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Pioneering Singles’ Advocate Dr. Bella DePaulo BlogCrawls onto Onely! September 26, 2009

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Guest Bloggers, Guest Posts, Singled Out.
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Happy Last Day of National Singles’ Week!!

final Singled Out TP coverYes, 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.

Comments»

1. Alan - September 26, 2009

I think Bella makes an important point…you have to know what the alternatives are if you want to make the right choice for yourself. It’s hard to see any other choice other than marriage if that is the only choice the people around you are making.

And I think some of the early experiences help shape that. I went to a big high school so unlike Bella I wasn’t subject to the same pressures…there were just too many people and too many different groups for social pressure to be really effective. I never wanted to be married and didn’t get any pressure otherwise.

2. Rachel - September 26, 2009

Here’s my virtual hand-clapping!

Thank you, Bella, for ending the National Singles Week blog crawl with this great note! I also enjoyed learning a bit more about your background.

It is amazing how far-reaching the matrimanical and couplemanical peer-pressure is reaching! I keep seeing a note at a local university that says something along the lines “I don’t want to get married but I don’t want to be alone.” Apparently, this woman is unable to see that there are so many choice in between! I need to find some chalk so that I can add “Then don’t become a hermit…” or something like it that may get people to think about the assumption that not being married means being lonely.

3. Rachel’s Musings » Happy Singles Week! - September 26, 2009

[…] Update on 9/26 The final blog crawl post is not about dating – it is about being single and happy. Check it out! […]

4. Bella - September 26, 2009

Thanks, Onely, for the wonderfully kind intro to my guest post! You are right — it is time to start using the seepie term more often!

I just directed my Living Single readers over here with this post:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/200909/owning-your-happiness

5. Bella - September 26, 2009

PS I also enjoyed and appreciated the other comments posted here — thanks!

6. Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles - September 26, 2009

CLAP CLAP!

Thank you, Bella and Onely, for wrapping up National Singles Week with a bang! I was rather disappointed with the blog crawl’s relationship-minded focus until yesterday’s guest post at Living Single and now this one at Onely. A substantial percentage of singles are single by choice, either because they’ve always preferred the single state like Bella or because they made a conscious choice to be single later in life for various reasons. A few years back, an interesting Pew Research Center study found that only 16% of unmarried respondents were actively looking for relationships. Furthermore, even singles who ARE looking for love have lots of other concerns besides who to go out with on Saturday night. Given these facts, it boggles the mind that more attention wasn’t paid to singles issues, not dating issues this week. Thank you for breaking the mold!

Bella - September 28, 2009

Thank YOU! I love that Pew poll.

7. Lauri - September 27, 2009

I thank Bella as well. Singled Out may be one of the most important books I have ever read. Reading this blog, I was thinking about a class I took in college, which I think was called something like gender economics. There were a lot of topics in the class such affirmative action, sexism in the work place, and household division of labor. But I remember also a class or two on the types of studies that Bella has discredited so well- the studies about how marriage makes people happier, healthier, etc. I do not remember if there was a discussion in class about the questionable statistics used in these studies, but I do remember discussion about WHY marriage would make someone healthier. At the time, it seemed obvious to me why marriage would make people healthier. I bought the studies without even thinking about them. I assumed that I, and everyone else in the class would get married at some point, probably in our late 20s, like all of my (italian and irish) relatives did. I was 20 years old and I had never had a boyfriend, but I STILL assumed that I, like everyone else would get married. And why wouldn’t we? All the studies with all the fancy statistics said we would and should. Since then I’ve often thought about asking that professor if he still teaches that class, and what, if any, new directions it has taken.

I visited my 91 year-old grandmother last night, and she’s starting to become a little incoherent lately. She kept telling me not to “worry” because I’d probably be married before I knew it. I told her that I wasn’t worried because I didn’t want to get married. Her face looked horrified, and I felt bad for a minute. She said, “but what are you going to do, work forever? don’t you want to get out of that office?” then I kind of had to chuckle.

Bella - September 28, 2009

Thank you for those amazing words about Singled Out and for the other stories, too. One of the things I did when the book came out was to get a brochure about it printed, then sent to everyone on a women’s studies mailing list. My hope was that the word would get around to people teaching courses including claims about marriage.

Onely - September 29, 2009

Hee. Your 91 year old grandma wants you to get a sugardaddy? Well, I guess maybe back in the early twentieth century that was the *point* of most marriages.
CC

8. PierreT - September 28, 2009

I am an only child and consider my cousins close enough to be siblings. All of them have gotten married and seem to be happy. If they are truly happy, I look at them as the exception, not the rule. But then again, I don’t live with them on a daily basis. I’m just forming my observations based on when I see them at family get-togethers. Who knows, their day to day lives could be full of stress that a single person would never have to deal with.

But I’m in my early 30s and the cousin that’s one year older than me just tied the knot last year. Now I’m “next in line”. It’s my turn to get married. The whole family will focus their efforts on me, like a big lobbying campaign. They will find other eligibles in the family’s circle of friends to match me up, whether or not I like it.

