Being Single in the 21st Century
First of all, to be single in the 21st century is completely and utterly ordinary. In fact, in the U.S. there are nearly as many adults who are not married as are married. And of those who are unmarried, close to two thirds have never been married. Furthermore, a Pew Research Centre study estimated that by the time today’s young people reach their 50s, about one quarter of them will have been single all of their lives.
Fewer women than ever before are financially dependent on a spouse. Not only is being single no longer as stigmatised as it once was, but it may actually bring value to your life. More than a dozen studies have shown that when people marry, they become no happier than they were when they were single – aside from a short honeymoon period (Luhmann et al., 2012).
Not only are married people no happier than single people, those who remain single may actually derive other benefits from their singlehood. A study of over 10,000 Australian women in their 70’s discovered that lifelong single women who had no kids were more optimistic and less stressed than married women (with or without kids). They were also the most highly educated and volunteered more, had the healthiest body mass index, and were the least likely to be smokers or to be diagnosed with a major illness.
Feeling Left Behind
Many people are now choosing to remain single, no longer put off by the possible stigmatisation, judgement, and unwarranted pity of others. Many people are now actively deciding that they want to live a different life, focus on their career, focus on their interests, rather than searching for ‘the one’ and raising children.
But what about those that are not single by choice. Spending your teens and your twenties with your friends can be a great time with lots of fun and adventures, but what happens when your friends find their own partners and, one by one, they start to cancel on you in favour of focusing on their blossoming relationship.
It’s hard not to feel left out when everyone else is paired off. Suddenly there is a feeling of loneliness or even jealousy. There might be a sense that if you don’t make all the plans to see your friends, you’ll never see them at all – especially once they start to have children and build a family of their own.
Research shows that when couples move in together or get married, they become more insular, and this includes spending less time with their friends. Some couples even forget that the word ‘I’ exists and favour using ‘we’ instead, as in; ‘we’re fine’ as a response to ‘How are you?’
Being single with a group of friends can be a fun time; swapping stories of bad dates, awkward encounters, and near-misses. But when you are the only single friend left, you might suddenly feel like you don’t want to continue sharing these once-funny stories. There can be a dread that your former ally will go home and snigger about these stories with their perfect partner and pity their single friend. This most likely isn’t the case, but it can be easy to imagine after a long period of unchosen singlehood.
As mentioned, many people are now choosing the single life over spending their time searching for ‘the one’. As Sasha Cagen, author of Quirkyalone, puts it, you need to “inhabit singledom as your natural resting state… there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone.”
But how do you live the single life, happily, if you are not actively choosing to be single?
- Immerse yourself in meaningful activities, and live in the now. Happiness in general is more about your mindset and how you spend your time than about your relationship status.
- Recognise that not all of your thoughts are facts. Very often, negative thoughts pop into our heads without us even realising it. Eventually, we can start to believe these thoughts as gospel. But it is important to question these thoughts, look at the patterns, when do these thoughts tend to pop up? What is the opposite of this negative thought? For example if your negative thought is ‘I’m not good enough for that guy’ try thinking something along the lines of ‘I’m not going to settle for a relationship with someone who doesn’t appreciate me’.
- Don’t wait to be in a relationship to pursue your goals. A lot of the time we can be guilty of thinking that our life will begin once we are married or living with our spouse – like we are in some kind of limbo until then. Ask yourself, how would your life change once you are in a relationship? Maybe you would travel more, maybe you would start looking to buy a flat, or maybe you would start thinking about having children. These are all things (with the magic of modern science) that we can start working on without a partner.
- Use your past to inform your future, but not to sabotage it. Bad relationships can stick with us for a long time, causing you to perhaps lose trust in people or to expect the worst in others or yourself. We can also be guilty of looking at the past through rose tinted glasses – we remember the good and forget the bad. It is important not to compare your ex to your current partner or date – they may have different qualities or looks but that doesn’t make one worse than the other. We can, however, use our past to inform our future – think about the qualities in previous partners that you appreciate and those that were red flags for you and adjust your search accordingly.
- Don’t put your date on a pedestal. Thinking that the next date could be ‘the one’ puts a lot of pressure on the date and can make you feel a little crazy. Furthermore, if you desperately want and hope that your next date will turn into a relationship, you can be blinded to some serious red flags.
- Do put yourself on a pedestal.Don’t think that you have to change yourself in order to be dateable. The more that you change yourself, the harder it is to keep up the facade, the more exhausting the relationship becomes, and the more unhappy you will become.
- Tell your friends how you feel. If you are feeling left behind by your friends, it is perfectly okay to express this to them. They may not be able to keep up with your original social routine, especially if they have their own children, but they may empathise with you more.
In many western countries, we are led to believe in a world of meritocracy – that good things come to those who deserve them. So, if we are not in a relationship, we may come to believe that we don’t deserve love, happiness, or companionship. However, it is important to remember that dating is all about compatibility and timing, and waiting for these to be aligned can be exhausting. Furthermore, as discussed in our blog on the impact of dating apps, the overwhelming amount of choice in partner is causing daters to be less tolerant of imperfect dates.
Those of you who are currently single should revel in the fact that you have been selective up until now. There are plenty of unhappy couples in the world who perhaps started their relationship too young, before they knew who they really were and what they wanted in life. You should be proud of not settling for any old relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship. Get to know who you are, what you want in life, and what you want in a partner.