On last night’s episode, we sat down with Janet Cheatham Bell, a scholar, author, and mom of comedian and star of CNN’s United Shades of America, W. Kamau Bell. After two marriages and one long-term relationship, she made the decision to be single for the rest of her life—and for the past 41 years, she’s had zero regrets about that choice.
As a special bonus, we’re offering up a little bit more of Bell’s advice for singletons, including the benefits of being a single parent, how to figure out if the single life is right for you, and yes, how to balance the freedom of being single with a healthy sex life.
SEX.RIGHT.NOW.: I think when most people think about being single for the majority of their adult life—they can’t conceive of it. Can you tell me what that experience has been like for you?
JANET CHEATHAM BELL: The experience of being single for me means that I can do as I please.
One of the good things about it also—and I know this will sound strange because we have so much propaganda out there about how awful it is for a woman to raise a child without a man—is that because I raised Kamau alone, I did not have to fight with his dad about how he should be raised. Because we did not agree. He did spend time with his father. He went to his father’s [house] every summer. And so he did have that experience. But the majority of his upbringing and his training and his development was on me.
A lot of people talk about how compassionate Kamau is, and I think a large part of it has to do with the fact that he was not raised in a home where there was a macho man making him be macho. He was able to be himself. And his natural self is to be compassionate and to cry when he feels like crying. There was no man there to tell him, “Don’t do that. Stop! Stop! That’s not manly.” He didn’t get to hear that.
If you were speaking to a young person today who can’t even fathom not being married because they’d feel like a social pariah, what would you say to them about your experience?
Well, if you are concerned about what other people think of you rather than concerned about what makes you happy, then get married, you know? But if you’re concerned about having a life of your own and being true to who you are, then do what makes your heart happy rather than what you think society wants you to do.
That’s what I would say to a woman who’s trying to decide whether or not to get married. ‘Cause I think for some people marriage is great. I think they thrive in it. But not everybody does. And women should not be ostracized because they decide not to get married. Now I hope they aren’t anymore. I hope that women can decide not to marry anymore and nobody cares.
How did you handle not wanting to be in a committed relationship with being a sexually active woman??
It wasn’t difficult. Most men don’t want a committed relationship when they’re single. You know, they’re sort of like scared of that. Women have one night stands too just like men do.
But I would date guys. I did meet a lot of men who didn’t want to get married. And so we had no problem. And I would date guys for several months at a time, and we’d have sex whenever we wanted to, and Kamau wasn’t aware of all this because I did it discreetly. And I had no desire for him to have a stepfather. So there was nobody that I got so involved with that they felt like they were in charge of Kamau, which is how I wanted it to be. So it wasn’t difficult, you know?