Research, opinion: People who are unafraid of being single have high standards and healthy personalities

Bella DePaulo

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Have you noticed those people who just won’t quit their romantic relationships, no matter how miserable they have become? Or the people who cannot bear spending any time at all uncoupled – when one romantic relationship ends, they rush off to the next? I’ve always thought that those people were scared of being single.

Turns out, they probably are. And they are worse off for it.

Stephanie Spielmann and six of her colleagues at the University of Toronto created a “Fear of Being Single Scale.” They then conducted a series of studies to see how fearfulness about being single -- or the flip side, fearlessness -- matters. The title of their original research report says it all: “Settling for Less Out of Fear of Being Single.” Additional research has been conducted since then.

The “Fear of Being Single Scale” includes items such as these:

· “I feel anxious when I think about being single forever.”

· “It scares me to think there might not be anyone out there for me.”

· “If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel that there is something wrong with me.”

In their article, the authors focused on people who are frightened of single life. I’m more interested in the people who are unafraid of being single -- they disagree with statements such as the ones above. Turns out, they have some important strengths and advantages over those who are scared to be single.

Strength of personality: People who are unafraid to be single have psychologically healthy personality profiles

The first area of strength is personality. Compared to people who are afraid to be single, people who are unafraid are more secure in all sorts of ways:

· They are less neurotic.

· They get their feelings hurt less often.

· They are less sensitive to rejection.

· They are less lonely.

· They are less depressed.

· They are a bit more open.

· They are a bit more extraverted.

· If they have a romantic partner, their self-esteem does not depend on whether their partner is being nice to them.

The skillful navigation of romantic relationships: People unafraid to be single are really good at that

Some people who are unafraid of being single are undoubtedly Single at Heart (though that wasn’t measured in the research), and they may not have been interested in pursuing romantic relationships. So let’s look at the people who are unafraid of being single but are pursuing romantic relationships. Those people do so not because they are running away from single life but because they think that a romantic relationship might add something of value to their lives.

People who are unafraid of being single have standards:

· When they are in an unsatisfying romantic relationship, they are more likely to break it off than are people who are afraid of being single.

· In any of their romantic relationships, good or bad, they are less likely to feel needy and dependent when it comes to their partner. For example, they typically disagree with the statement, “If I couldn’t be in this relationship, I would lose an important part of myself.”

· Show them online profiles of potential dating partners, and you will see how discriminating they are. They are mostly interested in people who seem caring and responsive and attractive. In contrast, people who are afraid of being single express almost as much interest in the totally self-centered people and as in the others.

· In speed-dating events, in which participants took part in about 25 dates lasting 3 minutes each, the people who were afraid of being single wanted to give out their contact information to more of the potential partners than did the people who were unafraid of single life. There they are, settling once again – unlike those who are secure about being single.

But here’s the really interesting part about those who are fearful of being single and who settle in so many ways and seem to feel so badly about themselves – they were chosen by other potential partners in the speed dating events just as often as everyone else was! They might feel unworthy, but at least in the speed dating context, other people did not see them that way.

Navigating the end of romantic relationships: People unafraid to be single are better at that, too

People who are unafraid of being single are at a distinct advantage if they are in a romantic relationship that ends.

· In the month following a breakup, people who are unafraid of being single are less likely to try to renew contact with their ex, and they also experience less longing for their ex

· Long after their breakup, they are less likely to continue pining for their ex

In contrast, people who are afraid of being single seem to be driven by that fear. The more fearful they are of being single on any given day, the more likely they are to try to get back in touch with their ex the next day. Those attempts to renew contact do not make them any less fearful.

A profile of skills and advantages, rather than deficits and disadvantages

People who are single are too often stereotyped in negative and demeaning ways. It can take a lot of psychological strength to stand up to all that singlism. Single people who succeed at doing so, and remain fearless about living single, have all sorts of skills and advantages that have long gone unrecognized.

Some single people are not just unafraid of being single, they love it. They have even more strengths and advantages. Not everyone who is single lives alone, but those who do also have special strengths.

Maybe as more people understand what it could mean to embrace single life, fewer people will be afraid of being single. Then they will experience more of the benefits and advantages that the happy single people are already enjoying. They don’t need to give up the quest for a romantic relationship if that’s what they want; they just need to be more relaxed about the time they spend single.

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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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