The Hard Facts On Being Single
The Hard Facts On Being Single
Bella DePaulo (Author, "Singled Out") gives expert video advice on: What are the advantages of staying single?; How has society reacted to the 'new norm' of staying single longer?; Do single men feel pressure from their married counterparts to 'hook up'? and more...
What defines a person as single?
There are at least three different ways to think about being single. So, one is the way the census bureau thinks about it and the government thinks about it. And, that is, are you legally married or not. If you're not legally married, you're single. Now, in your every day life, people see you as single if you're not part of a serious couple. And, so if they see you as single, then if they invite you to something and they don't think there is somebody else they are obligated to invite you. The other way, how do you think of yourself personally, so, sometimes other people will say: oh, you know, he's coupled or she's part of a couple. And you think, no, I'm not, I'm single.
How has being single changed over time?
People are waiting longer than ever before to get married, if they get married at all. People are staying single into their late twenties or even later. Then, at the end of life, our life spans continue to grow. Women continue to live longer than men, so there are many single women at the end of the lifespan. Also, even those people who do get married, many of them divorce. It's now not as commonplace to get remarried at the end of a divorce, and if you do get remarried, you may not get remarried right away. What all of that adds up to is that Americans actually spend more years of their adult life married than unmarried.
What reasons do people have for staying single?
Well if you're single you can pursue your passions, you can do what's most important to you and you don't need marriage anymore to pursue the important parts of your life. So for example, women in the past used to be more economically dependant on a husband, so often women were paid even less than men even more so than today and there weren't that many jobs open to them, now many women can support themselves and even some children if they want to have children on their own so they're not financially dependant. With reproductive technologies, women can have children without being married. Also single people no longer wait to get married to buy their own homes and to travel the world. So single people can lead full complete and happy lives without being married. Now if they want to have a partner in their lives they can have that too but having a partner is no longer something you have to have in order to have access to all these other big important parts of your life.
What are the advantages of staying single?
When you are single, you get to really create the life that is most meaningful to you. You get to pursue what you think is important, what you are passionate about without having to say, "Oh, if I do this, will my spouse disapprove?" Or, "Will it work for this other person if I do this?" You can do what you are best at, what you find most meaningful.
What would you say to someone who's scared of being single?
That's a really interesting question. Sometimes, people who say, "Oh, I'm worried about growing old alone," are already single and they have a full, happy, complete life. So they are buying into these myths that even if you're single now, it won't last. But it's just a myth. In fact, when I looked at the studies of loneliness in old age, there is one group of people who is especially unlikely to be lonely, and it's women who have always been single. And one of the reasons for that is that when you're single, you pay attention to more than just one person. You probably nurture your friendships. Women who stay single have friendships that last for decades, that have outlasted many marriages, and they don't invest all of their emotional capital into just one person and hope that person doesn't turn out to be The One. They have a whole diversified relationship portfolio of friends, and maybe extended family, of colleagues, and mentors, and neighbours.
If someone has never been single, what are they missing?
If you've never been single, you've missed the chance to truly understand who you are. You can see this most clearly in people who marry young and stay married for a very long time. Suddenly, the spouse dies or maybe they get a divorce, and sometimes today people divorce after decades of marriage. And so now here's this person who is uncoupled for the first time in their adult lives, and their first reaction may be of anxiety. They may realize that this is really interesting. Another thing I hear that is really interesting, are people who have stayed married a long time who have had very good and happy marriages, yet they say "I've been married, it was good, but I don't want to remarry." I now like staying single. What's interesting about people is that they are very flexible. They say "I was happily married, but now I'm happily single." You see the reverse of that where people who were single a long time and then got married, they say "I got married, I'm happy but I was really happy single, and if I stayed single I would have been really happy too."
How has society reacted to the 'new norm' of staying single longer?
I think that there is a lot of angst in society now about the way things are changing. So before, let's say, in the ‘50s, and even longer, people thought there was one way to live your life. So you stay with your parents and then you find someone and you get married and you move in and make your own home. Then you have kids. You stay married and you have grandkids. And now, people's lives are so much more fluid. You can co-habituate or you can move in and out of different careers and have your own home when you are single or have several different homes and sets of friends. To some people, that's wonderful. It's great opportunity. You don't have to live your life just one way. But to other people, it's very unnerving. It's easier, more comfortable to think 'I know how to lead a good life. First I do this, then I do that and everyone agrees with me and there is no battle.' Some people like that very regulated, predictable way of living a life. They also like to think that if they follow that predictable path that they are a better person than someone who has not followed it. I think what is threatening about a lot of single people now is that they are single and happy and leading full, complete lives. Well, that is threatening to someone who followed the standard path and thought that, oh that makes them a better person. And that's the only way that someone can be happy and fulfilled and now they see that's not true.
Is being single viewed differently in other countries?
Yes, that is one of the questions that I get asked the most. And, in Scandinavian countries where people are more often single, there is a much better social support for single people. I think there is less of a stigma. But, in other countries there might be more of a stigma. And, yet we don't know nearly as much as we need to, because, whereas the study of marriage has been going on for decades, and decades, and decades. It has all this federal funding, journals, conferences, and courses. The study of singles is new.