Everyone knows being a single woman is not a choice. Nope, it’s just an unfortunate road stop on the way to meeting someone special so you can start your real life. I mean, I think it’s pretty clear you’re not an actual person until you’re in a couple.
That’s the bullshit pop culture tells us, anyway—right?
The latest example of single-shaming comes courtesy of New Girl. In this week’s episode, the show’s star, Jess (Zooey Deschanel), is newly single and allegedly loving it. So much so she joins a group of other singles for “non-romantic companionship.” When her cool, coupled-up friends all plan a glamping trip, Jess decides to bring along her single crew, whose motto is, “I’m single and I’m sufficient.” That’s ISIS for short. LOLz.
Before long, the couples in the episode point out that being in a “singles” group is, like, totally pathetic. “Isn’t this group just a painfully transparent stall until you meet someone?” asks Schmidt (Max Greenfield), Jess’s roommate who, thanks to the magic of TV, is married to a woman ten times more attractive than he is. Jess takes offense and tells him not to single-shame. “Being single is a choice,” she quips back. “Couples always try to talk down to singles.”
For a hot second, I thought, Get em! Finally, a rom-com is taking an empowered stance on being single!
But my enthusiasm faded when Jess began to introduce her single friends. There was Brenda, a middle-aged circuit court judge who also teaches taxidermy to kids. Hugh, a man who grows onions. Mr. Foster, Jess’s older boss and school principal, who has hip problems and is an overall mess. There’s also Robby, the founder of the group, who takes himself out for a dessert date every Sunday, because that’s how okay with being single he is.
Notably, none of these people come off as attractive or charming or intelligent—or happy. In its lackluster attempt to prop up singledom as something desirable, New Girl fell into the trope most TV shows fall into, which is depicting single people as pitiful losers.
Not only that, half-way through the episode, dead-animal loving Brenda and onion-loving Hugh awkwardly try to hook up—suggesting Schmidt is right, and single people really do just want to be in a couple. This assumption is especially pushed onto single women.
Listen, I understand that poking fun at the single experience can be cathartic. Depending on who you are and what you want, being single can feel sad and lonely at times—and seeing your experience spun into primetime comedy can be validating. But for many, many people, being single is not, in fact, their plan B. It’s not a status they lament. And it’s certainly not a sign that something is “wrong” or defective or unlovable about them. It’s a choice.
Today, more than half of Americans are single—and more than half of that group is women. After centuries of being forced into marriage for survival, women are finally moving past the belief that only by finding a partner will they be and feel complete. And yet, too many pop culture offerings still perpetuate the notion that the only happy ending for a female character is a fairytale one.
I was single for most of my 20s. I traveled the world, worked numerous jobs, went on dates (both good and bad), made friends, lost friends, and yes, had my heart broken. By golly, I was living a real life! And never once did I feel incomplete. In fact, for a long time, I imagined living my entire life single. After all, I knew—and studies have shown—that being in a bad relationship can be worse for you and your health than being on your own. Which is why some women end up happier once they divorce!
Meanwhile, earlier this year Bella DePaulo, a social psychologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara, presented research highlighting the ways single people often have richer lives than their married counterparts, too. “The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude,” DePaulo said. “It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life—one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful.”
Again, not everyone wants to stay single forever—many people crave a partner and long-term companionship. Which is great. I have a fiancé and I wouldn’t give him up for anything.
But the notion that being coupled makes you superior to being single is crap. I am the same person now as I was before I met my husband-to-be. In fact, when people congratulate me on getting engaged, I think it’s kind of weird because it suggests that coupling up is an achievement, which in turn suggests being single is a failure. I assure you it is not.
So when shows like New Girl feign single-support only to turn around and insinuate that single people are losers who grow onions and stuff dead animals—well, hand me the remote. Because being single is sufficient as hell.