Welcome back to another interview. As I contact more authors, I feel like I know l less and less about society. Every time I receive replies from authors I feel like I’m learning and learning all over again. This time around I am happy to introduce you to Bella DePaulo. She is the author of over 10 published books and offers workshops and seminar on the science of singlehood. What is singlehood? Singlehood is the state of being single; not being in a romantic relationship. Bella DePaulo believes she lives her best, most authentic life when single.
1. Wow, I can definitely not do what you’ve been doing. I feel like being in a relationship is really important to me, and having a companion has helped me grow throughout the years. What made you decide on staying single?
I always loved living single – except for all the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination that I now call “singlism.” I never wanted to get married. For many years, I thought that I was just slow to get to the point of wanting to marry, and that eventually, I would want that. I don’t remember how old I was when I finally realized that I was never going to want to marry, and that single life was always going to be the best life for me. I’m “single at heart” – I live my best, most authentic, most meaningful life by living single.
It is interesting that you say that having a partner has helped you grow. I don’t know if you’ve ever been single for long periods of time so you could compare. But if it is true for you, then you are the exception. Research shows that it is the people who stay single who experience more personal growth and development than the people who marry. For example, in systematic research, lifelong single people are more likely to say that their life “has been a continuous process of learning, change, and growth,” whereas married people are more likely to agree with the statement, “I gave up trying to make big improvements in my life a long time ago.”
2. What is the difference between having love (from a significant partner) and no love in your life? Is it true that women without love are more bitter?
One of the reasons I have devoted the last two decades of my life to studying and writing about single people and single life is to dispel the inaccurate and hurtful stereotypes such as the one that labels single women as bitter. (And why is the disparagement focused on single women?) There is lots of research on stereotypes of single people. Sadly, that research shows that the harsh perceptions of single people are widely shared. Not just in the U.S., but in other countries, too, single people are judged much more negatively than married or coupled people. That happens even in studies in which pairs of biographical profiles are created in which both people are described identically, except that one of the people is described as single and the other as married or coupled. People who are given the profile of the single person evaluate that person much more critically than the people who are given the exact same profile except that the person is said to be coupled or married.
Fortunately, there is also a lot of research on what is really true about single people and how single people compare to married or coupled people. That research consistently shows that the stereotypes are wrong. Take a look at this article, “Every stereotype of single people, debunked by science,” if you want to learn more about specific stereotypes and the research that dismantles them.
Something else I try to challenge in my work is the very narrow conception of love, in which only people who have a romantic partner are believed to have love in their life. Many single people have deep friendships, and sometimes those friendships have lasted longer than many marriages. Many single people have close relationships with siblings, parents, children, and other relatives. Sometimes single people live with the people who mean a lot to them, such as close friends or family members. Their lives are interdependent. They care for each other, have meals together, do other things together, and share their lives in all the ways that spouses and cohabiting partners do, except for the sex. Why should the kind of relationship that includes sex be accorded more respect, more value, and more dignity than other relationships?
I reject the assumption that people who do not have a romantic partner have no love in their life, and people who do have a romantic partner do have love. Many solo single people have lots of love, and many couples do not have much love at all; maybe they are staying together in part because they believe all the awful stereotypes about single people and that makes them afraid to leave even a bad relationship.
3. Is there anyone you look up to who is also single and supports singlehood? Who is your biggest motivation?
The people I most admire are those who want to follow a life path that is different from the most celebrated and valued path (marrying and having kids) and who go ahead and do so. They are the people who live their lives fully, joyfully, and unapologetically, even when other people try to shame them.
There are now about 109 million Americans who are not married – that’s close to half of all adults. I want to get the word out there that single people can live good, fulfilling, complete, and meaningful lives – and most do. They are happy and healthy, they experience personal growth and development, and they often pursue their passions. Many studies have shown that single people are actually more connected to friends, neighbors, siblings, and parents than married people are. In contrast, when couples move in together or when they get married, they tend to become more insular. Many single people also savor their time alone. Americans are obsessed with the topic of loneliness, but many single people cherish their solitude – they don’t dread it. And marriage is no guarantee of protection against loneliness.
I want single people – and everyone else – to know that the stereotypes of single people are wrong, and that there is nothing wrong with you if you want to live single. You should never have to apologize for that. In fact, in many ways, you may be doing especially well.
What is important about the case I am making for single life is that it is based in research. It is not just my opinion.
One of the most gratifying things that has happened since I published Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After is that single people tell me how much it meant to them to hear a perspective on single life that is not stigmatizing. That book was published years ago, and to this day, I still hear from single people who tell me what a relief it was to realize that there is nothing wrong with them if they want to live single. Some of them are like me – they never did want to get married. But they thought there was something wrong with them for not wanting that. Now they know there’s not.
4. People say being single affects your health. What are your thoughts on that?
There are links between living single and health – sometimes very positive ones. For example, single people get more exercise than married people do. And people who get married get fatter.
The claim you hear most often in the media is that getting married makes people healthier. I have been studying the relevant research for two decades, and I have found that those claims are just not justified. Sometimes the studies are set up in ways that give married people an unfair advantage. Sometimes, even with that unfair advantage, married people still aren’t any healthier than single people. I explained what is wrong with the relevant research briefly in this article I wrote for the Washington Post, and in more detail in Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong. You can also read my discussions of the issue and critiques of many specific studies here.
5. Being single, do you experience depression related to the want and need of having someone there with you all the time?
Oh my gosh, no! What would be truly depressing is if I felt that I had to be married or part of a couple for some reason. I live my best life as a single person. I also love living alone. (Not all single people live alone – more of them live with other people such as family or friends.)
Again, I want to object to the assumption that if you are single or if you live alone, you don’t have anyone. As I’ve already noted, single people are more likely to help, support, socialize with, and stay in touch with their siblings, parents, friends, and neighbors than married people are. People who practice intensive coupling – those who focus all their attention on their partner and push everyone else to the back burner – are the ones leading risky lives. When things are going well in their relationship, everything may seem fine. But once problems arise, then what? They’ve marginalized all the other people in their life, so they are truly alone. Of course, not all couples are like that, but it is interesting that those enmeshed couples are often the ones who get romanticized in songs and movies (e.g., “you are my everything;” “you complete me”).
6. As a single individual, does the thought of marriage and having children ever come to mind?
I do think about these issues often. And what I think is that I am profoundly grateful to live at a time when I do not have to marry or have children, and I can instead live the life that is best for me. It wasn’t all that long ago when women were tethered to a husband for economic life support. There were times when single people, and people who don’t have kids, were even more stigmatized and discriminated against than they are now. We live in an extraordinary time, when more people than ever before are free to live the life that suits them, rather than the life that other people think they should be living.
7. Lastly, have you ever been in a relationship? If so, how did you decide on being single?
I have been in many relationships – with friends, relatives, mentors, neighbors, colleagues – and some of those relationships have lasted longer than many marriages.
My guess is that you meant the word “relationship” in the very narrow sense of just romantic relationships. I did participate in the dating and romantic relationship scene when I was in high school and college. I have no horror stories about dating. The people I dated were all good people. But when those relationships ended, I had one main reaction: relief. I was so happy to go back to my single life, which always felt like the very best life for me.
It was wonderfully freeing when I finally realized that single life would always be my most meaningful and fulfilling life. I no longer felt obligated to do things because I thought I was supposed to want to do them – things like dating or pursuing long-term romantic relationships. I got to live the life that brings me meaning and joy.
(Please visit my website if you would like to read more about me, my books, or my other writings about single life. You can also read my “Living Single” blog at Psychology Today and my “Single at Heart” blog at Psych Central.)