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“What’s wrong with two people deciding to take care of each other for life?”

Last year, I got into a Twitter exchange with a stranger who just could not fathom why anyone would not marry if they could find “a partner that’s a perfect match.” We went through a few rounds in which I tried to explain that not everyone wants the same kind of life, and he couldn’t understand why I didn’t regard a marriage partner as “a great bonus.”

Fenton Johnson, whose wonderful book At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life I have been discussing (here and here), had a similar question posed to him by a friend who knew he was writing a book celebrating solitude. “What’s wrong with two people deciding to take care of each other for life?”, the friend asked.

Johnson offered a different and more interesting answer than my “different strokes for different folks” response. He made the case for communities of care, rather than inwardly-focused twosomes.

“I had experienced a community in crisis where we all took care of one another – the gay, lesbian, and transgender communities of San Francisco in the 1980s and early 1990s, the first years of the AIDS epidemic — in no small part because no one was married.”

He quoted Nancy Polikoff, who described a similar dynamic at the time among women:

“A friend died of breast cancer, and her blood family arrived for the funeral. They were astounded to discover that their daughter had a group of people who were a family, who’d been providing support—somebody had organized a schedule, somebody brought food every night. In some ways it was the absence of marriage as a dominant institution that created space for the development of a family defined in much broader ways.”

That was three or four decades ago, long before it seemed even remotely possible that same-sex marriage might be legalized. Now that it is, I have been wondering whether the partners in these unions would practice marriage differently. For example, we know from research on heterosexual marriages that when couples move in together or get married, they become more insular. They call their parents less often and they spend less time with their friends. Will lesbians and gay men resist that insularity in their marriages? Will they instead bring with them the lauded communal practices of the late 20th century?

I think Johnson’s guess would be no.

“I do not think the collective, community caregiving models that evolved in the early years of the AIDS epidemic would happen today, in large part because now gay men and lesbians can marry. Opening to one has replaced opening to all.”

Maybe patterns of helping and caring during the current pandemic will be the topic of social science research. Then we would know who is reaching out to others in their communities, in whatever ways they can, and whose concern is extending no farther than their front door.

“What’s wrong with two people deciding to take care of each other for life?”

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single," Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2020). “What’s wrong with two people deciding to take care of each other for life?”. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Apr 2020
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