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To the Author of "Marry Him!": An Apology and an Offer

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To Lori Gottlieb, author of "Marry Him!":

Clearly, you were upset by my reaction to your Atlantic piece. I apologize for the distress I caused you. I'll offer an excuse or two, but not to detract from my apology. It stands.

[To readers other than Lori: This is a long post so if you want to read just one part, I'd suggest the next-to-last section, titled, DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SAY THIS....]

MY EXCUSES

Here's what you said to single women on p. 78 of your Atlantic essay:

"if you say you are not worried, either you're in denial or you're lying. In fact, take a good look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that you're not worried, because you'll see how silly your face looks when you are lying."

I thought that a person who said a thing like that, in that tone, was open to whatever came her way in response. That's my first excuse. My second is that in my experiences writing about singlism, I've found that when I state my points softly, often they are not heard at all.

But my post seemed to elicit from you nothing but defensiveness and hostility, so I failed at what I was trying to accomplish. Let me try again. You asked that I respond in a "calm and reasoned" way. Here goes.

JUST YOUR OPINION?

I'm glad that you are now saying that what you wrote is just your opinion and other people do not need to take your advice. I just don't think that's the impression you were conveying when you said in your original piece that anyone who says they are not worried about being single is in denial or lying. I'm concerned that if other people (especially those who like being single) realize you think this way, they will be reluctant to tell you how they really do feel. They won't want to be told that their faces look silly. That's one of the ways in which I think you are creating your own reality.

IF ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS SAY SO, DOES THAT MAKE IT SO?

I do think that conclusions informed by scientific findings - flawed as they may be - are more reliable than conclusions based on one person's experiences. You claim that 1,000 people e-mailed you expressing their agreement with you. When Singled Out was first published in 2006, I received supportive e-mails from readers every day; even now, I still get several a week. But I don't claim on the basis of the overwhelmingly positive responses that are sent to me that the overwhelming majority of Americans would agree with my message. That is an empirical question.

QUESTIONNAIRES AND INTERVIEWS: BAD VS. GOOD?

You are right that responses to questionnaires can be an inch deep, emotionally, and that probing interviews or conversations provide much more richness. I value those in-depth reports and read just about all of them. (Kay Trimberger, for example, interviewed single women over the course of nearly a decade.) But no matter how intensively you probe people, if your sample is unrepresentative (as is the sample of your friends), then it is possible that your conclusions will be, too. We need both kinds of approaches, but we should not mistake one for the other.

SHOULD I BE ASHAMED OF MENTIONING MY BOOK?

You object to my citing my own book, especially when I give a page number. I think (and I hope I am not characterizing you unfairly) that you are trying to say, "Shame on you, Bella DePaulo." But I am not ashamed of Singled Out; I am proud of it. I am not ashamed of my attempts to bring my book to the attention of potential readers; I wrote the book so that it would be read. I point to page numbers (and when you get to those pages, you will also find corresponding endnotes and references) so that you can find the more detailed discussions that I offer there, and so you can also find the original sources and check them for yourself. I consider that transparency.

You've been blogging about your Atlantic piece, and plugging it on NPR and probably elsewhere, without apology. I don't like what you have to say, and I question the Atlantic's judgment in publishing your piece and others like it, but I will not try to shame you for promoting your work.

ABOUT THE ARTICLE IN TIME MAGAZINE

It is interesting that you mentioned the Time magazine piece, "Marry Me." I do approve of data-based stories when the conclusions are an accurate representation of the data. That was not the case with "Marry Me." I'll probably spell out the problems in a separate post.

DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SAY THIS TO YOUR READERS, OR TO YOUR CLIENTS IN THERAPY?

I wondered, when I first read your article, if perhaps you were writing it with your tongue lodged firmly in your cheek. I thought your article might be nothing more than Atlantic magazine backlash shtick (written more to roil readers than out of conviction). But upon reading your post, I'm concerned that you really do believe the things that you've said - for example, about how any single woman who says she is not worried is either in denial or lying.

Now I'm also troubled by many of the new comments in your post. My concern is that they were not written merely out of anger towards me, but reflect what you really do believe about people who are single.

Consider these, for instance:

Lori Gottlieb (LG) Quote #1: "If your definition of a fulfilling life is one that consists of three cats and physical contact only with uncommitted partners or the masseuse at Burke Williams, then put down the Atlantic and go stock up on kitty litter."

LG #2: "But please be aware that you're the minority in the subset of heterosexual women in this country who have never been married."

LG #3: "I suggest settling specifically for women in their thirties who do not want to be alone for the rest of their lives."

LG #4: "I hate to pop Bella's we-are-the-world view of female friendships."

LG #5: "if it is not advice that works for you, so be it. Stay single...eat dinner each night with your single female friends (but don't talk about dating or men; who needs them?)"

LG #6: About me, you say, "I think she's got some, uh, issues here."

I'm especially concerned about these statements in the context of your comment that you are interning as a therapist. Look at the contempt and the scorn you are conveying about people who are single. I think you are saying (and I hope I am wrong) that people who are single are caricatures; that hardly anyone else thinks the way they do; that their friendships are worthy of nothing more than ridicule (even if those relationships are greatly valued by the single people themselves); that even with cherished friendships, single people will be "alone for the rest of their lives," perhaps because you believe that if a woman does not have a husband, she does not have anyone. Most troubling, I think you are saying that people who are single, especially if they stand up for themselves or for other single people, have "issues."

Lori, this is why I say that you are hurting America. Your clients will come to you for help, looking to place their hearts in your hands. Do you really want to convey to your single clients that, no matter what they may believe about themselves or their lives, your judgment of them has been predetermined, and it is damning?

Maybe you will succeed in concealing your contempt and incredulousness from your single clients who do not see their single status as a problem. Still, I'm concerned that others, too, may be hurt by your writings. Some single people take to heart the essays and blogs like yours. Maybe there are some coupled people who find justification in your writings for their own condescension toward people who are single. So, in my opinion, you are hurting America by perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices, and I think you should stop.

MY OFFER

To come back to my starting point, though, you have said that I was unfair to you, too. So again, I apologize. To make up for it, let me propose that we get together sometime. You and your single mom friend can bring your kids, and I'll watch them for 20 minutes while the two of you eat lunch and have an adult conversation.

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