There’s a lot of shame around being single. Rather than it singleness meaning ‘not currently in a relationship’, some people treat it like the prison sentence they serve between relationships or a damning indictment of their ‘failure’ as a person.

While undoubtedly the discomfort some people experience about not being in a relationship is driven by their negative beliefs, part of why these exist in the first place is because of society’s attitude towards relationships. They’ve internalised other people’s emotional baggage, including shame about what it means to be a woman who hasn’t had children or married, ageing, attractiveness, and what it ‘must’ mean about a man if he’s over a certain age and single or never been married.

Even when for all intents and purposes, we’re actually OK, happy, even, with being single, plenty of others are not.

Are you seeing anyone at the moment? Should you not be thinking about settling down at this point? Aren’t you worried about being left behind?

Be careful about ending this relationship because a good man/woman is hard to find. It gets harder as you get older, you know. Don’t you want to have kids?

Don’t you think you’re being picky? We stayed together with much worse in our relationship. At least he has a good job.

Not everyone is in a relationship because they genuinely want to be there and it’s mutually fulfilling.

Some people stay in their relationships because they’re scared of being on their own or because ‘success’, to them, equals being in a relationship, any relationship.

Just like the person who stays in a soul-sucking job or doesn’t pursue the career they really want because they “have it good” or it’s “really hard out there” feels uncomfortable each time someone leaves or they hear about somebody’s career moves, some people in relationships feel threatened by people who choose to leave. They feel especially uncomfortable with people who seem relatively OK with being single or whose relationship wasn’t ‘terrible’.

Rather than acknowledge their discomfort or confront what’s going on in their own life, or even just live and let live, they deflect. They ask the asinine questions, treat you like a bad smell, or engage in micro aggressions. Suddenly, you can’t be invited to things, for instance, or they keep interfering in your life.

When people treat you like someone to be pitied, that can trigger shame. It’s crucial to recognise that this isn’t yours to carry.

Someone who, whether they own up to it or not, tries to make you feel small about being single, needs you to feel bad so that they don’t have to.

They need you to feel bad about your singleness so that they don’t have to confront what it brings up about their own relationship choices. Deflecting their discomfort means that they don’t have to acknowledge what your life says about the excuses, the stories they’ve been telling themselves.

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