on December 17, 2006
"Singled Out" has some very good information and makes solid points about the subtlty of the constraining aspects of culture that define segments of the culture considered out of the norm, like single people. Where it falls down is in creating its own dogma about coupledom that is strident and seems to want to negate any consideration of merit for partnering.
I wrote my original review when only about halfway through this book. I wanted to update the review with my final impressions, which ended up farther toward the positive end of the scale.
In general, I think DePaulo is onto something very important here, insofar as trying to de-pathologize singlehood and encourage the inclusion of many more definitions of relationship and family than is currently allowed. Not only is society already changed beyond going back, it was never the mythological construct we imagined existed in everyone's house but ours.
I enjoyed the book most where DePaulo shines: in sticking to statistics or an academic presentation of facts that help to demythologize both marriage and the single life. This included findings from scholarly studies and a revealing look at how society interprets in different ways behavior that is similar between singles and couples.
The author is least appealing when repeatedly seeming to sneer at or dismiss intimate bonds between couples entirely. One case made for the immaturity of people who marry was facile, denigrating, and two-dimensional. It's not that she didn't present some valid points to consider but it was hard for me as a reader to get beyond what seemed like a fair amount of anger towards the very idea of coupledom.
DePaulo rightly deplores singles being portrayed as cardboard figures with only one thing on their mind: marriage. Then she turns around and portrays most coupling-type folk as cardboard figures with only one thing on their mind. She seems to take the stance that she's accusing society of bestowing upon marrieds by making singlehood the morally superior path.
What I like is that her discussion rejects the pathology of singlehood. What I don't like is a lack of consideration that intimate pairing may have emotional rewards and benefits that are legitimate, even if not being superior to the emotional lives of singles.
What's missing for me is a discussion of intimacy. Whether a person is single or married, deep attachment and emotional intimacy seems closely tied to emotional health as determined by a number of measures. It's unclear to me where this fits into the broader discussion of DePaulo's topic.
I'm very happy that this book seeks to eliminate the bias against singles and to demythologize marriage. I thought I had already left many of the myths of "The One" behind but this book made me more aware of the subtle markers that culture leaves on our psyches in regards to single status. I can honestly sense a shift in my own thinking about this issue, and that, I appreciate.
Almost any single person has been affected by myth and stigma. Supposedly we're misfits with empty lives, doomed to die alone, frustrated at never achieving the perfection of coupledom. Finally, someone lets the cat out of the bag. We're normal and happy.
I had heard of the author when I was an academic and even cited some of her articles in my own research. Then out of the blue, she asked permission to use a quote from me in this book. I was delighted with the request and the topic.
Having read DePaulo's academic articles, I anticipated a superb book and I was not disappointed. In fact, Singled Out vastly exceeded my expectations. I've given away 2 copies. One recipient said she bought 4 more to give away. And we don't usually buy books, let alone give them as gifts.
Unlike many popular psychology authors, DePaulo uses her research training to make significant points. The book is worth reading just to go through Chapter 2, an eye-opening look at the way research results can be distorted to meet an agenda. And any single person will laugh out loud at DePaulo's opening satire: What if we subjected married people to the indignities, frustrations and hassles that single people take for granted.
DePaulo asks, "What does research tell us about the specific benefits of paired relationships?" In fact, it's only in the last hundred years or so that the "pack of two" became privileged in our culture.
After reading Singled Out, I found myself seeing the world differently. I keep picking up hidden messages everywhere, especially movies and television. A singles column in my local paper really should be called relationship seeking. Singles groups? More of the same.
However, I do see signs of hope. For example, the Doonesbury comic strip featured a celebration of singleness. A columnist in the Chronicle of Higher Education advised a questioner to prioritize her career over her relationship: good jobs, said the columnist, can be scarcer than good mates.
And although Sex and the City did get everyone coupled up at the end, as DePaulo points out, we did get glimpses of smart, attractive women who went to movies alone. What single person can forget the scene where Miranda's law firm colleagues assume "single" is code for "lesbian?"
