While it’s wonderful to be in a happy and healthy relationship, the misconception that women who are single cannot thrive or be happy alone is one that needs to be dismantled, pronto. These stigmas only encourage women to get into toxic relationships without taking the time necessary to heal. They place undue pressure on young women to settle just in order to have a partner rather than waiting for one who truly fulfills their needs. They also deter women who are simply happier being single from accepting themselves fully without a sense of guilt or judgment.
Society depicts single women as people who are missing something from their lives. Rarely do single women get the luxury of being seen as freedom-loving, joyful, fulfilled and complex as single men are. Unlike single men who are praised for being lifelong bachelors, single women are usually asked, “Why are you still single?” and instead interrogated about their romantic prospects until the end of time. Their achievements, social networks, passions, hobbies and personalities usually take a backseat to conversations about their relationship status, which is lauded as the end-all, be-all of their lives.
Research, however, suggests that single women are no less fulfilled than those who are coupled. In fact, in some cases, they are happier. Here are the findings:
1. Turns out, single women are happier than they’re stereotyped due to the very nature of what relationships require of them.
Heterosexual single women were found by a new report to be happier than heterosexual single men and were less likely to venture out to find a relationship even while single (Mintel, 2017). The reasons? Despite progress towards equal rights, women still continue to do more emotional labor and domestic labor in relationships. They also tend to have more alternative social networks than men to look towards for support such as healthy friendships.
Being single is less likely to “harm” heterosexual single women in the sense that it might provide some freedom from the emotionally laborious task of being in a relationship – and no matter what, single women know how to utilize their support networks to fulfill their social needs.
2. Single people are more resilient and resourceful due to the fact that they had to be.
This is especially true in terms of how they use their solitude. They are much more confident overall in doing solo activities – which allows them to develop a sense of independence that enriches all facets of their lives.
Since they don’t overly rely on anyone else to get any of their needs met, they have a heightened sense of self-determination and are more likely to experience a sense of continuous growth and self-development. Harvard-trained social psychologist Dr. Bella DePaulo (2013) writes:
“We hear all about how single people are supposedly at risk for becoming lonely, but little about the creative, intellectual, and emotional potential of solitude… We are told that single people do not have the intimacy that married people find in their partners, but hear only crickets about the genuine attachment relationships that single people have with the most important people in their lives.
Missing from the stacks of journal articles is any sustained attention to the risks of intensive coupling—investing all of your emotional and relationship stock into just one person, “The One”—or to the resilience offered by the networks of friends and family that so many single people maintain.”
3. It can be just as healthy to be single – literally.
Single women can be just as psychologically and physically healthy, if not more, than their coupled counterparts. In fact, many of the studies on marriage praising its resulting life satisfaction are biased towards emphasizing those who stayed married, rather than those who later divorced or became widowed. People who stayed married actually only had a slight increase in happiness shortly after marriage due to a “honeymoon effect,” which after a few years reverted back to their original level of happiness before the marriage.
Meanwhile, those who got divorced reported increased life satisfaction after the initial despair (presumably due to their exit and healing from a toxic relationship), though they were not as happy as they were prior to getting married in the first place.
The myth of “marital superiority” is clearly one that can look better on paper than in real life. In general, those who were happiest before they were married remained that way after marriage – which suggests that marriage itself was not the sole conduit for that joy.
“If you are not already a happy person, don’t count on marriage to transform you into one. If you are already happy, don’t expect marriage to make you even happier…finally, if you are single and happy, do not fret that you will descend into despair if you dare to stay single. That’s not likely either.” – Dr. Bella DePaulo, Singled Out, How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, Ignored, And Still Live Happily Ever After
In addition, the reported health benefits of marriage that have been lauded are not necessarily due to marriage itself. DePaulo (2013) points out that marriage gives one access to more than a thousand federal benefits and this advantage leads to better health care. However, research indicates that single women can lead healthy, active lives as well. One Canadian study of more than 11,000 people revealed that lifelong single people had better overall health than married people, while an Australian study of more than 10,000 single women found that they had far less diagnoses of major illnesses, had lower BMIs and were less likely to smoke than married women.
Rather than pointing to marriage as the primary source of happiness, it would be perhaps more accurate to say that happy single women – those who derive their joy from within – are just as psychologically and physically healthy, if not more than their coupled counterparts.
So Now What?
It appears from these findings that it is the social stigma of being single, rather than being single itself that is the problem. Since women are socialized to derive their self-worth from their relationship status, many single women can feel affected by societal pressures and judgment to evaluate and compare their lifestyles to their married friends, coming away feeling ‘less than’ even if they love their careers, are financially abundant, and have thriving social lives. This pressure can be so immense that otherwise happily single people may feel coerced into sustaining toxic partnerships that actually make them unhappier long-term, just to achieve a sense of “normalcy” in their societies.
This is especially true in cultures where young women are pressured to get married and marriage is considered an integral part of their social status. Even if they have nourishing, fulfilling lives, single women may feel that this pressure and judgment detracts from their overall sense of joy. They may feel excluded from events and holidays that extol coupledom, or feel shamed by their peers who perpetuate these pressures. However, as this stigma lessens, the possibility of leading a satisfying life regardless of one’s relationship status becomes that much more powerful and accessible. That’s why it’s so important to continue to dismantle the harmful stereotypes of what it means to be single and celebrate singlehood just as much as we celebrate marriage.
Regardless of whether or not someone plans to have a serious relationship in the future, the fact of the matter is, a period of singlehood can be a fruitful time for anyone no matter what their gender. Singlehood is a life-saver in that it grants individuals the creative space to develop their dreams, to explore the world and to build their identity without the interference of another person – something they may not be able to do without as much duress if they do choose to be in a relationship in the future. The ability to be successful, independent and joyful no matter what your relationship status is should be seen as a gift and an asset, not a curse.