Feeling Disadvantaged for Not Leading a Conventional Coupled Life?

These scholars explain how people can be supported and protected, regardless of how they live

Bella DePaulo


Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unsplash

All around the world, more and more people are living outside of conventional coupled life. How is that working out for them?

In an important new book, The Tenacity of the Couple-Norm, five scholars researched four very different European nations in some depth. Sasha Roseneil, Isabel Crowhurst, Tone Hellesund, Ana Cristina Santos, and Mariya Stoilova studied laws and policies relevant to coupling in each nation, and how they changed over time. They also looked at the role of social movements in effecting social change. They interviewed, at length, 67 people who were not living a conventionally coupled life, all from the capital cities of the four countries.

The four nations, as described by the authors, were:

· The United Kingdom, a late liberal welfare state

· Portugal, a post-dictatorship southern European welfare state

· Norway, a social democratic welfare state

· Bulgaria, a post-communist state

(Here is what “welfare state” means.)

What counts as conventional coupled life has evolved somewhat. At its core, the authors note, “cohabiting, procreative coupledom” is considered the norm, and that’s the kind of coupling that is privileged. But, they add, “the good and proper intimate citizen is no longer necessarily married or heterosexual.” They are, though, “living in a long-term, stable, sexually exclusive, co-residential partnership.”

That still leaves many ways of living outside of conventional coupledom. People who are living single, adults of any marital or relationship status sharing a place with people who are not relatives, and committed couples who live apart are a few examples.

Change Has Happened, But It Has Not Dislodged Conventional Couples from Their Place of Privilege

The bottom line about the relevant laws and policies in Europe will sound familiar to those of us attuned to such matters in the U.S.:



Bella DePaulo

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com