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The Stigma Of Being Single (Especially If You’re A Man)

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Picture, for a moment, a single woman in her mid-30s with no kids. What’s the image that comes to mind? For most people, especially those who watch sitcoms or have seen one episode of “Sex In The City,” a certain narrative plays out that helps shape that picture.

The woman is probably not a supermodel, nor could she be mistaken for Sarah Jessica Parker. She probably has a stable career. She probably has her own money, a tight social circle, and a fair amount of independence. She likely has a few hobbies and passions outside her career. Even if she isn’t in a relationship, it’s easy to imagine her being happy with her situation.

The fact that she’s single wouldn’t raise many red flags. That said, there are some stigmas associated with being single at a certain age for women. There’s still this misguided notion that women who are single at that age have somehow come up short in life. Every woman has different reasons for being single. By and large, though, we tend to have sympathy for women who stay single.

Now, picture a single man in his mid-30s with no kids. What image comes to mind in that instance? Chances are it’s not the same as that picture you imagined of a single woman. A single man in his mid-30s probably won’t inspire mental pictures of Channing Tatum. Hell, it probably won’t even inspire pictures of Jonah Hill.

A single man in his mid-30s with no kids will likely raise more red flags than the woman. It’s not just that the man is struggling to forge a meaningful relationship. He’s not just unlucky in love. There’s something wrong with him. A man like that must be a creep to some extent. He must have some sort of shortcoming or deficiency that repulses the opposite sex.

Maybe he has unhealthy hobbies.

Maybe he has a short temper and abusive tendencies.

Maybe he’s just a lazy slob who doesn’t even try.

It’s still entirely possible that a single man in his 30s is just content being single. He doesn’t feel inclined to pursue a relationship at the moment. He’s healthy, relatively attractive, and contributes positively to society. He’s not opposed to being in a relationship, but not just for the sake of being with someone.

No matter how common that possibility is, though, that’s probably not the first assumption you would make if all you knew about a man was that he’s over 30 and single. Even though marriage rates are declining, there’s still a stigma associated with being single beyond a certain age. It exists for women and men, but the stigma is more pronounced for men.

There’s no getting around it. A single man in his mid-30s is going to evoke a different reaction. It’s not a double standard like some of the others I’ve cited. It’s just the byproduct of different expectations and assumptions. I know this better than most because I’m a single man in my mid-30s with no kids and I’ve witnessed some of these reactions.

It’s subtle, but noticeable. When I tell someone I’m single and in my 30s, I get this weird look. If the person doesn’t know me very well, I get the sense they’re a little concerned. Once they learn that about me, I suspect they think that’s creepy or odd. There have been times when I’ve seen people, mostly women, get uncomfortable when they learn I’m over 30 and single.

There was even one instance where a woman at a store asked if I was gay. That really caught me off-guard, but it was the first time when I really felt the stigma of being single. I laughed it off at the time and so did the woman. However, when I later recalled the incident, I felt genuinely anxious about my status. I worry that it will undermine my ability to find love in the future.

I’ve even seen it among relatives. While most of my family don’t make a big deal out of it, there are a few who express concern about me. They see my age and my relationship status as a problem to be solved. I can understand that sentiment. I even appreciate it because I know it comes from sincere concern. Even so, I still feel the stigma on some levels.

I know I’m not alone in that. As much progress as we’ve made in society, with respect to tolerating non-traditional relationships, there’s still this over-arching sentiment that being single is a deficiency. It’s not so much a choice as it is an excuse. When it’s less subtle, it can be downright demeaning. It takes many forms, but often carries similar themes.

Your standards are too high.

You’re not a desirable companion.

You’re too high-maintenance and clingy.

You’re past your prime.

You’ve got little to offer.

I’ve seen this levied at women and men. I know women who get very combative when someone tries to figure out why they’re not in a relationship after a certain age. I honestly don’t blame them, but I’ve seen those same women get plenty of sympathy. Even when they make excuses, men and women alike will offer them support when they need it.

As a man, though, I feel like I can’t get away with that. If I were as apprehensive as some of the women I’ve known, I wouldn’t get a lick of sympathy. If anything, I would be scorned. Men would look down at me as desperate and whiny. Woman would look down on me as pathetic and weak. None of those traits warrant much sympathy or support.

On some levels, I  understand why being single is stigmatized. For society to grow, it needs people to get together, forge close society bonds, and creature stable families. People who remain single aren’t contributing to that growth and stigma is just one way of incentivizing them to try harder, even if it creates distressing taboos.

I can also understand why the stigma is more pronounced in men. Like it or not, men tend to commit more crime. Men who lack the influence of a stabilizing relationship tend to cause more deviance and there’s even some research to back that up. It’s one of those instances where a particular prejudice has some statistics behind it.

