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Why Midlife Singles Are Still Stereotyped

We’re becoming more and more accepting of a whole host of different lifestyles; so why are single midlifers still treated like the odd ones out? Read more from Marie on her blog

Midlife Singles

Today, gay and transgendered people are not gaining acceptance passively; they are demanding it. Read the comments section of any online article, and you’ll see that anyone who criticizes or stereotypes either group is strafed into silence.

There is always a next frontier, and perhaps it is older single people. A recent Pew Research center study shows that one in five people never marry, a record number that more than doubles the number of singles in 1960.

Still, stereotypes just won’t die and few are rushing in to correct them in a unified way.

We still raise an eyebrow at the 50-ish man who still lives with his parents, the spinster cat lady, the bon vivant. We wonder, silently or out loud: Why can’t they just find someone? Why don’t they just settle down? Why can’t the cat lady and the basement dweller just meet cute at the mailbox and live together with cats in the lower level?

The real questions that should be asked are: why are we still asking these questions? Why are we uncomfortable with midlife singlehood? And why do we feel someone is less than or “other” when they pass the 50 mark without a ring (or have taken it off for good)?  This especially applies to women.

Perhaps it is just human nature to put people in boxes. At one time, not long ago, we assumed someone who was perpetually alone might be secretly gay. Now, thankfully, sexuality need not be a secret: gays and lesbians are out, marrying and having kids on the other side of the white picket fence. Your neighbor might announce, like Texas lawmaker Mary Gonzalez, that she is pansexual.

That leaves others – those who may or may not self-identify – to be scrutinized even more deeply. We expect human beings, social creatures that we are, to couple up. Those who do don’t understand those who don’t.

Attitudes are partly linked to age: the Pew study shows that two-thirds of people 18 to 29 believe that marriage and family are not necessary to leading a fulfilling life and enriching society. Fifty-five percent of those 50 and older say society is better off if people marry and have children.

Still, a majority – 68 percent – of all survey respondents believe in love and marriage.

The pressure to marry is ever present, in the media and across dinner tables. While we live in an age in which more single women choose to have children alone, we also live at a time in which Mommy Wars rage, and having a large family has become a status symbol.

One researcher has coined the phrase matrimania – a societal obsession with marriage and family. Yet, this same researcher also notes that older singles tend to be highly resilient, which is a key component to happiness.

Ultimately, we must ask this: Has the groundwork created during the first Women’s Movement unraveled? Whatever happened to the empowering, ebullient singlehood of Mary Richards, Rhoda Morgenstern and the Golden Girls?

Sure, eHarmony and are still doing a healthy business, but a Pew Research Center study shows that one-third of online daters do not end up meeting someone they make initial contact with online. This indicates desperation is a myth.

If love happens, it happens. Thirty-two percent of never-married adults are open to the idea, while 13 percent say they never plan to wed. Why question it? It is time we break stereotypes and extend the courtesy of self-definition to midlife singles.

Marie Hickman

Marie Hickman is a TV journalist turned writer and blog contributor. She writes about saving money , parenting, cooking and travel. She admits her life is a mosaic, not a monument, and she is OK with that.

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