Be Sensitive to Single People

Published September 16, 1982. By now most of you know I am very much in favor of marriage and family life. During the past few years I have written numerous articles suggesting ways these relationships might be more enjoyable. And most of the articles have been written with the married person in mind. Now I want to write something to married people about those who are not. I want to make a plea for greater sensitivity for singles.

I have recently received several letters from column readers who are not married. As I read these letters, one thought comes repeatedly to mind. We who are married often make life difficult and less than it could be for those who, for one reason or another, are not married.

In our geographical area there is great emphasis placed on marriage. And all this is well and good for those who pursue, achieve, and maintain this relationship. But somewhere along the way we have lost part of our sensitivity for those who never marry, those who marry and later divorce, and those who lose a spouse through death.

Married people sometimes make those who are not married feel like misfits, like they do not belong, or will not until they either marry or remarry. And tragically enough, some singles want to belong and be accepted so much that they sometimes enter questionable marriages.

Several people who have never married have written to me and are, quite honestly, angry. Married people often joke or jest about their singleness. And men in particular resent the peer pressure toward matrimony.

“Why don’t you just find someone and get married?” they are commonly asked. As one man in his early thirties wrote, married people sometimes do not realize that the goal is not just to marry. Singles also want to find someone they love, want to be with, and then pursue marriage with that individual.

And married couples also have a difficult time realizing and accepting the fact that there are many mature people today, both men and women, who, by choice or chance, have not married. And yet they lead full and productive lives as singles. Many of them are very happy being single. Obviously, others are not. But much of the happiness of singles, or the lack of happiness, is often derived from their relationships with friends and associates, many of whom are married.

Not long ago we knew a man whose wife died of cancer. We, along with numerous others, attended her funeral and tried in some small way to alleviate his grief. After the funeral he later experienced several months of grief, anguish, and loneliness.

During his adjustment, several of his married friends planned a party. But he was not invited. He later learned they didn’t want to cause any feelings by bringing back former memories. Nor did they know whether he wanted to come to the party of married couples when he no longer had a partner.

Little did his friends realize that the invitation to their social was the very thing he needed and wanted at that time. And the absence of the invitation was far more painful than any uneasiness he may have felt at the party. Single people should be given the opportunity to attend such functions and then be allowed to decide whether or not they would like to attend.

Divorced people have also shared with me their concern that because they have failed in one aspect of life, they are often made to feel they have failed in all dimensions of daily living. We who are married often sympathize and give some degree of social and moral support to someone who loses a spouse through death. But when others lose a spouse through divorce and find themselves in almost identical circumstances as the widowed, we often fail to give the divorced the support and encouragement they need.

Hopefully we will all do what we can to make life more meaningful for everyone, regardless of being married, single, or divorced. To do this we might have to re-examine some of our attitudes and behavior toward each other.

And then we all might have to change.

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