"I’m Single. I Always Have Been and Always Will Be" with Dr Bella DePaulo
In this episode, Rihanot and Tiaraoluwa spoke to Dr Bella DePaulo, one of the world's leading experts on single life. Dr DePaulo has authored more than a dozen books on single life and other topics. The Atlantic magazine has described her as "America's foremost thinker and writer on the single experience."
Dear listeners, welcome to a thought-provoking episode of the Counter Narrative Podcast, where we delve into the complexities of singlehood and challenge societal norms that often shape our perceptions of fulfilment. Today, we are honoured to host Bella De Paulo, a distinguished author and social scientist, whose work has been instrumental in reshaping narratives around the lives of unpartnered individuals.
In this captivating episode, we explore the empowering narratives that arise from the uncharted territories of single life, particularly for women. Dr Bella's latest book, "Single at Heart," serves as a guiding light, dismantling stereotypes and celebrating the richness that comes from living authentically, unburdened by conventional expectations.
Dr Bella questions ingrained assumptions about companionship, asking a profound query that becomes a focal point in our exploration: "How could marriage possibly provide insurance against dying alone?"
Read and listen to the episode below:
Hello, dear listeners, and welcome back to another episode of the Counter Narrative Podcast. Today, we have the privilege of exploring the often-overlooked aspect of single life and what it truly means to embrace it.
I am Rihanot Ojo-Oba, and I have here with me the incredible, brilliant, and amazing Tiaraoluwa Oluwabukunmi Fadeyi.
Thank you, Rihanot. Our guest today is the esteemed Dr. Bella DePaolo, a social psychologist, who has written books such as Single At Heart, Singleism, and Singled Out.
She has written extensively on the single experience and her work challenges stereotypes and stigma associated with singlehood. Dr. DePaolo, welcome to the Counter Narrative Podcast.
Dr Bella DePaulo: Hi. Thank you for inviting me.
It's lovely, and I've been reading your book, and I've just been asking myself, should we be single or should we just remain where we are? But it's really insightful, and we're thankful for you and for your knowledge. It's really lovely reading your thoughts.
Tiaraoluwa Fadeyi: Thank you so much. Dr. Dr Bella DePaulo, you've coined the term “Single At Heart”. Could you share with our listeners what it means to be single at heart?
Dr Bella DePaulo:
Sure. People who are single at heart love being single. It's how they live their best life, their most meaningful, fulfilling, authentic, and psychologically rich life.
If they were coupled, their life would feel smaller and less expansive. Single life is, for people who are single at heart, it's their best life.
T, What's your take on that?
It actually makes sense. They've chosen it as their best life. Thank you so much for that insightful answer. So, you know, we often witness double standards when it comes to singles.
We see single women being labelled as promiscuous, while single men are seen as players. What do you think is responsible for this dichotomy in the way they treat both genders that are single?
Dr Bella DePaulo:
Yeah, well... It is useful to some people if women stay dependent on men, right? That keeps men in power. But it's not that great for women. So, they do well to resist those notions of that if they're single there's something wrong with them, or maybe they're, you know, sexually promiscuous, or, you know, all those terrible things that are said about them that are less often said about single men.
So, I think there is a double standard. And when people think of... When I ask people if they think men, single men and single women are treated differently, they'll often say, “Oh, sure, you know, single women are pitied, single men are seen as, you know, sowing their wild oats, and that's a good thing, or they say that you know, single women, are called “spinsters” and that sounds a lot less great than being called a bachelor” and all that is true but there is also a lot of putting down of single men too and a lot of the people who are single at heart are men and that means that they are very mature, self-reflective, authentic people so I think the double standard is unfair to women but sometimes it's unfair to men too.
Do you think that the double standard is as a result of the patriarchal society we live in where women are expected to get married and reproduce?
Dr Bella DePaulo:
Yes, for sure.
Thank you very much for that answer.
When it comes to double standards women are supposed to remain pure while men, how do I put it? They say that men should test their manhood but it does not apply when it comes to women so again it's the patriarchy. Of course—
Tiaraoluwa Fadeyi: purity culture.
