Why Do We Still Shame Jennifer Aniston for Being Single?

WORDS BY CLARA STRUNCK

The actress has recently opened up again about being on her own – and with studies showing single women are the happiest, it’s about time we celebrated those going solo.

No one has had their love life so scrutinised, by the press or by the public, than Jennifer Aniston. Her marriage to Brad Pitt was the stuff of Nineties dreams, but the pair’s separation generated even more headlines than their partnership, when Pitt struck up a relationship with his Mr & Mrs Smith co-star, Angelina Jolie. Who could forget those cruel ‘Team Aniston’ and ‘Team Jolie’ t-shirts, and the narrative which so often painted Aniston as a victim – a sadly single woman, designed to be pitied?

Aniston went on to marry Justin Theroux in 2015, but split from him two years later, generating a new slew of headlines: one American tabloid ran the coverline ‘DUMPED’, while others speculated on her fertility. Indeed, such open season has been declared on Aniston and her relationship status that in 2016, she wrote an open letter for the Huffington Post, about the tabloid narrative that has dogged her for decades. “We are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child,” she wrote. “We get to decide for ourselves what is beautiful when it comes to our bodies. That decision is ours and ours alone.”

In a magazine interview that year, she reiterated how fed up she was of the reductive focus on her personal life. “My marital status has been shamed; my divorce status was shamed; my lack of a mate had been shamed,” she said. “I just thought: ‘I have worked too hard in this life and this career to be whittled down to a sad, childless human.’”

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Despite being something of a role model for peaceful, unapologetically unattached women everywhere, the Friends actress is, at 54, still having to justify her single status. “I didn’t like the idea of sacrificing who you were or what you needed, so I didn’t really know how to do that,” she told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview. She added that, for her, relationships are “just about not being afraid to say what you need and what you want. And it’s still a challenge for me.”

“People just don’t accept that women can be happy without a partner”

So why are we still talking about Aniston’s relationship status, when there are plenty of male actors who remain single well into their later years – and blissfully untroubled by headlines for being so? “People just don’t accept that women can be happy without a partner, whereas it’s not the case for men,” says Ellie, a 34-year old marketing consultant, who is happily uncoupled. “They get labelled ‘bachelors’, whereas women like me are always assumed to be unlucky in love, or looking for someone to complete them.”

The statistics, however, do not bear out the outdated ‘old maid’ stereotype – in fact, they contradict it. A new report by leading market intelligence agency Mintel found that 61 per cent of women in the UK are happy to be single, compared to 49 per cent of men. Interestingly, the difference was most noticeable in Aniston’s own age bracket of 45-65, in which 32 per cent of women are happy alone, while just only 19 per cent of men feel the same.

jennifer aniston shamed for being single

Image credit: GETTY IMAGES

The key word in these statistics is ‘happy’ – these are not women ‘making the best of things’ until they find a partner. In fact, as many as 75 per cent of the single women surveyed have not actively tried to find someone in the last 12 months. “I’ve come off all the dating apps, because it was just soul-destroying to spend my time on successively bad dates,” says Pooja, a hedge-fund manager in her late thirties. “I’m much happier now that I’ve stopped looking for a partner. I have weekends free to see my friends and family, and focus on myself.”

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So much of what we ascribe to romantic relationships is born out of social conditioning, rather than actual facts. Pressure is heaped upon women to have children (or to freeze your eggs if you’re not ready), and yet, according to happiness expert Paul Dolan from the London School of Economics, “the healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who never married or had children”.

“Why, without a plus one, are women still deemed to be minus something?”

We’re warned that life alone is, well, lonely – but we know that women are adept at forming strong bonds outside romantic relationships (arguably better, say some studies, than men). “There’s evidence that women spend longer on domestic tasks than men and I think they also do more emotional work — so they still do more housework and cooking and things as well as more emotional labour,” says Professor Emily Grundy, of the University of Essex.

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There are so many unspoken (science-backed) benefits of single life: more time for yourself and your friends, an increased likelihood to be fitter and healthier, greater career prospects and opportunities (apparently, singles are intrinsically more work-motivated) and potentially more financial security (if you choose not to have children). So why, without a plus one, are women still deemed to be minus something?

jennifer aniston shamed for being single

Image credit: GETTY IMAGES

We live in an age where there are plenty of women who show us that singlehood is not a pitiable state – far from it. Take the Oscar-winner Alison Janney, or Charlize Theron, who said on The Drew Barrymore Show that a man would have to be really special to get her attention, “because I just won’t accept anything less”. Or how about Tracee Ellis Ross, who credits her “robust tribe” of friends for her happiness? There are single icons everywhere you care to look.

Perhaps, therefore, it is a positive thing that Aniston has been quoted on her relationship status (yet again). This time, instead of a rebuttal to criticism, her words are an important affirmation that singlehood is a powerful, valid state – and the more we hear that, the closer we might get to accepting it.

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This article originally appeared in harpersbazaar.com/uk