Why people who live single are often the least selfish of us all

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With more and more people flying solo around the world, being single has evolved from a life stage to a state of being.

Increasingly, it’s something that people are actively seeking out, as a means of finding fulfilment and purpose.

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And yet, a common myth persists: that this demographic are somehow selfish for not “settling down” and taking the time-honoured path to marriage and babies.

Invariably, single people DO enjoy more freedom than those with kids, spouses or in long-term relationships. Not always, but often: they have more time and head space to focus on what they want.

However, contrary to common perception, research shows that this freedom actually makes them LESS insular and more community-minded.

“On the average, single people are the ones tending to their friends and neighbours and siblings and parents. They are the ones showing up when other people need help,” says social psychologist Bella DePaulo, writing in Psychology Today.

“On the average, it is the couples who move in together or who get married who look at each other and say, ‘We are the world. Everyone else can just take care of themselves.'”

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DePaulo has dedicated her career to the study of single life, aiming to redress an entrenched academic bias that has almost entirely ignored this growing lifestyle choice.

“I’m single, always have been, always will be,” she writes on her website. “Single is how I live my best, most authentic, most meaningful life.”

being single

Research highlighted by DePaulo includes a 2016 study that shows single people nurture better relationships with neighbours and friends than their married counterparts.

In contrast, those in long-term relationships turn inwards, and are less likely to reach out to those around them, in a habit sociologists refer to as “greedy marriage”.

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If you think about it, this makes sense. Everyone knows that vanishing act some mates pull off when they first plunge into relationships. Even if this effect dilutes over time, a romantic relationship will inevitably eat up people’s attention and energy; all the more so when they have kids.

So, far from being uncaring or selfish, it is single people who fill the gap: they are the ones with the time and emotional space to reach out to those around them.

The effect extends beyond that, though. Papers show that single people value freedom more, which leads to greater happiness (perhaps because this freedom leads to more time, greater investment in relationships and more scope to be kind to others – all elements that, in themselves, are linked to happiness).

And naturally, this happiness again means that they are less insular and more receptive to others.

Read more: Life is better in your 40s than your 20s

This isn’t a hard and fast rule, of course. Some married people may be hugely nurturing to their neighbours, some single people may only care about themselves.

But there is nothing inherently “selfish” about not wanting to hook up or have kids. Often, it has the opposite effect.

No man is an island and single people can frequently be found swimming the choppy seas.

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Photos from Flash Pack and Shutterstock

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