The pressure to get married and partner up is still prevalent in many countries.
As crazy as it might sound, Indian policemen were sent to 9,000 unmarried young men in order to find a "solution" for their "singleness" and talk with their families about possible alternatives to being single.
You are not wrong when you think singleness sounds like sickness in this context. Unfortunately, the Indian police in Panoor think so, too. The argument is that unmarried young men are more likely to participate in violent incidents and be involved in crime and drug dealing, so it is the police’s responsibility to marry them up.
In neighboring Pakistan, 27-year-old actor and TV host, Mathira, recently opened up about her divorce, but was besieged by fierce denunciation for even talking about it. In China, the Communist Youth League organized "love trains," as if domestic life is a political issue and marrying the unmarried should be on the party's agenda. This, while Tonga’s Prime Minister urged unmarried civil servants to marry in his annual meeting with them.
It might surprise some, but these incidents are not so different from what is going on in the West. In fact, according to some surveys, millennials in America feel much more pressure to get married than previous generations.
Why Does Society Pressure Singles to Marry?
The reasons for this pressure vary. Some argue that marriage is still a status symbol, while others highlight the negative stereotypes of single people that are still held by many. For example, a thousand American undergraduate students were asked to list the characteristics that they associated with married and single individuals. Compared to single people, married individuals were more likely to be described as mature, happy, kind, honest, and loving. Conversely, singles were described as immature, insecure, self-centered, unhappy, lonely, and even ugly.
The authors of another study, in Indonesia, found that most Indonesians consider singlehood to be a social failure. Singles are not included in rituals and unmarried women in particular are less powerful in terms of social status, control over economic resources, and normative expectations in society. The reason is simple: Women are socialized to be wives and mothers, and are largely judged by fertility and ability to perpetuate a husband's lineage. Only through marriage are women accepted into the adult community, which then allows them to broaden their sphere of activities.
It seems that everyone must have a partner to fit in, as if the smallest piece of the social puzzle must consist of at least two people. Society believes that if you are not part of such a unit, you are probably incomplete, antisocial, and perhaps even dangerous. In turn, singles are made to feel less worthy.
This is a major source of frustration and confusion for single people, young and old. For millennials, the topic seems even more crucial; a Pew report predicts that one-quarter of American young adults, for example, will never marry.
Singles Are Just Fine, Thanks for Asking
However, many singles in today’s society live happily ever after. Many stay single because they emphasize the need for freedom and the ability to try new things in their lives. They diverge from traditions of social acceptance and feel freer to design their lives as they wish.
It’s easy to consider this generation’s tendency to delay marriage and switch jobs more frequently to be a developmental bug, but it’s actually a feature. Post-materialist and post-familial values protect millennials and make them feel better. These values, which many singles subscribe to, are strongly associated with higher well-being.
In fact, the benefits of the pursuit of personal satisfaction and self-expression, vs. the traditional pursuit of material “happiness," are even more pronounced for single people. The ability to adopt these post-traditional and post-familial values is directly correlated with feeling better about oneself and, in turn, feeling better about whatever marital choice one makes.
Moreover, singles have found ingenious ways to be even more connected than previous generations. When comparing differences in social behavior between married couples in 1980 and 2000, researchers found that the unmarried population 2000 to be more social, and the married population less so.
It seems that the social and emotional needs of post-materialist singles are being met more easily, despite overwhelming societal pressure to be in a relationship or get married. The explanation behind this remarkable trend lies in what researchers call the “networked” individual. In diverging from traditions and social acceptance, singles are creating a virtuous cycle of singlehood and post-materialist life satisfaction.
To develop a more inclusive society, we should learn to accept and embrace single living and resist prejudices against singles. Many studies on marriage and happiness are based on the assumption that marriage is intrinsically beneficial, but it is hard to feel good if society pressures you and makes you feel ashamed.
Someone needs to tell that to Tonga's Prime Minister and to the thousands of Indian policemen raiding to "cure" unmarried men.