Free Spirit as a Euphemism: One Man’s Perspective – May 2014

This will undoubtedly offend some but may intrigue others. This cannot be helped. The intent here is to publish an observation I have never seen published. My opinion on this topic crystallized when I started checking out dating sites. I had a break up so I started checking out these sorts of services. I had no intent to start dating but I have found it therapeutic and it helped me get a better idea what I really desire in a partner.

Facebook Pages

When I see “free spirit” posted on a personal Facebook page of someone in a long term and stable marriage there are usually pictures of hiking adventures, trips to Paris, and whatnot. It would seem to mean, in that context, free spirit means someone who has the time and money to do the sort of things most of us would like to do given the opportunity. Apparently, free spirit can mean “mildly adventurous” but when encountered on a dating site, typically attached to a picture of a woman in a bar or wearing a bikini, it means something very different to me.

Dating Profiles

If you have a profile on a dating site, and you’re serious about getting results, it may be a good idea to be somewhat verbose and as detailed as you can muster. A lack of things to say can speak volumes. If you aren’t being honest with yourself this may show in your profile description as well. What you say, or fail to say, will reveal more about you than you probably realize. Today we will look at the term “free spirit.” I will give you, whoever you are, my frank opinion on what this term says to me when I read it.

What I Have Observed

In the following section, we will look at what “free spirit” says to me when I see it written on a personal description. We will then get into more detail about how and why I justify my stance. Feel free to get angry or nod your head so furiously in agreement that it pops off and rolls around on the floor.

For starters, when someone tells me they are a “free spirit,” I tend to assume that they have no sense of, or an underdeveloped sense of…

  • Responsibility
  • Duty
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Discipline
  • Self-ownership
  • Virtue
  • Conventional Wisdom
  • Self-knowledge
  • Dependability
  • Openness & Honesty
  • Self-respect
  • Respect of Others
  • Commitment

What this means is that when I see or hear the term, I suspect the individual in question may resemble one or more of the following…

  • Irresponsible
  • Inconsistent
  • Reckless
  • Unprincipled
  • Dishonorable
  • Immoral
  • Unethical
  • Flighty
  • Promiscuous
  • Shady
  • Superficial
  • Dishonest With Self
  • Dishonest With Others
  • Selfish
  • Non-committal
  • Fickle
  • Disloyal
  • Immature
  • Disrespectful of Self
  • Disrespectful of Others
  • Untrustworthy

How do I justify reading into these words in a way which may seem negative and perhaps even judgmental? The short answer is that I’ve found over the years that the character of many people who self-identify in this way do, in all fairness, fit some of or all of these criteria. In my youth, I also identified myself in this way but have become aware of these tendencies. To be more explicit will require us to look at definitions of the term “free spirit” so as to become acquainted with its euphemistic nature.


There are several definitions to be found online. Let’s look at a few popular ones…

An independent or uninhibited person: they raised their children to be free spirits1)

A person with a highly individual or unique attitude, lifestyle, or imagination; nonconformist. Or someone acting freely or even irresponsibly2)

A person who thinks and acts in a free way without worrying about normal social rules3)

1. One who is not restrained, as by convention or obligation; a nonconformist. 2. A person who is not constrained by convention, as in lifestyle or dress; nonconformist.4)

An initial review of these definitions indicate some of the connotations certainly sound positive. Independence can be a good thing even for an interdependent species like our own. Individuality, uniqueness, and imagination are virtues, I believe.

Here on yahoo answers, someone was told they were called a “free spirit” so wanted to know if they should take it as a compliment:

Looking at the responses, we can see that the majority insisted that it should be taken as a compliment including the “best answer” picked by voters. When we scroll down we find an answer that points out that it can be a rather back-handed compliment. *Goergeous* States that being called a free spirit “is good and is bad.” She goes on to explain the positive aspect but also says “bad because some people mean it in a way which means that you are destructive and need to be taught a lesson in respect.” Even with this answer, the advice is to take it as a compliment.


