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Pairing and Singlehood

Although most people eventually marry or commit to a partner, everyone spends some time as a single person,
and nearly all make some attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to find a partner. Intimate relationships are as
important for singles as for couples.

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Choosing a Partner

Most men and women select partners for long-term relationships through a fairly predictable process, although
they may not be consciously aware of it. First attraction is based on easily observable characteristics: looks,
dress, social status, and reciprocated interest. Most people pair with someone who lives in the same geographic
area, is from a similar ethnic and socioeconomic background, has similar educational attainment, lives a similar
lifestyle, and is like them in terms of physical attraction.

Once the euphoria of romantic love winds down, personality traits and behaviours become more significant
factors in how the partners view each other. The emphasis shifts to basic values and future aspirations regarding
career, family, and children. At some point, they decide whether the relationship feels viable and is worthy of
their continued commitment.

Perhaps the most important question for potential mates to ask is, How much do we have in common?
Although differences add interest to a relationship, similarities increase the chances of a relationship's success.
Areas in which differences can affect a relationship include values, religion, ethnicity, attitudes toward sexuality
and gender roles, socioeconomic status, familiarity with each other's culture, and interactions with the extended
family (see the Dimensions of Diversity box). Acceptance and communication skills go a long way toward
making a relationship work, no matter how different the partners.

Dimensions of DIVERSITY
Interfaith and Intrafaith Partnerships

Culture can be a determinant of partnership choices, but this is not always the case. Interfaith marriage is
becoming more common among Canadians; in 2001, 19 percent of couples were in an interfaith marriage, up
from 15 percent in 1981. With this increasing trend, we can expect that when the government releases more
recent statistics, even more couples will be in interfaith unions. There are many types of interfaith partnerships,
including partners from (1) two completely different religions, (2) two religions with similar roots, (3) two
divisions of the same religion, or (4) two denominations from the same religious division. The latter two are
often called intrafaith partnerships.

Marrying someone of a different faith can broaden the partners' worldview and enrich their lives; however, it can
also be a potential stressor and a challenge to a relationship.

The impact of being an interfaith couple depends on how religious the partners are. There is no specifically
correct way to address religious diversity in a partnership, but the following are some potential approaches: 1/11
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Withdrawal: In some couples, both partners withdraw from their respective religions. Religious
differences may be minimized, but the withdrawal may not last. If a partner was observant before the
relationship, it is likely that she or he will want to become actively involved again. This often occurs with
a significant life event, such as the birth of a child or death of a parent.

Conversion: In some interfaith couples, one partner converts to the religion of the other. Religious
differences are decreased, but problems can occur if the partner who converts develops resentment, has
difficulties with her or his family of origin, misses the old religion, or experiences feelings of guilt or

Compromise: Some couples convert together to a new religion, possibly to a religion or denomination at a
midpoint between their two religions. The couple may find a happy medium that is satisfying to both.
However, both may experience the problems associated with conversion.

Multifaith: Some couples join both religionsformally or informally. They may alternate places of
worship weekly or make other creative arrangements. The advantage of this pattern is that both partners
maintain their religions and learn more about each other. Problems may arise if the religions have
conflicting values or practices.

Ecumenical: In some relationships, partners merge their religions. They may combine the best of each or
observe only the areas in which the religions intersect. They may get the best of both worlds or discover
that their religions have more in common than they thought. In some cases, however, the original religious
institutions may condemn compromise.

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Diversity: In some couples, each partner chooses to follow his or her own religion. If both partners are
very religious, they do not then have to give up an important part of their lives. However, some partners
consider this approach undesirable because it means more time spent apart.

Do nothing: Some couples find no need to address religious differences because neither partner is
observant or committed to a religion to an extent that it is a relationship challenge. They address specific
issues if and when they arise.

