People who are single, it appears, are thriving – despite never having had the social and financial advantages of marriage, a rite of passage that is celebrated globally, and which automatically bestows adult status and maturity. In a western culture obsessed with happiness, the sad singleton stereotype persists even though more people are choosing to remain single, and the solo lifestyle is becoming more popular and prevalent.
Writing last September in Psychology Today, Dr Bella DePaulo, an expert on single people, highlighted a number of long-term studies that showed that people were no happier after marriage than they had been before, or that the life satisfaction of married people declined over time. Importantly, one study over a 5 year period, examined the personal growth experience of lifelong single people compared with people who were continuously married. It found that the lifelong single people were more likely to agree with statements such as: “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, change, and growth.” Married people were more likely to identify with statements such as: “I gave up trying to make big improvements in my life a long time ago.”
DePaulo also identifies that there is a positive view of single people that has emerged from every relevant study: Single people are seen as more independent than married people. And I know from my own conversations with married people, that it is my independence as a single person/woman, which is not just recognised but often envied. We singletons have autonomy, control of our own lives and are the decision makers: from something as small as what to eat for dinner or what toothpaste to buy, to the big decisions about where and how to live our lives – within any constraints that prevail.
With independence comes that enviable freedom of choice, but it also comes with a responsibility for looking after ourselves and the day-to-day business of life and living: finance and bills; housework and repairs or decorating; laundry; car driving, maintenance or upgrade; home technology, are just a few examples. Single people learn to do it all or get someone to do it for them. And this is also seen as positive: I’ve known, or known of, many a divorced, separated or widowed person whose spouse fulfilled many such ‘domestic’ tasks. They belatedly admired the competence of single friends and relatives, and rued the days they chose to be so dependent or blissfully ignorant.
DePaulo states that single people are doing so well because they don’t appear to be missing the things everyone thinks they are missing: they are in fact living the good life. They don’t just have independence, autonomy and a life of growth and satisfaction. Their lives have purpose and meaning and, above all, love. “For such a little word, love is a very big thing. It has a huge heart. It is not content to reside only in relationships between romantic partners. Close friends can love each other, and in fact, longstanding relationships with our dearest friends outlast many marriages. Love also makes itself at home with our most cherished family members. Spiritual figures, too, can be objects of love, and throughout the ages, they often have been.”
Speaking only for myself, I know that I miss not having a partner the most whenever I am loading the car for a self-catering break, struggling with essential luggage, boxes and foodstuffs during 3 or 4 trips between my 2nd floor apartment and the car below! But seriously and finally, after years of not looking for, or being bothered about it – I miss romantic love: intimacy, someone putting me first, holding my hand, phoning for no reason, making me a cup of tea…… for which I don’t need to get married. I’ve spoken about this in a previous blog and I’ll return to it again. Otherwise, I’m in agreement with Bella DePaulo, who says, “There is no one single life. The good life, for single people, is the most authentic, most fulfilling, and most meaningful life they can create for themselves.”