Yes, purity culture and it's very cultural, it does harm women so if we're having this conversation we have to be able to establish that purity culture harms women but for men I do not think there is and I don't think it can even exist for men does it you know.
No, purity culture is basically for women because women are expected to be, they're expected to be clean, to be pure, to marry and stay that way.
Men can do whatever they want to do and it's crazy because okay you want men to be able to do whatever they want to do so who are they going to do it to?
Then if you as a woman who has kept herself says you know what I want to be with a man that's also kept himself you hear responses like “How dare you want that?”
Or you hear you'll have to mold him yourself.
They say you have to mold him, so it means that it's okay for men not to be pure but it's not okay for women not to be. Yes, the system is deeply rooted in patriarchy and I think that's it.
Dr DePaolo, you referenced Dr Amy Blackstone's book ChildFree by Choice highlighting that those without children engage in social reproduction by helping others become contributing members of society does this suggest that single individuals particularly women are more likely to contribute to their communities than husbands and fathers.
Dr Bella DePaulo:
It may. You know single women are very generous and altruistic and um they're also really good at friendship and I think that's one of the reasons why single women—why women often do better at being single than men do because they're very good at nurturing their friendships.
But both single men and single women tend to be very giving people, they give to their communities, they give to the people they care about and so I think the stereotype of single people as selfish is exactly wrong because in many ways single people are actually more generous with their time, with their caring, with their money than couple people are.
You know I agree because I have single friends and they are always willing, especially women they are always willing. I mean the chances of me finding a single woman to babysit my children is higher than finding a male or a man. Of course aside from the fear of “oh he's a man”, what can he—does he even know the first thing—does he even know what to do? If I say I'm not gonna be around for four hours, am I going to have those four hours to myself?
Tiaraoluwa Fadeyi: — be calling you every minute to ask you oh what the kids eat.
When it comes to nurturing friendships I agree with Dr DePaulo, so many women do that a lot and that's why we have so many men who cannot even hold friendships and in conversations, you're hearing that—for example, when I can tell Tiara that oh I love you so much, you're incredible, you're awesome, you hear men say that “oh I can't tell my male friend that I love them” and I’m like why?
Can't you just nurture this beautiful thing that you have with your friend, with your male friend, with your colleague? There's nothing wrong about it and I hope that someday, one day men are truly able to just live without having to overthink things or attribute unnecessary things to something as simple as I love you. I love you by the way.
Tiaraoluwa Fadeyi: I love you.
Dr Bella DePaulo:
I love saying that, that is wonderful and I wish more friends would be like you two where you are close, you acknowledge it and you tell each other what you mean to each other because that's not something that only romantic partners should do.
We should honor our friends let them know how much we care about them because they you know they are so important to us and that's something that people who are single at heart tend to be very good at they because they're they don't have this romantic partner who's eating up all their time and attention and wants to be the center of their life, they are freer to prioritize their friends or anyone else they want to and to have as many different kinds of people in their life as they want without having some romantic partner who's going to feel neglected so I think friendship can be a real strength of single people and especially the single at heart.
And I think that's what being single does to you, it allows you to be so many things to so many people without feeling like you're betraying somebody or you're taking away the quality—like you're sharing the time you should be spending with your partner.
Because you can express yourself to as many people as you want without it looking like there's a total ulterior motive or like someone who is partnered you're like “oh I can only tell my married friend ‘I love you’, you cannot tell a single person because you're a friend so it doesn't come off as oh as you may be stepping out on your partner.
Sometimes it is just “oh I love you for the sake of humanity, you're my friend, I love you, I cherish you, I just want to hold you, I just want to hug you, you can say anything to me, anything it's all love.
T, what do you think?
oh yes like Dr Bella said, single people are better at understanding friendships more. You're able to navigate friendships better because they do not feel obligated to somebody or feel indebted to somebody so they're just really more free with their friendships.
So Dr Bella, in Singled Out, you debunked numerous myths about single life including the belief that single people are miserable or lonely and as a society how can we challenge and change these negative perceptions about single people?
