Singled Out (Part I of 2): Friendship among singles

Published: January 31, 2008 | Last Updated: January 31, 2008 By | Reply Continue Reading

Earlier today, I was very pleased to interview Dr. Bella DePaulo about friendship and the single woman.

Dr. DePaulo is a social psychologist living in Summerland,
CA., and the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped,
Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After
. She blogs
for the Huffington Post, and has published op-ed pieces in newspapers
such as The New York Times, Newsday, and The San Francisco Chronicle.

I’ll post the second part of her interview tomorrow.

How are friendships among single women different than those among married women? Are friendships any less or more important to single women?

Most Americans believe in a hierarchy of relationships, in which the marital relationship comes before all other peer relationships, even with the closest of friends. For those married women who believe in this ranking, their female friends will always come in second (at best). Single women have more freedom to value their friendships with one another more than any other relationship – if they wish to do so.

Because so many Americans (myself included) are so ahistorical in their knowledge and outlooks, they are often surprised to learn that the prioritizing of the marital relationship in our affections is not timeless and is not universal. Historians such as Nancy Cott and Francesca Cancian have pointed out that in other times, such as the late 18th and 19th centuries, intensely close friendships between women flourished. In fact, women often expected to find their only truly equal and reciprocal relationships with other women.

So, in the big historical and cross-cultural picture, people who deeply value their closest friendships, and find more emotional closeness there than in other relationships, are not at all unusual.

Are there any special pressures that single women feel? (For example, one woman told me that she felt like she had to spend every Friday night with her girlfriend)

Friendship is such an individualized relationship. People differ tremendously in how close they need to feel to someone in order to consider that person a friend. The norms for friendship are less clear than they are for some other relationships, too. So you can end up with a friend who expects you to spend every Friday night with her. But I’m not so sure that things are all that different for couples. There are many couples who seem to feel obligated to spend every Friday night with another particular couple or two. There can be something unfortunate about this tendency: Sometimes a person only likes one of the two people in the couple, but they don’t get to spend their valuable leisure time solely with the one person they really do like. The person they like “comes with” a boring or annoying partner.

Visit Dr. DePaulo’s website at


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