In college, students are susceptible to all kinds of criticism. We’ve all heard talk about body-shaming and GPA-shaming, but one that often gets overlooked is shaming someone solely based off of their relational status. Before I begin, let me make one thing clear:
Shaming has no place in loving yourself or loving others.
In the past few years, a new vocabulary of slang terms have risen to popularity as a response to criticism over romantic endeavors. People now use phrases discouraging “single, slut, relationship, etc. shaming” because of the harsh judgement that gets placed on any kind of romantic relations. What’s behind this crazy phenomenon and how do we stop it?
The simple answer is that we can’t, not right away. Why? Because there’s always going to be that one person, who’s irrationally unhappy with how you’re living your life. That one person who judges you for no reason whatsoever. We can however, discourage it and break down why it’s happening.
For the purpose of keeping this piece simple I’m going to break relationship statuses down into 3 common categories that we see in college: single, casual encounters, and relationships.
The Single Life
Being single means having no strong commitment to another person romantically—you can go as you please. You’re not tied down to anyone, and you get to focus a little more on yourself.
“Sometimes it almost feels like I’m letting people down when I tell them I’m still single.”
Pop culture tells us that the idealistic human lifespan involves getting married and having kids somewhere during your 20s and 30s. This leads people to believe that if they haven’t found a partner by [insert age here], they are destined to be forever alone with 10 cats. In previous generations, the term “old maid” has been used as an offensive term for a woman no longer in her youth and not married. Kids today as young as elementary school ages are “dating”, and this kind of culture has led us to place a negative stigma on being single. Another false and negative connotation associated with single life is that a single person is seen as “undesirable” or “unattractive” because they are not romantically involved. Celebrities today are slammed by magazines if they aren’t dating or married by a certain age, and there is a heavy emphasis on finding a lifelong companion as soon as possible, even if that means settling.
This kind of culture is wrong. Rachel Schaub, a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma and staff writer for The Prospect, believes that single-shaming is definitely a problem for a lot of college students:
“Whether it be family members or high school and college friends, everyone is always curious about my relationship status. Sometimes it almost feels like I’m letting people down when I tell them I’m still single, even though I’m not looking for a relationship. I think that people usually mean well when asking those kinds of questions, but trust me—I know I’m single…it really isn’t that big of a deal.”
Being single is a fantastic way to get to know yourself and express your individuality. The notion that you need another person to feel complete is ridiculous—if you’re single and happy, more power to you. It doesn’t mean you’re “alone” or “undesirable”; it means you’re rocking your way through life independently and you call the shots on when (and if) you want to have somebody else in your life.
Casual Dating or “Hooking Up”
College is one of the last times that you’re exposed to thousands of young adults in the same age group, and that makes a lot of students take the opportunity to play the field. Casual dating or hook-up culture means that you might be involved with one or more people in a casual, uncommitted manner to whatever degree you’re comfortable with. Some people enjoy this kind of status for the dating around aspect, while others may seek out “friends with benefits” style partners.
“We need to be more accepting of others and respect their ability to make rational, adult decisions.”
These kind of romantic encounters are often subject to negative scrutiny and judgment, because society tells us we need to put a label on things for everything to be in order. Nowadays, if a guy states his intentions clearly but makes casual dinner plans with multiple girls, he is considered a player or a “man-whore”. If a girl sleeps with multiple guys, she is seen as “easy” and is therefore slut-shamed. Why are these young adults not allowed to see multiple people? Isn’t the point of dating to see what qualities we like or don’t like in potential life partners, so that we don’t settle? Above all, isn’t the point of involving yourself romantically or intimately with anyone in any way for the purpose of making yourself happy? One of our staff writers, an anonymous sophomore at Barnard College, shared her thoughts on playing the field:
“It’s perfectly okay to do whatever you want with your body, as long as you’re being safe. There’s a stigma against girls who have sex frequently and/or with different people, while boys who do the same thing are usually pardoned. Along the way we’ve internalized this double standard…we need to be more accepting of others and respect their ability to make rational, adult decisions.”
Much of society rejects these kind of encounters because of their promiscuous nature; however, the bottom line is that you decide who you want to have relations with, whether you’re doing a casual dinner and a movie or having a one night stand every other weekend. If it makes you happy and you’re being smart about it, go right ahead.
