According to a new study, single men feel more pressure to be in a relationship than single women. Over 70 per cent of single men felt “significant pressure” to find a partner, compared with 58 per cent of women, a survey by dating website eHarmony and relationship-support charity Relate has found.
The majority of single people reported feeling lonely, The Independent reports, but single men are slightly more likely to suffer from loneliness, with 47 per cent saying feeling lonely was a negative aspect of being single, compared with 43 per cent of women.
“This challenges the traditional idea of the happy-go-lucky bachelor who is more suited to single life than his female equivalent,” explained Dr Linda Papadopoulos, an eHarmony psychologist. We’ve seen this trope play out on television (Joey in Friends), in film (basically any movie with Matthew McConaughey) and when any vaguely visible or famous man becomes single. Meanwhile, the narrative around single women remains pretty depressing. For women, being single is still seen as a problem a woman has to solve, rather than a lifestyle choice to be embraced. But, according to this new study, that doesn’t reflect the reality of single life at all.
It’s impossible to gauge how accurate this study really is – I’m not entirely sure eHarmony is the pinnacle of scientific research – but, personally, I can sort of see some truth in these statistics. Papadopoulos pointed out that the reason she believes women suffer slightly less from loneliness than their male counterparts was probably because they were more likely to capitalise on strong friendships.
For women, being single is still seen as a problem a woman has to solve, rather than a lifestyle choice to be embraced
Despite being a truly terrible film in pretty much every conceivable way, every so often I find myself thinking about the scene in the first Sex In The City movie where Miranda – sad, newly single and lonely – calls Carrie up on New Year’s Eve. In response, Carrie makes her way from one side of the city to the other on the busiest night of the year so that her best friend doesn’t have to ring in the new year alone. This is what I remember of being single: not so much the boys I flirted with, the bars I went to or the messages I spent far too long analysing, but rather my best friend and I curled up on the sofa in our shared house, clasping glasses of wine and talking about our day. I remember a different friend holding my hair back when I got a stomach bug while we were backpacking around Central America and another friend who, from 2010 to 2012, invited me to every event on her social calendar as her plus one.
But despite believing that single women feel less lonely than their male counterparts, I'm not so sure that this extends to the other, larger point this study makes: that single women feel less pressure to be in a relationship than men. In relationships, as with everything, there are different expectations and pressures put on men and women. Men are expected to move on, to enjoy the single life, to revel in their bachelorhood – but for many, this stereotype of what being a single man is meant to look like doesn’t match the reality of their lives. And I’m sure that’s complicated and confusing and hard.
But for women, there’s an expectation that they’ll pine, they’ll fall apart, they’ll eat a lot of ice cream and then, of course, they’ll frantically restart their search for The One. Because, while bachelorhood is meant to be an adventure for men, for women being single can’t be fun, it can’t be a lifestyle choice, it can’t be anything other than sad. Add to that the other host of pressures women feel – from tabloids, well-intentioned grandmothers and, of course, their own biological clocks – it’s hard to believe that men feel more pressure to be in a relationship than women.
Instead, I think the truth might be that women are better at finding ways to release some of this pressure – they invite their friends as their plus ones rather than going to a party alone, and they get to feel empowered, rather than pathetic, if their experience of being single doesn’t match the stereotype. At the end of the day, it’s impossible to outrun your biological clock and, for most women, that’s one pressure they will always face that just doesn’t apply to men in quite the same way.