But we've got a long, long way to go. As DePaulo points out, everything from tax codes to medical services to vacation packages favors couples. Doctors frequently assume our symptoms have neurotic origins; "just get married and your symptoms will go away" or, "You're alone so you have time to make up symptoms." Famous singles get asked about their dating life (do we really care if Condoleeza Rice has a boyfriend?) and single politicians lack credibility. The consequences for singles and for society are huge.
On a lighter note, this book solves the problem of what married couples can give their single friends. Give them this book and buy an extra copy for yourself. You'll all change for the better.
on May 9, 2008
"I do wish married people would understand that a lot of singles actually WANT to be single. Why does that bother you?...It is like the story my (happily married) friend...likes to tell about meeting the late Ann Landers, who said, `You tell that Richard Roeper to figure out what's keeping him from getting married and to fix it!'""
The above is found in this meticulously well-researched book by social psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo (who is unmarried herself). (Specifically, the above quotation comes from an essay written by movie critic (of TV's "At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper") and columnist Richard Roeper's reaction to two married friends who wanted Roeper to get married.)
I think it's important for people to know what social psychology is: it is that branch of psychology that concentrates on any and all aspects of human behaviour that involve persons and their relationships to other persons, groups, social institutions, and to society as a whole. Social psychology exchanges freely ideas, models, and methods with other social sciences, particularly sociology.
This is why I chose this book. It's based on an objective social science (or, at least, it tries to be) and not on subjective opinions. This book is not a "diatribe" or a rant.
The best chapter in this book, in my opinion, has the title, "Science and the Single Person." Here, DePaulo looks at data and their numbers with regard to different kinds of people (single, married, divorced, etc.). She then interprets the data. The final conclusions are eye-opening and completely unexpected.
Then we proceed to examine the myths of being single that form the core of this book. Here are the myths that each form an independent chapter for analysis:
Myth #1: Marrieds (that is, married couples) know best.
Myth #2: You are just interested in one thing--getting coupled.
Myth #3: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.
Myth #4: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn't worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.
Myth #5: (For single women). Your work won't love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don't get any, and your promiscuous.
Myth #6: (For single men). You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious. frivolous, and gay.
Myth #7: (For single parents). Your kids are doomed.
Myth #8: You don't have anyone and you don't have a life.
Myth #9: You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.
Myth #10: (Regarding the term "family values"). Let's give all the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values.
In all chapters, Depaulo delves into history, tells us true stories, and logically analyzes arguments.
Finally, you would expect a book like this to be overly harsh on married people or couples. Actually, it's not. The book tries to be fair and balanced.
In conclusion, this book is an intriguing cultural study that gives a complicated subject the attention and respect it deserves. I leave you with other quotations regarding marriage and the single life (the title of this review is actually a quotation uttered by Mae West):
(i) Marriage is like a besieged fortress. Everyone outside wants to get in, and everyone inside wants to get out. (Quitard)
(ii) My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met. (comedian Rodney Dangerfield)
(iii) People think I'm gay because I'm single, slim, and neat. (comedian Jerry Seinfeld in the sitcom "Seinfeld")
(First published late 2007; 15 chapters; main narrative 260 pages; notes; bibliography; acknowledgements; index)
<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>
on December 11, 2006
With all the recent brouhaha surrounding marriage, marriage, marriage, here comes Bella DePaulo to clear the air and pull the wool from over our eyes. Though written by an expert who knows her stuff this book is not what you'd expect from an academic and that alone is a breath of fresh air. It's a fun read. If you are single and have been brainwashed into feeling like a second class citizen, or if you are married and feel concern for your single friends or children, then this book should be at the top of your list. It's time to stop mourning and begin the celebration. This is a book that really needed to be written and it stands unique amongst the droll, vapid, shallow, drivel that represents the nickle-and-dime 'wisdom' of the 'self-help' genre. Though I have always loved the single life I will never look at it in quite the same way again. Bella DePaulo is a much need voice in the wilderness. The PERFECT gift for those who are single (for any reason) and worry about the future or those parents ridiculously tormented over their single children. I don't know why it took Bella DePaulo to open our eyes to the obvious fact that Eisenhower isn't president any more but I guess we should our victories as we find them. Singled Out is unique. There is nothing else like it. What a joy!
