Is Single Life Mentally Unhealthy?
Is anyone single on purpose? In today’s podcast, Gabe talks with Bella DePaulo, Ph.D, a prominent thinker and author on the single life, who shatters myths about being single. She shares how many people thrive as a single person and feel their most empowered living the single life. In fact, single people often hold prominent positions in their communities.
If you assumed all single people were only single by default and are still looking for the “one,” tune in to hear a fresh new perspective.
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Guest information for ‘Bella DePaulo – Is Single Life Mentally Unhealthy’ Podcast Episode
Bella DePaulo, a Harvard PhD with more than 150 scholarly publications, has been described by the Atlantic magazine as “America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience.” Her TEDx talk, “What no one ever told you about people who are single,” has been viewed more than a million times.
She is the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, and other books. She has been writing the “Living Single” blog for Psychology Today since 2008 and she wrote the “Single at Heart” blog for Psych Central from 2011 to 2020.
Professor DePaulo has also written for publications such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic magazine, New York magazine, Slate, Bustle, Forbes, Time magazine, the Guardian, the Chronicle of Higher Education, NBC, and CNN.
Bella DePaulo has discussed single life on radio and television, including on NPR (many times) and CNN. Her work has been described in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, Time magazine, the Atlantic, the Economist, the Week, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, Newsweek, and the TED Ideas Blog, among many others.
She is currently an Academic Affiliate in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California at Santa Barbara.
About The Psych Central Podcast Host
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Bella DePaulo – Is Single Life Mentally Unhealthy’ Episode
Single Life Resources
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of The Psych Central Podcast, I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today, we have Dr. Bella DePaulo, a Harvard Ph.D. with more than 150 scholarly publications. She has been described by The Atlantic magazine as America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience. Dr. DePaulo is the author of numerous 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. Dr. DePaulo, welcome to the show.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Thank you for having me.
Gabe Howard: Well, I’m very excited you’re here because I can’t recall a period of time in, definitely my adult life, but probably my entire life where I wasn’t either in a relationship or looking for a relationship. And honestly, that’s why your work intrigued me so much. You wrote an article called The Badass Personalities of People Who Like Being Alone. And it just it really changed my thinking about being single and of course, by extension, single people. Now you have a name for people who like to be single. Can you share?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yes, it’s single at heart, those are people who live their best lives by being single, their most authentic, fulfilling, meaningful lives, and for people who are single at heart, they’re not single because they were unlucky in love where they couldn’t find someone or they have issues or they were just stuck with it. It’s not a default. It’s a choice we embrace. I consider myself one of them and we embrace being single.
Gabe Howard: I’m really looking at my own life because I really had two settings, either in a relationship or looking for a relationship, and from my vantage point, and I’m happily married, I want you to know that. But what’s so incredibly interesting is the people around me, they supported this idea that Gabe either needed to be in a relationship or looking for a relationship. People would be like, oh, Gabe’s single, oh, I have the perfect friend. Is this what life is like for everybody?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Well, you know, that has been the assumption so often and so pervasively that everybody wants to get married, everybody wants to be in a romantic relationship. But just a few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center, they reported a survey that they did just before the pandemic started in which they asked solo single people who didn’t already have a partner. Do you want to have a committed romantic relationship? And then they asked another question, do you want to date? And half of the people, 50 percent, did not want a romantic relationship and they didn’t even want to date. And that’s just an astounding shattering of the kind of assumption that you just described.
Gabe Howard: There is this strong social expectation that everyone desires to be married or at the very
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Right.
Gabe Howard: Least coupled up in some manner, how
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Right.
