You can probably recognize those people, though if you are reading this, you are probably not one of them. I’m talking about people who are afraid to be single. They are rushing into romantic relationships – and staying in bad ones – because they are so scared of living single.
For the entire history of theorizing about single life and some people’s eagerness to escape it, what I just said was merely a guess. But now we know for sure. Stephanie Spielmann and six of her colleagues at the University of Toronto have just developed a “Fear of Being Single Scale” and then conducted a series of studies to see how it matters if you are fearful, vs. fearless, about living single. The title of their journal article says it all: “Settling for Less Out of Fear of Being Single.”
I described the results of many of their studies in some detail here. (I didn’t write that headline, as you probably surmised. I don’t talk about soulmates unironically). So in this post, I’ll just review the results briefly and then make a few more comments about the research.
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 focus on people who are scared of single life. In keeping with the theme of this single-at-heart blog, I’m going to flip the script, and zero in on the people who are unafraid of being single, and their great strengths and advantages over those who are running scared.
The first area of strength is personality. People who are unafraid of being single 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 and less depressed than the fearful ones, and a bit more open and extraverted. Their self-esteem does not depend on whether their romantic partner (if they have one) is being nice to them.
Some people who are unafraid of being single are undoubtedly single at heart [scroll down after clicking] (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.
Those people 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. And in any of their romantic relationships, good or bad, they are less likely to feel needy and dependent when it comes to their partner (e.g., “If I couldn’t be in this relationship, I would lose an important part of myself”).
Show the unafraid 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.
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.
When the authors get to the end of their article, they note something very important – that their research is all about the fear of being single and “does not address the potential rewards of being single that may motivate people to be single.” Yes, that research is needed!
Oddly, though, in the paragraph before that, they made an observation that sounds uninformed about the whole range of interests and motivations that human beings have. Having reviewed all of the positive aspects of being unafraid of single life, the authors then wonder whether “taken to an extreme, little concern over being single could be associated with an unwillingness to accommodate or settle for anything but the highest standards in a way that leaves romantic or sexual needs unmet.” They add that maybe such single people are avoiding intimacy.
The authors seem to be assuming some universal need for romance; there is no such thing. They also seem to assume that everyone is interested in sex, and that the only way to get sex is to couple-up. They also seem to think that intimacy comes in only one flavor, when we single-at-heart types know that close and meaningful relationships can be had with friends and family and all sorts of relationship partners other than the ones you have sex with.
Aside from that one set of reservations, though, I like this work. It demonstrates something I have been preaching for years – if there were less singlism, then that would obviously be good for the single people who would no longer be stereotyped and stigmatized. Importantly, it would also be enormously beneficial for those people who are interested in coupling, because then they could pursue that interest from a position of strength rather than just running away from a life that they fear.
[Note: Thanks to Rolf Degen for the heads-up about this research.]