This brings us to one of the words cited as a synonym: “nonconformist.” I suggest that following the advice to accept as a compliment, which is by far the majority opinion, is to be a conformist. An interesting alternative would be to call the person out, quite playfully, by asking them if they are suggesting you are irresponsible and reckless. This could actually be a fun teasing jest because you are saying something unexpected which characterizes you as unique and individualistic.

Oh, the irony!

One thing I observed, when associating with self-stylized non-conformists is that they generally have their own cliques and do, in fact, conform; just to a different set of norms and values. I am not unique in this observation as many have discovered the same contradiction. The movie Salt Lake City Punk points out this phenomenon. Being a true non-conformist, I refuse to conform to other people’s brand of non-conformity.

How does that sound?

Societal Norms

Though only touched on slightly by the definitions we’ve looked at, when researching the meaning of “free spirit,” we run into a whole host of opinions about the term relating to the concept of not conforming to society or societal norms. This is particularly interesting because it is reliant solely on one’s own individual subjective notion of what is normal in society. Statistics, and depictions in the media, often contradict some claims of what could be considered “normal.”

Possibly the most obvious instances of “free spirit” being used to mean “rejecting societal norms” reflect cavalier attitudes about relationships and sexual behavior. We will look at each of these each in turn in an attempt to challenge or justify pervasive opinions. Available statistics will be cited and depictions in pop-culture will be discussed.


Some consider getting married and staying married a societal norm to which they do not wish to conform. The most enlightened may simply disavow the notion that they need the government to acknowledge their commitment to their partner though living under corporate fascism can make this uncomfortable. There are also those who believe making a life-long commitment to another itself to be a matter of conforming to societal norms. A life-long partnership could be considered a “common law” marriage but has not been included in the statistics referred to in this article.

Marriage Statistics

Statistics say that marriage is the norm; more or less. Approximately one fifth, twenty-two percent, of people in the United States never get married.5) Although one fifth may seem like a rather sizable majority, it must be kept in mind that not all of the twenty-two percent of people don’t necessarily want to get married, it just never happens for them. So based on this statistic, getting married, at least once in in your life is normal in the United States.

The statistics paint a very different picture of the normalcy of staying married. In the United States approximately one in fifteen first time marriages survive the first ten years.6) That means that significantly less than one percent of all first marriages make it past the ten-year mark. Over ninety-nine percent of all marriages end in divorce. There are other stats available that depict a much lower instance of divorce but even the most conservative estimates show that more than half will eventually reach dissolution in this way. So staying married, statistically, is not a societal norm at all.

Pop Culture

In regard to depictions on television and the movies, the perceived normalcy may depend a great deal on what you watch.

Movies, more often than not, feature singles, divorcees, and people getting married relatively late in life. Many times this is intentional to set up a romance which, the audience is to assume, will turn into a serious life-long commitment. It could be difficult to pin down exactly what sense of normalcy is being depicted here but it may be telling that very few movies revolve around successful marriages though many children’s movies do depict them as back-drop.

There are still plenty of sitcoms involving committed married couples. Oftentimes these relationships possess varying degrees of dysfunction, usually for purposes of brevity, but they exist nonetheless. Over the past few decades, however, we have seen a growing trend of sitcoms depicting singles staying unmarried well into their twenties or even thirties such as Friends, Two and a Half Men, and Big Bang Theory just to name a few. Expanding on this, divorcees show up in sitcoms in much greater frequency parallel to the divorce statistics.

Renegade Partnership

So if you want to buck the trends you could chose to never get married. If you really want to be a non-conformist, get married and make it last a lifetime. If two people are determined to make a marriage last for life they can truly live outside societal norms. What’s more, people who make these relationships last for many decades are given public applause. Being truly committed for life is unusual and it impresses people.

Sexual Behavior

When another man that I’m friends with inquires about a woman I am friends with, I have sometimes found myself using “free spirit” as a euphemism. What do I mean when I say that? What I mean, when read between the lines, is that, although I may appreciate and respect the lady as a friend and as a person, she is promiscuous, flighty, and maybe even a cheater. This is public relations at its most raw. I’m generally not going to say someone sleeps around a lot or is terrible with commitment within my own social circles unless they are shamelessly indiscreet. I’m not interested in causing undue and unnecessary conflict. If I say she is a “free spirit,” I’m saying she is “cool” but not a keeper. I’m also suggesting you might want to “wrap it,” so to speak.