Gabe Howard: Do single people fight that societal pressure? Don’t they just end up there to quiet their friends, family and society at large?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Well, sometimes they do, and that’s not a good thing, because if it’s not what they want, then obviously they’re not going to be happy. But it’s also not fair to the people they end up with when they’re partnering just because they think that’s what they should do. Would you want to be stuck with someone who was just doing it just with you out of social pressure? And I found some some really fascinating stories from people who meet the love of their life. And they’re in this relationship. Their partner makes their hearts pitter patter. And, you know, they’re crazy in love and their partner loves them back. And even though they have found this perfect person, they don’t want to be in a relationship. It’s just fascinating that this expectation has such a hold on us that it gets us into a relationship we don’t want. And most of those are the lucky ones who end up with someone that they do love. So, you know, at least there’s that. But, you know, a lot of people who really prefer being single, who live their best lives are single. People end up in relationships that aren’t that great. And then their partner keeps wondering, what’s wrong? What am I doing wrong? Well, maybe nothing.
Gabe Howard: It really sounds like and then please, please correct me if I’m wrong, it really sounds like they’re remaining single intentionally on purpose. They’re planning on being single. And I really, genuinely believed that people ended up single because it just turned out that way. You’re saying that there are people making intentional choices to remain single.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yes, especially now that the idea that it’s legitimate, it’s fine, it’s a totally respectable way to live as that idea is getting out there, more people are making that decision. I think for a lot of people, they have had to go through the process of trying out romantic relationships and thinking to themselves, oh, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I want this too? I have issues. I need to see a therapist and maybe some people do. But for people who are single at heart, they really do best on their own. And it’s not just, oh, well, they can settle for being on their own, but they have some very psychologically healthy profiles. For example, they tend to be more open minded. And in several studies, they are actually less neurotic than people who don’t like being alone or people who are afraid of being single.
Gabe Howard: I watched your very popular TEDx talk, over a million views, it was called What no one ever told you about people who are single (sic). And in it you discuss research that shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, married people are not appreciably happier than single people. And divorced people are in a worse position. If research shows that marriage does not appreciably increase happiness. Why do we all think that it does?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Well, first, the question is, if you get married, will you be happier? And we’re all led to believe, yes, yes, yes, yes, that’s the way to get happiness. And in fact, we use that almost as a synonym. Oh, Gabe deserves to be happy. He should find someone right?
Gabe Howard: Yeah.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: And yet there are now dozens of studies that follow the same people over the course of their lives starting when they’re single. And then if they get married and when people get married, they don’t become any happier than they were when they were single. At best, they become a tiny bit happier around the time of the wedding. It’s all so exciting. And then they go back to being as happy or unhappy as they were when they were single. So, this idea that, oh, get married and that’s your magical route to happiness, tons of research shows it’s just not true. And yet, like you say, we believe that it’s such a hard myth to shatter. Not because the data aren’t there, but because people are really invested in believing that it’s true, because what marriage and long term romantic coupling is held out to offer isn’t just happiness, but a whole life that falls in place. You find that one special person and now you have your soulmate, your travel mate, your co-parent if you are a parent, your sexual partner, your confidante. And you will not just be happier, but you’ll be healthier and you’ll live longer and all of your wishes will come true. And of course, I mean, imagine that. That sounds like a magical snake oil that people used
Gabe Howard: Right.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: To sell, but what a thing to grab on to. I mean, imagine that if you find a person and then that’s it, you’re set. So people are invested in believing that and it’s very hard to dissuade them from that very attractive belief.
Gabe Howard: You are right, the concept of the one permeates our culture, but one of the things that you mentioned was there your sexual partner. Now, for many people, marriage and sexuality, they they go hand in hand. In fact, you cannot have one without the other. And that it makes me wonder, are people who choose to remain single, are they asexual? Are the two things related, unrelated? How does that fit together?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: People who are single at heart, are a little more likely to be asexual than people who aren’t. But the asexuals are still in the minority, even among the single at heart. And what they do for sexual gratification is some just don’t care. And then everybody else does what they want to. You know, there’s not the stigma anymore of having sex outside of marriage. So you don’t need to be married to have sexual partners or just people that you connect with for that reason. And different people have different ways of solving it. That’s really one of the main lessons about being single and especially single heart, is that it’s not a restrictive restricting thing to be. It’s expansive. So if you’re married, the expectation is that your partner is your sex partner and you have sex with them and you don’t have sex with anyone else. Whereas if you’re single, the whole wide world of alternatives is open to you. You can not have sex at all. Or you could gratify yourself or you could have sex with different people, or you could have sex with one person that you have some understanding with. There are just lots of possibilities and it’s a very personal individual matter.
