Out in the Open

'There's this ambient feeling that something is terribly, terribly awry': How we delegitimize single people

Fear and loathing — and social stigma — of the uncoupled is alive and well, despite a rising number of Canadians describing themselves that way.

"It is that threat of dying alone."

Michael Cobb says that's among the worst things anyone's ever said to him about his singledom — and it came from his own loving grandmother, on her deathbed, begging him to "find someone".

Cobb cites that experience as an example of the kind of subtle and not-so-subtle forms of coercion to find a life partner. 
Michael Cobb is the author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled. (Courtesy of Michael Cobb)

Cobb, an academic at the University of Toronto, is the author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, and he tells Piya that even though nearly 40% of Canadians describe themselves as single, not much is changing when it comes to the ways we as a culture support couples and stigmatize single people.

"That's the thing about coupledom. It's a shorthand for valuable, important, mature citizen. Who gets a tax break."

When it comes to single people, we have a "pathetic" version and a "glamourized" version -- but neither gets at the realistic version, which leaves single people strangely unreflected in our culture, not to mention projected upon or misunderstood, Cobb says.

"It's this weird war … between different kinds of relationship moments."

There's really no need to rank them, or pit them against each other, Cobb says.

 "Why can't we just lateralize it, put it all on the same level, and allow those different experiences to be the rich experiences of your life?"