Now that the “cat is out of the bag,” I will probably not be using those particular words in the future.

Why do I do this? Because, to be blunt, I have from my own life’s experiences that females, and some males, who are known as free spirits either don’t commit, cheat, have intercourse outside a monogamous relationship, or all three; usually all three. This is one of the reasons why, when I see “free spirit” written on a dating profile I think “not relationship material.” Some may suggest that I’m passing judgment and being a “square,” a “prude,” or some other such nonsense. I’m thirty-seven years old and I have a daughter so those characterizations don’t impress me… Besides, I’m not claiming to be a saint but we will get into that later.

If “free spirit” really does have connotations of non-conformity, sexual free-spiritedness should reflect a unique lifestyle rather than the societal norm. So what do the statistics show? What is depicted in the media?


There are a few different stats to look at if we are to try to get an idea what “normal” looks like. It turns out that, according to the CDC, individuals have reported to having an average of six to seven sexual partners throughout their lifetimes.7) The Kinsey Institute reports similar findings.8) Obviously, asking dead people how many partners they had while they were still alive is tricky. Subjects questioned where age fifteen to forty-four.

It may be worth noting that men tend to overestimate their number of partners while women tend to under-report.9) One possible reason for this is that men will tend to guess while women will try to mentally list. Last time I played the “game” of “how many partners did you have” with a woman, I suggested that it was probably not a good idea but went along with it anyway. Instead of guessing, I attempted to list. I was shocked to realize that that list kept getting longer and longer as memories began to resurface. Initially, my list was pretty short but over the course of the next few days I kept remembering other people I had been with.

Advice: Don’t play the “how many partners have you had game” if it can be avoided. No good can come of it. Women don’t usually care how many partners a male has had so much as she wants to know he can perform with competence. No matter what number a woman gives a man, it will be too high. Any more than one (him) is too many. Non-reporting or under-reporting is even worse because it could get you pegged as a liar which may undermine trust in the relationship.

My experience is that Mr. and Ms. Average, whoever they are, do not generally categorize themselves as “free spirits.” I have found that those referring to themselves as “free spirits” will generally have had more than fifteen sexual partners in a lifetime whether they are willing to admit it or not. CDC figures show that over twenty percent of men and under ten percent of women report having had fifteen or more partners during their lifetimes. The Kinsey institute shows and even greater disparity between the sexes with women reporting about nine percent having had over eleven partners over their lifetime.

Given the propensity of over and under-reporting based on gender, the reality may be closer to fifteen percent for both sexes. Because a wide range of ages were surveyed, that number may actually be much higher but I’ll leave it to the reader to look at the raw data to verify this for themselves. We will look at a couple more statistics before we draw conclusions. Statistics on number of sexual partners might seem pretty tame to some.

By contrast, infidelity statistics may seem down-right shocking. Kinsey Institute findings indicate that this is the main cause of divorce cited internationally across over an hundred cultures. One quarter to one half of divorces in western countries have reported cheating as being the primary cause. About twenty percent report having had extramarital sex at least once during their marriage. Other statistics show that over fifty percent of men and women admit to having cheated at least once during a supposedly monogamous relationship.10)

Finally, perhaps the most telling statistics involve premarital sex. Guttmacher Institute, collecting data since the early fifties, reveals that ninety-five percent of people surveyed had sex before marriage.11) I find this figure a bit dubious given that other statistics show only three percent of individuals never have sex in their lives. That would make the percentage of people who wait until marriage under three percent which conflicts with other data. 12) This shows that most, though not all, people have sex before marriage.

For anyone out there who feels like they are the only person “saving themselves” for marriage, be aware that one out of thirty people, when multiplied by millions or even billions, is still a lot of people. You are not alone and, given the much greater statistical probability of life-long partnership associated with this behavior, when you do get married you won't likely ever have to be alone unless something tragic happens to your mate. It is an ideal few of us live up to, especially in this day and age, but an admirable one by my estimation.

