Singled Out How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2007-10-30
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

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" Singled Out debunks myths and stereotypes about single people and lays the groundwork for social, political, and economic change." - Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director, Unmarried AmericaDrawing from decades of scientific research and stacks of stories from the front lines of singlehood, Bella DePaulo debunks the myths of singledom--and shows that just about everything you've heard about the benefits of getting married and the perils of staying single are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong. Although singles are singled out for unfair treatment by the workplace, the marketplace, and the federal tax structure, they are not simply victims of this singlism-single people really are living happily ever after.BELLA DEPAULO, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who did her graduate work at Harvard. She is currently a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. DePaulo is single and living happily ever after in Summerland, California. Visit her website at www.belladepaulo.com Singled Out Debunks Ten Myths of Singlehood, Including: -Myth-The Dark Aura of Singlehood: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic. -Myth-Attention, Single Women: Your work won't love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don't get any and you're promiscuous. -Myth-Attention, Single Men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.Elegant analysis, wonderfully detailed examples, and clear and witty prose'ŽA must-read for all single adults, their friends and families, as well as social scientists and policy advocates. -E. Kay Trimberger, author of The New Single Woman The singles movement is coming to a bookstore near you. - Associated Press Fascinating . .this book could hardly have come at a better time. As much as societal adulation of the couple discriminates against single people, Singled Out suggests that it can also undermine marriage. - The Christian Science Monitor

Author Biography

BELLA DEPAULO, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who did her graduate work at Harvard. She is currently a visiting professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. DePaulo is single and living happily ever after in Summerland, California.
Visit her website at www.belladepaulo.com

Table of Contents



Ch 1 Singlism: The 21st Century Problem That Has No Name

Ch 2 Science and the Single Person

Ch 3 Myth #1 The Wonder of Couples:

Marrieds know best.

Ch 4 Myth #2 Single-Minded:

You are interested in just one thing – getting coupled.

Ch 5 Myth #3 The Dark Aura of Singlehood:

You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.

Ch 6 Myth #4 It Is All About You:

Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn’t worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.

Ch 7 Myth #5 Attention Single Women:

Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.

Ch 8 Myth #6 Attention Single Men:

You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.

Ch 9 Myth #7 Attention Single Parents:

Your kids are doomed.

Ch 10 Myth #8 Too Bad You’re Incomplete:

You don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life.

Ch 11 Myth #9 Poor Soul:

You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.

Ch 12 Myth #10 Family Values:

Let’s give all of the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values.

Ch 13 It is Perfectly Understandable That You Thought Singles Were Miserable and Lonely: Here’s Why

Ch 14 To Be or Not to Be Single: Why Does Anyone Care?

