This is the second part of my interview with social psychologist Bella DePaulo, PhD, author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.
Do single women have more or less problems making and maintaining friendships? Explain.
From a scientific perspective, the answer is unknown. That’s something that is very frustrating to me as a social scientist. There is a very lively field of study about personal relationships, but the vast majority of studies are about romantic relationships. Yet, there are many more adults who have no spouse in their lives than who have no friends. And, the relationship that is likely to last the longest is not the relationship with a spouse, but with a sibling.
Although there is no systematic research that answers this question, there are several qualitative studies of the lives of single women. These suggest that single women can be very adept at making and maintaining friendships. One of my favorites was based on interviews of 50 women, ages 65 to 105, who had always been single. Of those women, exactly one was socially isolated. The other 49 had a total of 47 friends with whom they were in contact every day. In 16 instances, those friendships had lasted more than 40 years!
There are other indications, too, that single people are hardly flying solo. Kay Trimberger and I wrote about this for the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about single women and friendship?
Yes. After doing the research for my book, Singled Out, I was struck by just how important friendships are in our lives, and how undervalued friendships often are in our culture. Think of the phrase, “just friends.” I think that for our closest friendships, that sentiment is exactly wrong.
And on this point, there is scientific evidence. A few years ago, two scholars reviewed every study ever published on what contributes to people’s well-being in later life. They found that one of the best predictors of good feelings was time spent with friends.
One other thing. Because friendships are not valued in our society the way that some other relationships are, people often do not find the support or concern they would like when things are going badly in their friendships. I remember one person commenting to me that when she had boyfriend problems, sympathy arrived promptly at her doorstep. But when she tried to tell some of the same confidants about her problems in a close friendship, they would give her this funny look, as if to say, “So?”
That’s one of the reasons I so appreciate this blog. When it comes to friendships, with all of their intense ups and downs, there is no dismissiveness here.