Pop Culture

Movies, music videos, television shows, talk shows, and even news media is resplendent with a deluge of flings, infidelity, and short-lived sexual relationships. It is so prevalent that providing examples should hardly be necessary. Whether this is a result of providing people with the sort of entertainment they respond to or a conspiracy to intentionally assault healthy values which promote family welfare and well-being is worthy of debate.

It only seems to be getting more and more extreme as well. There was once a time where the generation before would accuse the younger generation of buying into socially decadent music and other entertainment. Pop culture has gotten so sexually explicit that the “current” generation is often shocked at the level of depravity witnessed. Exciting, isn’t it? It might be worth noting that this sort of thing is believed by many to be a characteristic of a civilization in decline.

Free Spirited Conformist

Some meanings of free spirited are positive and many are negative, as has been illustrated. Non-conformity, often being part of this definition, provides an interesting twist. To be a truly free spirited individual, as a non-conformist, one must challenge societal norms. When societal norms do not reflect what many would identify as admirable values, suddenly non-conformity drops out of the equation.

I submit that when we fail to live up to who we know we would actually like to be in terms of ethics and responsibility, we will sometimes adopt the label “free spirit.” I further propose that, because free spirit can mean so many things, many of them vague, silly, and open for interpretation, it could just be a meaningless word. It could just be something we say to make ourselves sound interesting when we have nothing meaningful to say about ourselves.

I digress…

What is Obligation?

Included in the definitions we have seen, the concept of being “free from obligation” stands out. It may be fair to say that many of us find the idea romantic. We yearn for the sort of carefree life which could be described as such as much as we may scorn those who have one. There is a longing within the soul to be free and we so often find ourselves chained to our responsibilities and commitments.

The difference between the majority of us, and who can rightfully be described as a free spirits, is that we accept our obligations because they serve us in some way. Some obligate themselves to a career for a number of reasons such as income, status, or even vain narcissism. Obligations to our values and principals enable us to be the sort of people we want to be. Some obligate ourselves to conventional family life because we are aware that the spiritual fulfillment entailed rewards us in ways a life of roving frivolity never could.

One could doubtless still have children and still be considered a free spirit but the inherent responsibilities would be limited or the label free spirit would be purely superficial. It may be that free spirit is nothing more than an image; a way one portrays oneself as an expression of their inner being rather than externalized bohemian tendencies.


Not much needs be said about the part of a definition, I think. Inhibitions are important and we all know it. There can be a fine line between attempting to relax ones inhibitions and being completely uninhibited. Few would blame an awkward youth from having a drink to “loosen up” but often this is the beginning of a graceless slide into abject alcoholism. The word “Uninhibited” summons feelings of freedom we long for but at the same time we have to remind ourselves that without our inhibitions we could not aspire to be of admirable character.

Unique Individual Imagination

Now, finally, for the words which suggest a positive reputation. These are the words that allow “free spirit” to be used as a euphemism rather than an outright insult. Uniqueness, though sometimes overrated, is typically considered an admirable quality. Individuality, especially when compared to fascist collectivity, must be respected or oppression rules the day. Imagination, like Albert Einstein suggested, is frequently more important even than knowledge.

These aspects of the “free spirit” definitions enable anyone to, if they choose, identify with the words in question in a complementary way. I’ll pass on being called a “free spirit” though. Call me an unique individual with imagination any time. The other parts I will do without.


The real reason I would, if I ever actually give a dating site money to fully utilize, skip past a profile with the description including “free spirit,” isn’t because I believe I am any better: far from it. I skip on it because I have become self-aware enough to identify the label as being a way to sugar-coat deficiencies to my character. I don’t scorn people for their temptations to lust and potential for recklessness, qualities I have in abundance, but rather I find a superficial understanding of these animal traits unimpressive. Calling oneself a free spirit can be fun and charming but so often it indicates unwillingness identify sublimation of one’s baser qualities a virtue.

Anthropology | Lifestyle | Philosophy

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