- Many people have complicated emotions about singlehood.
- A romantic relationship should not be seen as the only path to a happy and meaningful life.
- Remember to focus on your actual desires and not what you think you “ought” to want.
Many people come to therapy petrified about a life of singlehood. They may have recently experienced a breakup or they’re in a situation where they feel their partner pushing away. They say things like:
- “If this relationship doesn’t work out, I don’t see myself ever finding anyone.”
- “Years are going by and I’m still single. Will this ever change?”
- “Am I that unloveable?”
The emotions people feel around singlehood are complicated, to say the least. Personal beliefs, family expectations, societal norms, and biological realities all play a role in shaping the complex, and often contradictory, relationship we have with singlehood. If you’re struggling to make sense of these emotions, speaking to a mental health professional is a great place to process your feelings.
In addition, psychological research can help us gain perspective. A 2013 study, led by Stephanie Spielmann of the University of Toronto, included a six-item, empirically validated questionnaire that measured a person’s fear of being single. To better understand your own fear of singlehood, read through the following six statements and ask yourself how much you agree/disagree with them:
- I feel it is close to being too late for me to find the love of my life.
- I feel anxious when I think about being single forever.
- I need to find a partner before I’m too old to have and raise children.
- If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel like there is something wrong with me.
- As I get older, it will get harder and harder to find someone.
- It scares me to think that there might not be anyone out there for me.
If you feel like these statements encapsulate your feelings toward singlehood, it is possible that the search for a romantic partner is causing you anxiety or even psychological distress. If, on the other hand, you’re only in casual agreement with the items in the scale, you may have a more balanced perspective toward singlehood.
In either case, here are two insights from psychological science that can help you view singlehood from a more holistic standpoint.
1. The Idea That You’ll Only Be Happy if You’re in a Relationship Is Almost Certainly False
Many people harbor the mistaken belief that they will only be happy once they’ve found “the one.” This is not true, but it is self-fulfilling—meaning that if you believe it to be true then you make it true. Here are some scientific facts to contextualize the specious “relationship = happy" link:
- Research suggests that the disparity in happiness between married and unmarried individuals is minimal, and this distinction may be diminishing as society becomes more inclusive of diverse lifestyles.
- The happiness boost attributed to a new relationship or marriage is short-lived. One study revealed a pattern where happiness rises before marriage, plateaus in the initial year of marriage, and then reverts to the pre-relationship level.
- Other data suggest that nearly half of adults encounter difficulty sustaining long-term relationships. And, evidence shows that employment, particularly jobs that imbue a sense of purpose and significance, are a more substantial factor influencing our happiness than marital status.
The point is that you should never look to a romantic relationship as the only path to a happy and meaningful life.
2. It’s Important to Separate Your "Ought" Thinking From Your Real Wants and Desires
Any preconceived notions you have about singlehood should be filtered into two categories: what I want and what people want for me. It goes without saying that your own wants, needs, and desires come first. If you’re struggling to tell if the voice inside your head is yours or someone else’s, the following five questions, from psychological research on goal-setting, can help. Think about your goals regarding dating and relationships and rate how well each of these questions explains why you want to achieve the goals you do:
- Does somebody else want me to achieve this goal, or will I get something from someone if I do?
- Would I feel ashamed if I didn’t achieve this goal?
- Do I really believe this is an important goal to have?
- Will this goal provide me with fun and enjoyment?
- Does this goal represent who I am and reflect what I value most in life?
If you felt like questions 3, 4, and 5 described your relationship goals, it's likely that you are on the right path. If you felt that questions 1 and 2 applied better to your situation, then you might consider refreshing your attitude on singlehood, dating, and relationships.
Fearing singlehood is a normal response for any adult. It stems from our innate need for support, love, reassurance, and interpersonal connection. But it’s also important to maintain a balanced view. Romantic relationships are one part of the multifaceted puzzle of happiness, but they’re far from the whole thing.