Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

5 Years of Living Single: My Biggest Failure

PT blog launch: there from the start

Five years ago was when I first started writing the Living Single blog for Psychology Today.  Back then – March, 2008 – there were only about a dozen or so of us PT bloggers – far cry from the hundreds today!

Among those who were also blogging back in the earliest days were Nancy Segal, Stanton Peele, Aaron Ben Zeev, Tim Pychyl,  Joe Navarro, Steve Stosny, and Christopher Ryan. (Who else? Let me know and I’ll add your names.) There were no Essential Reads, no quotes across the top, no “most popular” list, no “hot topics.” Once you scanned the handful of the latest posts, you already saw it all!

Blogging is no longer a new experience for me, but I still love it for all the reasons I described four years ago. I have some educational goals that I have been pursuing with just about all of my writing about single life (not just my blogging). There have been some failures and a few successes in making progress toward those goals. Here I’ll highlight just one of each.

My Biggest Failure, So Far

Research on the implications of getting married is a mess. The studies too often could not possibly tell us anything definitive about that question. Even the best of the lot are often biased in favor of making married people look better. The research is a set-up – and still, even with the unfair and methodologically embarrassing advantages, the married group does not look all that great.

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My biggest failure in my writings is that the quality of the critiques of social science research on the implications of marrying is hardly any better than it was when I started. Social scientists, journalists, pundits, and bloggers continue to claim that getting married transforms miserable and sickly single people into blissful and healthy married couples. They say so when they should know better, just from looking at the basic design of the research. Some of the places where I’ve tried to make my case are listed below. I’m going to keep trying.

Some of my attempts to inspire more accurate and thoughtful research and reporting on the implications of marrying:

An Example of Possible Progress

When I (and everyone else) take the claims that are made about the implications of marrying and critique them, I am playing on the ground that someone else tilled. It is important to set the record straight about the many exaggerations, misrepresentations, and outright-wrong statements that have been made, but doing just that is not enough.

Imagine, back in the early days of the scientific study of sex differences, that someone proclaimed (and some ones did) that men are superior to women in a number of specified ways. Then researchers worked themselves into a frenzy trying to test those assertions. If that’s all they did, they would miss out on all of the ways that women, in theory, could be superior to men, or have different strengths or values or goals than men. They would all be implicitly going along with the assumption that men’s strengths were the only strengths that truly mattered.

What I have been trying to do here at Living Single and elsewhere is to say that there are single people who like their single lives, people for whom living single means living their most meaningful and authentic lives. I call them “single at heart.” They have their own standards.

My single-at-heart survey has been ongoing for more than a year now. I drew from relevant research findings, as well as my own experiences communicating with untold numbers of single people over the years, to formulate some possible defining characteristics of the single-at-heart. I have also asked people all along what else I should be considering.

The new conversation about the single-at-heart invites us to ask other kinds of questions about the qualities of a good life and the kinds of people who live their best lives. Rather than asking, for example, only about The One, we ask about The Ones – all of the people you consider important, and not just the kinds of people that matrimaniacs deem important. Rather than assuming that having another person around most of the time – whether at home, or at your side at social events – is optimal, we ask whether you might like to be with different people at different times, or spend a lot of time on your own. We take the presumption that it is most desirable to plan all of your major life events (and minor ones, too) with one other person and replace it with the possibility that you might like to make those plans on your own, or with input from people other than a spouse or romantic partner.

There are lots more examples, but they all amount to one thing: Asking you what matters to you, rather than telling you what you should value, based on matrimaniacal standards, then judging you deficient if you don’t agree.

You can find links to what I’ve written so far about the single-at-heart here.

In another post (probably the next one), I’ll list the most popular posts from my 5 years of blogging here, plus my biggest-loser post.

[Note. My latest posts elsewhere are The Mexican Revolution in Attitudes toward Single People and My Favorite Book Inscription, from 76 Years Ago.]

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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