Continuing on from yesterday’s post, Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, has made it clear that contrary to popular stereotypes, singles do have family. But what about a life? Surely singles don’t have as many commitments or extracurricular demands as couples do—so doesn’t that mean their lives must be unfulfilling and drab? Don’t they sit by the phone waiting for someone to call and relieve the unrelenting boredom of their existence?
These are further steroptypes that, DePaulo says, are hard to break. But it doesn’t matter whether singles have large families, many friends, numerous commitments or none of these things—busy or not, they are likely to be seen by others as not having a fulfilling life. One compelling example DePaulo uses to make this point is that of the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. DePaulo isn’t saying that singles need to aspire to Rice’s profile in order to have a life. In fact, she makes the point that from the perspective of some observers, even such a profile isn’t enough to constitute a real “life” for a single person.
On CNN’s Larry King Live, December 11, 2002, Bob Woodward told viewers that Rice is such a key figure in the Bush administration that “she has no personal life. She is in the White House or with the president continuously.”
But what if Rice feels like part of the Bush family? Perhaps all those weekends she spends at Camp David or at the Texas ranch with the Bush family are down-time—family time—a pleasant and fulfilling part of her personal life. It’s certainly possible.
Nevertheless DePaulo concedes, let’s assume becoming only the second woman ever to be named as Secretary of State is grounds for being considered life-less and ask what it would take for onlookers to admit Rice might have a personal life beyond the White House. Perhaps having a life can be defined as “pursuing personal interests”?
If so, there is much to be gleaned about Rice’s interests from interviews and media stories.
For starters, she likes to read, travel, watch sports, play tennis and tinkle the ivories on her Steinway piano—a hobby she seems to be rather good at. At least, the standing ovation she received from the audience at Constitution Hall gave some indication her duet with Yo-Yo Ma wasn’t a complete failure.
Rice, who received her BA degree at the age of 19, holds a doctorate in International Studies, has authored or co-authored several books, served on numerous boards, and earned two of the highest teaching awards while on staff at Stanford University. She has also posed for Vogue magazine. If it’s possible to describe anyone’s existence as being, in DePaulo’s words, “filled with friendship and passion and marvelously developed talents and stunning achievements,” Condoleezza Rice’s life certainly qualifies, and her example thereafter remains the highlight of Singled Out.
Unfortunately, DePaulo’s well-taken point that singles do have fulfilling lives, wonderful families and rich relationships and that they make vital contributions to their communities is unnecessarily diminished by the fact that she fails to resist the urge to treat couples as superciliously as she accuses them of treating singles.
Says DePaulo, “When couples have children, they often settle into the comfort and privacy of their own home. They might slip out now and then for a baseball game or a pizza, but like the cliché says, the home is their castle. With a moat around it. They practice what I see as intensive nuclearity. They act as a tight, self-contained unit.”
I admit I’m coupled with children, but we rarely have the opportunity to settle into the “comfort and privacy” of our own home. There is no moat, and each member of our household is out connecting with numerous others of varying ages and situations for the larger part of almost every day. We’ve had, at various times in the life of our “intensively nuclear” family, elderly people, young adults and teens living in our household who were not genetically related to us. And we aren’t unusual among our friends.
Several of DePaulo’s other assertions about the motivations and beliefs of couples and nuclear families are similarly wide of the mark, which is regrettable because many of the people who could benefit from her main point will have difficulty getting past some of the stereotypes and straw couples she erects along the way.
Still, those who do manage to keep track of who is stereotyping whom in Singled Out will at least take away the understanding that a strong community requires interactive relationships across all generations and family situations. There will always be singles and there will always be couples, but all are connected to the larger social fabric by family ties as well as ties of friendship. All of these relationships are important and in need of nurturing. Sadly, despite all intentions and potential to the contrary, the approach taken in Singled Out seems more likely to further polarize these groups than to reconcile them.