Couples often handle their religious differences without a problem until they marry or have children. Planning
an interfaith wedding can be fraught with unique stressors, such as differing rituals and the expectations of
guests from different faiths. When children arrive, decisions may need to be made about many issues, such as
baptism, circumcision, and religious upbringing.

To maintain a successful partnership, couples should communicate about religious issues before getting married
and having children. Discuss the importance of your religions and religious needs. Consider ways that you can
honour each other's religious traditions. Learn to discuss issues relating to religion and spirituality in ways that
bring you closer together.

Sources: Statistics Canada. 2006. Study: Interreligious unions. The Daily, October 3, (retrieved June 30, 2015); Robinson, B. A.
2007. Inter-Faith Marriages, (retrieved June 30, 2015); and
Robinson, B. A. 1999. How Inter-Faith and Intra-Faith Couples Handle Religious Differences, (retrieved June 30, 2015).

Video: Is Dating Dead on College Campuses?

Click here to view a transcript of this video 2/11
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Every culture has certain rituals for pairing and finding mates. Parent-arranged marriages, still the norm in many
cultures, are often very stable and permanent. Although the Canadian cultural norm is personal choice in
courtship and mate selection, the popularity of dating services and online matchmaking suggests that many
people want help finding a suitable partner (see the In Focus box).

Online Relationships

Worldwide, tens of millions of people use the World Wide Web to network and to find friends and partners.
Social networking websites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster, offer places for profiles, photos, blogs,
music, videos, and email to vast numbers of people, mostly teens and young adults, seeking to connect online.

Online dating sites and forums, such as or Lavalife, are also popular, especially among those
recently out of college or university who are seeking an intimate partner or an expanded circle of friends. In fact,
nearly 1.2 million Canadians have visited an online dating service.

Connecting with people online has its advantages and its drawbacks. It allows people to communicate in a
relaxed way, to try out different personas, and to share things they might not share with family or friends face to
face. Many find that it offers a sense of privacy, safety, and comfort. It is easy to put yourself out there without
too much investmentyou can get to know someone from the comfort of your own home, set your own pace,
and start and end the relationships at any time. With millions of singles using dating forums that allow them to
outline exactly what they are seeking, the Internet can increase a person's chance of finding a good match.

Meeting people online has drawbacks, however. People often misrepresent themselves, pretending to be very
differentolder or younger or even of a different sexthan they really are. Investing time and emotional
resources in such relationships can be painful. In some instances, online romances have become dangerous or
even deadly (see Chapter 20 for information on cyberstalking).

Because people have greater freedom to reveal only what they want to, users should also be aware of a greater
tendency to idealize online partnerssetting themselves up for later disappointment. If you find that your online
friend seems perfect, consider that a warning sign. Looking for partners online can become like shopping: The
choices available may increase your tendency to search for perfection or find fault quickly, thereby keeping you
from giving people a chance. Remember what is most important to you and keep your expectations realistic.

When looking for friends and partners online, you are also missing important and powerful sources of
information: chemistry and in-person intuition. Much of our communication is transmitted through body
language and tone, which are not available online and cannot be fully captured even by Web cams. Trust your
feelings regarding the process of the relationship. Are you revealing more than the other person? Is there a
balance in the amount of time spent talking by each of you? Is the other person respecting your boundaries? Just
as in real-life dating, online relationships require you to use common sense and to trust your instincts.

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If you decide to pursue an online relationship, here are some strategies that can help you have a positive
experience and stay safe:

To improve your chances of meeting people interested in you as a person, avoid sexually oriented

Know what you are looking for as well as what you have to offer someone else. If you are looking for a
relationship, make that fact clear. About 80 percent of Canadian users of online dating services are single.
Find out the other person's situation and intentions. 3/11
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Many websites let users upload photos. Know, however, that your photo can be downloaded by anyone,
distributed to other individuals or sites, and even altered. Don't post photos unless you are completely
comfortable with the potential consequences.