However, statistics rarely tell the entire story. More often than not, they leave out critical details. In my case, the primary factor that has influenced my single status is a desire not to be with someone just for the sake of being with someone. I’ve seen more than one person fall into the trap of being with someone who is totally wrong for them, but stays with them to avoid being single.

I don’t want that for myself. I want any relationship I have, be it romantic or platonic, to be for the right reasons. Being single hasn’t made me feel more inclined to commit crime or do something deviant. It’s a reasonable choice that I made for myself and I don’t regret it. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating when other people make misguided assumptions about why I’m single.

I’ve met women who’ve made similar choices. I’ve also known plenty more who are single for different, but understandable reasons. They’re not selfish predators who are just holding out to marry a prince who will love them, cater to their every need, and be their personal pocketbook. There are women like that, but they’re the annoyingly loud exception and not the norm.

When it comes to being single, the lingering stigma feels like a very small battle in a much larger war involving gender, society, and politics. As a self-professed romantic, I’m all for encouraging people to find love and forge relationship. It’s a beautiful thing and I feel like that same stigma undermines the beauty.

On top of that, it shoves yet another wedge between men and women when we already have too many of those. We’ve steadily moved away from the notion that an unmarried woman at a certain age must either be a widow, a prostitute, or a nun. There’s still room for improvement, but we’re steadily making progress in empowering people to find their way, regardless of whether they’re single.

At the same time, a man remaining single is not prone to as much scrutiny as we’ve seen in in the past. There are still assumptions and anxieties that are uniquely associated with single men. Regardless of whether single men or single women have it worse, I feel as though one part of the stigma is being addressed while the other is being overlooked.

Like it or not, this is going to be an increasingly relevant issue. As women stay single for longer, there are going to be more single men. That’s just basic math. The desire to find someone special won’t go away anytime soon. The stigma is just making it more difficult and a lot less romantic.

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Why Men Remain Single: The Science, Lies, And Logistics

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There’s an emerging crisis. To most, it’s just another distressing trend among the many we have in this chaotic world. More men are staying single. Some do it by choice. Some just do it because they’ve given up and decided to take themselves out of the dating pool. Whatever their reason, the results are the same.

Men aren’t seeking love, getting married, or having children. According to both Gallup and data from the United Kingdom, the number of single adults is increasing, especially among the younger generations. Even the number of couples cohabitating aren’t increasing. In the United States alone, 64 percent of young adults report being single. That’s nearly two-thirds of the youth population.

Naturally, the abundance of single men is causing more concern than single women. To governments, demographers, religious leaders, conservatives, and women looking for romance, that’s a major issue with enormous ramifications. They see perpetually single men as a danger that threatens to undercut the current social fabric. Some societies are already having to deal with it, albeit for different reasons.

There are plenty of theories as to why these men are opting to remain single. Conservatives claim they’ve lost touch with tradition. Feminists blame lingering misogyny. They’ll often cite the emerging incel phenomenon as proof that these men are toxic burdens who will hold everyone back.

To all those various groups and their theories, I respectfully disagree. Speaking as a man who is currently single, but very open to finding love, I like to think I have more insight than most on single male mentality. I can’t claim to speak for all men, single or otherwise. However, I can offer my personal take while also citing some actual research.

In August 2018, the Journal of Evolutionary Psychological Science published a study that surveyed approximately 13,400 men on this issue. The methods weren’t exactly sophisticated. They used Reddit as a source of data. As a regular user of Reddit, I can attest that there are some meaningful insights from commenters. I can also attest that there’s a lot of trolling and misinformation.

That said, the study still provides some insights into this phenomenon that has so many people worried. I won’t say it’s definitive. No study is. The author of the paper freely admits that. However, there’s still some truth to be gleaned from the data, as well as a few lies.

To appreciate both, here are the top five reasons that men in the study gave for being single.

1: Poor Looks

2: Low Self-Esteem/Confidence

3: Not Putting Much Effort Into Seeking Relationships

4: Not Being Interested In A Relationship

5: Poor Social Skills With Women

There were a total of 43 other categories of reasons/excuses that men gave, but these were the most common. I feel they’re worth highlighting because they identify some of the inherent complications men deal with in today’s relationship scene.

Of those five stated reasons, three of them reflect traits that a person can actually control to some extent. Looks, confidence, and social skills can all be improved through work and effort. I, myself, am a testament to that. It’s not easy, but it is possible. It’s the other two reasons, though, namely the third and fourth most common response, that are the most telling.

In those cases, being single is a choice. The men don’t want to seek out companionship. They want to stay single. That notion seems off-putting to a lot of people, implying that there’s something wrong with them. How could men not be miserable staying single? That concept just feels flawed in the context of our current culture.

