Interview with Bella DePaulo, PhD

Busting The Single Women Myth

Jul 11, 2011 by

Recently, I was playing following the link. You know how that goes .. you click on one link it takes you to another site and so on. If you’re lucky you land on some pretty cool sites.

It must have been my lucky day because I came across a series of articles by Dr. Bella DePaulo on Psychology Today. The good doc is focusing on Living and Being Single. In addition to her posts she has written several books including Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

As Anne of Green Gables might put it, DePaulo is indeed a kindred spirit. Dr. DePaulo’s work validates the focus of All The Single Girlfriends down to our concept of “single in spirit.”  We thought she’d make a great guest interview for atsGf so I reached out and she kindly agreed.

About Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; currently at UC Santa Barbara) is the author of several books, including Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stop It, and Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She writes the “Living Single” blog at Psychology Today. She is 57, has always been single, and is living happily ever after in the tiny beach town of Summerland, CA.  She shares more of her thoughts and views on her website BellaDePaulo.

AtsGf/Toby: Dr. DePaulo, I was thrilled when I found your blog, Living Single, at Psychology Today. At All The Single Girlfriends we want people to understand that Gf who are single after the big 4-0 birthday approach life with joy, excitement and passion. In doing so we hope to help lift the stigma that there is nothing “wrong” with not being in a relationship.


That said, I’m curious to know if you’ve seen a generational difference in the attitude of people (single or not) who think, “Poor dear you’re still not married/don’t have a boyfriend?”

Bella DePaulo, PhD: I think there is a generational difference with the younger generation less matrimaniacal than the older ones. (“Matrimania” is my term for the over-the-top celebration of all things having to do with weddings and marriage and coupling.)  What also still seems very important is your own age. I think singles feel the most pressure around issues of coupling as they approach the age of 30. That’s a time when so many of their peers are totally obsessed with marrying and maybe also having kids.

My colleagues and I have found in our research that other people think that as you get older as a single person, you feel worse about your life. That seems to be exactly wrong! Single women, especially, seem to become more comfortable with their own lives and their decisions as they approach and pass their 40th birthday. They are less likely to be bothered by how other people think they should live their lives. They know how they want to live.

AtsGf/Toby:  What is the stereotype that people hold of women 40+ who are not married or have a life partner? Are we still perceived as (shudder)“spinsters or old maids?”

Bella DePaulo, PhD: Unfortunately, there is still some belief in the myth that 40-something single women are miserable and lonely, and that there is nothing they want more than to become unsingle.  One thing that will help bust those myths is if singles speak out. Sometimes when I tell other singles about research showing that most singles are happy and that they are probably even more secure in their 40s than they were before, they say something like, “Oh, I thought I was the only one!”

AtsGf/Toby:  Looking at being single from a marketing point of view, this may be a side-step for you, but why are singles invisible to brand marketers and agencies who don’t pay attention to the lucrative single market?

Bella DePaulo, PhD:  I think that marketers, like so much of the rest of society, have not caught up with the big changes in the way we live our lives. They are still stuck on images of the mom, dad, and kids living behind the white picket fence, when that is so far in the past. For years, there have been fewer households comprised of mom, dad, and the kids than of single people living solo.

Marketing and advertising are saturated with images of weddings and couples. Not just for products that make sense (like tuxedos or jewelry) but everything else, too. Take note next time you are watching TV.  They are such matrimaniacs, I’m not sure it even occurs to them to try something else.

A few questions from our Gf authors.


atsGf/Dorothea: I have always wanted to ask a psychologist – Why there is so much societal pressure to couple-up? Is it something that is a learned behavior? Is it in our DNA /Brain-matter?

Bella DePaulo, PhD: One of the things that really surprised me when I first started to study single life (and not just practice it) was that the singles who get the most pressure and criticism and caricaturing and backlash are the happiest and most successful ones! I think there is something very deep going on here. Happy single people are threatening an entire world view – a way of thinking about life and about what matters.