Don't give out personal information, including your real full name, school, or place of employment, until
you feel sure that you are giving the information to someone who is trustworthy. Do not give anyone your
address or phone number over the Internet.

Consider setting up a second email account for sending and receiving dating-related emails.

If someone does not respond to a message, try not to take it personally. There are many reasons why a
person may not pursue the connection. Do not send multiple messages to an unresponsive person; doing so
could lead to an accusation of stalking. If someone stops responding to your messages, drop the
interaction completely.

Before deciding whether to meet an online friend in person, arrange to talk over the phone a few times.

Don't agree to meet someone face to face unless you feel completely comfortable about it. Always meet
initially in a very public placea museum, a coffee shop, or a restaurantnot in private, and especially
not at your home. Bring along a friend to further increase your safety, let a friend know where you will be,
or plan to have a friend call you during the date.

If you pursue online relationships, don't let them interfere with your other interpersonal relationships and social
activities. Online dating can have an addictive element that can become unhealthy. To maximize your emotional
and interpersonal wellness, use the Internet to widen your circle of friends, not shrink it.

Most Canadians find romantic partners through some form of dating. They narrow the field through a process of
getting to know each other. Dating often revolves around a mutually enjoyable activity, such as seeing a movie
or having dinner. Traditionally, in the malefemale dating pattern, the man took the lead, initiating the date,
while the woman waited to be called. In this pattern, casual dating might evolve into steady or exclusive dating,
then engagement, and finally marriage.

For many young people today, traditional dating has given way to a more casual form of getting together in
groups. Greater equality between the sexes is at the root of this change. People go out in groups, rather than
strictly as couples, and each person pays his or her way. A man and woman may begin to spend more time
together, but often in the group context. If sexual involvement develops, it is more likely to be based on
friendship, respect, and common interests than on expectations related to gender roles. In this model, mate
selection may progress from getting together to living together to marriage.

Instead of traditional dating, some young people today are having casual sexual encounters with no commitment
or emotional intimacy, referred to as hooking up. See the In Focus box for more information. 4/11
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For many college and university students today, group activities have replaced dating as a way to meet and get to
know potential partners.
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Hooking Up

Video: Yes, No, Maybe: How Do You Decide Whether or Not to Have Sex with Someone?

Click here to view a transcript of this video

A current trend among teenagers, young adults, and college and university students is hooking uphaving
casual sexual encounters with acquaintances or strangers with no commitment or investment in a relationship.
The sexual activity can be anything from kissing to intercourse, but the key element is the lack of emotional
intimacy. Although casual sex is not new, the difference today is that hooking up seems to be the main form of
sexual activity for many people, as opposed to sexual activity within a relationship. Some data indicate that more
than 80 percent of college/university students have had at least one hookup experience. If dating occurs at all, it
happens after people have had sex and become a couple.

Hooking up most likely has its roots in the changing social and sexual patterns of the 1960s. Since then, changes
in college and university policies have contributed to the shift, such as the move away from post-secondary
institutions acting in loco parentis (in the place of parents), the trend toward coed dorms, and the increase in the
percentage of women in student populations and the decreased availability of men. This behaviour addresses the
desire for instant intimacy, but also protects the participants from the risk or responsibility of emotional

Because hooking up is often fueled by alcohol, it is associated with sexual risk taking and negative health
effects, including the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease. In 2007, for example, young adults aged
15 to 24 had rates of chlamydia that were 4 to 5.5 times the overall incidence rate for the general population,
according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hooking up can also have emotional and mental health
consequences, including sexual regret, negative emotional reactions, psychological distress, depression, and
anxiety. Women are more likely to suffer these reactions after hooking up, but men experience them too.
Biological anthropologists suggest that having sexeven casual sexsets off hormones that cause feelings of
bonding and attachment, which are inevitably thwarted in a hookup. 5/11
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On some campuses, a backlash against hooking up has taken place. In some cases, individuals are deciding they
don't want to be part of the hook-up culture. In other cases, groups and organizations have formed to call for a
return to traditional dating, or at least some middle ground between dating and hooking up that doesn't have the
potential to cause physical and emotional harm. The existence of alternative social and sexual norms can help
students think twice about their sexual activities.

