Bella DePaulo on Living Single (and Together) in the time of COVD-19
Bella DePaulo is an author, speaker, columnist, and authority on being single who has lived in Summerland for 20 years. She coined the word “singlism” which is “the stereotyping and stigmatizing of single people” and is the author of several books on single people, including The Best of Single Life and Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. Bella’s true passion is for the practice and study of single life. Her TEDx talk on the subject has been viewed over a million times and she has been quoted on the subject in national media ranging from The New York Times to CBS News. What better person to check in with during the pandemic?
Q. So many people are suddenly thrust into singledom. Have you taken a look at that and do you have any advice for those not accustomed to living alone?
A. Here’s what I would say to the people who are unaccustomed to living alone: You’ve got this.
Solitude is a profound opportunity. We’ve all read or heard the advice that we can use this time for projects we’ve been wanting to get to, or to write books, or just watch Netflix guiltlessly for hours on end. All that is fine. But solitude is also an invitation to step away from the ordinary preoccupations and distractions of everyday life and think about what really matters to you. What is most important to you? What have you always wanted to do with your life?
The hardest thing to do in answering that question is to set aside all the shoulds – the messages that you have been pelted with relentlessly your entire life.
Don’t just reach for the answers that come pre-packaged and are dangled in front of you relentlessly, messages insisting that, of course, you want to be part of a couple. Lots of people who are coupled are now pulling their hair out, stuck inside with someone who is not the knight or the princess they imagined.
Maybe living in lockdown on your own, for all this time, is making you doubt yourself or your single life. It is fine to have doubts. But remember two things.
First, many couples are having doubts, too. Togetherness may be fine when all is well and you can walk out the door anytime to go to work or do some errands or do anything else you want, but it may be a whole different story when you are cooped up with that person for months on end. Those quirks, that once seemed endearing, may now be annoying. Not to even mention the more serious issues often brewing.
Second, this will not last forever. We are living through a world-historic event. Remember how you felt before all this started. If you loved being single then, you will probably love it again when this is over.
What has personally surprised you most about living in isolation imposed by a virus and not one by choice?
A few weeks into this experience, I was worried. I am 66 and I have lived alone my entire adult life – by choice. I love living alone. But I wondered, would I still be as happy with my solitude as the weeks of enforced lockdown went on and on?
Here’s the surprising thing: If anything, it has gotten easier. I still love my time alone. I’m less worried that I will change my mind about that.
Living alone is different from being isolated. It is especially different when we are not all being urged to stay home. But even now, there are so many ways to be connected to other people. They don’t need to be in the same home with you.
I have spent the last several decades of my professional life using research to challenge myths about people who are single. One of those myths is that they are isolated or alone or unattached. Often the opposite is true. Lots of research shows that single people, on the average, are actually more connected to other people. They have more friends than married people do. They do more to stay connected with their parents, siblings, friends, neighbors and colleagues than married people do. In contrast, when couples move in together or get married, they typically become more insular. They start focusing mostly on each other. Calls to their parents decrease. They spend less time with their friends. That often happens even with couples who do not have kids.
Not all single people live alone, but those who do are some of the most socially connected adults. And, counterintuitively, they can be among the least lonely people. My favorite study about this included more than 16,000 adults, ranging in age from 18 to 103. The researchers found that when the people who live alone were compared to people of comparable means who were living with other people, it was the people living alone who were less lonely. They are used to making the effort to reach out to other people and stay connected, rather than just assuming that their social needs will be met by the person next to them on the couch.
For me personally, there’s another important reason why I have been doing reasonably well during this pandemic: I live in one of the most spectacularly beautiful places on earth. My home has a peek of the ocean. I go out, nearly every day, to walk one of the beaches or one of the many enchanting trails. I’m more careful now – I really do try to maintain the six feet of distance, I always have a mask, and I try to find times and places to walk where there are hardly any other people around. I can usually manage to do that. The stretch of beach that I can get to from Hammonds Trail is one of my favorites. I also love the boardwalk in Carp. Or, when there are too many people on the beaches, I try the trail facing the ocean on Ortega Ridge Road. That offers a great view, too.
Summerland never gets old. I wake up every single day and marvel at my great good luck at getting to live here and to be on my own. Happily, the pandemic hasn’t changed that.
Do you think there will be more people embracing single life after living 24/7 with their husbands/wives/partners, other family members, roommates or others?
I love this question! Thank you for asking it. I have been interviewed by lots of reporters and far too many of them start with the assumption that it is single people who will be bound and determined to change their status once this is over. In fact, though, I think you are right that the reverse is likely to be true. There are going to be many people who are living with other people during this pandemic who just cannot wait to escape into their own space. Maybe it took an extended spell of enforced togetherness for them to realize how much they appreciate being single or having a place of their own.
I’ve been thinking about the day-to-day getting on each other’s nerves that happens when people are stuck together in the same place for too long. But much more serious issues can arise, too, including intimate partner violence and child abuse.
Governor Newsom recently noted that there are 1.2 million seniors living alone in California. What about our single seniors?
There are many seniors who really are isolated and many who are living in poverty. It is so important for the Governor and everyone else to be attuned to their needs. But it would also be wise to keep in mind that there are other seniors who are happy and healthy and doing fine. Some of them already loved living alone before the pandemic and they are probably coping even better than most other people during it. Ask how they are doing – that’s a nice gesture. But do not mindlessly serve your gesture with a dollop of pity – some of them are not feeling sorry for themselves in the least.