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Can Singlehood Be a Satisfying Alternative to Romantic Relationships?

Living as a single person has become an increasingly popular choice for American adults in the last 10 years. In this episode, Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt, the Relationship Doctor, explains why singlehood can lend itself to life satisfaction and happiness.

By
Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD
3-minute read
Episode #48

I have a single friend who hates hearing this question: “Why are you still single?” Or, the similar question: “How are you still single? You’re so great!” She feels like the question implies that something is wrong with her or her approach to dating, or worse, that being single is in some way a reflection of her ability to get a partner rather than her desire to not be partnered. Not everyone has the desire to be in a romantic relationship. Whether it's the desire to be single just for now, or the lack of desire to be partnered long-term, singlehood is a totally valid decision. Similarly, being unintentionally single doesn’t inherently signal that there is a problem that needs fixing.

As we start to approach February, we may see increasing pressure from our family, friends, or society generally that we should be in a relationship. Some of this pressure may come from common misconceptions that single people may be immature or self-centered, or that marriage is and should be the end-all-be-all goal for everyone. 

Even with some of these outdated perceptions, the number of adults in the United States living without a partner continues to increase. Rates of marriage are falling. Even though rates of unmarried cohabitation, or living with your romantic partner, are rising, the number of adults living by themselves is still increasing. In 2021, 15% of American adults lived alone, compared to only 14% in 2011. The largest group of single adults is among people younger than 35 years old, with about 3 out of 5 adults younger than 35 living without a partner. So if you happen to be single and younger than 35, you are in good company.

What does the research say about singlehood?

So, does being single mean you’re inherently sad or lonely as your family and friends’ questions imply? Fortunately, research supports a resounding “no” to that question! Research has found that single people, compared to married people, are more likely to stay in touch with as well as provide and receive help from family, friends, and neighbors.

Although some large-scale studies find that single individuals report lower life satisfaction and well-being, this may be due to a variety of extraneous factors. First, single individuals perceive they have less social support since romantic partners are assumed to be the primary support system for adults. Single individuals face (likely unintended) social discrimination or stigmatization because of their singlehood status, such as not being invited to couple-y events or being constantly asked by family and friends when they are going to settle down.

The Myth of Love Languages

In the most recent longitudinal assessment of singlehood, researchers found that people’s satisfaction with their singlehood predicts their overall life satisfaction. The more satisfied they are with being single, the more satisfied they are in life. This satisfaction does tend to remain fairly steady over the next ten years but does steadily decrease. The thing is, this is true for people in relationships, too. Satisfaction with your relationship and your overall life satisfaction tends to decrease over time. 

In the world today, young people, in particular, are facing certain challenges that may lend themselves to being more satisfied with being single. For example, economic constraints may provide incentives for pursuing higher education or focusing on their career, which in turn will set them up for longer-term success. To them, singlehood provides them the space for personal growth which lends itself to increased life satisfaction. 

How can you make the most of being single?

This research shows that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Whether you are single by choice or circumstance, there are a few things that help keep people happy if they are not in a long-term romantic relationship:

  • Prioritize building external and maintaining close relationships with family, friends, and other folks in your community. Humans are social creatures and thrive when they have strong relationships. Some people build happiness through romantic partnerships, but friendships and being a part of a community can be similarly satisfying. 
  • Be patient with your family and friends. When your family and friends ask you needling questions about your dating life, these questions (usually) come from a good place. They likely appreciate their relationship and want you to find something similar; they have your best interests at heart, even if they are not expressed in the most constructive way. If you plan to remain single, a conversation about your values, goals, and feelings may be one worth having. 
  • Be kind to yourself. If you’re currently single not by choice, that is okay, even if it might be frustrating. Keep putting yourself out there, be open to new people and experiences, and treat others with kindness. A lot of the success people have in finding their right partner comes down to timing and sheer luck. 

Should I Stay or Should I Go? The Investment Model of Relationships

Citations +
All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.
The Quick And Dirty

Singlehood can be just as satisfying as being in a romantic relationship, but it is important to foster connections with other important people in our lives such as family, friends, and other community members.

About the Author

Rachel Vanderbilt, PhD

Dr. Rachel Vanderbilt is the host of the Relationship Doctor podcast. She is a relationship scientist whose research examines how we communicate in our romantic relationships. Specifically, she studies how we communicate in our romantic relationships as we age and our relationships mature, particularly during conflicts that are difficult to resolve. She believes that we can all benefit from evidence-based recommendations about how to have healthy and happy relationships.

Do you have a question for the Relationship Doctor podcast? You can leave a voice message for the show by calling (813) 397-8165 or send an email to relationshipdoctor@quickanddirtytips.com. You might hear your question on a future episode.