Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

What Does It Mean to Be Single at Heart?

The single-at-heart have different values and experiences

I have been speculating about people who are single-at-heart for some time. Now I can share some of what I have learned from the first 1200 people who participated in this first-ever exploratory study of the meaning of single-at-heart. I described the survey in another post, so here I’ll go straight to the results.

Survey participants sorted themselves into one of four categories:

  • Yes, single at heart
  • Mostly single at heart
  • Mostly not single at heart
  • No, not single at heart

The survey items were meant to separate those who are and are not single-at-heart, and all of them succeeded in doing so. But they did so in different ways. In describing the different types of results below (I through IV), I considered what the majority of people in each single-at-heart category said.

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I. The single-at-heart people (those who answered yes, and those who said they were mostly single-at-heart) and the people who are not single at heart (no, and mostly not single-at-heart) answered in opposite ways:

If you were in a romantic relationship and it ended, how did you feel?” Those who were not single at heart felt mostly sadness and pain. Those who were single at heart were more likely to endorse the answer, “Maybe you felt some pain, but you also felt relieved. The thought of being your own complete person filled you with joy.” The third alternative was, “You have never been in a romantic relationship that was important to you.”

Mostly sadness and pain:

15% among the Yes, single-at-heart

42% among the mostly single-at-heart

73% among the mostly not single-at-heart

86% among the No, not single-at-heart

Relieved:

67% among the Yes, single-at-heart

50% among the mostly single-at-heart

21% among the mostly not single-at-heart

10% among the No, not single-at-heart

Percents for never in an important romantic relationship were 19, 11, 8, and 4, respectively.

 

When you are thinking about making a big change in your life, such as embarking on a new career or moving across the country, which do you prefer?” The alternatives were “Making a decision with your partner, even if that means that you do not pursue your favorite option” and “Making the decision that feels right to you, without worrying about whether a partner would approve, or whether your decision might stand in the way of a partner’s goals.”

The percentages in each category who chose “making the decision that feels right to you” were:

95% among the Yes, single-at-heart

79% among the mostly single-at-heart

43% among the mostly not single-at-heart

28% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

(This next question should have had at least three alternatives instead of two, as many of you pointed out. Such is the value of exploratory studies – the subsequent studies are better.) “Think about the possibility that when you go to sleep at night, there might not be anyone else in bed with you. Or, there may be different people with you on different nights. How does that make you feel?” The alternatives were “You would not like that” and “You are fine with that.”

The percentages in each category who chose “you are fine with that” were:

                        92% among the Yes, single-at-heart

                        76% among the mostly single-at-heart

                        36% among the mostly not single-at-heart

                        22% among the No, not single-at-heart

II. There were two questions for which the answers from the Yes, single-at-heart differed from all other groups, including even the mostly single-at-heart.

How do you feel about searching for a long-term romantic partner?” Alternatives were “Maybe it feels like something you ‘should’ do, but you are not really all that interested” and “The process may or may not be exciting and fun, but a successful outcome would be great!”

 The percentages in each category who chose “not all that interested” were

 84% among the Yes, single-at-heart

37% among the mostly single-at-heart

15% among the mostly not single-at-heart

  6% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

When you have had some minor mishap such as a fender-bender, how do you feel?” The alternatives were “You would be relieved not to have to explain to anyone else why you messed up” and “You want to have a partner to go home to and tell all about it.” [Another lesson from this exploratory research: There should have been an option to tell someone other than a partner.]

The percentages who chose “relieved not to have to explain to anyone else” were

79% among the Yes, single-at-heart

42% among the mostly single-at-heart

22% among the mostly not single-at-heart

18% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

III. There were three questions for which the No, not single-at-heart group differed from all of the other groups, including even the mostly not single-at-heart.

 

Many couples expect to be each other’s ‘plus-one’ for just about every occasion. How do you feel about that?” Alternatives were “You prefer to have more options, sometimes attending events on your own, sometimes with other people, and sometimes just staying home when the event doesn’t interest you” and “You take comfort in having a person in your life who is obligated to be your plus-one when you want to go somewhere, even though you will be obligated to be your partner’s plus-one at events that you might prefer to skip.”

The percentages who said they “prefer to have more options” were

94% among the Yes, single-at-heart

82% among the mostly single-at-heart

54% among the mostly not single-at-heart

38% among the No, not single-at-heart

             

“When you are tempted to allow yourself your favorite indulgence, such as eating junk food or watching trashy TV, how do you feel?” Alternatives were “Delighted to do exactly as you wish, with no one else around” and “You prefer to have a spouse at your side, either to join you in your sloth or badger you to exert more self-control.”

The percentages who chose “delighted to do exactly as you wish” were

98% among the Yes, single-at-heart

89% among the mostly single-at-heart

70% among the mostly not single-at-heart

49% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

When you want to pursue lofty goals, such as eating right, getting lots of exercise, or reading inspiring books, which would you prefer?” Alternatives were “Pursuing those plans on your own or with friends” and “Having a partner who will pursue those plans along with you, or provide an excuse to do something else instead.”

The percentages who chose “pursuing those plans on your own or with friends” were

94% among the Yes, single-at-heart

75% among the mostly single-at-heart

54% among the mostly not single-at-heart

35% among the No, not single-at-heart

IV. More than half of the people in every category chose the same answer, but the percentages were higher among the single-at-heart.

 

When you think about spending time alone, what thought comes to mind first?” Alternatives were “Ah, sweet solitude” and “Oh, no, I might be lonely!”

The percentages who chose “sweet solitude” were

99% among the Yes, single-at-heart

95% among the mostly single-at-heart

76% among the mostly not single-at-heart

56% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

Are you self-sufficient – do you like handling problems and challenges mostly on your own?” Alternatives were No and Yes.

Percentages answering Yes were

95% among the Yes, single-at-heart

86% among the mostly single-at-heart

71% among the mostly not single-at-heart

59% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

If you had to choose between meaningful work that did not pay much or uninspiring work that paid a lot, which would you pick?

Percentages who chose “meaningful work” were

74% among the Yes, single-at-heart

75% among the mostly single-at-heart

69% among the mostly not single-at-heart

63% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

Do you have a sense of personal mastery – a can-do attitude and a sense that you can do just about anything you set your mind to?

Percentages who said Yes were

88% among the Yes, single-at-heart

79% among the mostly single-at-heart

67% among the mostly not single-at-heart

59% among the No, not single-at-heart

 

I’ll be sharing other results in future blog posts here and elsewhere. One of my favorite sets of answers came in response to the question of what else I should have asked. Feel free to offer your suggestions in the comments section, even if you haven’t yet participated in the survey.

Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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