- About one-third of adults are single, some by choice and some involuntarily so.
- Being single affords people time and energy they might not otherwise have.
- Singlehood allows people to control how they live their lives.
- Singlehood can protect people from the problems and pains of being in a relationship.
Cultural norms generally favor the partnered. As single people know, the world is full of structures ("Table for two?") and stereotypes ("Something must be wrong with them") that suggest singlehood is less desirable than being in a relationship (Paulo, 2006). But is singlehood really so bad? Could singlehood have benefits that make it not only desirable but preferable to being in a committed relationship?
Singlehood Is Common and Diverse
According to the Pew Research Center (2023), about 30 percent of American adults are single. This statistic varies by age, with nearly half of young adults (18-29) identifying as single, a group comprised of more men (63 percent) than women (34 percent). Only about 20 percent of people ages 30-49 are single, but this percentage climbs with age. Twenty-nine percent of adults 50-64 are single, and 33 percent of adults older than 65 identify as single. Altogether, these numbers support the idea that singlehood is common.
Single people may share the status of being unpartnered, but they are diverse in important ways. At the forefront, some people are single voluntarily, while others would rather be in a relationship. In addition, some people are single only temporarily, while others have singlehood as a permanent status. Lastly, in the same way that some people are happy in their relationships and others are not, people vary in the extent to which they thrive as single, unpartnered individuals.
Singlehood Offers Important Life Benefits
Whether by choice or circumstance, singlehood comes with opportunities that, for some, make it quite appealing. These opportunities were recently identified in two studies out of Greece that examined the perceived benefits of about 260 (Study 1) and approximately 600 (Study 2) Greek-speaking people who had, at one point in their adult lives, been single (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2022). The benefits include the following:
- I have more time, and I can use it the way I want. This was the most strongly endorsed advantage of being single. Maintaining a romantic relationship is a major time investment. Singlehood allows people the chance to use their time as they wish and to pursue their own interests with flexibility.
- I can focus. People want to improve themselves, making the chance to focus a popular benefit of being single. No doubt that personal growth, career or otherwise, can be enhanced by the opportunity to streamline your focus. For some people, singlehood is desirable because it supports the focus they need to pursue important goals.
- I'm in charge of me. Relationships require compromise and adjusting to a partner's needs. When you're single, there is no need to check in or report on what you're doing. If you suddenly decide to work until midnight, order take-out, or binge-watch a new series, you can, with no accommodations and no apologies. For some people, singlehood is desirable because you're the one in charge; no one else is making demands or telling you what to do.
- I'm not getting hurt. Breakups are painful. One advantage of stable singlehood is that you can avoid the emotional upheaval that comes with ending a relationship.
- I'm steady. It's not just breakups that are tough. The finding and forming of relationships can be an emotional rollercoaster, and once formed, there can be challenges that cause stress and any number of problems that can pop up on any given day. Singlehood allows for a steady, peaceful way of living.
- I'm calm. For some people, a primary appeal of singlehood is the chance to avoid the fighting and arguing that might come with romantic relationships. No one is giving you the silent treatment or offering unwelcomed criticism. Better to be single and happy than to be in a relationship that's fraught with tension.
- I can see whomever I want. Being single allows people to flirt and date to the extent that they want to if they want to. This social and sexual freedom is not exclusive to singlehood, but many romantic partners prioritize monogamy and sexual fidelity, making the freedom to have casual relationships a standout feature for some people who prefer being single.
- I can use my resources as I want to. Along with time, energy is a limited resource. People who are single can choose how they want to spend their energy with more freedom than people in relationships. They have fewer responsibilities, do not need to take care of someone else, and do not need to spend any energy managing a relationship or dealing with a romantic partner's problems.
- I'm excused from many undesirable activities. One key advantage of singlehood is the ability not to do things that you don't want to do... things you might need to do to keep peace in a relationship. Forget a partner's high school reunion, yet another evening with your partner's friends, or your partner's annual family picnic. Single people don't have these obligations. Singlehood lets you be in control of your social time.
- I manage my eating. One interesting advantage that some people identify with being single is the chance to regulate their eating. No need to conform to a partner's habits or preferences; single people can diet or indulge without scrutiny or the imposition of another's needs.
Singlehood Means Freedom
The advantages of singlehood identified in this research are varied (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2022), but one theme emerges: Freedom. Singlehood removes the pressures that can come with romantic relationships, allowing people to live and strive for improvement without as many constraints as individuals whose lives are interdependent with a partner.
Critically, as the authors note, this research did not attempt to answer whether single people are positioned to have happier, more satisfying lives than people in relationships. Indeed, like being in a relationship, singlehood has its benefits but also comes with critical disadvantages too (Apostolou, Alexopolous, & Christoforou, 2023). The different ways people experience singlehood and the diverse reasons people are single create different potentials for personal well-being. This is a topic that requires additional research.
Are there benefits that you see to being single which are not listed here? Perhaps cultural variations account for the missed advantages (or ones listed here that do not apply to you). Recall that this study surveyed Greek-speaking individuals (Apostolou & Christoforou, 2022), leaving the door open for alternative advantages in other cultures. Likewise, the extent to which individuals endorse each item might vary by aspects of themselves, such as their attachment styles, their prior experiences in relationships, or aspects of their personality. This, too, is an area for future research.
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Apostolou, M., Alexopoulos, S., & Christoforou, C. (2023). The price of being single: An explorative study of the disadvantages of singlehood. Personality and Individual Differences, 208, 112208.
Apostolou, M., & Christoforou, C. (2022). What Makes Single Life Attractive: an Explorative Examination of the Advantages of Singlehood. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 8(4), 403-412.
DePaulo, B. M. (2006). Singled out: How singles are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, and still live happily ever after. Macmillan.
Pew Research Center (2023). https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/02/08/for-valentines-day-5…