I think the big mistake our culture makes is in ostracizing the unmarried among us as somehow inferior to married people. It is a message we feel from songs and movies, television and novels, magazines and even our married friends and families. But that’s nothing new, is it? I’ve written before about the married/unmarried divide.
I read an article recently wherein the author called for a careful consideration of the words “single” vs. “unmarried.” She contended that “single” signifies all the negative connotations pushed aggressively throughout our culture.
Because I’m a word nerd, I looked up the definition and etymology. Here’s the most, um, interesting one: “Regarded separately or as distinct from each other or others in a group.”
Huh? The only people I’m separate or distinct from are married people. That’s it. Only them, and only because they’re married and I’m not. So isn’t “unmarried” more accurate from “single”?
Moreover, a single thing is only one; if we want to clarify that thing, we say, “a single solitary thing.” Solitary? From the Latin meaning “alone”? As in, isolated and alone, in solitary confinement? As in, a hermit leads a solitary life? Really? As an introvert, I do love my solitude, but I’m not a hermit, isolated and alone, thank you very much. I have had my bouts, like everyone, but I hardly attribute it to my marital status.
The archaic use of the word is “not accompanied or supported by others, alone.” Excuse me? As if single people have no support system or accompaniment? I’m sorry, but no. Need I say more?
We all know how words can make or break an image of someone. And how deeply words can cut someone. The “sticks and stones” has never held true for me, and I suspect that’s the case for many others. Calling someone “single” literally singles them out, annexes them from not only married life, but from “normal” life.
I find it interesting that in our current time, nearly half of this country is “single.” So half of the population are “regarded separately from a group”? They are living a solitary life, alone with no support? Of course they are not. It’s preposterous.
So I’m calling for a re-consideration of the word “single.” That word does not define who we are. Maybe next time someone asks if you’re single, maybe tell them you are “unmarried.” First, it could start a lively, fun, lighthearted conversation. And second, it could serve as a reminder that we are so much more than our marital statuses. We are sons and daughters of God with unique talents and gifts—married or not.
So let’s change the way we think of ourselves. We are in the world, not separate from it.