A while back, I was walking through a mall, as I often do on a nice weekend. This particular mall happened to have these kiosks where people would walk up to you and try to sell you anything from beauty products to exotic vacations to cult membership. I’m usually pretty good at ignoring them, but one in particular got my attention.
This woman was selling some sort of fancy skin care product. She did her pitch. I listened, trying to find a polite way to brush her off. Then, she said this product would make a great gift. She asked if I was married. I said no. She then asked if I had a girlfriend. I said no. Then, she asked me something that kind of struck me.
She looks at me strangely, gives me this cock-eyed glance with her eyes, and asks, “Are you gay?” I said no and I laughed it off. She laughed too and after that, I had a good reason to walk away. However, something about that conversation really struck me. As time goes on, it strikes me even harder and not in the way most BDSM enthusiasts would enjoy.
It’s one thing for a guy in his early to mid 20s to be single. Society really doesn’t look down on that. We see a young guy in his 20s who is single and think:
“He must between girlfriends. That or he’s just humping everyone and everything he can to get it out of his system before he settles down. That’s okay. I will not shame him. He’s a valuable part of the labor force so it’s probably not a good idea to bust his balls.”
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly what we think when we see a young 20-something single guy, but it’s a close approximation. The point is that when a man is young, society is okay with him being single and unattached. We don’t look at that as anything strange or suspicious.
That all seems to change when a man crosses that special, magical threshold otherwise known as “turning 30.” I’m over 30 and I’ve been over 30 for a while now. I try to stay healthy. I made it a point several years ago to be healthier in my 30s than I was in my 20s. I like to think I’ve kept that promise to myself.
However, no matter how much I work out or how healthy I am, I can’t change the number of days that have passed since I was born. That also means I can’t change the fact that I’m single and over the age of 30. For whatever reason, that’s the age where being single suddenly becomes an issue.
It’s another one of those lesser-known double standards. I’ve bemoaned many of the double standards plaguing women and men, but this one affects me personally. It may very well affect my ability to find love, interact with the public, or work ahead in my career. It’s a serious issue for me and one that I don’t know how to address.
It may sound like a trivial, first-world problem by current standards, but it is there. We’ve made a lot of societal progress. We no longer arrange marriages for our children and force them to stay in passionless, abusive relationships. I say that counts as progress in my book.
A byproduct of this progress, though, is that we’re going to end up with a sizable population of men and women who either lag behind or never really catch up in the end. It’s true. There is a stigma to being single these days. I’m not just talking about a stigma that amounts to the “creepy guy” factor either.
When we find out someone like me in their 30s is single, society has these strange set of assumptions that are somewhat understandable within a context. I’m not saying those assumptions are right, but there is a context. So when people find out a man is over 30 and single, there are sentiments like:
- He must be gay or something
- He must be some kind of pervert who can’t get a woman
- He must have some kind of mental health issue
- He must have some sort of gross habit that repels women
- He must be a serial killer or a child molester in the making
- He must be abusive or selfish to an extreme degree
- He must be some kind of man-whore who only sees women as disposable tissues
- He must be terrible with kids
- He must be broke and have nothing to offer
These are all harsh assumptions. Some are more extreme than others. Again, there is a context though. For most of human history, we lived in small tribes. Men and women often paired up out of necessity and convenience at young ages. If someone, male or female, became distant from the tribe, that was inherently harmful to the tribe. In that sense, the stigma is understandable.
Here in the modern era, the circumstances have changed, but the caveman logic hasn’t. A single man in his 30s is often seen as a sign of a larger problem. It’s still seen as a failing of sorts. Even in this more progressive era, men are expected to be married or in some form of relationships after a certain age. They’re expected to be locked into some sort of social bond. When they don’t meet that expectation, that’s cause for concern.
This has a real impact that goes deeper than just creepy glares and accusations of being gay. Some of these impacts affect men much more than women as well. It means that when I see a cute kid and play around with that kid, it’s going to come off as creepy to some people. A single man in his 30s playing with a kid? That makes some people shudder for reasons I don’t think I need to describe.
It also has an economic impact. If you’re a single man over 30 and you’re working full-time, you can expect to make less than a single woman the same age. Society does, and understandably so, reward those who are married and in relationships. I can understand society wanting to incentivize those in relationships, but sometimes incentives can have a snowball affect.
I worry that as I get older, the stigma will become harder and harder to avoid. With each passing year that goes by without me getting in a relationship, people are going to start making more and more assumptions. As a result, people will also keep their distance from me. For someone like me, a natural hugger, that can be pretty damaging.
It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, one that will make things worse in the long run. It’s a cycle that may drive me to enter a relationship for the wrong reasons and I don’t want to put myself, or any woman for that matter, through such an experience.
I do want to find love. I do want to forge close, intimate relationships with others. I just worry that my age and the stigma that comes with being single will work against me. I hold out hope that I’ll find someone to share my life with one day. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later.