Sources: Downing-Matibag, T. M., and B. Geisenger. 2009. Hooking up and sexual risk taking among college
students: a health belief model perspective. Qualitative Health Research 19(9): 11961209; Bachtel, M. Is
dating really dead? Emerging evidence on the college hookup culture and health issues. Action Newsletter,
American College Health Association 49(2): 1618; and Chen, S. 2010. No hooking up, no sex for some coeds, (retrieved July 3,
Living Together

About 80 percent of Canadian adult couples are in opposite-sex marriages and 19.4 percent are in common-law
relationships. Nearly 43 560 Canadians are in same-sex common-law partnerships, and approximately 21 015
are in same-sex marriages (representing 0.3 percent of all married couples in Canada). The decision to live
together in a common-law or cohabitating relationship is one of the most rapid and dramatic social changes
that has ever occurred in our society (see Figure 10.1). It seems to be gaining acceptance as part of the normal
mate-selection process. Today, about 60 percent of couples live together prior to marrying. Several factors are
involved in this change, including greater acceptance of premarital sex, increased availability of contraceptives,
the tendency for people to wait longer before getting married, and a larger pool of single and divorced

Click here for a description of Figure 10.1 Distribution (in Percentage) of Census Families by Family Structure,
Canada, 1961 to 2011.

FIGURE 10.1 Distribution (in Percentage) of Census Families by Family Structure, Canada, 1961 to 2011 6/11
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Source: Statistics Canada, Censuses of population, 1961 to 2011,


Cohabitation is more popular among younger people than older, although a significant number of older couples
live together without marrying as well. Living together provides many of the benefits of marriage:
companionship; a setting for an enjoyable and meaningful relationship; the opportunity to develop greater
intimacy through learning, compromising, and sharing; a satisfying sex life; and a way to save on living costs.

Living together has certain advantages over marriage. For one thing, it can give the partners a greater sense of
autonomy. Not bound by the social rules and expectations that are part of the institution of marriage, partners
may find it easier to keep their identity and more of their independence. Cohabitation doesn't incur the same
obligations as marriage. If things don't work out, the partners may find it easier to leave a relationship that hasn't
been legally sanctioned.

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But living together has some liabilities, too. In some cases, the legal protections of marriage are absent, such as
health benefits and property and inheritance rights. These considerations can be particularly serious if the couple
has children, from either former relationships or the current one. Couples may feel social or family pressure to
marry or otherwise change their living arrangements, especially if they have young children. The general trend,
however, is toward legitimizing non-marital partnerships; for example, employers, communities, and provinces
and territories now typically extend benefits to unmarried domestic partners.

Although many people choose cohabitation as a kind of trial marriage, unmarried partnerships tend to be less
stable than marriages. In a survey of women ages 1544 who had cohabited, fewer than half were still living
married (37 percent) or unmarried (10 percent)with their first live-in partner, 34 percent had dissolved the
relationship before marriage, and 21 percent had married and then divorced their partner. There is little evidence
that cohabitation before marriage leads to happier or longer-lasting marriages; in fact, some studies have found
slightly less marital satisfaction and slightly higher divorce rates among couples who had previously cohabited.


About 40% of cohabitating couples get married.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013

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Same-Sex Partnerships

Regardless of sexual orientation, most people look for love in a close, satisfying, committed relationship. A
person whose sexual orientation is lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) may be involved in a same-sex relationship.
Same-sex couples have many similarities with heterosexual couples (those who seek members of the other
sex). According to one study, most gay men and lesbians have experienced at least one long-term relationship
with a single partner. Like any intimate relationship, same-sex partnerships provide intimacy, passion, and

One difference between heterosexual and same-sex couples is that same-sex partnerships may be more
egalitarian (equal) and less organized around traditional gender roles. Same-sex couples may put greater
emphasis on partnership than on role assignment. Domestic tasks may be shared or split, and both partners often
support themselves financially.