on June 23, 2007
DePaulo's book is brilliant, but it made me so angry. Angry at how many couples (from here on, "marrieds") stereotype, stigmatize, and ignore singles, of course! I already knew that marrieds feel sorry for singles because they're "incomplete," "lonely," and "unfulfilled." But not everyone wants the same thing, not everyone wants the conventional, predictable married life. I enjoy solitute tremendously, and marriage has never been my life goal. I'd rather focus on my career, which is more fulfilling than any relationship I've had. I also enjoy traveling on the weekends whenever I want, spending my money how I want, hanging out with single friends (fortunately I still have several of them). Most marrieds don't plan a weekend to go visit a good college friend (well, maybe they will if it's a couple and not merely a single person) and spend money "selfishly" on food, entertainment, and going to take photographs of old nuclear power plants or other unique trips. Does this mean I'm not grown up? no! It means I know what I like to do, so I do it. It's that simple. I feel like I have to put so much energy into defending my contented state, while marrieds are assumed to be content (although I know that isn't always the case, especially since marriage ends in divorce half the time).
I am almost 26 so it's still "acceptable" for me to be single, but people still ask why I don't have a boyfriend. "Don't you want to get married one day?" "Are you dating anyone?" "Don't you want to have children?" "You're attractive, why aren't you with anyone?" (there must be something wrong with you!) I used to feel inferior when asked those kinds of questions, especially in college when people were frantically getting engaged, much like a Baskin Robbins gets raided on the day they sell ice cream for 31 cents per scoop. Better get some before it runs out, ya know. But gradually, I became confident in my singleness by my junior year. This book really reinforced my feelings and it was as if DePaulo was reading my mind for most of it. Especially the chapter about why anybody should CARE if we're single of not? Get a life, marrieds..perhaps you should worry about decreasing your divorce rate instead.
I also liked the part criticizing how society gives a hard time to singles who still live with their parents. I still live with mine but am not "mooching" off them. I pay rent, my car payments, my car insurance, my phone bill, my college loans, and other expenses. I am saving up for my own condo (not because it screams "Single person!" but because it's the only thing I can afford in my area). I have a good relationship with my parents and I give a lot back to the economy, much like the Japanese women. I know that I go out and have a social life more than a lot of marrieds I know. And I'm not going out just to look for a husband either, grrrrr!
I have a good male friend in his late 30s. Some people have asked me if he's ever been married. When I answer No, one of them remarked, "There must be something wrong with him." Actually, there isn't. He just doesn't believe that marriage would improve his life. It's overrated and not a "fix-all" solution. He likes being single! He's happy being single. Is that so difficult to understand? Apparently, it is.
Sure, sometimes I think it would be nice to be married, to have that one person who is supposed to be your best friend, lover, etc. But I'm not going to go around actively looking for it because it's not worth it. If it happens, it happens, but I know I wouldn't mind being single for the rest of my life. I don't need another person to make me feel complete. I'm not going to waste time obsessively searching for the right person (dating is much more of a waste than being contentedly single). Ooh, I must be bitter with this attitude! Sometimes I am, but usually I just think, why try to change my life when I love how it is right now? And marriage could also make my life much worse - you never know if it will work out or not, and you could end up devastated by infidelity, abuse, etc (also true in serious unmarried relationships, i know, but people generally have higher expectations of a fairytale perfect marriage, especially with all that commitment). I know a few married men at work who are cheating on their spouses. Obviously, not all marrieds even respect marriage. How then, can this type of person look down on singles as inferior?
I was especially disgusted with Chris Matthews' treatment of Nader. How dare he imply that because Nader did not consume as much as the marrieds (such as no house, no car), that he was less of a person, less responsible? He is really a thousand more times responsible than Newt Gingrich or Bill Clinton, who have made a mess of their marital relationships. Nader is responsible enough to never embarrass a wife (or any other woman, for that matter) on international television. HE never made a mockery of the all-important marriage as others have done. And he is environmentally responsible for not owning a car because, wow!, he doesn't need one, which makes perfect sense (although not to Matthews). Singles rarely get credit for their accomplishments. I admire him and politicians like Condi Rice all the more because of their singleness.
