For a long time, I had a whole different area of expertise – the psychology of lying and detecting lies. So why did I start studying single people instead? I’ve been asked that question many times, so I thought I’d include it here, as part of the series, “Questions I’ve been asked.”
What inspired you to study the psychology of singleness?
For years, I kept a secret file folder of observations of what I would later call singlism. Some of them were stories in the media. Others were my personal experiences. The thing about my personal experiences, though, is that I really didn’t know if they had anything to do with the fact that I was single, or whether there was some other explanation entirely.
For example, when I first started at a new job, my colleagues invited me to lunch during the week, but over the weekends, the couples would socialize only with other couples. Were they excluding me because I was single or because they didn’t want to spend time with me (and felt obligated to include me during the week when they left from work to go out to lunch)? When job candidates came to visit and my married colleagues asked me to cover the times with the candidates that no one else wanted, were they doing that because I was single and they figured that I didn’t have a life like they did? In any one instance involving just one person, there is no way to ever know for sure.
After a while, I started asking other single people—very tentatively at first—whether they had any experiences like mine. The first time I did this was at a social event, and I approached just one other single person. She could totally relate. Then someone else joined the conversation, and she had her own stories. Then another person, then some more people stepped into the growing circle. We talked for as long as the event lasted. The next morning, I opened my email and found messages that said, “Oh, and another thing!”
At the next social event, I tried the same thing—asking just one single person if she had any experiences like mine. The same thing happened. Another person heard what we were discussing, then another joined in, then some others. (They weren’t all women.)
I had a trip coming up and so I tried the same thing in an entirely new place. Same experience. That’s when I realized that this was not just some quirky thing about me. It was something that resonated with lots of other singles, who seemed very eager to discuss it. I knew then that it was time to write a book about this.
The more I thought about single life and researched it and wrote about it, the more passionate I became. Eventually, I would, for the most part, set aside an expertise that I had spent 20 years developing (on the psychology of lying and detecting lies) and devote my entire professional life to the study of single people and to getting my affirming, research-based perspective out there.
(You can read a lot of what I have to say about single people and single life in this “Single at Heart” blog. I’ve arranged those blog posts, and some of my other writings, by topic here.)