It’s a concept that doesn’t apply equally to women. The idea of a single woman isn’t seen as a societal problem. It’s even glorified in the media. There are popular songs about it. The entire “Sex in the City” franchise is built around it. That’s understandable, to some extent. Historically, women have had very few opportunities for independence. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that some are celebrating it.

With men, though, there’s a disconnect between those who have certain assumptions about masculinity and the mentality of those who don’t abide by those assumptions. This is where some of the lies surrounding the study show. It isn’t explicitly stated in the data, but it is implied.

It all comes back to incentives. If you look at the current structure of relationships, as reflected in popular culture and social norms, men don’t necessarily have much incentive to pursue a relationship. To understand why, just consider the expectations men face in those relationships.

Men are expected to set aside their interests, hobbies, and passions for their partner. They need to stop playing video games, hanging out with friends, and watching sports all day so they can tend to their lover’s needs. They’re expected to support their partner emotionally and financially at every turn. In return, they get love, intimacy, sex, and family. To many men, that reward just isn’t sufficient.

What I just described is not an accurate description of how most relationships play out in the real world. It assumes a lot about how much women want to control their partners. Granted, there are some very controlling women out there. I’ve known a few, but they’re not nearly as common as 80s teen movies would indicate.

How common they are doesn’t matter, though. That is the perception men have of relationships. On top of that, many young people are currently swimming in student loan debt, unable to get a high-paying job, and withholding their rage every time older generations blame them for ruining things. From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense for men to protect their independence.

It certainly doesn’t help that young men are one of the easiest demographics to denigrate. They commit most of the crime. They’re the ones spreading hate, misogyny, and outrage throughout our hyper-connected culture. Even if they’re more likely to be victimized in violent crime and less likely to garner sympathy, you’re not going to face much stigma for hating them.

That doesn’t even factor in the serious inequities in marriage laws, which I’ve talked about before. A man entering a relationship is taking a chance, but unlike the woman, he’s risking more than just heartbreak. If ever that relationship gets to that stage and binding contracts become involved, he stands to lose more than just a partner.

Again, and I feel it’s worth belaboring, some of the reasons these men give for wanting to remain single are based on flawed assumptions about relationships. However, when it comes to issues surrounding our emotions and the hyper-connected media that evokes them, perception matters more than any data from a study.

The men who participated in this particular study are probably not an accurate reflection of all men. They do provide some important insight, though, on the current state of relationships, gender, and everything in between.

Regardless of the study’s conclusion, though, the romance-lover in me genuinely believes that there’s room for improvement. Whether or not we pursue that improvement depends largely on the choices men make and the incentives they have to make them.

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How Less Sex Can Crash The Economy

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There’s a funny, but revealing saying by famed economist, Paul Samuelson, on the difficulty of predicting economic trends. It goes like this:

The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.

Other than being a play on numbers, there is a message in this quip that’s worth noting. No matter how many dire warnings accomplished economists give, a recession always seem to hit. It only ever becomes truly obvious with the benefit of hindsight.

I bring this up because I’m about to make some predictions about the future of the economy and I’m not an economist. I don’t claim to have more credibility on the matter than anyone else who has read every Freakanomics book ever written.

However, since the economy affects us all, it’s still worth talking about. Since the economy can influence our sex lives in ways I’ve discussed before, I feel like I can comment on the subject and even do a little speculation. Again, I want to make clear that I’m not an expert. This is just me making connections I feel are worth making.

When it comes to the economy, it’s not physically possible for anyone to make sense of all the data and connections that govern our affairs. Human beings are just too unpredictable and the amount of data involved is just too vast. Some points of data, though, carry more weight than others.

One of those points has to do with population and demographics. It’s a topic that’s becoming more and more relevant these days. Just this year, the birth rate in the United States dipped to a 30-year low. That’s somewhat remarkable because people tend to have more children when the economy is doing well and by most measures, the economy has been pretty good these past couple years.

This isn’t just an American problem, though. Many industrialized countries throughout the world are experiencing very low birth rates, some of which well below the replacement level rate that would keep a population stable. The reasons for this are many, but most boil down to cost. It’s just very expensive to raise a child these days and that cost is only going up.

Beyond the cost, though, there’s another factor at work that’s driving these declining fertility rates. People, in general, are just having less sex. That may seem obvious, given the data surrounding birth rates, but there are other aspects of the data that may reveal other factors.

For one, the decline in sexual activity is actually hitting the younger demographics, who are historically and biologically the most eager to engage, so to speak. I’m still old enough to remember when every other week seemed to bring dire news about teenagers having too much sex and horrifying their parents. Now, they’re not doing, but still finding ways to horrify their parents.

