After studying single people for more than two decades, I now believe that single people are, on the average, more resilient than married people. I don’t have any direct evidence for that, such as scores on a resilience scale. I believe that for two interconnected reasons.
First, single people are stereotyped, stigmatized, marginalized, and ignored, and they are also targets of discrimination (what I call singlism). On top of that, they have to put up with the over-the-top celebration of marriage and weddings and coupling that I call matrimania.
Second, despite being relentlessly disadvantaged by singlism and matrimania, single people, on the average, are doing just fine. I have looked at hundreds, if not thousands, of studies of single and married people over the years, and I have never found even one in which single people, on the average, did not rate themselves as very clearly on the happy end of the scale. The ordinary experience of single people, their default feeling, is happiness. The best studies show that getting married does not change that in any lasting way. People who marry end up no happier and no healthier than when they were single. If they marry and then get divorced or widowed, they will probably end up less happy and less healthy than they were when they were single.
For single people to be doing so well, when so much is stacked up against them, is my idea of resilience.
And yet, it is important to note that the results of every psychology study – every one of them – is based on averages. That means that even when research shows that, on the average, single people are doing quite well, there are still some singles who are not doing that well. (The same holds for married people, and all the other groups that social scientists study.)
So maybe it is useful to think about three different categories of single people:
Some single people are really hurt by the all the stereotyping and discrimination. They know other people judge them harshly for being single, and that makes them feel badly about themselves. Getting left out of social events by their coupled friends makes them feel isolated and lonely. The important question about these single people is: What can we do for them? How can vulnerable singles become resilient?
Some single people are resilient. Despite all of the stereotyping and the stigmatizing, they lead full, productive, happy and healthy lives. It is because of them that the results of the best scientific studies are far more favorable toward single people than we have been led to expect. The important question about resilient single people is: What can we learn from them? How is it possible for some single people to be stereotyped, stigmatized, discriminated against, and ignored, and still live happily ever after?
Singles Who Have Vulnerabilities and Strengths
Conceptualizing single people as either vulnerable or resilient is a heuristic device, and probably too simplistic. More likely, single people fall on a continuum from vulnerable to resilient, or they have distinct sets of vulnerabilities and strengths.
For this third and possibly biggest group, some key questions are: How can single people learn to capitalize on their strengths and not let their vulnerabilities get the best of them? How can specific vulnerabilities be overcome or transformed into strengths?
I’m not offering answers in this blog post, but I am interested in your ideas.