Another difference between heterosexual and same-sex relationships is that same-sex partners often have to deal
with societal hostility or ambivalence toward their relationship, in contrast to the societal approval and rights
given to heterosexual couples (see the In the News box). Homophobia, fear or hatred of gay people, can be
obvious, as in the case of violence or discrimination, or more subtle, as in the way same-sex couples are 7/11
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portrayed in the media. Additional stress on a same-sex partnership may occur if an LGB individual is a member
of a family or ethnic group that is not entirely accepting of her or his sexual orientation.

Bisexual individuals involved in heterosexual relationships may feel shame or guilt around the acceptance and
privileges afforded to them by their heterosexual relationship. Because of the impact of societal disapproval,
community resources and support may be more important for same-sex couples as a source of identity and social
support than they are for heterosexuals. Many communities offer support groups for same-sex partners and
families to help them build social networks and a sense of pride and acceptance.

Greater openness has made gay men and lesbians more visible than they used to be, although they still constitute
a minority of the population. Most gay people have experienced at least one long-term relationship with one

Although many challenges for same-sex partnerships are common to all relationships, some issues are unique to
LGB partnerships. Because men may not be socialized to communicate about interpersonal and emotional
issues, communication problems may be particularly common or acute in gay relationships. Some researchers
suggest that the process of female socialization, with its emphasis on creating and maintaining intimacy, makes
lesbian relationships more likely to be characterized by fusion, enmeshment, and a blurring of boundaries.
Problems may also arise when one member of a same-sex relationship has come out, or publicly identified as
LGB, earlier than the other; consequently, the more experienced individual may wonder and worry whether the
partner's sexual orientation is transient. The less experienced member of the relationship may feel threatened by
the partner's level of outness or involvement in the LGB community. If same-sex couples decide to seek
counselling, it is important to find a therapist who is an ally of the LGB community and who has training and
experience working with LGB couples.

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In the NEWS
Same-Sex Marriage and Civil Unions 8/11
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Marriage is often viewed primarily as a social or religious institution, but it is in fact an institution defined by
governmental statutes that confer legal and economic rights and responsibilities. Many laws include a distinction
based on marriage. Marital status affects tax status, inheritance, medical decision making, and many other
aspects of life.

The push for legal recognition of same-sex partnerships began decades ago, but it was brought to the forefront of
public debate beginning in the 1990s. Supporters of same-sex marriage rights, however, met with stiff opposition
at provincial, territorial, and federal levels.

In 2000, the Canadian Parliament enacted the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, which extended
benefits and obligations to common-law couples, whether of opposite sexes or the same sex. Furthermore, the
definition of spouse was changed to include any two persons who have lived together in a marriage-like
relationship for at least two years. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex
marriage, followed by Belgium in 2003 and Spain in 2005. In Canada, British Columbia and Ontario legalized
same-sex marriage in 2003, and five other provinces and territories followed suit in 2004. In 2005, same-sex
marriage was legalized nationwide.

Across Canada, same-sex couples are permitted to legally marry. This was safeguarded in legislation when the
Civil Marriage Act, which was passed by Parliament, came into force on July 20, 2005. Before passage of the
Act, courts in nine jurisdictions, representing 89 percent of Canada's population, had already extended equal
civil marriage to same-sex couples. Following the Civil Marriage Act ruling of 2005, members of Parliament
were asked to reopen the equal marriage debate. The motion was rejected on December 7, 2006, and same-sex
marriage in Canada seems to no longer be an issue for legal debate. The court ruling to recognize same-sex
marriages in Canada was based on the finding that excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage is
unjustifiable discrimination, which violates section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

