However, recent research shows that some people view singlehood as a happy destination rather than a stop on the journey to marriage.
if you’re single, you can redefine the concept for yourself, according to Elyakim Kislev, an assistant professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: You don’t have to be lonely, and you’re not a failure. Being single can be an advantage instead of a source of agony, he believes.
Kislev analyzed US and European databases and conducted interviews to examine trends in singlehood and what made some singles happy — finding that for some, happiness was a choice lifestyle or something they came to accept.
Identifying the root of loneliness
If you’re going to try to pull yourself out of feeling lonely, identifying the cause of that loneliness is important, according to Kislev. There are differences between chronic loneliness, social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Feelings of, or temporary, loneliness are based on subjective, self-perceived feelings of neglect or “a discrepancy between one’s achieved and desired levels of social relations,” according to experts.
“Being alone does not make a person lonely, but the perception of being alone is what makes one lonely,” Cidambi said.
“It was proven time and again that married people can be very lonely and emotionally deprived within their wedlock, sometimes exactly because they are committed to this one person and gave up on nurturing other connections,” Kislev said. “Instead of facing loneliness at its roots, many people chase partnership only to discover that loneliness is a standalone problem, the cure for which mainly lies within oneself, as researchers have repeatedly argued.”
What makes some singles happy
The databases Kislev used included the US Census Bureau and the European Social Survey. He examined relationship trends in more than 30 countries and conducted more than 140 interviews with single people in the US and Europe — people between ages 30 and 78 who comprised all genders, sexualities and socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
He found key differences between happy singles and unhappy singles, generally dependent upon whether they internalized stereotypes about being single or shrugged them off.
People who were unhappy with being single felt resigned due to reasons including having never found the right person, feeling they might grow old alone or as if they were missing out on life. In contrast, the happy singles enjoyed their solitude, “took responsibility for their lives and were satisfied with their social ties as a substitute for marriage,” Kislev wrote.
Some happy singles’ solitude was also fortified by procuring exciting experiences that can be had outside of a relationship, such as traveling or finding new hobbies. They used their time alone to “replenish themselves” and “be empowered by focusing on themselves in these moments,” Kislev said.
Others Kislev interviewed were happy because they intentionally built robust social circles as alternatives to intimate romantic relationships. They invited their friends to accompany them on outings more and spent more time talking to their neighbors and staying in touch with family.
Widowed, divorced and never-married individuals socialized with their friends up to 45% more frequently than their married counterparts, the research found.
“On average, singles have more friends than married people,” Kislev said. “We see a phenomenon of ‘greedy marriage,’ in which couples turn inwards and forget their friends and relatives. Instead, singles cast a wide net of friends that better support them in all walks of life.”
Some single people did this because, at one point, they were lonely, while others chose this life because they valued the additional time and freedom that resulted from not being attached to a partner or family.
The research also found that in the case of never-married individuals, being more social “gave them the confidence to feel that they did not ‘miss out.’ ”
“Developing quality relationships with people who share similar interests, staying in touch with family and friends and pursuing enjoyable activities are key to alleviating loneliness,” Cidambi said.
“Some may want to be in a relationship, but are unable to find the groove,” Cidambi said. “This can lead to a loss of self-esteem and feelings of loneliness or even depression.”
Some single people in Kislev’s study also found satisfaction in working toward their career goals.
Fulfilling one’s potential and feeling more content with one’s alone time, yet also spending time with friends, helped to raise the self-esteem of those who were either once unhappy being single or who had chosen the solo life for themselves. They realized the opportunity for personal growth that was tied to the time they had alone, the study found.
Being single doesn’t have to feel desolate. During and after the pandemic, singlehood can provide many opportunities to find what you love, make new friends and discover new places — although doing so virtually is safest for now.
“Singles must invest in their singleness,” Kislev said. “It might sound funny, but we must invest in any way of living we choose for ourselves. Exactly like couples invest in their marriage — they go to counselors, read books and have quality time with their partners — singles must do the same in order for them to feel good.”
This is an update of a story first published on February 15, 2020.