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Single by Choice and Single at Heart: Is There a Difference?

The name of this blog, “Single at Heart,” refers to a set of single people who, culturally, are almost entirely invisible. They are the single people for whom living single is how they live their best, most authentic, most meaningful lives.

You may have heard people say that being single is better than being in a bad marriage. Well, for people who are single at heart, being single is better than being in a good marriage.

There is no systematic research on people who are single at heart, except for my own preliminary investigations. You can read some of my previous posts about what I’ve found, as well as other discussions relevant to the single-at-heart, here. My sense so far is that for people who are single at heart, once they get past the cultural expectations about what they should be doing, and maybe their own internalization of the prevailing ideology that says that everyone wants to marry and that’s the only way to be truly happy, they recognize something profound: Single life suits them. It is a life they embrace. It feels right and true.

People who are single at heart are not all that interested in dating, but some of them have spent time dating and in romantic relationships. Their reaction after such relationships end is one of the ways they differ most markedly from those who are not single-at-heart: They are far more likely to feel relieved, and far less likely to feel sadness and pain.

Most people who are single-at-heart like making big life decisions on their own, rather than with a romantic partner or spouse. They are self-sufficient and they have a sense of personal mastery. When something minor goes wrong (such as a fender-bender), they appreciate not having to discuss it with a spouse.

Among people who are not single at heart, one of the things some of them love about being in a serious romantic relationship is that they have an automatic plus-one for whatever social event they want to attend. People who are single at heart do not generally find that heartening; they’d rather have more options, such as going with different people to different events, or going alone, or just staying home.

People who are single-at-heart tend to value meaningful work more than other people do. They also really love their solitude.

Not everyone who is single at heart is actually single. Some are married or in romantic relationships, often because they never realized that single life was a real option. They may care deeply about their partner, but still feel that they missed their most authentic life, which is single life. They chose marriage, but if they could do it again, they would choose single life instead. Others do leave their marriages or relationships and embrace their single lives.

On the flip side, not everyone who is single by choice is also single at heart. People who are single by choice include all the single-at-heart people who love their single lives. They might wish that singlism (the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people) were not so rampant, and that the culture would get over its matrimania (the over-the-top hyping of marriage and coupling and weddings), but as for single life itself, well that’s something they savor.

But people who are single by choice also include others who choose single life but for reasons that may not all be positive. For example, they may have had bad experiences in relationships in the past. They may not want to deal with what it takes to “find someone.” Or they may feel that, all things considered, it is just easier to live single. That’s a different kind of attitude about single life. People who are single by choice have chosen to be single; for people who are single-at-heart, single life has also chosen them. Single is who they really are.

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Single by Choice and Single at Heart: Is There a Difference?

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D

Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard; Academic Affiliate, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UC Santa Barbara), an expert on single life, is the author of several books, including "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After" and "How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century." Her TEDx talk is "What no one ever told you about people who are single." Dr. DePaulo has discussed singles and single life on radio and television, including NPR and CNN, and her work has been described in newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and magazines such as Time, Atlantic, the Week, More, the Nation, Business Week, AARP Magazine, and Newsweek. Dr. DePaulo is in her sixties. She has always been single and always will be. She is "single at heart" -- single is how she lives her best and most meaningful life. Visit her website at

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APA Reference
DePaulo, B. (2016). Single by Choice and Single at Heart: Is There a Difference?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Jan 2016
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