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Why Certain People Love Being Single

Getting the perspective of those who live it and love it.

Key points

  • There are many benefits to single life, starting with the freedom to arrange one's life based as one wishes.
  • People who are happily single cherish solitude and use it to restore their energy and pursue their passions.
  • Happy single people often use their freedom to attend to the people in their lives who matter most.
Krakenimages com/Shutterstock
Source: Krakenimages com/Shutterstock

The Census Bureau marks the third week of September as Unmarried and Single Americans Week. One of the reasons why it is so important to focus on single people (and not just for a week) is that so many of the assumptions about single people come from the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be coupled. We need a whole new mindset that sees single life from the perspective of people who want to embrace their single lives, whether for the moment or for life.

When we think about single life in the usual way, from the perspective of people who just assume that everyone wants to couple up and that coupled life is superior to the single life, then we end up with stories about those poor single people and their lesser lives. When we instead consider what is great about being single from the perspective of single people who like being single and back our stories with scientific research, then we have a new and empowering way of thinking about single life.

We have our freedom.

Single people, especially those who live alone, are the captains of their own ships. In their everyday lives, within the limits of their resources and opportunities, they get to arrange everything as they like it. That includes things like deciding what to eat, when to sleep, whether to exercise and eat right or just watch Netflix and chill without getting the side-eye from anyone else.

That’s just the small stuff. In deeper and more meaningful ways, too, people who love being single use their freedom to do what really matters to them. That could mean pursuing passions, leaving a lucrative position to have a life that is more fulfilling, or being there for the people who mean the most to them when they are most in need.

Valuing freedom is sometimes dismissed as crass and selfish. Pundits wag their fingers and warn that individualistic values will only make us miserable in the end. But that’s not what the research shows. Analyses of data from more than 200,000 people from 31 European nations showed that people who embrace values such as freedom, creativity, and trying new things are happier. That’s true for people who are married and people who aren’t. But single people get even more happiness out of their valuing of freedom than married people do.

We are more connected—if we want to be.

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, single people are “alone” and “unattached,” and they “don’t have anyone.” Piles of research stand in utter defiance of those stereotypes. Typically, single people are more connected to more different kinds of people. They do more to stay in touch and to be there for the people in their lives. People who move in with a romantic partner or who marry tend to become more insular, research shows.

I like to say that coupled people have "The One," while single people have “the ones.” I think it is even better than that. We have our freedom, and that means we can value as many different people as we like—or as few. Some single people don’t want big social networks or circles of friends. What’s great about being single is that you can curate the kind of life that works best for you.

We get to value and prioritize the people we care about.

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, a romantic partner is the most important adult in your life, someone who should be valued above all others. That way of thinking is called amatonormativity, and single people who like being single just don’t buy it. If we want to value our friends, relatives, mentors, or anyone else who matters to us, then we do. And I mean deeply value, not just have in our lives in some casual way, though that’s fine, too. And don’t try to tell us that single people cannot be securely attached; research has demolished that assumption, too.

We cherish our solitude.

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, single people are lonely. But single people who like being single, especially people who are single at heart and love the single life, embrace solitude. They get a lot out of it. They protect it like the precious resource it is. Maybe that’s why the most sophisticated analyses show that people who live alone are typically less lonely than people who live with others.

Loving the time we have to ourselves is the superpower of people who are single at heart. We are rarely lonely when we are alone. It is hard to frighten us by saying that we are going to end up spending a lot of time alone. It would be scarier to suggest that there could come a time when we cannot get all the solitude we want.

We figure out how to get things done.

A hot topic among people who study couples is the matter of who does what tasks and chores. In the jargon, that’s “division of labor,” and for couples, it can be quite the source of angst and conflict. It is true that single people who live alone have to do everything themselves, or else find other people to hire or to help them. But we’re not fighting with anyone about who does what. And in the process of figuring out how to get things done, we develop skills that last a lifetime. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, in later life, people who have been single for a long time do so much better than expected.

We have our happiness, and we value authenticity and psychological richness, too.

From the perspective of people who are coupled or who want to be, there is hardly anything more important than happiness, and you get to be happy by getting married or coupled. By 2012, there were already 18 long-term studies showing that people who marry do not become lastingly happier than they were when they were single. Now there are even more.

Single people have their happiness. A happy life can be a good life. But so can a psychologically rich life. It is possible, though more research is needed, that people who are single at heart are especially likely to have a psychologically rich life.

People who choose to be single are not taking the easy way out. Our lives are not celebrated the way coupled people’s lives are, and in the U.S., we are locked out of a whole mountain of benefits and protections given only to people who are legally married. Some people who might like to live single, in some places, face even more formidable obstacles. But by living single when we can, we are living authentically. The rewards of living authentically may not be material, but they are meaningful and life-enhancing.

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