- Despite what many think, the pandemic has not changed many people's views of single life.
- Many singles today are not interested in a relationship or even going on a date.
- Contrary to the popular opinion that there's something "wrong" with single people, many singles lead happy, fulfilling, full lives.
In 2019, before the pandemic, the Pew Research Center discovered something remarkable. In their national survey of single people in the U.S. (not married, not cohabiting, and not in a committed romantic relationship), half of those single people said that they were not currently looking for a romantic relationship or even a date. I summarized and discussed that report previously here at Living Single.
Overall, the pandemic has not changed single people’s interest in finding a romantic relationship.
A few months ago, in February 2022, the Pew researchers again contacted a national sample of single people (same definition) and asked whether the coronavirus outbreak had made them any more or less interested in finding a committed relationship.
Averaging across all 2,616 single people in the survey, the single people said that the pandemic just didn’t matter very much. About 6 in 10 (59 percent) said that it made them no more or less interested in finding a committed romantic relationship than they were before. About the same percent said that they were now less interested (10 percent) as the group that said that they were now more interested (11 percent). (The other 20 percent said the question did not apply to them.)
There were some differences for different categories of single people. Age mattered. Single people who were 30 and older more often said that they had become less interested in finding a romantic relationship. The biggest difference (though still not all that large) was for single people between the ages of 30 and 49. Thirteen percent of them had become less interested, compared to the 9 percent who became more interested. Of the younger single people between the ages of 18 and 29, 22 percent said that COVID had made them become more interested in finding a romantic relationship, compared to 10 percent who said it made them less interested. Still, as was true for every age group, more than half of the youngest singles, 55 percent, said that COVID did not make them any more or less interested in finding a committed romantic relationship.
Overall, among both the men and the women, the exact same percentage, 59 percent, said that COVID had not made them any more or less interested in finding a romantic relationship. (No other gender categories were included in the report.) There was a difference, though, in those who became more interested: More of the men (15 percent) than the women (8 percent) said they had become more interested. There was little difference in becoming less interested: 10 percent of the women and 9 percent of the men said they were now less interested in finding a romantic relationship. (The others said the question did not apply: 24 percent of the women and 16 percent of the men.)
Why weren’t these single people interested in a romantic relationship or even a date?
Once again, in 2022, as in 2019, the Pew researchers found that many single people were not interested in finding a committed romantic relationship or even a date. But why?
The researchers presented the single people with six possible reasons. In response to each, they could say that it was a major reason for not wanting a romantic relationship or a date, a minor reason, or not a reason:
- Just like being single
- Have more important priorities right now
- Too busy
- Feel like no one would be interested
- Feel like I am too old
- Concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus
The number-one reason why single people do not want to unsingle themselves is that they like being single. In fact, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) gave that reason (44 percent said it was a major reason, and 28 percent said it was a minor reason).
The second most important reason why single people weren’t interested in a romantic relationship or even a date was that they had more important priorities. More than 3 in 5 single people (63 percent) gave that as a reason (42 percent said it was a major reason, and 21 percent said it was a minor reason).
All the other reasons were far less important. For example, only 17 percent said that the most negative reason (“feel like no one would be interested”) was a major reason why they were not interested in trying to find a romantic partner or a date. Another 21 percent said it was a minor reason, for a total of 38 percent, compared to the 72 percent who said that they just liked being single.
The reasons for not wanting a romantic relationship or even a date have not changed much since the pandemic.
The share of single people in 2019 who said that they just liked being single, and that was a major reason for not wanting to unsingle themselves, was 44 percent, exactly the same as a few months ago, in 2022. (In the report from 2019, the graph showing the reasons for not wanting a romantic relationship or even a date only included the major reasons and not the minor ones.)
Having more important priorities was endorsed as a major reason by 47 percent of the singles in 2019, compared to 42 percent in 2022.
As in 2022, in 2019, all the other reasons were endorsed by far fewer people. For example, 17 percent said that a major reason they were uninterested in pursuing a romantic relationship or a date was that they felt like no one would be interested—the identical percentage who said that in 2022.
Of course, the Coronavirus reason was not included in 2019, but a few others were included only in that year. Each of them—no luck in the past, not ready after losing a spouse or ending a relationship, health problems make it difficult—was endorsed as a major reason by fewer than 20 percent.
The findings shatter stereotypes and challenge worldviews.
It sounds so simple and so straightforward—many single people are not trying to unsingle themselves because they like being single. And yet, that finding—replicated almost exactly in two different national surveys of single people, from before the pandemic and in early 2022—is profoundly significant. It shatters the stereotypes of single people that have been documented again and again, those inaccurate beliefs that single people are miserable or lonely or that they have “issues,” and that’s why they are single.
Many people are invested in the belief that single people are miserable and lonely and, in so many other ways, just not as good as those coupled people. That’s what makes that way of thinking more than just a set of beliefs—it is an ideology. People care about it. They want it to be true. Wendy Morris and I call this the Ideology of Marriage and Family. It offers a seductive promise—find “The One,” commit to The One, and you will be set for the rest of your life. You will live happily ever after. (Here’s what really happens.)
Morris and I found that people are so invested in believing that single people can’t possibly be truly happy that they refuse to believe them when they say they are happy. Other scholars have found that single people who want to be single are judged more harshly than those who are pining for a partner. Happy single people challenge people’s stereotypes and threaten their cherished worldviews. That sort of thing is rarely welcomed.
Not so long ago, Pride parades popularized the slogan, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” Single people who want to be single don’t have our own parades, but we are here, too, and our numbers are likely to keep growing, so people better start getting used to it.
Some single people are making an even bolder statement. People who are Single at Heart don’t just like being single—we love it. Single life is our best life—our most authentic, meaningful, and fulfilling life. It is, for many of us, a psychologically rich life. We embraced our single lives before the pandemic and during the pandemic. Popular culture can inundate us with its matrimaniacal messages all it wants, but we’re not buying them. We’re just not going to unsingle ourselves.
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