The conventional view is that people who marry become not just happier and healthier (myths that have been debunked by data), but that they are actually better people than those who stay single. I think a sense of moral superiority is what’s really at stake.  My guess is that this is rarely conscious, but I think it is there. Other factors matter, too, but this bottom-line sense of moral superiority is what intrigues me the most.

AtsGf/Debra:  When do we stop feeling like we need to apologize for choosing to be single? Not that I actually feel a need to apologize, but I do sometimes feel like I’m being judged and found wanting, so I say “no I’m single, haven’t found Mr. Right yet.”  Of course, I’m also not actually looking, but they don’t need to know that.

Bella DePaulo, PhD:  Oh, that is such a common experience. Unfortunately, it is not imagined – it is real. Lots of people do judge you for being single. Challenge that! Never apologize for being single. Try to wean yourself off the response that you just haven’t found the right person yet. The more people who are willing to say, without apology, that they love their single lives, the better off we all will be. We need to get to the point where the people who do the judging of singles feel embarrassed (just as people who get caught practicing racism or sexism feel embarrassed) and the people being judged do not.

AtsGf/Debra:  It’s not that I’m not interested in sex, it’s just that I haven’t had sex in a long time (no one to participate with me and I gave up on the one-nighters and casual “trists” a long time ago).    So why do I feel the need to hide my sex (or lack of sex) life? I’m no Samantha Jones, but does being single have to be synonymous with being celibate?

Bella DePaulo, PhD:  I think there are at least three things going on here. One is that our societal pendulum has swung far to the side of overemphasizing the importance of sex and expecting people’s interests and desires to fall mostly on the high side of the scale. But people vary in how much they care about sex, and probably always have.

The other thing is that single people get it coming and going. So if you are single, some people will assume you are promiscuous. If it seems clear that you are not, then they’ll take on the attitude of, “Oh, you poor thing, you don’t get any.”

The other thing is the double standard. People feel free to ask singles all sorts of personal questions. Imagine, though, if singles routinely asked married people: “So when did you last have sex?”

AtsGf/Jane: Are single people more lonely or less lonely than those in traditional marriages?  The only part of being single which still bugs me is not having access to the “social” (that my friends in couples seem to have).

Bella DePaulo, PhD:  This is a great question because the myth of the lonely single person continues to endure. Yet some studies show that no group is less likely to be lonely than older women who have always been single! Now, stereotypically, those people should have three things stacked against them: they are single (poor things!), they are women (so, supposedly even more likely to be pining for The One), and they are older (some studies count 50 and older, others 65 and older).

What’s the answer to this puzzle? Girlfriends! Single women, rather than living life lonely and alone, often have a whole network of people who are important to them. Women who have always been single have probably nurtured those relationships, rather than putting them on the back burner while they searched for or doted on The One.

I do understand what you are alluding to about couples, though. There does seem to be this tendency for people who become coupled to socialize primarily with other couples and ditch their single friends. I hear many stories like that (and have some of my own experiences). In a way, it really seems to violate the spirit of friendship. Friends should be the people we spend time with because we like them, not because they are or are not attached to a romantic partner.

AtsGf/Toby: Dr. DePaulo . . the virtual stage is yours. What would you say to our community about being single?

Bella DePaulo, PhD: Live your single lives fully and joyfully! If you are single at heart, say so.

Continue the conversation with Bella DePaulo!

Living Single Blog

Singlism book

BellaDePaulo Website

And a couple of heartfelt posts:

Are You Single At Heart?

Living Single

Book Review of Singlism by Jane Genova









About the Author

Toby Bloomberg Has Written 30 Articles For Us!