What cases are made for and against civil union and same-sex marriage? Opponents put forth numerous
arguments, including that the purpose of marriage is to procreate, that the Bible forbids same-sex unions, that
gay people are seeking special rights, that it's bad for children and families, and that the majority of the
population opposes such unions. The primary argument, however, is that same-sex marriage undermines the
sanctity and validity of marriage as it is traditionally understood and thus undermines society. Rules and
restrictions on who can marry preserve the value of the institution of marriage, according to this view. The
underlying assumption of this position is that gay men and lesbians make a choice and that people can change
their orientation, though the process may be difficult.

Proponents of civil unions and same-sex marriage believe that sexual orientation is outside the control of the
individual and results from genetic and environmental factors that create an unchangeable orientation. The issue
of same-sex union is then seen as one of basic civil rights, in which a group is being denied rightsto publicly
express their commitment to one another, to provide security for their children, and to receive the legal and
economic benefits afforded to married heterosexual coupleson the basis of something as unalterable as skin
colour. Both opponents and proponents of same-sex marriage point out that marriage is healthy for both men and
women and is the main social institution promoting family values; both sides see this assertion as supportive of 9/11
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their position. Today in Canada, 9.4 percent of same-sex couples are raising children (80.3 percent of whom are
female couples and 19.7 percent are male couples).

Sources: Ambert, A. 2005. Same-sex couples and same-sex-parent families: Relationships, parenting, and issues
of marriage. The Vanier Institute of the Family. Contemporary Family Trends, (retrieved April 17,
2015); CBC News. 2006. MPs Defeat Bid the Reopen Same-Sex Marriage Debate, (retrieved
November 16, 2015); and Same-Sex Families Raising Children. 2013. Fascinating Families, (retrieved July 3, 2015).
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See Chapter 11 for more information on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sexual behaviour.


Despite the prevalence and popularity of marriage, a significant and growing number of adults in our society are
unmarriedfor the first time in Canada, being single is more common than being married, with 53 percent of
Canadians (age 15+) being unmarried. Out of all unmarried adults, most have never been married (see Figure

Click here for a description of Figure 10.2 Marital Status of the Canadian Population.

FIGURE 10.2 Marital Status of the Canadian Population
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 051-0042,

Several factors contribute to the growing number of single people. One is the changing view of singlehood,
which is increasingly being viewed as a legitimate alternative to marriage. Education and careers are delaying
the age at which young people are marrying. The average age for a first marriage in Canada is now 31.1 years
for men and 29.1 years for women. More young people are living with their parents as they complete their
education, seek jobs, or strive for financial independence. Many other single people live together without being
married. High divorce rates mean more singles, and people who have experienced divorce in their families may
have more negative attitudes about marriage and more positive attitudes about singlehood.

Being single doesn't mean not having close relationships, however. Single people date, enjoy active and
fulfilling social lives, and have a variety of sexual experiences and relationships. Other advantages of being 10/11
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single include more opportunities for personal and career development without concern for family obligations
and more freedom and control in making life choices. Disadvantages include loneliness and a lack of
companionship, as well as economic hardships (mainly for single women). Single men and women alike
experience some discrimination and often are pressured to get married.

Nearly everyone has at least one episode of being single in adult life, whether before marriage, between
marriages, following divorce or the death of a spouse, or for the person's entire life. How enjoyable and valuable
this single time is depends on several factors, including how deliberately the person has chosen it; how satisfied
the person is with his or her social relationships, standard of living, and job; how comfortable the person feels
when alone; and how resourceful and energetic the person is about creating an interesting and fulfilling life.


How have your life's experiences influenced your views on marriage and singlehood? If you are single now, do
you plan to get married, or do you have doubts about it? If you are married, do you enjoy it? Do you have
regrets? How do you explain these feelings? What could you do to make your relationships more fulfilling? 11/11