You know I think we need to own those of us who are single, especially those of us who are single at heart. We need to own our feelings about being single. We need to be willing to say that we love being single.
And it can be hard because it's still something that a lot of people just don't understand or they don't they don't believe it's true so people who are single at heart will say “oh I love being single”and other people will say back to them “oh you know you'll you just haven't met the right person or you'll change your mind you're young still” and no, it's not what —that's not it and I think the more we stand up for ourselves and um and say that the better it will be and also standing up to people who say things that are dismissive or unkind about single people challenge them.
It can be socially awkward to suggest to someone that their beliefs are insensitive or wrong but that's the way we will get rid of these stereotypes, I hope.
When it comes to these conversations like Dr. Bella said you can be talking about how much you enjoy your peace, your space, your serenity and people are like “you know what? it's because you haven't met the right man”
yeah (it) actually invalidates how I feel and then you're seen as lonely, you're seen as bitter, you're seen as angry just because you are not partnered, how do you attribute those mean qualities or unkind qualities to me because I am single?
Unfortunately, be you single or partnered, you can be partnered and be miserable but it's unfair to invalidate my feelings because I am not partnered just because you are or just because you think that anyone who sleeps alone should be miserable.
How do people come up with things like that, Tiara?
Dr Bella DePaulo:
And you know what for the single at heart, one thing they all have in common is they love having time to themselves. They savor their solitude and that is a superpower because if you like having time to yourself, if you're comfortable with your own self, then you're unlikely to be lonely so the single at heart actually defy that stereotype that “oh you're single you must be lonely”.
In fact they are very unlikely to be lonely and they have this superpower of enjoying appreciating time to themselves where you take some people—not all of them—but some people who are coupled are just so dependent on their spouse or they're so dependent on being with someone that when they have time to themselves, they feel lonely or they feel um apprehensive or they just they just not comfortable and that's unfortunate. Too bad if somebody can't feel comfortable having time to themselves that's sort of sad.
It feels like they're missing out on something like oh I should be doing this for this person like they feel guilty just having time to themselves
And try to fill it with activities with things that's not yes yes they try to feel it like oh they're not used to being alone so they want to do stuff they're busy with activities and all of that just because oh they feel alone and like you know that there's a difference between being alone and being lonely, so they feel lonely and then they try to fill up these spaces they do things that they would normally not do on a normal day just so that they're not alone or lonely
Yeah, thank you so much, Dr Bella and again just in line with this conversation, the next question that I have says society often equates completeness with being part of a marital unit and what makes a human being complete and how can we reach this broader understanding of completeness?
Dr Bella DePaulo:
Right. you know I think every human is complete, you don't need another person to make you complete but I think what makes a person feel complete or feel fulfilled is if they are living their life authentically, if they feel like the life they are living is who they have really are and they're not being forced by conventions or pressures or social standards to live a way that's not who they really are.
I think we saw that over time when it became more acceptable for people to be to be gay instead of straight and then people who used to conceal that they were gay or lesbian then felt more free to be be who they really are
Yes, there's nothing as beautiful as being able to be your authentic self, T and in conversations especially marriages and being single you realize that when a person is married maybe earlier, like maybe like in your teenage years, like from 19.
You know we have people who marry earlier than other people and let's say for some reason the marriage or relationship does not work out and when they're in this single phase they start to be—how do I put it they start to discover themselves and in that they're like “oh I never even knew who I was before I got married” so they have to go through this single phase and they're like “oh okay so now you know yourself”, you can be your true self.
You learn so many things about yourself so even if you want to end up being partnered there's going to be a lot of introspection as well and I think it's very beautiful.
It's like when we talk about—it's like when you live alone, some people don't. Some people say that it's really important to have that time to yourself where you live alone, you're able to just be your true self and learn a lot about love life and just not just jump into partnering with people because the moment you become partnered with a person.
It’s two things; you do not know if you're going to still be your wholesome self or you have to be another person just because you want to fit into their life or their space so it's really difficult to be able to navigate all of this especially how sometimes people crave affection.
You know and I think it's really important to have these conversations.
