When Leanna Wolfe moved to Los Angeles from Berkeley seven years ago, she noticed some strange rituals practiced by single women.
"People would take workshops to have elaborate strategies to be pleasing to (men)," she recalled. "That was very odd to me."
So odd that the Hollywood Hills social anthropologist decided to write about it.
She spent five years researching her book, "Women Who May Never Marry." She studied and talked to Los Angeles women who had spent years on the dating merry-go-round without snagging Mr. Right. She also traveled to such places as a small town in Mississippi--"to find some women who didn't take a workshop"--and a Mayan village in the Yucatan.
Her findings: Some heterosexual women, whether they realize it or not, just don't want to be married.
Some of her colleagues consider Wolfe a bit of a pioneer--unlike most anthropologists, she focused on a culture that included her peers, rather than one foreign to her.
"Leanna's very different," says Sandra Orellana, chair of the Cal State Dominguez Hills Anthropology Department. "She's not a mainstream anthropologist. (Her topic) is not typical for anthropologists."
Orellana also referred to Wolfe as "the Joyce Brothers of anthropology," saying she possesses a media savvy that is uncommon among social scientists, who usually aim their findings at a limited audience.
Wolfe, who was raised in Palo Alto and received her master's degree in anthropology from the New School for Social Research in New York, moved to Los Angeles after the end of a seven-year relationship. Her initial plans were typical of many L.A. transplants--to pursue a television writing and producing career. But she soon became fascinated by her observations of the region's dating patterns, especially since she had little idea of the rituals women engaged in and endured as part of the sometimes fruitless quest for Mr. Right.
"I had been living in places where the rules were different. . . . There wasn't as much pressure to have a Porsche/Gold Card/mansion display," she said.
After researching the behaviors of single women and men by subtly asking them about their lives, rather than formally interviewing them, she realized that "self-transformation things"--plastic surgery, therapy, diets and the like--were not leading to many weddings.
She also noticed that some single women did not want to compromise the freedom of being single but were, either consciously or unconsciously, bending to social pressures that they should be married. "It's not socially acceptable for women to admit they don't care to be in a relationship," she said.
In February she got a book contract. After teaching a course in the spring at Pierce College, she "jammed over the summer" to complete the book earlier this fall.
Based on her roughly 300 interviews at meetings of singles, personal get-togethers and other casual settings, she found that some women, rather than simply acknowledging that they really like being single, make themselves inaccessible to new relationships.
In her book, she calls those women the "tight ship" women, who are so busy with careers, travel and a network of friends that they have no time for commitments. "Perhaps they're getting pleasure, even subconscious pleasure, in not having to compromise," she said.
Wolfe said that rather than trying to change their lifestyle, these women should embrace it. "Who's to say that it's more mature to be married than anything else?" she said. "Don't presume that where you are is not where you want to be. Presume that where you are is exactly where you want to be."
She added that "nobody needs to be married to survive," especially with such conveniences as studio apartments and microwaveable meals for one available.
But that doesn't mean it is as enjoyable being single in Los Angeles as it is in other places.
In her fieldwork, she found singles living and interacting happily with relatives and friends to a degree uncommon in Los Angeles.
In rural Mississippi, for example, Wolfe found that many single women happily have chosen to remain in their communities of origin because they like the companionship of their extended families and longtime friends.
And in the rural village of Mani in the Yucatan, she found that single women hugged, held hands, maintained intimate eye contact with one another, often lived with other people and were much more physically expressive in a non-sexual way, which met their needs for touching.
She said she felt at home in that environment, and her local lifestyle is more akin to that culture than it is to that of the Southland. "I've put together an extended family of choice . . . so when I have a man in my life, it's extra. He's not getting everything because I have been sitting around here desperate."
Although Wolfe has a boyfriend she has been with for more than five years, marriage is not a priority, she said. But in her book, she wrote: "It's certainly possible that someday I'll marry."
She also notes that not everyone needs to marry to have children. "Husbands are an answer, but not the only answer."
Wolfe will read from and discuss her book at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Midnight Special Bookstore and Cultural Center at 1318 Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.