“Well, at least it is better than being in a bad relationship.” If you are single, maybe you’ve heard that one from friends or family members who are coupled. Sometimes that offering is well-intended, but it is also grudging. People who say things like that make single life seem like the sad, pitiful choice you would make only if your only alternative was a lousy romantic relationship or marriage.
For plenty of single people, such as those of us who are single at heart, that’s not at all how we feel. Single life is our first choice. Committing to a conventional marriage or romantic relationship would be our idea of settling.
For single people more generally (not just the single at heart), being single isn’t just better than being in a bad romantic relationship. Research shows it is also better than being in an ordinary relationship – one that is not bad at all.
It is not just the people in your everyday life who offer reassurances about single life that sometimes ring hollow. So do credentialed people with platforms, people who should know better.
Consider, for example, a blogger who wanted to reassure single people that they should not feel shame about their single status. He made some arguments that could have been reasonable – for example, pointing to the value of friends. But I cringed at the way he did it. Here’s an example of something he said:
“The learning, growth, and joy of a marriage or partnerships can offer extraordinary blessings. But whether or not we’re in a partnership, friendships can add an important dimension of satisfaction to our life.”
Reading that did not assure me that he truly values single life. If it is not clear why, try one of my favorite ways of revealing the assumptions behind a claim – reverse it. In this case, switch “marriage or partnerships” with “friendships”:
“The learning, growth, and joy of a friendship can offer extraordinary blessings. But whether or not we’re in a friendship, marriage can add an important dimension of satisfaction to our life.”
Do you think a happily married person would feel flattered by that sentiment?
I have spent the last several decades of my life standing up for single people. I don’t think our lives are second best and we should not accept those kinds of depictions. I’m a social scientist, so it is important that my position is not just my personal opinion but is based on scientific research. (Even if research did not affirm the strengths of single people, though, I would still want single people to be treated fairly and respectfully.)
Reading that blog post about the “extraordinary blessings” of marriage, compared to the “important dimension of satisfaction” added by friendship, inspired me to put together a collection of my favorite research-based arguments for single people and single life. If you click “The benefits of being single – for single people and for society,” you will find articles, blog posts, books, podcasts, talks, and other resources that offer affirming, empirically-grounded, perspectives on single life. Take a look and maybe bookmark it for the next time someone says something condescending about single people.
That collection is on the same page as dozens of other collections on various aspects of single life. The most recent ones in addition to that one include “Gender differences in living single, marrying, divorcing, remarrying, bereavement, and living arrangements” and “Personalities and types of single people.”