How are people more "grown up" just because they're married? Nineteen year olds get married and are no more grown up than 19 year old singles. In fact, I argue that 19 years old marrieds are much more stupid and insecure than singles their age.
Have to mention one more thing. Once I was invited on a weekend trip where I would be set up with some guy. But I immediately turned it down because I was buying my new car that weekend. An organizer of the trip then asked me, "Which would you rather have, a new boyfriend or a new car?"
"A new car." Of course. I needed a car, but I didn't need a boyfriend...and still don't.
on May 9, 2010
I always wondered what was "wrong" with me that I remained single while almost everyone I know is married. When well-meaning people who care about me would say to me "I hope you find someone", I knew they didn't intend for me to interpret it as pity and I tried not to take it as such. When anyone would ask if I am seeing someone and I was not at the time, I would tell them the truth which was that it just wasn't that important to me. Sure, I felt lonely sometimes. Everyone does. Big deal.
Sure, of course - it would be nice, it would be wonderful to be in a loving, intimate relationship, but it was never that compelling for me to expend too much effort. When I felt like dating, I dated. It was fun and I had some great experiences as well as some bad experiences. Such is life. So I started to wonder was what was "wrong" with me that I did not mind that I was single. Sure, being in a couple might be fantastic. But it might be horrific. Most of my close friends have been married, divorced, and remarried. I imagine that it must be worth it and important to them, otherwise they would have made other choices.
I have read several books about singlehood the past year or so and only this book gave answers to my query: I felt like something was "wrong" with me or my preferences because of the American societal stigma against not being in a coupled relationship. Regardless of the financial benefits (taxes, social security, housing, and even wages), it is the undercurrent of pro-couple bias that I wasn't even aware of that influenced my own judgment of myself.
DePaulo shows how coupled partners, however unintentionally, not only pity but infantilize adult singles. The assumption is that someone who has never married has not grown up because they have not met this developmental milestone. The assumption is that always single people cannot comprehend or experience "true" intimacy. Maybe for some, this is true. Maybe ignorance is bliss?
I think wanting what you have is bliss. And if you want something you don't have, you have less bliss. That can also be boiled down to a snappy tagline like "It's better to be alone that to wish you were."
There is certainly much to be lauded about the interpersonal positive aspects of coupled/married life and the benefit our society gets in terms of stability and civility. She expertly points out that the devotion and care couples and families show each other, if it is only limited to their own family, is less self-less than the devotion and care singles show those within their family of origin or the community simply because it is not expected or required. Of course there are families who give to non-family and community, but this concept was interesting to me.
Naturally, because I grew up the US in the 20th century, I internalized the Cinderella message and I distinctly recall daydreaming in Mrs. Taylor's 1st grade class about my wedding right there in the classroom with the coolest boy in school. (Duane Meszaros, are you still cool?) From the time I was a teenager, I was never interested in having children, but figured one day that would change. I dated a lot in high school, college and after college. Good times. I just assumed I would get married. That's what everyone does. But as I got into my thirties, my assumption started to change. Maybe I won't get married. I never panicked about it, but did feel a lot of self-doubt. No more.
DePaulo's treatise is sometimes heavy handed and sarcastic, but I appreciated her sense of humor balanced with her sense of injustice. She compares it to other recognized forms of discrimination (there's the heavy hand) but softens it with the apt acknowledgement that singles are not denied civil rights.
Now that I know married people do not report, on the whole, any significantly higher rates of happiness, and that always single women do not experience significantly worse health or decreased longevity (less true for men, who do experience better health and longer lives if they stay married), I feel more confident about my personal choice to not pursue a coupled relationship as though my life depended on it. Because it does not!
on November 26, 2006
As a married baby boomer, I should have hated this book. But I didn't. DePaulo expresses her unconventional views with force and panache. As she notes, our culture is filled with prejudice against singles and it's just not fair. This blatant, crude, unapologetic "singlism" is bad for singles and for everyone else too. By pressuring people into ill-advised marriages, it sets them up for nasty divorces. All humane people should read this book and reflect on its eye-opening message.
on January 3, 2009
Of course, Dr. DePaulo's work does give fair treatment to every other category of singles in SINGLED OUT, but it is one of the few books that I have found that seriously (yet humorously) explores the facts and fiction about the growing population of women who are living positive and productive lives without marriage and children, either by choice or circumstance.