Gabe Howard: I like how you put that, that there’s an array of options that people don’t think about, because when it comes to sex, even though our culture is very sexualized, we also have this idea that you also have to find the one that must be your long-term sexual partner. And certainly we’re now seeing, you know, marriages that are non-monogamous. We’re seeing polyamory
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: And on and on and on.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Consensual non monogamy, right? Yeah,
Gabe Howard: Yes, consensual non monogamy. Yeah, but it is fascinating, this idea that we put so much on marriage and what you’re saying is that marriage isn’t actually solving as many problems as we thought that it was, and in fact, it’s creating some. And that doesn’t make marriage bad. It just doesn’t make single bad. And that’s really the message, if I understand correctly, that single is a choice. You can do what you want. Nobody’s hurting anybody. And.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Oh, that’s too grudging, that is way too grudging. Single life can be an absolutely wonderful, empowering, amazing, fulfilling, meaningful life.
Gabe Howard: It makes me wonder, though, and I’m heavily engrossed in this must be in a relationship, so I’m giving you full permission to smack me down, please school me here, but there’s this little piece of me that’s just sitting here like, well, but maybe they haven’t met the right person yet. They’re just, they’re just very picky. And as soon as the right one comes along, they’ll
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Right.
Gabe Howard: Completely see things Gabe’s way. I hear how that sounds, even as I’m saying it.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yeah, it’s an important point because a lot of people will think that way, and that’s why I love these stories and I have a whole collection of them, of people who have met, the one, who have a partner they love, a partner who loves them back. And one person, for example, was telling me that she was trying to explain to her partner why she wants to be single. And she would say, now I have these adventures I want to do. And he said, well, we can do this together, but that’s not it. That’s not the life that she wants and envisions and cherishes and savors. So it’s not who we are. People who are single at heart, having a romantic partner at the center of our lives, it’s just not who we are. It’s like trying to tell somebody who’s not heterosexual to just keep trying to find a person that makes the heart pitter patter. It’s not going to happen.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back with America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience, Dr. Bella DePaulo. So, what advice do you have for all of the probably well-meaning but yet incredibly nosy relatives and even strangers? How do single at heart people handle the Gabe Howard’s of the world that decide to, I’m making air quotes, correct them or help them when they don’t actually need help? Because I know how strong this messaging is, and I have to imagine that it’s stronger if you disagree with it.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yes, there are these amazing studies that looked at how people react to single people and they looked at two different kinds of single people, single people who really want to be couples, they don’t like being single and single people who chose to be single on their happily single. And guess which single people get treated most harshly? The single people who are happily single. Other people will say to them, oh, you’re not really happy, you just haven’t met the one. They even expressed anger at the single people who say that they’re happily single. And I think, again, it comes back to that mythical magical formula we’re offered that if you just find the right person, all the pieces of your life will fall in place and you’ll live happily ever after and you’ll be healthy and you’ll even be morally superior to what you wrote in your book. And so single people who are happily single threaten that myth, that promise that’s held out to people. And so they are rebuked and it’s difficult. So my advice is, to be honest. To say, I like being single. This is my best life, but know that you probably will not be treated kindly and people will second guess you as if they know your feelings better than you do. Oh, you don’t really feel that way. Oh, you just haven’t met someone. You’ll change your mind, you’ll outgrow it. One good thing now is that it’s easier than ever for people to find their tribes, especially online. So, for example, I started this online Facebook community called the Community of Single People. And it’s open to mostly everyone. But really, I started it for single people who love their single life and who want to be there for each other in supporting other people who also love being single and don’t want to have to feel defensive about all the time. And since I started that in 2015, we now have about four thousand seven hundred members from more than a hundred nations.