While I’m sure it still comes as a relief to some parents, it’s already causing concerns among demographers. However, I believe there’s a much larger concern about the economy, as a whole, that’s just starting to emerge. It has less to do with there being fewer babies and more to do with the nature of modern economies.

The days of economic health being measured by how many widgets a factory could produce are long gone. These days, most modern economies are built around consumer spending. Around 70 percent of the economy is consumer spending. That is not a trivial portion.

To illustrate why that could be a much greater problem down the line, I’ll need to make a few connections between sex and the economy. It’s not quite as kinky as it sounds, but those connections matter if you’re going to speculate about the future with any measure of accuracy.

Think, for a moment, about just how much economy activity goes into people seeking out sex and dealing with its associated byproducts, namely children. Whether you’re a man, a woman, or something in between, that pursuit drives a great deal of our economic activity.

Men work hard at jobs that don’t always pay that well to buy clothes, cars, and gifts with the hope that it’ll improve their chances of finding a partner. Women do the same, spending a great deal of money on cosmetics, clothes, and beauty treatments to attract desirable lovers. The money people spend on beauty products alone pumps a lot of money into the economy.

Even if the goal of these purchases isn’t directly linked to someone’s pursuit of sex, this activity does link to that fundamental pursuit that has driven society and our species for centuries. We work hard, establish functioning lives, and buy the things that prove to one another that we’re desirable lovers. It’s part of the many incentives that drive any economy.

It’s those same incentives, though, that can lead an economy into a cycle of destruction. Those cycles are behind every major financial crisis, but the one created by less sex and low birth rates may end up having a far greater impact. Some of those incentives are economic, but it’s the social incentives that might compound the issue.

Some of those incentives involve how modern marriage functions. More than a few people, myself included, have pointed out that marriage is not a very good deal, especially for men. If you look at it from the perspective of a simple contact, the flaws are pretty obvious.

Imagine, for a moment, that someone presents you with a contract. You will enter into a partnership in which you pledge emotional, financial, and intimate support for an undefined period of time. However, if the other party wishes to dissolve the partnership at any time for any reason, they can do so and get half your assets, as well as custody of your children.

Read over the fine print carefully. Would you sign that contract? Who in the right mind who isn’t drunk on irrational passions would? I think most people would see that as a bad deal and one that they have plenty of incentive to avoid.

On top of those incentives, there’s another round of them that has been growing recently. These come directly from the ongoing anti-harassment movement that has helped expose horrible sex crimes, but has also given men a powerful incentive to avoid women.

As a man, and I know this is anecdotal on my part, I find myself feeling very anxious around women who I don’t know or aren’t close family. I worry that one wrong gesture or one wrong comment will lead to an accusation that will subsequently ruin my life. I don’t want that and I don’t think any man wants that.

That’s not to say those incentives are powerful enough to make men stop feeling attracted to women, but I do think they’re sufficient to make men more reluctant to seek out intimate relationships with women. From an economic standpoint, the potential cost is very high, whether it’s paying for a child or for having your life ruined by an accusation.

From these incentives, the resulting economic situation won’t just be different. It will be unsustainable when you take into account the declining fertility rates. It doesn’t even have to be an economy where nobody gets married and has kids. It can just be an economy where most men and women stay single and don’t build much of their economic activity around pursuing sex.

In that economy, the only major purchases would be shelter, electricity, internet, and entertainment. As expensive as some of those can be, they’re not going to match the same amount of spending that comes with caring for children or for people just trying to get laid.

In the short-term, that means the economy will be dominated primarily by products and services that just help single men and single women relax on a Friday night after work. In the long-term, however, the consequences are much greater.

Without a growing population, there aren’t as many workers to support the large welfare states that most modern economies utilize. Moreover, without that same growing population, the consumer base starts shrinking. Even if a greater number of people have more money, that money is useless if there aren’t enough people to spend it.

From there, a cycle of fewer consumers starts feeding a process of declining spending. On top of that, fewer workers means it’s impossible to sustain a large welfare state, which leaves more people impoverished with even less money to spend. It began with declining birth rates, but it only accelerated when people just had less sex.

In the end, the economy as we know it now, just can’t function anymore. I’m not saying it’ll completely collapse, but it would have to adapt a lot in order to function with these incentives. I’m not sure what those adaptations would entail, whether it involves a universal basic income or using artificial wombs to augment the population.

I’ll say it one more time because I think I need to belabor this. I’m not an expert. This is just speculation on my part. This is what I feel could be the endgame for our economy, as we know it, if the current incentives hold. It’s a near certainty that there will be changes, but it’s impossible to predict what those changes will entail.

From my perspective, though, I think the implications are clear. A society where people are having fewer children is hard enough to adapt to, but we’ve already been doing that to some extent. One where people have less sex or flat out avoid it, though, may end up being much harder.

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