But she also touches on something else - a change - which I've noticed over the past 30 years or so at least in the U.S. The push for marriage has turned decidedly political and mean-spirited. It is one thing when a society assumes people beyond a certain age will marry. (I remember when an ashtray and lighter sat on every coffee table since we assumed every adult smoked.) It is quite another thing to habitually proclaim that coupledom - ideally leading to marriage and children - is the only path to true adulthood and to persistently dwell on that point across the media. And it's just plain silly to repeat that proclamation when a growing number of individuals are proving it wrong. And, as DePaulo points out especially in the "Family Values" chapter, it's just plain discriminatory to extend benefits and extra compensation to people just for being married. (Particularly that chapter is a must-read for politicians and CEOs everywhere.)
Chapter 14 where DePaulo asks "Why does anybody care?" really drives it home for me. If marriage or coupledom is the obvious superior path to take and you and your mate have landed firmly on that path, that's nice ... but why be so strident about it? Why be so negative toward those who discover another way, at no expense to you? Why demean all other sustaining adult relationships? DePaulo offers important insight to those questions.
on June 11, 2007
This book is about one of the last forms of prejudice that is still socially acceptable, the stigmatization of people who are single. Contrary to some of the comments made, the author makes it clear from the start that this is not a book about putting down people who are married. The criticism is of married people and others who portray marriage as the only valid lifestyle choice for a mature adult and stereotype single people in such a way that they are portrayed as lesser human beings. I have observed that often, pioneers in exposing stigma of an out group get personally attacked for their "tone", especially if they present compelling arguments that are difficult to reasonably refute.
This is not a book about victims, but rather, a book about the resiliency of single people who have managed to prosper in spite of the negative stereotypes and discrimmination. In each chapter, DePaulo exposes and systematically refutes myths about singles that many in our culture have taken for granted. One of the most prevalent myths is that singles don't "have anybody" when research shows that always single people, especially women have the strongest social support networks. She illustrates how our culture has belittled any relationships other than marriage as unimportant when in fact, friendships and relationships with siblings are just as important and often longer lasting.
The book also exposes how legitimate research can be misinterpreted in the popular media, especially when the data violate cherished beliefs and assumptions. The truth is that singles comprise a higher percentage of households than the traditional married couple with children. While the traditional household is a fulfulling choice for some people, when it comes to marriage, given the high divorce rate and the growing percentage of people who choose to be single and remain happy, clearly one size does not fit all. It is time to stop blaming and pathologizing people for failure to conform to the expectations of society that we all must marry and begin to recognize that differences in civil status are often due to normal, healthy differences in personality and temperament. I have written a lengthier review of this book on my blog:
on April 22, 2007
Bella DePaulo's book is a must read for single and coupled people alike. It is a truly eye-opening book that challenges the reader to rethink many basic assumptions people hold about singlehood and marriage. In fact, after reading the book, you will most likely find yourself noticing singlism all around you, perhaps for the first time.
DePaulo uses her background as a social scientist to reveal ways in which many commonly held beliefs are either exaggerated or are downright wrong. Moreover, she does it in a way that is a pleasure to read. The book seamlessly incorporates research based evidence, memorable anecdotes, and humorous commentary to shed light on many of our unquestioned assumptions.
Not only will this book change the way you think about singles, it will also change the way you think about marriage. DePaulo shows that the cultural conception of marriage as a key to leading a full and happy life not only devalues singles but also ignores the many important relationships adults have with people other than spouses.
"Singled Out" busts myths about singles just as "The Feminine Mystique" and "Backlash" busted myths about women. It is one of those books that you want to tell people about and even buy for them.