Are You Defined by Your Marital Status?


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. 



  1. Julianna-888933 January 30, 2013 Reply

    I had a Spanish professor in college who once made an observation about how the Spanish word for “bathroom” kept changing every decade or so (baño, lavabo, aseo, servicio, WC, etc….). The thing is, when a concept is thought of with a negative connotation, it doesn’t matter what kind of fancy words you try to dress it up with; the new word will eventually take on that connotation.

    I would not get too caught up in the word single. That’s the most commonly used adjective describing people-who-don’t-happen-to-have-a-spouse-at-the-moment, and it’s really nothing to be ashamed of. If people don’t know what to make of us or look down on us, that’s their problem! Our job is to seek God’s will in whatever state in life in which we find ourselves, and the more we focus on that, the better off we will be..

  2. Cate Perry
    Catherine Perry January 27, 2013 Reply

    I really appreciate your thoughtful comments! You all make excellent points, ones I will consider. Thank you all!

  3. Susan-930985 January 23, 2013 Reply

    When one becomes a widow it is even more prevalent. . .Thinking of moving from Idaho to WA where I have relatives and sort of start a new identity for myself. . .

    • Cate Perry
      Catherine Perry January 27, 2013 Reply

      So Susan, as a widow, do you prefer “single”, “unmarried” or “widowed”? I’d guess it would be “widowed”, but I shouldn’t take guesses.

  4. Pat-5351 January 22, 2013 Reply

    I think not married is a statement of fact, that has not judgment one way or the other. I am a wordsmith myself, so the meaning of words matters to me too. Single does have these connotations to it, I agree. And pretty soon more of us will be single than married, so who is the majority then? It is the married who are “outside the group” so maybe then we can call then “not singles.” LOL I think people should use the term they are comfortable with concerning themselves, but “single” seems to be a demographic category, so I think we will have to live with it, no matter what we prefer.

  5. Jane-933948 January 22, 2013 Reply

    Hey there…Right on with Carrie….I am widowed but before marriage it was that same way. And having no children, people don’t know what to say….so just don’t say anything. All meant in a loving and understanding way. Life is painful enough right!?

  6. Carrie-529869 January 22, 2013 Reply

    I look at it completely differently. Unmarried says what someone is missing, what they are not, what they haven’t achieved yet. Single, on the other hand, says that they are independent and are worth their own value.

    • Janette-639947 January 22, 2013 Reply

      I agree with you Carrie 100%! Or are we missing some underline meaning from this article?

      • Cate Perry
        Catherine Perry January 22, 2013 Reply

        Thanks, ladies, for such insights! I never thought of it that way – I automatically called myself “single” when I wasn’t married or in a relationship. Then when I thought about it, and looked up the meaning of “single”, I thought, huh, “unmarried” might be better. But you’re right, “unmarried” negates a title that is considered the norm. Bravo!

    • Laura-936596 January 23, 2013 Reply

      I would have to agree with you. I feel more independent when i am called “single” I think it just says that I am waiting to meet God’s match for me. When I hear “unmarried” I feel like I may be thought of as incomplete or not worthy of love or even that I have failed in someway.

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