An increasing number of people around the world are opting to go solo. The number of American men and women who have never been married, are divorced or living alone has been on an upward trend for several years, according to the US Census Bureau.
Despite the fact marriages or relationships are less common these days, being single continues to have stigma and feelings of loneliness attached, no more so than on Valentine’s Day. Feeling of loneliness among singles not yet having found “the one” still abound.
However, recent research shows that some people view singlehood as a happy destination rather than a stop on the journey to marriage.
The research by Dr. Elyakim Kislev, professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found that if you’re single, you can redefine the concept for yourself: 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.
“The fact is that many societies see tremendous growth in the single population and we need to change this image we have that being single means you are frustrated, less worthy or abandoned,” said Kislev, author of the research presented in his book “Happy Singlehood: A Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living.”
Kislev believes there are ways to turn feelings of loneliness into the ability to feel empowerment and joy at any stage of your life.
Identifying the root of loneliness
If you’re going to try to pull yourself out of feeling lonely, it’s important to identify the cause of that loneliness, according to Kislev. There are differences between chronic loneliness, social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Chronic loneliness is defined as loneliness or social isolation that occurs over a long period of time and affects your mental and physical health, according to the American Psychological Association. It can “increase the risk of developing [health problems such as insomnia and heart disease], psychological distress and behavioral problems,” said Dr. Indra Cidambi, medical director focused on mental health and addiction treatment at the Center for Network Therapy in New Jersey.
Feelings of, or temporary, loneliness are based on subjective, self-perceived feelings of neglection 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.
Previous research has shown that married people can be just as lonely and unhappy as their single counterparts.
“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 United States and Europe – people between ages of 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 found pleasure in their solitude, 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; spent more time talking to their neighbors and staying in touch with family.
The findings showed that widowed, divorced and never-married individuals socialized with their friends up to 45% more frequently than their married counterparts.
“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 studies have shown that people in relationships can have higher levels of self-esteem, but that may only happen if the relationship is well-functioning, stable and at least lasting for a year or longer – otherwise, that self-esteem has been shown to tank, a 2017 study found.
“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, 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.
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Being single doesn’t have to feel desolate, and it can provide many opportunities to find what you love, make new friends and discover new places.
“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.”