You haven’t met Summerland resident Bella DePaulo. But you know her.
Unmarried and living alone with no significant romantic partner in her solitary life, it stands to reason that she is a sad, sad woman with an unhealthy collection of cats and a desperate desire to be cuddled. This, however, is why her irrepressible grin, over tea on a recent morning, is a bit disconcerting.
“I can’t stop smiling,” confesses Bella, 53. “I wake up every day and I’m just so happy. It’s January and the sun in shining! I love my single life!” Frankly, how dare she?
A social psychologist and visiting professor at UCSB, Bella has authored the new book Singled Out, a potentially controversial read that exposes the ways society stereotypes and stigmatizes its non-coupled citizens. With more than 40 percent of the nation’s adult population single, she says, it’s time to update our cultural outlook on people who aren’t part of a tender twosome—and stop assuming it’s a pitiable existence that longs for a romantic correction.
Bella’s voice goes positively sing-songy with glee when she describes her days: reading the New York Times, strolling to the post office, perusing the farmers markets for her dinner menu. Still, strangers believe that because she’s single, she must be lonely and miserable. Anti-social and un-date-able. Fastidious and commitment-phobic. Or worse.
In September, Bella appeared on CNN to discuss her book. The interview had scarcely begun when fellow guest Janice Crouse, a spokeswoman for the ultra-conservative Christian organization Concerned Women for America, accused her—on national television, mind you—of being a big ol’ tramp.
“She said, ‘You’re just pro-single because you want to have wanton sex!'” Bella says, laughing. “It was kind of like ‘Where am I? This is CNN!'”
Ms. Crouse aside, Bella believes society isn’t trying to be unfair to singles; it can’t help itself. “These are the habits we’ve come into and nobody’s questioned them,” says the Harvard-educated Pennsylvania native. “It’s just so overlearned. It’s automatic.”
I tsked with empathy as Bella lamented pay discrepancies between single and married workers. I gasped in horror when she told me realtors tried to sell her a small condo rather than the affordable but sizable home she wanted, saying it was “too much house” for her. I muttered appropriate curses when she explained how recent studies linking marriage with happiness and longevity are “all grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong.” But then she started picking on us married folks. And I got quiet.
“I’m not anti-coupling or anti-family,” swears Bella, but she does like to chide ring-wearers for buying into and perpetuating “matrimania.” “Coupledom is a valuable relationship but we’ve gone overboard,” she says.
If you don’t believe her, flip on the TV. “It’s kind of expected now that a series is going to culminate at the altar—like Friends. It was supposed to be about friends! Sex and the City was about these smart, sexy, independent women—and they all ended up cooing couples!”
What’s more, when it comes to dismissing singles as “lesser” citizens, couples can be the worst offenders. We invite our single friends to dinner, then tell them “We were thinking of Chinese” rather than asking “What do you feel like eating?” We allow them to sleep on our sofa rather than make up the guest bed for them. And—jeez, when she puts it this way, it sounds kind of awful—we expect our single colleagues to work later at night so we can get home to our partners.
Still, Bella insists she’s not bitter. She always figured she’d get married one day, but never really felt the urge. Now she wouldn’t dream of it.
“I have friends that I care deeply about and I’m close with my family,” she says, “but I love my solitude, too. My single life gives me generous allotments of both solitude and sociability.”
And for the record, she doesn’t own a single cat. Or, for that matter, a married one.