A committed relationship means that two people are exclusively involved for however long the relationship lasts, whether that be a few months or until marriage. Being in a relationship in college can be great—you always have a date to formals and you have someone to stay in and order pizza with when the workload gets rough.
“It was so frowned upon to be single in high school but then so frowned upon to be taken in college.”
People who enter college while in a relationship, or people who maintain long-term relationships in college are often told by others that they’re “missing out” on the opportunity to have more casual romantic and sexual relationships. Nowadays, couples are breaking up not because they have lacking communication or chemistry, but because of “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out). If two people are happy and stable together, why is it so hard for others to accept? College couples are told that it won’t last or that committed dating in college is like leaving the party at 8pm. Couples in long distance relationships are constantly slammed with claims that distance perpetuates cheating and distrust. Today’s college culture implies that if a person would rather date just one person, then they are not getting the full college experience.
One of our staff writers, an anonymous sophomore at Quinnipiac University, shared her own story with relationship-shaming:
“When I was a rising junior in high school, my boyfriend, who at the time was about to start his first semester at a university, actually broke up with me because he didn’t want to be judged for having a relationship in college…I didn’t understand how it was so frowned upon to be single in high school but then so frowned upon to be taken in college. Even now that I’m in college myself, I overhear so many people saying they don’t want to be in a relationship because “it’s college and that’s weird”.
Debra Rowcroft, another staff writer and sophomore at Wellesley College, states,
“Everyone I’ve talked to has talked about how college is a transformative time and should be about “you” and only you. However, for some people, being in a relationship can really be a source of support and love, and perhaps that is them being “themselves”.”
The bottom line is that if you and your significant other are happy together, don’t fix what’s not broken because of someone else’s opinion of what your life should be like. No outsider has the right to criticize why two individuals shouldn’t be together in a sad attempt to make them reconsider the relationship.
The Battle over Singles versus Couples
It’s no secret that a lot of unbridled judgment exists between those who are single and those in happy relationships. The reasoning behind this has a lot to do with normative idealization, the psychology concept which states that we tend to view our own relational status as the universal ideal, and that others would benefit from having a similar lifestyle. The truth is neither being single nor being in a relationship is the “better” option because there is no correct answer. There are, however, some incorrect answers as created by our culture:
Singles can get a bad rep because of the bitterly single stereotype. Not everyone is the #1 fan of relationships, but it’s best to hold off on publicly scowling and scoffing at every light sign of affection exchanged between couples.
Couples can get a bad rep for being too lovey-dovey or attached. It’s okay to show a little PDA now and then, but others may feel uncomfortable if things to get too mushy and PG-13+ when hanging out in a group.
The battle between singles and couples can create toxic behaviors. These behaviors include staying in an unhappy or abusive relationship for the sake of having a relationship, or metaphorically beating yourself up for not having a significant other to the point where it’s affecting your self-image. Make the most of your relationship status—you know what’s best for you. Don’t let yourself get trapped in a static frame of mind when you could be having fun while loving yourself and receiving the love you deserve.
All the “war” between singles and couples really comes down to is keeping normative idealization in control, and respecting others’ decisions to remain single or in a relationship without pushing or encouraging opposing views. It’s entirely possible to be extremely satisfied with your quality of life on both sides of the spectrum.
Shaming has no place in loving yourself or loving others.
Not only is whether or not you have a significant other, what type of significant other you have, or what you do with that significant other nobody else’s business, but it’s also not a measure of your worth. When it comes to dating, intimacy, relationships, hooking up, or choosing not to participate at all, none of those operate on a one-size-fits-all model.
What does that mean? It means we need to stop relationship status-shaming on all sides. No one is in charge of your happiness but you, and anyone who makes you feel ashamed or implies that they know what’s best for your love life is wrong. Relationship status-shaming is an issue that’s often overlooked on college campuses, but as a college senior I can’t help but reflect on how often I’ve seen it happen over the past few years. This kind of behavior is unacceptable and disrespectful toward friends, classmates, roommates, and peers of all college walks of life. Don’t listen to that useless criticism from others, and above all, please don’t spread the criticism and shaming onto anyone else.
Stay happy and spread the love.