Toby is Founder/President of Atlanta-based strategy and social media consultancy, Bloomberg Marketing/Diva Marketing and acknowledged by Forbes as one of the country’s most foremost bloggers. She is a widely recognized for her expertise in combining social media with traditional marketing values (strategy, customer insights, segmentation, etc.) while maintaining the authenticity of digital conversations. Toby recently wrote the first business book based on (40) Twitter interviews with marketing pros. Social Media Marketing GPS has been downloaded over 10,000 times by people all the world.
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  1. I remember envying the married women when I was single and 25. I also remember envying the single women when I was married and 35. Now I am widowed, essentially single, and I don’t envy anyone.

    Maybe it’s because I’m a widow, but I never feel pressured to pair off. And I don’t mind if the marketers ignore me. I’m not buying anyway. 🙂 Acceptance and contentment no matter what life brings seems to be the name of the game for me. I’m not single by choice. I didn’t choose widowhood and I would get married again if I found the right partner, but we don’t always get to choose. I’d rather focus on learning to be happy anywhere than be concerned with what other people think. They might hate my hair color and the chickens scratching up my backyard too. As long as it’s legal, I’ll do what makes me happy.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate Bella’s statement that she has data showing single people become happier as they age. I like the idea of being even happier, single or not.

    In the end, I agree with Jacki. We choose our own role models and battles. Was it Marvin the Robot who said, “I’m mine.”? That’s it. I’m mine.

  2. Jennifer Houlihan

    I enjoyed both the piece and the perspective, but I think the comparison of negative perceptions of single women as being akin to racism or sexism is disingenuous. The point might have been more effectively made with a comparison to a prejudice that did not have a history of causing death, selling people as property, denying housing/employment, and so on.

    Other than that, the piece was well-written and thought-provoking. Having been single, married, and divorced, I follow these topics with interest. Thanks for sharing and starting this conversation!

  3. brendan

    Interesting read. However, I think similar assumptions are made about men. If you’re a single man over 40, either you’re gay or divorced. I have a brother and several good friends who are over 40 and happily single. None are gay or divorced. Before I met my wife a few years ago (just before turning 40), I had actually resigned myself to the possibility that I may be single for the rest of my life and I was quite comfortable with the idea. I was enjoying my single life and never felt that I had limited opportunities to meet women. It just so happened that when I least expected it, the right woman came along.

    What is ironic from a marketing perspective is that on many sitcoms and ads these days, they make it appear as if married men (and often women) over 40 would be happier if they WERE single even though there is still an unnecessary taboo attached to it. Go figure!

  4. I’m judged for being fat, for being Jewish, for being Southern, for not being wealthy and for a whole slew of other things… I’m sure I’m judged for being single as well. But who is doing that judging? Why would we care? Who does care? The same people who voluntarily vomit after eating to stay thin, and who drink too much when people around them do. And who buy clothes they cannot afford, just to keep up with the Jonses. And some choose to play the victim becasue they are not revered as queen Sadie on the Hill Bee. I don’t think a pack of envious biddies antagonizing me for being single as Singlism. I just think it’s a bunch of bored biddies.

    I don’t feel the need to identify myself as “single” all the time. I’m just me.

    Marketers are recognizing women over the age of 40 now. In car ads and financial service ads, etc. They don’t hold up a sign over everyone in an ad saying they are single or married, but you can imply what you want.

    Sometimes you just have to choose who your role models are. You can obcess about looking like a model, or you can spend time looking to be as influential your favorite female politician or scientist. Who we choose as role models, and why, is a reflection on us. So choose wisely.

  5. All The Single Girlfriends Interview with Bella DePaulo, PhD. Busting the Single Women Myth #ATSGF

  6. Honestly, I think smart marketers are aware of the potential but stay away because there is taboo in being single. They see widows & singles as a group to feel sorry for rather than to celebrate. Eskimos used to put their widows on an iceberg & send them off to die. It hurts to think that we are looked upon that way. Time may change the perception. They are just uncomfortable & don’t know how to communicate with us.


  1. “Singlism” by Bella DePaulo – The plight of the 40% of adults | All The Single Girlfriends - [...] All The Single Girlfriends Interview with Bella DePaulo [...]

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