This to me is unwanted pressure. I don’t like such an obligation looming over my shoulders. But I always have to justify my existence and tell people why I’m happy single. Nobody is buying it because they’re not single anymore. Even my little cousins once removed are starting to ask me when am I gonna have a wife? But they only asked that because they want more kids to play with.

Bella, your book has been a blessing to me. It’s the first book that makes me feel good to be me (single). I deliberately leave it on my coffee table for others to see. Those in the family that (are married) have come to my house and stared at it but don’t ask me why I have it there. But just having it in plain sight sent a statement that what’s in the book is what I’m all about.

Bella - September 29, 2009

So sorry to hear about all the family pressure. I am so touched by your story about my book. Now if only your family members would touch the book!

Onely - September 29, 2009

Ah, the old strategic-book-on-coffee-table strategy! = ) Your comment dredged up an old memory of mine: asking when my single aunt and uncle were going to get married (not to each other!). I think I wanted more cousins, too. Also, I wanted to dress up in a pretty dress and go to a wedding. This, I remember very clearly.

You hit the nail on the head: why do singles have to justify their happiness but marrieds don’t? Well justifying is a good exercise because in listing things we like about our lives, we come to appreciate them more.
CC

9. Singlutionary - September 28, 2009

Until I began Singlutionary I had desperately wanted to be coupled due to social pressure. Although I didn’t go to high school dances as a teenager, I did see everyone around me couple and that was supposed to be this super important thing do to with your life. I had other goals but I was interested in boys, just not in riding off into the sunset with them.

But riding off into the sunset is our culture’s way of giving you a sense of adult credibility, especially as a woman. It is just something you do. Just like dances and football games.

Although I am still open to some kind of romantic & domestic partnership, I can very much relate to this.

Yes, Bella! You did end the week with a bang! Thank you!

Onely - September 29, 2009

I didn’t go to dances either (much), because they always had the freaking volume up too loud. Just saying.
CC

10. Bella - September 29, 2009

Thanks! I like your story about starting Singlutionary. Blogging and commenting on blogs really can be steps toward personal and social change.

11. Monica Pignotti - September 29, 2009

Once again, an awesome post from Bella and the conversation this has started, for once, I can really relate to. Reading about people’s recollections from their childhood about feelings about marriage brought back a few memories of my own. I also felt myself to be different from others who dreamed of marriage from a very early age. I can distinctly remember telling my mom when I was around 8 or 9 years old that I would never get married and she responded that of course I would. I just could never envision myself walking down that aisle and conforming to society’s expectations to be part of a couple.

Later, during my 20s and 30s I gave in to social pressure for awhile and tried to fit in and be part of a couple, although I never took it to the point of marriage. I bought into people telling me that there must be something psychologically wrong with me for feeling this way and wondered what in my life had happen to cause this. During that time, I was really denying who I am and eventually I did come to realize that I am happiest as a single person. I have to say that the most unhappy time of my life was when I was in a committed, monogamous relationship and it was not because there was anything wrong with the guy I was involved with. He was a kind, caring person and our relationship probably lasted as long as it did because he too is, deep down, a single person and we both came to realize this about ourselves and went our separate ways.

In any case, it is very interesting to hear about other people’s experiences that, for once, I can relate to. Very different from past experiences where I have been surrounded by people who dreamed of their wedding day as the most important day of their lives. I just never could relate to that. I do have good friends who are genuinely happily married and I am happy for them. My current view on this is that some people are happy single and others are happy married and we can celebrate these differences. The single identity is not for everyone, but it is interesting to me to see, from these accounts, how many people knew from a very early age that being single, to them (and to me) means being happy. Thanks, Bella, for bringing us all together and for acknowledging that single really is an identity!

Onely - September 29, 2009

The most unhappy times of my life have been during relationships, too–although it’s hard to tell whether that was because of the specific individuals involved, or because of other life circumstances, or just because I didn’t like being coupled, period. Honestly, with me it might have been mostly a combination of life circumstances that coincidentally made me unhappy at those times. I always say if someone fabulously perfect came along (criteria: must love cats, wear glasses, and be able to do a better backbend than me), then I would probably be open to trying a relationship again, possibly. Or at least he could live next door to me–that would be ideal.
CC

12. specialkphd - September 29, 2009

Your writing plus her advocacy re-insists on an inspiring theme for all of us to remember. Who do YOU want to be? What kind of life do YOU desire? Questioning conformity or acceptance of “this is what is expected to achieve happiness” formulas is apart of our culture. Blessings to you for advocating this message

Onely - September 29, 2009

I agree–Lisa and I are having lots of fun questioning conformity.

What I want to be deep down is someone who socializes stray kittens in a plumbing-and-wifi-equipped hut on the beach on Palau. CC

13. Bella - October 1, 2009

I have so enjoyed this entire discussion — thanks, everyone!

14. But Who Will Kiss My Broken Cheek? « Onely: Single and Happy - October 3, 2009

[…] advocate and social psychologist Bella DePaulo (who recently guest-posted on Onely!) often mentions how single people tend to have wider networks of friends, cultivate more and […]

15. black hattitude - October 30, 2009

Hi,

Thank you for the great quality of your blog, each time i come here, i’m amazed.

black hattitude.


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