Producers of shows such as The Bachelor don’t want you to know this. Peddlers of dating guides try to keep it a secret. Some of my fellow scholars pretend it’s not true. Even some of your closest friends might contort their faces into expressions of disbelief if you were to suggest it to them. But it is true.
Plenty of single people are leading happy and successful lives.
They are not pining for “The One” or crying into their beer. Instead, they are living their single lives fully, joyfully, and unapologetically — whether they plan to do so for one month, for one year, or for the rest of their lives.
What are the secrets of these happily single people?
I’ve been studying singles for well over a decade, and I think that the happiest and most fulfilled single people have a strong sense of self. They know themselves and trust themselves. Stuck in a matrimaniacal culture — one that is laden with over-the-top hyping of marriage, weddings, and coupling — they are secure enough to know that they can live meaningful and rewarding single lives if they choose to do so — even if they’re open to finding a partner, but just not actively looking.
It can seem so much easier to follow the prescribed path that is supposed to lead to happiness: finding your soulmate as soon as possible and then investing just about all of your time, energy, wishes and dreams into that one person. But what if you decided to forge your own path? What might your life look like then?
Strong, happy, successful single people who resist the relentless matrimania and listen to their own hearts practice these habits:
1. They observe themselves.
That’s an important step toward knowing yourself. Take, for example, the issue of “finding someone.” Do you tell yourself and others that you are interested in finding The One — yet, somehow, take specific steps to do so seems to rank somewhere below cleaning out your sock drawer and deleting old emails? Maybe you just think you should “find someone” because our culture is teeming with such messages, but it’s not really what you want to do. Maybe not now. Maybe not ever. Know yourself. Then honor your sense of what kind of life is the best life for you.
2. They decide for themselves who counts as special.
Maybe they have one special person in their life, but that person is a close friend or a sibling and not a romantic partner. Or maybe they have a whole convoy of important people in their lives, including friends and relatives, mentors and neighbors.
3. They recognize that not everyone wants to be with another person all the time…
…no matter how special that person may be.
4. They know that all of us want to spend some time alone and some time with other people…
…and that the preferred mix of solitude and sociability is different for different people. If they crave plenty of time alone, they give themselves the gift of solitude. If they like lots of time with other people, they create a life filled with togetherness.
5. They know whether they like being self-sufficient.
And if they do, they go ahead and deal with things and make decisions, mostly on their own. A study of more than 100 Americans who were over 40 and had been single all their lives found that self-sufficiency was linked to their well-being. The more self-sufficient they were, the less likely they were to experience negative feelings. For married people, it was the opposite: The more they liked dealing with things on their own, the more likely they were to experience negative feelings. Self-sufficiency does not necessarily imply a lack of interest in different perspectives or opinions. Instead, I think it means that after considering whatever input you find valuable, you ultimately make the decision that feels right to you.
6. They realize that some people are single at heart.
People who are single at heart live their best lives, their most meaningful lives, and their most authentic lives as single people.
7. Single people who do want to marry are wise about what marriage really means.
They do not expect marrying to transform them into something they are not. Studies that have followed the same people over many years of their lives, as they stay single or get married, have produced some remarkable, myth-busting results. For example, 18 long-term studies have shown that getting married does not make people lastingly happier or more satisfied with their lives than they were before. Sometimes there is a honeymoon effect — when you first get married, you feel better about your life than you did before. But that feeling dissipates, and eventually, people feel about the same as they did when they were single. A study of American marriages found that people who had been married more than three years were not any happier, they were not any less depressed, they were not healthier, and they had no higher self-esteem than when they were single.
8. They know what the purveyors of conventional wisdom do not – for many people, single life gets even better with age.
By studying the stereotypes of single people, my colleagues and I learned that most of society tends to think that single people are not very happy, and as they get older, they become even more miserable. In fact, though, many single people become more secure about their lives over time, and they are less buffeted about by the opinions of other people. They may not even think all that much about being single; they are too busy living their lives.