When I talk about people who are single at heart – those who live their best, most authentic, most meaningful, and most fulfilling lives by living single – I usually emphasize the ways in which living single is best for them. But maybe the single-at-heart person is not the only person who benefits from staying single. Maybe the people they do not become involved with, romantically, benefit too.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" — single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
I was awakened to this possibility by a brief exchange on the podcast “On Being” between Alain de Botton and host Krista Tippett. In what she described as a watershed moment in her life, Krista Tippett said she finally realized that she would be fine if she were single forever. The current chapter of her life, she said, in which she has been living single, “has taught me to really enjoy more deeply and take more seriously all the many forms of love in life aside from just romantic love or being coupled.”
Alain de Bottom had this to say in response:
“…we have to look at what this idea of singlehood is. We’ve got this word “single” which captures somebody who’s not got a long-term relationship. [But] another way of looking at love is connection…insofar as one is alive and one is in buoyant, relatively buoyant spirit some of the time, it’s because we are connected. And we can take pride in how flexible our minds ultimately are about where that connection is coming.”
He’s right. Our minds reach out to embrace all sorts of meaningful connections with other people, including friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and mentors – not just romantic partners. Usually, though, the only relationships that get celebrated in the media and in our everyday lives are romantic ones.
In Singled Out, I talked about the way people practice coupling today – namely, intensively, relying on their partner to be their everything:
“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 soul mates and sole mates. They are Sex and Everything Else Partners.”
I didn’t mean that in a good way.
Alain de Botton also talks about that “you are my everything” way of practicing coupling, and uses it to make his argument that not getting into a romantic relationship with another person can be a real gift to that person:
“And I think it’s also worth saying that, for some people, relationships are not necessarily the place where they encounter their best selves, that actually, the person that they are in a relationship is not the person that they want to be or that they can be in other areas of life, that they feel that there are other possibilities that they’d like to explore. And I think getting into a relationship with someone, asking someone to be with you is a pretty cruel thing to do to someone that you love and admire and respect because the job is so hard. Most people fail at it.
“When you ask someone to marry you, for example, you’re asking someone to be your chauffeur, co-host, sexual partner, co-parent, fellow accountant, mop the kitchen floor together, etc., etc. And on and on the list goes. No wonder that we fail at some of the tasks and get irate with one another. It’s a burden. And I think sometimes, the older I get, sometimes I think one of the nicest things you can do to someone you really admire is leave them alone. Just let them go. Let them be.”
So yes, if you love your single life, stay single. Stay single for yourself and stay single for the sake of those people you may have gotten involved with, romantically. The romantic argument that de Botton makes, though, is a rather negative one: don’t impose yourself on other potential romantic relationship partners.
I’d like to add a much more positive reason: Stay single for the sake of all the other people in your life you care about. We know, from stacks of studies, that single people have more friends, and do more to nurture their relationships with friends, neighbors, siblings, and parents, than coupled people do. Attending to the important people in our lives, rather than pushing them to the back burner, is a great gift to them and to all of us.