Q: My boyfriend and I were invited to dinner at our friends’ house. An hour after the appointed time, another friend of theirs, a woman who’s been single for at least a decade, still hadn’t left her house. She called with a crisis about what she was bringing, wearing, etc. (She always seems to have some crisis.) The hostess calmed her down, telling her to just come. Upon hanging up, she said that she thinks marriage both requires sanity and helps keep people sane and that people who are unmarried and living alone for an extended time seem to get increasingly neurotic. That seems a bit unfair, but I can see her point.
A: It can be harder to indulge one’s eccentricities in a marriage. Before you even turn the front door knob to head off to work in the morning, there’s your spouse blurting out, “You know, that tie really clashes with the Kleenex boxes on your feet.”
In other words, no, a wedding isn’t a rose-petal-scattered transporter beam out of neurosis or more serious psych problems, and we shouldn’t be quick to assume people who get married are more well-adjusted than people who don’t. Some states require a blood test before you marry; none tests to make sure you aren’t cuckoo for more than Cocoa Puffs.
Psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo, in “Singled Out,” shows that many studies claiming married people are much better off than singles have serious flaws in methodology, and the modest claims of solid studies are frequently distorted, exaggerated, and turned into media catnip by the agenda-driven. As a result, “single” is so automatically viewed as the companion to “miserable” (and the prelude to getting your face eaten off by your cat) that even respected researcher Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington can’t see her faulty reasoning in concluding, “Happily married couples are healthier, happier, wealthier, and sexier than are singles.” Note that she’s comparing HAPPILY MARRIED people with ALL single people. Yes, shockingly, happily married people are happier than clinically depressed single people and all the married people who just couldn’t stand the nonstop joy and are getting divorced.
Your friend makes a mistake in throwing all the single eggs in one basket. Some people are single and living alone because they have unresolved issues, and some are because a whole lot of other people do. Others simply prefer living alone. (Why have a mancave when you can have a manhome?) Studies do show definite benefits to being (happily) married, such as having a sounding board, a ready source of sex and hugs, and someone to help you pick up the pieces when you drop them. If you’re single, these benefits aren’t unavailable to you; they just take more thought and effort to obtain. For example, you can share a house or duplex with a friend, create a community of friends, and have at least one close friend who knows just about everything about you and is allowed and even encouraged to tell you when you’re being an idiot. Whatever you do, don’t let that “dying alone!” business get to you. Somebody can tough it out for 30 years with a person and, wouldn’t you know it, have that final heart attack just moments after their spouse runs out to the store with a coupon for 40 cents off cottage cheese.
Q: Does approaching a woman on the street and asking her out ever work?
— On The Prowl
A: Sites with dating tips for men encourage them to approach women on the street: “Just walk up and say hello! All you have to do is be confident!” That second part is very good advice, because then you’ll look less like you’re dying inside when the woman treats you like you just walked up and said, “Hi, my name is Rapist!”
Instead, use what social scientists call the “foot-in-the-door technique.” Various studies show that when you get a person to agree to a trivial first request (like signing a petition), they’re more likely to say yes to a more substantial request that follows (like donating money to the cause). In France, psychologist Nicolas Gueguen sent three men, ages 19-21, out on the street to approach 360 women, about the same age, and ask them for a drink. When the men asked straight-out for a date, only 3.3 percent of the women said yes. When they first asked women for a light (for a cigarette) or directions and then the drink, 15 percent and 15.8 percent, respectively, agreed to go for a drink. Researchers are unsure why this works, but it seems that preoccupying a woman with helping you at least gives you a shot at distracting her from the directions you really want: “Could you tell me the best route into your pants?”— here — 7-8 p.m. PT, 10-11 p.m. ET, or download the podcast at the link. Call-in during the show: 347-326-9761 (NYC area code)