One of my previous posts here at “Single at Heart” was titled, Living single life fully, joyfully, and without apology. Time to blow up that theme into a feature story gracing the cover of the November issue of the Atlantic magazine.
The author, Kate Bolick, was also interviewed for two segments of the Today show. Single life is at the center of the Today interviews. The Atlantic story also includes an in-depth discussion of marriage and how it has changed.
Bella DePaulo, a Harvard-trained social psychologist who is now a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience. In 2005, she coined the word singlism, in an article she published in Psychological Inquiry. Intending a parallel with terms like racism and sexism, DePaulo says singlism is “the stigmatizing of adults who are single [and] includes negative stereotyping of singles and discrimination against singles.” In her 2006 book, Singled Out, she argues that the complexities of modern life, and the fragility of the institution of marriage, have inspired an unprecedented glorification of coupling. (Laura Kipnis, the author of Against Love, has called this “the tyranny of two.”) This marriage myth—“matrimania,” DePaulo calls it—proclaims that the only route to happiness is finding and keeping one all-purpose, all-important partner who can meet our every emotional and social need. Those who don’t have this are pitied. Those who don’t want it are seen as threatening. Singlism, therefore, “serves to maintain cultural beliefs about marriage by derogating those whose lives challenge those beliefs.”
In July, I visited DePaulo in the improbably named Summerland, California, which, as one might hope, is a charming outpost overlooking a glorious stretch of the Pacific Ocean. DePaulo, a warm, curious woman in her late 50s, describes herself as “single at heart”—meaning that she’s always been single and always will be, and that’s just the way she wants it. Over lunch at a seafood restaurant, she discussed how the cultural fixation on the couple blinds us to the full web of relationships that sustain us on a daily basis. We are far more than whom we are (or aren’t) married to: we are also friends, grandparents, colleagues, cousins, and so on. To ignore the depth and complexities of these networks is to limit the full range of our emotional experiences.