And I'm really grateful for you, Dr Bella, for this amazing thing you're doing trying to um make it you know like it's not normal that's like it's not normal to be single.
It's not seen as a normal or regular thing so I am happy that we have people like you who are making it normal, who are shedding light into stuff like this and making it acceptable and it's okay to be single. You don't have to be partnered at all costs.
So thank you for the work you're doing.
we're really really happy that you're doing this and thank you so much.
Are you single at heart, Tiara?
Uh well yeah like I'm comfortable.
Based on Dr DePaolo’s explanation.
Yes I'm comfortable with it like there's no there's no rush there's no and there's no misery around it.
That's it, there's no misery around it.
It's really unfair to say that a person is miserable because they are single at heart.
What a remarkable conversation shedding light on the richness of single life and challenging societal norms.
Indeed, Tiara, you said the richness of single life but these days, it's really hard for people to acknowledge the fact that you're single. It's like it's a taboo to actually say that I am single or I am single at heart or that they are enjoying being single. what do you think?
well so I think that people are — you know the society when we were like we were brought up were brought up to aspire to being partnered. That's basically how society brings up a lot of or mostly the people mostly the children and all of that.
You are brought up to see a home, you are brought up in a home, to see a home and to aspire to a home, so when you're single it feels like you're going away from what you're supposed to be doing.
So it feels weird and that's why people are a bit skeptical or a bit hesitant to say that “oh I'm single and I'm cool with being single”.
That's why the conversation of “oh you must be miserable” comes in because how dare you be single and be happy as if to say that it's a crime and that brings me to the next thing i want us to discuss, do you think there is a difference in being alone and loneliness?
oh yes there's a difference. You can be alone like and you're cool, you're fine, you're not feeling lonely, right? and you can be in a group, you can be outside with people and then you're lonely, do you understand? So it's different like oh you're alone doesn't mean you're automatically lonely, it's two different states.
Like for now for me, now I enjoy being alone a lot, right I enjoy being alone so I stay. When I'm alone I am not lonely. I love and enjoy my own company.
And you do things that make you happy and you fill up that space.
because I fill up that space with things I like not not trying to please anybody or feeling like “oh I’m not okay right now because I’m alone.”
It's very important to be able to be used to your own company, you don't always have to be with people and even when you're with people sometimes you'll be lonely and you just because you're not not flowing with people you're not flowing with them so you'll be lonely amongst people.
Or just maybe you're not your authentic self and you know, it brings you to this conversation how when you hear that a relationship is broken and then you hear people talk and then you at the other end you're like “oh i could have sworn that you were happy” and you're hearing things like “I was lonely, I was miserable” and you as a single person, you can't relate, because you're like how were you in a partnership and you were experiencing something like loneliness and misery.
Sometimes it doesn't add up so it's simply it says that you can be in a partnership and be lonely or even feel alone and sometimes as well you can be single and you wouldn't feel either of these two and just maybe you do but of course it simply also says that there's a huge difference in being alone, like oh I'm all by myself, doing what i like doing, what Ienjoy and being lonely is obviously two different things yes and it's really important that people stop invalidating how single people feel or projecting on them and saying oh I know you're miserable I think it's really an unfair thing to say to someone.
Yes, you know what Dr Bella said about the fact that oh you can say you're single and they tell you that “oh it's because you've not found someone, you're too young, you'll change your mind…” all those things are invalidating how people feel. Just let people be honest.
Just let people be.
Um, I think that wraps up our enlightening conversation. We thank you all for tuning in.
Indeed Tiara, as we wrap up this enlightening conversation, let's turn this spotlight back to you, our listeners. Do you have questions for Dr Bella DePaulo or experiences related to singlehood that you'd like to share? connect with us on social media and let's continue this vital conversation.
That concludes the main part of today's episode. Dr Bella de paulo thank you for your valuable insight into singlehood and completeness
To our listeners, thank you for joining us on another episode of the Counter Narrative Podcast.
Until next time, remember to keep questioning, keep challenging and keep amplifying your voices.
Stay curious, stay informed and remember your perspective matters.
Listen to other episodes of the Counter Narrative podcast here.