Why so many people love being single

Bella DePaulo

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Results of a survey reported by the Pew Research Center revealed something remarkable: Half of all solo single people are not interested in a romantic relationship or even a date. The survey was based on a national sample of adults in the U.S., ages 18 and up, who were not married and not in a committed romantic relationship.

One of the most enduring myths about single people is that what they want, more than anything else, is to become coupled. Once we realize that’s just not true, then we can address the intriguing question of why so many people are not at all interested in unsingling themselves.

For many years, I have been studying people who are Single at Heart. I’m one of them. For us, single life is our best life – our most authentic, most meaningful, and most fulfilling life. Single, for us, isn’t just better than a bad romantic relationship; it is the best life of all.

There are many reasons why people who are Single at Heart love being single. It’s not just us. Even some people who want to be coupled still appreciate aspects of single life and will miss them if and when they become romantically involved.

We have our freedom

Single people, especially those who live alone, are the captains of their own ships. In their everyday lives, within the limits of their resources and opportunities, they get to arrange everything as they like it. That includes things like deciding what to eat, when to sleep, whether to exercise and eat right or just watch Netflix and chill, without getting the side eye from anyone else.

That’s just the small stuff. In deeper and more meaningful ways, too, people who love being single use their freedom to do what really matters to them. That could mean pursuing passions, leaving a lucrative position to have a life that is more fulfilling, or being there for the people who mean the most to them when they are most in need.

Valuing freedom is sometimes dismissed as crass and selfish. Pundits wag their fingers and warn that individualistic values will only make us miserable in the end. But that’s not what the research shows. Analyses of data from more than 200,000 people from 31 European nations showed that people who embrace values such as freedom, creativity, and trying new things are happier. That’s true for people who are married and people who aren’t. But single people get even more happiness out of their valuing of freedom than married people do.

We are more connected—if we want to be

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, single people are “alone” and “unattached” and they “don’t have anyone.” Piles of research stand in utter defiance of those stereotypes. Typically, single people are more connected to more different kinds of people. They do more to stay in touch and to be there for the people in their lives. People who move in with a romantic partner, or who marry, tend to become more insular, research shows.

I like to say that coupled people have The One, while single people have “the ones.” I think it is even better than that. We have our freedom and that means we can value as many different people as we like – or as few. Some single people don’t want big social networks or circles of friends. What’s great about being single is that you can curate the kind of life that works best for you.

We get to value and prioritize the people we care about

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, a romantic partner is the most important adult in your life, someone who should be valued above all others. That way of thinking is called amatonormativity, and single people who like being single just don’t buy it. If we want to value our friends, relatives, mentors, or anyone else who matters to us, then we do. And I mean deeply value, not just have in our lives in some casual way, though that’s fine, too. And don’t try to tell us that single people cannot be securely attached; research has demolished that assumption, too.

We cherish our solitude

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, single people are lonely. But single people who like being single, especially people who are single at heart and love single life, embrace solitude. They get a lot out of it. They protect it like the precious resource it is. Maybe that’s why the most sophisticated analyses show that people who live alone are typically less lonely than people who live with others.

Loving the time we have to ourselves is the superpower of people who are single at heart. We are rarely lonely when we are alone. It is hard to frighten us by saying that we are going to end up spending a lot of time alone. It would be scarier to suggest that we may not always be able to get all the solitude we want.

We figure out how to get things done

A hot topic among people who study couples is the matter of who does what tasks and chores. In the jargon, that’s “division of labor,” and for couples, it can be quite the source of angst and conflict. Researchers have been studying this for decades. In PsychINFO, the database of all psychology-relevant publications, a search for “chores or housework” and “marriage or couples” produces more than 50,000 results, including more than 8,00 books, more than 6,000 dissertations, and more than 36,000 scholarly articles. Despite all these attempts to understand the division of labor, couples are still at odds over it, maybe even more so during the pandemic.

It is true that single people who live alone have to do everything themselves, or else find other people to hire or to help them. But we’re not arguing with anyone about who does what. And in the process of figuring out how to get things done, we develop skills that last a lifetime. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, in later life, people who have been single for a long time do so much better than expected.

We have our happiness, and we value authenticity and psychological richness, too

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, there is hardly anything more important than happiness, and you get to be happy, they think, by getting married or coupled. By 2012, there were already 18 long-term studies showing that people who marry do not become lastingly happier than they were when they were single. Now there are even more.

Single people have their happiness. A happy life can be a good life. But so can a psychologically rich life. It is possible, though more research is needed, that people who are single at heart are especially likely to have a psychologically rich life.

Those of us who choose to be single are not taking the easy way out. Our lives are not celebrated the way coupled people’s are, and in the U.S., we are locked out of a whole mountain of benefits and protections given only to people who are legally married. Some people who might like to live single, in some places, face even more formidable obstacles. But by living single when we can, we are living authentically. The rewards of living authentically may not be material, but they are meaningful and life-enhancing.

People who think in conventional ways believe that people who stay single are missing out. In fact, though, if single life is your best life, you would miss out by becoming coupled. You would forsake all the joys and rewards I just described. Your coupled life would never feel quite right, and that’s because, for you, it would not be right. Getting coupled or married would mean settling for a lesser life. If single life is your best life, don’t unsingle yourself.

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Expert on the profound rewards of single life. Author of “Singled Out.” Popular TEDx speaker. Harvard PhD.

Summerland, CA
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