Pioneering Singles’ Advocate Dr. Bella DePaulo BlogCrawls onto Onely! September 26, 2009Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers, Guest Posts, Singled Out.
Tags: bella depaulo, happily ever after, Living Single, Singled Out, singles blog crawl, singles' rights, singlism
Happy Last Day of National Singles’ Week!!
Yes, it’s the end of Unmarried and Single Americans Week, but don’t be sad! We’re going out with a bang! Today singles’ advocate extraordinaire Dr. Bella DePaulo relates some personal watershed moments when she realized she didn’t have to find a “Sex and Everything Else Partner” if she didn’t feel like it. One reason Onely hearts Bella is because she has coined some fabulous terms to describe the lopsided treatment of singles in society, including singlism (discrimination and prejudice against single people), matrimania (the myth of marriage as a cure for personal and social ills), and the much underused SEEPie.
How I Discovered that Living Single Was My True Happily Ever After
by Bella DePaulo
In seventh grade, on a break from class, best friends Maureen and Linda took turns walking slowly and deliberately, hands clasped at their waists. They were practicing the walk down the aisle. They also compared notes on their wedding dresses, the bridesmaids’ dresses, and who those bridesmaids would be. No, they were not getting married at age 12 – they were just fantasizing.
Even as a 7th grader, I found this strange. I just didn’t see the appeal of planning, or even thinking about a wedding. Turns out, I never would.
I have always lived single, and never yearned to live any other way. For a long time, though, I was puzzled by the disconnect between the way I liked to live, and the kind of life so many others seemed to wish for, and expected me to wish for, too.
I tried out several solutions to this. I had a bug hypothesis for a while – marriage was a bug, and I just hadn’t caught it yet. Eventually, it would get me. (Looking back, I’m now bemused that I did believe in a disease model all along – but the disease was marriage, not singlehood.) Then I tried out the long-distance version of the longing – maybe I’d like it if I had a long-distance relationship. That way, I could have my time and space to myself all week, and have a partner for the weekends. I thought about it, but I never felt it.
I don’t think there was a specific moment when I realized: I LIKE living single. This is who I am. It is not going to change.
To get to that point, I think I had to understand a bigger point – it is fine (good, even) to live the life that is most meaningful to you, even if your way is not the most conventional one.
I grew up in the tiny town of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, where almost everyone was Catholic and either Italian, Irish, or Polish. I went to the small public high school. I’m sure we were all unique individuals but we didn’t act that way. If there was a school dance, just about everyone went. Same for the football games. There was a shared attitude about reading and learning and studying, too – you just did those things because you had to.
Stepping from halls of Dunmore High School onto the grounds of Vassar College (a school I had never even heard of until my junior year, when someone suggested to my father that I go there) was a stunning experience. In my high school, when someone said a word with more than a few syllables, it was meant as a joke. Those first few days of college, I laughed at a few too many inappropriate times. My fellow college students did not complain about homework; they bought the books for classes days in advance and started reading them. Standing in line for meals or movies, they’d have paperbacks in hand, for times when they were not chatting with friends. Finally, I could admit to myself and everyone else that I loved reading and thinking. It changed my life.
One of my first weekends at Vassar, there was a dance. So I stopped by my friend Liz’s room to walk over with her. She said she wasn’t going. I asked why. She said she didn’t want to.
Go ahead and laugh if you must, but this was a revelation to me. I didn’t want to go either. It hadn’t occurred to me that not going was an option.
When I was preparing to write Singled Out, I collected rooms full of books and articles about singles and read voraciously. In one of the books, Women Living Single, author Lee Reilly wrote about the intensive interviews she conducted with 30 single women. At the end of her discussion with Reilly, one of the single women said, “I’m sorry if I’ve thrown off your sample, but the truth is, I’m happy.”
Like me, she was happy but thought she was the exception. That made me wonder how many other single people were keeping their happiness to themselves. I think it was at that moment that I vowed not to hide my happiness about my single life ever again.
At that point, I still had not read all of the studies of the purported links between getting married and getting happy. Now, all these years later, I can say definitively that I have NEVER found even one study in which the average happiness for the single people was not on the happy end of the scale.
Peer pressure is not unique to high school students. It bears down on us all. Cultural pressure, in the form of widely-held assumptions that are almost entirely unquestioned, can be even more powerful.
There is a classic study of conformity that every beginning student of social psychology learns about. A person in a group can end up endorsing patently ridiculous statements – for example, that a line that is clearly longer than all the others is not in fact the longest line – if all of the other people in the group have already professed to that silly belief. But here’s the dramatic twist – if just one other person declares that the emperor has no clothes, the pressure is off. You are then free to own what you can see with your own eyes – that line is the longest. You have an ally who has stood with you in your perceptions.
In celebration of National Singles Week and of single people everywhere, be that ally. If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands.
Bella DePaulo is the author of two books advocating for more enlightened attitudes towards singlehood: Single With Attitude (a collection of posts from her Psychology Today blog and her Huffington Post blog, as well as essays from the New York Times, Forbes.com, and The Chronicle of Higher Education), and Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. To read excerpts from Singled Out, check out Onely’s reviews of the book here and here. and here.