Gabe Howard: And they’re just living their best life, minding their own business, they don’t need
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Married people, coupled people telling them what to do, they’re just.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Right, and so we talk about the things that people say to us and make fun of them. So it’s kind of a nice place.
Gabe Howard: It’s interesting that you brought up that even though you’re single, you desire to have emotional relationships, they’re just not romantic relationships. Right? I really bought into these cultural messages that thinks, well, if you want to be single, it means that you’re antisocial. It means that you don’t
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Oh my gosh.
Gabe Howard: Want to make connections. It means that you hate people.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Oh, that’s so sad.
Gabe Howard: I just I know I know how wrong that is,
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yes.
Gabe Howard: But it’s hard to get over.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yes, it’s actually exactly wrong because and again, there’s good research on this showing that when people get married, they become more insular, they pay less attention to their friends, they reach out to their parents less, and they become this little insular couple or family. Now, it doesn’t happen to all married couples, of course, but on the average, the married people who whose social worlds shrink and it’s the single people who have more friends who do more of the work of keeping up with their friends and neighbors, relatives, coworkers, they are more often the life of their towns and communities. And so, the actual data is exactly the opposite of what we are led to believe by these stereotypes and myths about single people.
Gabe Howard: It really is. The myth is so pervasive, right, it’s just
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yeah, yeah.
Gabe Howard: The romantic comedies say it. I looked into a lot of like pop culture and there there isn’t a movie or a television show with a happily single person that doesn’t end with them finding the one. Even
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: I know.
Gabe Howard: When you find a single person in the group. You know, let’s take Phoebe in Friends. You know, she was predominantly single for a long time, but they found him.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Or Sex and the City was supposed to be about four bold, sexy, empowered single women, and they all end up like cooing couples or are headed that way at the end. It was such a huge letdown. And that is really hard when there’s a whole entertainment industry that’s built on the assumption that everybody is going to get married. And, you know, it’s gotten to the point where it’s so overdone that it doesn’t work anymore to have a series that builds up to one wedding at the end. I mean, you have shows like Gray’s Anatomy that have episodes with multiple weddings in the same episode. I think it’s like we’ve grown so used to it that it takes more of this, what I call “matro-mania” to get through to us. Oh, one wedding? Big deal. We’ve got to try again. Make it another wedding. How about three weddings in this episode?
Gabe Howard: My last question is for people who are, as you describe, single at heart, they want to be single. They’re struggling with pop culture, society, their friends, their families. What advice do you have for them?
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Yeah, find your tribe. If online support groups are your thing join the community of single people. I have a whole list of resources I can send that to you to post. And that includes blogs, podcasts, I’ll add this one now.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, you’re the author of the Living Single blog over on Psychology Today. You’ve been writing that since 2008.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Right, so that’s a good possibility, but I’ll send you a link to a whole list of resources for single people who are unapologetically and happily and joyfully single.
Gabe Howard: And I invite everybody to check out her blog, Living Single over on Psychology Today. Also, we will put a list of other resources into the show notes that you can check them all out. Dr. DePaulo, thank you so much for being you and for being here and thank you so much for pointing out all of the ways that I was wrong. I really, really appreciate it. You’ve really taught me a lot.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.: Thank you for inviting me. I enjoyed talking to you.
Gabe Howard: And thank you, everybody, for listening, if you loved the show, please, please, please subscribe. Wherever you downloaded this podcast hit Subscribe, use your words, rate, rank, and review. Tell people why they should listen. Share us on social media. If you have any ideas for a show topic, hit us up at a [email protected] My name is Gabe Howard and I’m the author of Mental Illness Is an Asshole, which is available on Amazon. Or you can get a signed copy for way less money at my personal website, gabehoward.com. And always remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling any time anywhere simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We’ll see everyone next week.
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