Ch 15 The Way We Could Be


Chapter One 
Singlism: The Twenty-First-Century
Problem That Has No Name
I think married people should be treated fairly. They should not be stereotyped, stigmatized, discriminated against, or ignored. They deserve every bit as much respect as single people do.
I can imagine a world in which married people were not treated appropriately, and if that world ever materialized, I would protest. Here are a few examples of what I would find offensive:
o          When you tell people you are married, they tilt their heads and say things like “Aaaawww” or “Don’t worry, honey, your turn to divorce will come.”
o          When you browse the bookstores, you see shelves bursting with titles such as If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Married and How to Ditch Your Husband After Age 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School.
o          Every time you get married, you feel obligated to give expensive presents to single people.
o          When you travel with your spouse, you each have to pay more than when you travel alone.
o          At work, the single people just assume that you can cover the holidays and all the other inconvenient assignments; they figure that as a married person, you don’t have anything better to do.
o          Single employees can add another adult to their health-care plan; you can’t.
o          When your single coworkers die, they can leave their Social Security benefits to the person who is most important to them; you are not allowed to leave yours to anyone—they just go back into the system.
o          Candidates for public office boast about how much they value single people. Some even propose spending more than a billion dollars in federal funding to persuade people to stay single, or to get divorced if they already made the mistake of marrying.
o          Moreover, no one thinks there is anything wrong with any of this.
Married people do not have any of these experiences, of course, but single people do. People who do not have a serious coupled relationship (my definition, for now, of single people) are stereotyped, discriminated against, and treated dismissively. This stigmatizing of people who are single—whether divorced, widowed, or ever single—is the twenty-first-century problem that has no name. I’ll call it singlism.
To be stereotyped is to be prejudged. Tell new acquaintances that you are single and often they think they already know quite a lot about you. They understand your emotions: You are miserable and lonely and envious of couples. They know what motivates you: More than anything else in the world, you want to become coupled. If you are a single person of a certain age, they also know why you are not coupled: You are commitment-phobic, or too picky, or have baggage. Or maybe they figure you are gay and they think that’s a problem, too.
They also believe they know something about your psychological development and your psyche: You are just not as mature as the other people your age who are coupled. And at heart, you are basically selfish.
From knowing nothing more about you than your status as a single person, other people sometimes think they already know all about your family: You don’t have one. They also know about the important person or persons in your life: You don’t have anyone. In fact, they know all about your life: You don’t have a life.
Because you don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life, you can be asked to stay late at work or do all the traveling over the holidays. When you are a guest in other people’s homes, they will know where you can sleep: on the couch in the living room rather than in a bedroom with a door that shuts.
They know how your life will unfold: You will grow old alone. Then you will die alone.
Are you a single person who does not recognize yourself in many of these descriptions? So am I. I am happy, I have a life, and there is no way I will grow old alone (a matter that has little to do with having a serious coupled relationship or even living by yourself). That’s just for starters. But it is also exactly the point: The conventional wisdom about people who are single is a mythology, a gloss. It is not an accurate description of the textured and varied lives of real people who are single.
I would like to clarify what I mean by “single,” but I cannot do so without first explaining what it means to have a serious partner. That, too, is part of the problem: Single people are defined negatively, in terms of what they do not have—a serious partner. They are labeled as “unmarried.” But it is singlehood that comes first and then is undone—if it is undone—by marriage. So why aren’t married people called “unsingle”?
Back to the serious coupled relationship. Marriage is the gold standard. If you are married, you have your serious partner. It does not matter if you are happy or miserable, faithful or philandering, whether you live in the same home as your partner or on different continents. If you have the certificate, and you are not in the process of tearing it up, you are official.
Official marriage matters. Only the legal version of marriage comes with the guaranteed treasure trove of perks, privileges, rewards, and responsibilities. Access to another adult’s Social Security benefits, health-care plan, hospital room, and decisions about a life-sustaining feeding tube can all turn on whether you are legally married. When the Census Bureau counts married people, it is counting the official kind. Legally single people, then, are adults who are not officially married. They include people who are divorced and widowed as well as people who have always been single.
More important to the texture of your everyday life is whether or not you are socially single or socially coupled. Once again, if you are married, you automatically count as coupled. Beyond that, the criteria are more slippery. People try to discern your coupled status from a hodgepodge of clues. Do you seem to be in a romantic relationship with another person? How long have you been with that person? Do you seem to expect to stay together? Are you living together? One question that does not matter much to the social-coupling criterion is whether your pair consists of one man and one woman. Straights, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals all count as socially coupled if they are in a certain kind of relationship with another person.
Sex is the component that conventionally distinguishes the coupled relationship from every other close relationship, even if that component has not yet been realized or if its practice is a vague and distant memory. (Of course, sex alone is not sufficient. A one-night stand is not a coupled relationship—it is just a fling.)
