Q and A With… Bella DePaulo

A social psychologist and author of Singled Out reveals reasons it’s great to be unattached—and how to handle annoying questions from coupled-up types.

In your book, Singled Out, you argue that coupled-up people often assume — wrongly so — that single people are dying to be in relationships. What did your research uncover?

Before I started doing my research into singlehood, I had seen a lot of media headlines claiming that getting married made you happier and healthier and live longer and have better sex. So the most surprising thing I discovered was that all of these claims were wildly exaggerated or just plain wrong. Most single people really are happy. And if they are not, marriage is not likely to transform them into a state of bliss. That’s not just my opinion; that’s what the data really does show.

Many single people are tired of having to defend their uncoupled status. Do you have any advice for coping with nosy friends/family?

I’ve thought about this, and I think my favorite all-purpose answer to the question “Why are you still single?” is “Why do you ask?” When people ask why you aren’t married, what they’re doing, either deliberately or not, is putting you on the defensive about being single. What I like about the “Why do you ask?” response is that it turns the tables, but can be asked in a totally non-defensive, curious sort of way. You don’t have to sound hurt or hostile when you ask that question. And if the questioner takes that question seriously and thinks about why he or she asked that, who knows—that person might actually learn something!

What about single parents? Is there any truth to kids faring better in two-parent households?

Some people really do believe that children are somehow being cheated if they are raised by just one parent. But when I went directly to the professional journals and read the studies comparing children from single-parent homes to children from two-parent homes, I found that in many instances, there is little or no difference. Here’s what really does matter, though: Lots of conflict, aggression, and cold and neglectful relationships are real risks to children. It is difficult for kids to do well if they have people around them who can’t stop fighting, and that is true even if the people who are fighting are their married parents.

In what other ways do single people get the short end of the stick?

It happens often in the workplace. Sometimes bosses and co-workers assume that because someone is single, he or she does not have a life. Therefore, they can be counted on to cover holidays, to take the least desirable vacation times, to cover the travel that no one else wants to do, and generally do more than their share of the work.

So what advice do you have for single people who are happy living their own lives?

Singles are in a dilemma. If they’re doing well, and, say, purchase a very nice home (as married people do whenever they can afford to), then they are described as selfish. If they live frugally in a small apartment, then they are to be pitied. So no matter what single people do, other people can find something wrong with it. That’s why I think it is so important for single people to live up to their own values—to do what they think is best and right and not just try to figure out what will win the approval of others. Because the fact is, other people can always find fault if they want to.

Cate Mitchell is a New York City-based writer.
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