Latest Study: Single People Do NOT Have Attachment Problems (Part I)

Latest study: Single people do NOT have "issues" with attachment

Posted Jan 05, 2009

There's breaking news, and this time it is good: Single people don't have "issues" with attachment. In a study published in the latest issue of the journal Personal Relationships (described below), there were three attachment criteria, and single people did just as well as coupled people on all three.

• First, single people were no more likely than coupled people to feel anxious about rejection or abandonment.

• Second, they were no more likely than coupled people to try to avoid intimacy or interdependence.

• Attachment figures are people we like to be near in times of need, and who provide comfort and support in times of stress. That leads to the third criterion, the number of such people: Single people had about the same number of attachment figures as coupled people did.

The findings underscore what I have been trying to convey in Singled Out and here in this blog. Single people are not alone. Even when they live alone, they are not emotionally isolated. They have people in their lives who are important to them - people they like to be with, people who are there for them when they most need someone.

Single people, rather than having romantic partners as attachment figures, may instead develop secure attachments to friends, siblings, other relatives, or other categories of people. We should, once and for all, stop describing single people as "unattached."

Apparently, another study has reported similar findings, though I can't read it in my usual careful way (or at all, for that matter) because it is in Hebrew. In her thesis, Sharon Eisinger found no differences in the attachment styles of single and married people (all of whom were over the age of 30). She also found that singles were no more likely than married people to have maladaptive schemas.

This is important. If there is a Holy Grail in relationship research, or in developmental psychology, it may well be attachment. Initially, the main topic of attachment research was the child's attachment to her or his mother. The study of adult attachments came later, and (surprise!) at first focused primarily on attachments to romantic partners.

All across the lifespan, the nature of your attachments - whether they are secure attachments or insecure ones (anxious or avoidant) - is believed to be vitally important. In fact, there are probably thousands of published studies of attachment, most attesting to the importance to all of us of having a person (or persons) who is a safe haven in times of trouble. So if we can truly take attachment issues off the table as something to pin on single people as some sort of tragic flaw, then that's something we all should know.

That's the good news.

About the Study

Participants were 69 single and 73 coupled people, ages 25-55. The singles were recruited using ads placed in newspapers in Sacramento, CA. "Single" was defined as "not in a committed relationship for the past three or more years and not likely to become committed in the near future." The single participants were asked to nominate coupled people who might participate.

All of the measurements were taken at one point in time; it was not a longitudinal study. Participants completed a series of questionnaires, then they participated in a face-to-face interview. During the interview, they discussed topics such as their childhood relationships with their parents, their ideas about why they are single (or partnered), and how they handle stress.

The title of the article is "Attachment style and long-term singlehood." It appeared in the December 2008 issue of Personal Relationships, Vol. 15, pp. 479-491.

Preview of the Next Post: How the Authors Resisted Their Own Singles-Friendly Findings

What I'm going to do in my next post is to look at the subtext of the article (the one in English). I'll show how the authors seemed almost disappointed to have found that singles were not attachment-deficient, and how they presented their findings in ways that, to me, were not entirely even-handed.

In my opinion, many relationship researchers have invested all of their intellectual and emotional stock in romantic relationships, and they are resistant to the conclusion that plenty of single people may be doing just fine.

As part of the next post, I will look closely at a particular excerpt from the article. Here it is, if you want to start anticipating my points:

"Future studies should more directly examine the determinants of long-term singlehood because adult attachment measures did not indicate that a particular form of insecurity is largely responsible (although this may be due to the reluctance of extremely avoidant people to get involved in our study, which required self-selection rather than random sampling among all adults). The hints in the data that single people experienced more troubled childhood relationships with parents compared to coupled people suggest that some aspect of relationships with parents might be partially responsible for long-term singlehood in later life." They then go on to add that insights from future research "should prove useful for clinical work with single adults and for those adults' own self-understanding."