In trying to discern who really is socially coupled, we are less likely to wonder about the couple’s practice of sex than about their approximation to an image, a romantic ideal. The image is two people looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, no one else in the picture, the background gauzy and ethereal. In song, the notion is captured by the titles that all sound so similar, such as Nat “King” Cole’s “You’re My Everything,” Elvis Presley’s “There Goes My Everything,” or Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want to Be Your Everything.” In lyrics, the romantic ideal is LeAnn Rimes asking “How do I live without you? . . . You’re my world, my heart, my soul.”
Serious partners, in our current cultural fantasy, are the twosomes who look to each other for companionship, intimacy, caring, friendship, advice, the sharing of the tasks and finances of household and family, and just about everything else. They are the repositories for each other’s hopes and dreams. They are each other’s soulmates and sole mates. They are Sex and Everything Else Partners.
Now I can explain what single means: You don’t have a serious partner. The simple distinction—you either have a serious partner or you don’t—maps onto the golden rule of singlism, the way of thinking that has become the conventional wisdom of our time: You have a serious partner, or you lose. If you are single, then you lose by definition. No matter what you can point to on your own behalf—spectacular accomplishments, a lifelong and caring convoy of relatives and friends, extraordinary altruism—none of it redeems you if you have no soulmate. Others will forever be scratching their heads and wondering what’s wrong with you and comparing notes (he’s always been a bit strange; she’s so neurotic; I think he’s gay). It is like having a gymnastics routine lacking a key element to qualify for a perfect score; no matter how skillfully and gracefully you perform your routine, it will always be judged as deficient.
Serious partner or no serious partner must sound awfully simplistic. Surely the many significant distinctions must matter somehow. Among those without a serious partner, for example, there are single men and single women (always a distinction worth pondering); people who have always been single and those who are divorced or separated or widowed; young singles and old singles; rich singles and poor singles; singles who have children and singles who do not; singles who live in the city and singles who live in the suburbs or the countryside; coastal singles and Midwestern singles; singles living alone and singles living with others; smug singles and singles pining for partners; and singles of different races, ethnicities, and religions, to name just a few. These kinds of distinctions do matter. Some singles are stigmatized more relentlessly and unforgivingly than others.
The many varieties of singlehood, rather than creating hopeless complexity, can actually be sorted out with two simple rules. First, all the existing prejudices remain in place. For example, since men still typically trump women, feminism notwithstanding, single men will have an easier time of it than will single women. Similarly, rich singles will sail more smoothly through singlehood than will poor singles. Second, everyone else curries favor to the degree that they honor soulmate values. Did you ever have a serious partner? If so, then you are better than all those people who never had one. (So, divorced and widowed singles are better than people who have always been single.) Is your soulmate no longer with you through no fault of your own? If so, then you get some credit, too. (So, widows are in some ways better than divorced people.) If you don’t have a serious partner, are you at least trying to find one? That’s good, too.
When I say that some singles are better than others, I mean better in the public eye. Better mythologically. The lives of the “better” singles seem to make more sense and seem worthy of greater respect than the lives of the “lesser” singles. With regard to how different kinds of singles are actually doing, though—now, that’s a whole different story.
Singlism is not something that only coupled people practice. If you are single, you have a role in sustaining the lofty place of couples. You support couples emotionally—cheering them on as they announce the first engagement and wedding, and then the next, and then the one after that—and, of course, financially, with all the gifts. You support them with your time and your flexibility as you take the off-hour assignments and the travel that no one else wants. You support their sense of entitlement as they choose the conditions, the time, and the nature of any get-togethers. You support their presumptuousness as they ask when you are going to settle down, while you politely refrain from asking when they last had sex. You subsidize couples when they pay less per person for vacation packages and memberships in clubs, while you pay full price.
Some components of singlism are built right into American laws and institutions, which means that neither coupled nor single people have any say about sustaining them. Take Social Security, for example. If you are a married person covered by Social Security and you die, your spouse can receive your benefits. But if you are a single person who worked side by side with that married person at the same job for the same number of years and you die, no other adult can receive your benefits. Your money goes back into the system.
Our cherished American notions about all people being created equal and deserving of the same basic civil rights and dignities—they apply mostly to married people. If you are single, even your dead body is deemed less valuable. The eligible spouse of a married person receives a small amount of money from Social Security to cover funeral expenses. No such allowance is available for single people. I suppose the reasoning is that since single people don’t have anyone, their dead bodies can simply be tossed into a ditch by the first stranger who discovers them (probably in an empty apartment where they are rotting away or being nibbled at by their starving cats).
The lesser value of single people is institutionalized in other ways, too. For example, the mission of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is to ensure equal protection under the law regardless of “race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin.” The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is tasked with the same kinds of protections in the workplace. Where’s marital status?
Copyright © 2006 by Bella DePaulo. All rights reserved.

Excerpted from Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After by Bella DePaulo
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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