is that we can’t communicate well. The problem is, that so many of these men are drowning in shame that connection isn’t possible. And, having a whole bunch of married people take a big old finger and point it at a bunch of single guys and say, “well son, let me tell you what’s wrong with you,” will only intensify their shame and make the situation worse. Yes yes, there are some fucked up incels out there — but I basically never encounter men like that on dating apps. I think the majority of single men are fairly reasonable people, and not messed up incels? Yes, if you look at the online world of single men it’s a dumpster fire, and yes, some guys are rapey fucks, but my experience the average single man isn’t as bad as his internet parody. (Yes, on average he could do with a bit more intersectional feminism in his life, but who among us couldn’t?)
The people I think who mostly benefit from shaming single men are people in couples, especially unhappy people in couples. The reason is, unhappy people in couples are living in a state of cognitive dissonance where they have to find ways to justify the constant pain they are in; finding ways to feel superior to other people is one way to numb yourself to this pain. I remember once, I had a friend who had been terribly unhappy in her marriage for a number of years, and when it finally looked like it was coming to an end she cried to me about how terrible it was going to be to be single in her 30s.
And I was just like,
a) I’m sitting right here
b) How could anything be worse than the experience of your marriage for the past 2 years?
But, her feeling like she had achieved some sort of success by finding a partner was so strong that it enabled her to weather a lot of really negative emotionality that was coming up in her marriage. All of which is to say, I think a lot of married people who are presuming to lecture single men on how to improve themselves so they can get in relationships are kind of engaging in a form of public masturbation. They’re pretending to have compassion, but they’re low key getting off on the fact that they are not single.
So, what are my thoughts to single men out there? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with you. I mean, if you want to like, shoot up an aerobics class or something please seek help — but in general, if your life is otherwise good and all you’re suffering from is shame about being single, maybe its society that’s fucked up. Maybe society is telling you that you “can’t” be happy being single… but, actually you can be happy being single. If you’re like “well, I’m basically happy except I miss sex” consider a sex worker — they’re cheaper than divorce. (But, be kind, respectful, and tip well.)
Even if you do want a relationship, I would still encourage you to focus on being happy as a single person before trying super hard to find a relationship. One of the worst parts about dating men in current society, is they often come in to a relationship deeply miserable and expect you to fix it — with intimacy, with sex, with taking care of them — and they’re not really able to give much back to the relationship. Men who are come into a relationship happy are going to have more to give to their partners than people who come in unhappy, so are probably going to be better able to make that relationship work.
However, the more important part is, if you focus on being happy as a single person, even if you fail to get into a relationship, you’re still happy. Which, single or otherwise, I consider a major success in the world today.