While research has traditionally focused on the wellbeing benefits of marriage and long-term relationships, an increasing body of data points to the (previously overlooked) perks of being single. More and more people are choosing to travel solo, while other studies have found that most single people would prefer to be alone than in an unhealthy relationship.
The perks include things like increased resilience, independence and an ability to form better social networks. All else being equal, there’s no major advantage that being in a relationship has over being single, in terms of lifetime happiness. Indeed, being in a bad relationship, or going through a life event, like divorce, count among the biggest stressors. Here, we look at the study, as well as how we can choose for ourselves more consciously.
Single life is often underrated and wrongly stereotyped
Embrace your freedom. Most relationships involve a degree of compromise over where you live, what you do or where you choose to go on holiday. Not to mention the minutiae of other decisions that make up daily life. It’s a wonderful feeling when you don’t have to check in with other people before making these plans, or own all of your space without sharing.
That’s not to say being in a relationship is bad. Just that single life is often underrated and wrongly stereotyped as a non-aspirational – or at least temporary – place to be. Many people are single for the whole of their lives and very happy to be so. It’s a life choice, just like anything.
There are lots of solo people out there
And we’re just as likely to feel lonely when in a relationship as we are when single. Lonely is a state of mind, so it all depends on your perspective. People in relationships tend to look inwards to one another, rather than out to the world. By being single you are more likely to make connections with the world around you. Make the most of that and be proactive. Sign up to clubs, go traveling with strangers, network and knock on the door of your neighbors.
The more you reach out, the more you’ll get back. There are lots of solo people out there, so it’s just about finding them. Don’t deny your feelings, either. It’s okay to feel lonely, and know that many people do now and again. It’s not something that’s inherently related to relationship status (no matter what Hollywood tells us).
Being single is preferable to being in a bad relationship
In a study that asked single people whether they “fear being alone”, the majority said no – 126 women and 27 men were questioned in the survey, which took place via online forums, such as Craigslist. Despite the suggestive phrasing of the question, 39% of respondents disagreed and said they weren’t afraid of being alone; more than twice the amount (18%) that said that they were. Of those who said that they didn’t fear being alone, the number one reason why was that they had friends and family to turn to (“Regardless of having a significant other or not in the future, I will always have people who love me and who I love”).
This was followed by the belief that being single is preferable to being in a bad relationship (“I have grown enough emotionally and psychologically to know that I would rather be on my own than be part of another unhealthy relationship”). And there was a powerful element of acceptance and awareness in the mix (“Upon doing a lot of soul-searching, I have come to realize that my state of happiness depends on me… I’m no longer dependent on someone else to make me happy or make me feel worthy”).
Single people are more likely to reach out to a support network
Though the sample is small, the study’s findings fit with the larger picture of happily single adults. Contrary to a tired old cliché, this growing demographic of single people are sometimes alone, but rarely lonely. As Psych Central points out, being “single, without a romantic partner” has little correlation to being alone – or more importantly, feeling alone. To the contrary, research shows that single people are more likely to reach out to a support network of friends, colleagues and neighbors than those who are married.
Single people spend an average of 12 minutes a day staying in touch with other people over phone calls and emails, but married people spend about 7.8 minutes doing the same. Single people are also likely to have more friends than those who are married, and are more likely to exchange help with those around them — the importance of such networks can’t be underestimated.
Many single people still hate being single
Far from “being alone”, single adults play a critical role as the glue holding societies together. Of all groups, they are the people most likely to reach out to others and build ties through mutual help and support. Of course, being single isn’t a silver bullet. Many single people still hate being single, experience loneliness and crave the physical company of a partner.
“I get lonely sometimes and occasionally miss having someone in my life,” says Lori, a single woman in her 40s, in a Huffington Post piece about living single. “But overall I enjoy doing my own thing, sleeping alone and being by myself. Since turning 40 and having a couple of bad experiences with online dating, I’ve come to accept that I may never get married and I’m okay with that.”
Try to avoid “if/when” scenarios
It comes down to this: what do we really think of as ‘being alone’? In a physical sense, it’s an entirely different thing to feeling alone in an isolated sense. The latter can be less related to being romantically unattached and more to do with fragmented communities and fractured connections. We’re all vulnerable to being emotionally alone, yet when you’re single you’re more likely to be a team player. You’re in a place where you’ll more readily give and take from those around you, creating a cycle of mutual trust and a buffer to feelings of loneliness. At a time of great emotional disconnect, this is something we can all learn from.
We could all benefit from some frank self-reflection in life (single or not). If you’re single and feeling a bit rubbish, try and work out why that is. You may well find the cause of your dissatisfaction is not to do with being single, or only partly to do with it. We all have moments of angst in life and it’s easy to pin that on one thing – but the reality is often a lot more complicated. Try to avoid “if/when” scenarios (“When I’m in a relationship, I’ll be happy,” “If only I find a partner, that will sort everything”), as that takes you away from the present. Instead, dig deep to find out what’s really going on.
Having a significant other isn’t a magic solution
Even now, we live in a world that fetishises love and coupledom. Being in a relationship can be a wonderful, fulfilling and happy thing. It can also be miserable, frustrating and wretched. It can equally be anywhere between these two poles.
Either way, having a significant other isn’t a magic solution for all of life’s problems. We’re bombarded with messages that tell us love is the answer. But only you are the answer, whether you’re in a relationship or not. It’s important to remember that.
Wherever you happen to be in the world, there’ll be people out there like you. And the only way of finding them is by throwing yourself into the maelstrom. You may well have a very busy life – but we also have that golden gift of autonomy. It’s more likely that you can do what you want, on your own terms, when solo.
Do whatever you’ve always wanted to do
So, make the most of it. Get out there. Pursue your passions. Do whatever you’ve always wanted to do, without reason or regret. And reach out to loved ones, neighbours, strangers, anyone you happen to meet along the way.
The more you do this, the more likely you are to form deep, sustaining connections and relationships. Whether or not they’re romantic, these are the ties that will really light up your life.
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Images: Flash Pack, Unsplash