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Don’t Even Try to Shame Millennials, Gen Z for Being Single

Tinder asked six ways, and every time young adults said they liked being single.

Source: Ivanko80/Shutterstock

For generations, single people have gotten the message about what they are supposed to think of their lives. They are supposed to be ashamed of being single. They’re supposed to feel miserable and isolated and desperate to marry. Well, guess what? There’s a new generation of young people afoot, and they are just not buying it.

Tinder recently released the results of its survey of 1,036 young, single adults, ages 18-25, under the apt title, “Single not sorry.” Participants were asked whether they thought living single was good for them, whether they ever made a conscious choice to live single for a while, why they were currently single, how being single made them feel, and whether they thought they were more open to new experiences when single than when in a romantic relationship, among many other questions. The results were among the most affirming of single life that I have ever seen.

Here are 6 striking findings from the survey.

1. Young adults believe that living single is good for work, friendship, fitness, hobbies, and unique experiences.

When the young adults were asked, “Do you think that being single benefits you in a positive way in other parts of your life (e.g., your career, friendships, etc.)?” an overwhelming number — 81 percent — said yes.

When asked to indicate the specific parts of their lives that benefit from being single:

  • Half of them (50 percent) said they got to be more dedicated to their work.
  • 46 percent said they got to make new friends.
  • 45 percent said they could dedicate more time to personal fitness and wellness.
  • 44 percent said they could take up new interests or hobbies.
  • 43 percent said they could try new or unique experiences.
  • 32 percent said they could travel to new places.

2. Young adults are making a conscious choice to live single for a while.

When asked, “Have you ever made a conscious decision to be single for a period of time so that you can focus on other things in your life?” nearly three-quarters (72 percent) said yes.

Asked about the specific reasons that led them to choose to be single for a period of time, young adults’ answers suggested that they were putting their single years to good use. More than half (55 percent) said they wanted to prioritize themselves and their own needs. The other responses were more specific.

  • 45 percent wanted to focus on their career.
  • 41 percent wanted to focus on studying or getting a degree.
  • 35 percent wanted to spend more time with family or friends.
  • 27 percent wanted to focus on a specific hobby or interest.
  • 27 percent wanted to focus on personal fitness goals.
  • 22 percent wanted to learn a new skill or hobby.
  • 14 percent wanted to travel or vacation for an extended period of time.

3. Being single makes young adults feel many positive things (independent, happy, adventurous, empowered, proud) and a few negative ones (lonely, sad, frustrated).

When asked, “How does being single make you feel?” more of the young adults — 52 percent — said “independent” than anything else.

More of them said that being single made them feel happy (32 percent) than sad (25 percent).

More than a quarter (27 percent) said that being single made them feel adventurous. More than a fifth (22 percent) said it made them feel empowered, and 18 percent said it made them feel proud.

Nearly half (49 percent) said that being single made them feel lonely. That’s nearly identical to the number of 18-to-22-year-olds in another recent survey who said they felt lonely (48 percent); the participants in that survey were people in all relationship statuses, not just single people, and the question they were asked did not mention single status.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the Tinder survey participants said that being single made them feel frustrated.

4. When asked why they are currently single, young adults endorsed positive reasons much more often than negative ones.

The Tinder survey explored seven possible reasons why young adults were currently single. Two of them were negative, and those ranked near or at the bottom (5th and last).

The reason the young adults endorsed most often — 40 percent — was that they do not want to settle: “I won’t settle for the wrong person, but I’m open to meeting a potential long-term partner.”

The next three most popular reasons were even more unambiguously positive:

  • 33 percent said they wanted the freedom to focus on their personal life or career.
  • 31 percent said they enjoyed the freedom of not being in a romantic relationship.
  • 26 percent said they wanted to enjoy the journey and adventure of being single while they are still young.

Two of the reasons for being single were negative:

  • 25 percent said dating was too stressful or difficult.
  • 13 percent said that seeing others in relationships puts them off.

One other reason some of the participants gave for being single (22 percent) was wanting to date lots of people.

Earlier this year, much to its disgrace, an academic journal published a study supposedly addressing the question of why men stay single. Their evidence? One misogynistic thread from Reddit, full of one-upmanship and goading. As I explained here at Psychology Today, that’s not science. That’s an embarrassment. Tinder, which obviously is not an academic institution, did much better. When Tinder asked a more diverse and definable group of people, in a less loaded context, why they were single, they got the results you see here.

5. Young adults believe that single people are more open to new experiences and more fun than people in romantic relationships.

The survey participants were asked how open to new experiences and how much fun they were when single compared to when in a romantic relationship. They were also asked the same questions about others. Every time, more than half judged single people more positively than people in romantic relationships.

  • 62 percent said that single people are more open to new experiences than people in relationships.
  • 58 percent said that they, personally, were more open to new experiences when single.
  • 55 percent said that single people are more fun to hang out with than people in romantic relationships.
  • 51 percent said that they, personally, were more fun when single than when in a relationship.

6. Half of the young adults said they have sometimes felt uneasy about the idea of being in a long-term relationship.

When asked, “Have you ever felt uneasy about the idea of being in a long-term relationship?” 50 percent said yes.

When asked what made them feel uneasy when thinking about settling down in a romantic relationship, the concern endorsed most often, 54 percent, was “settling for someone for the wrong reasons.” Participants also worried about “missing out on someone better” (38 percent).

The other worries that people had about settling down into a romantic relationship were about the aspects of their single life that they would miss by doing so:

  • 46 percent worried about losing their sense of independence.
  • 43 percent were concerned about having less time to spend on their personal interests or hobbies.
  • 39 percent feared that they would become less fun and more boring.
  • 34 percent were concerned that they’d end up spending less time with their friends or family.

Who were the survey participants?

The survey participants were in some ways a diverse group. For example, in addition to the 51 percent who were white, 24 percent were African-American, 15 percent Hispanic or Latino, 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders, 2 percent Native American or American Indian, and 2 percent were in other groups. As for their sexual orientation or gender identity, even asexuals were included (6 percent), in addition to the heterosexuals (67 percent), bisexuals (14 percent), gay and lesbian (9 percent), and 2 percent in other categories.

In an important way, though, the group was not diverse: The survey targeted people who were actively dating. People who love their single lives and have no interest whatsoever in dating were not included. I think that makes the very affirming perspectives on single life that emerged from this survey even more remarkable.

There was more

The survey also produced fascinating sex differences, some of them stereotype-shattering. There were also interesting findings on how these young adults think the media and society portray single people. I will write about those results in the future.

Bottom line: Do these findings change everything?

After generations of single people feeling bad about being single — or at least thinking they should feel bad — here are new generations of young people who do not seem the least bit shamed about their single lives. They are choosing to be single — at least for a while. They recognize all the ways their lives can be expanded and enhanced while they are single. Sometimes they feel lonely or frustrated or sad, but they feel independent more often than they feel lonely, they feel happy more often than they feel sad, and they feel adventurous more often than they feel frustrated. Sometimes they even feel empowered and proud. Today’s 18-to-25-year-olds like themselves better when single than when in a romantic relationship — at least in the two ways they were asked about: They are more fun when single and more open to new experiences. When they describe uneasiness about the idea of being in a long-term relationship, often it is because of what they would miss from their single lives, such as their sense of independence and the time they get to spend with their family or friends when they are single.

I’m tempted to say: This changes everything. Finally, we have a cohort of single people that just isn’t going to swallow the narratives that try to shame them for being single or the life lessons that insist that to feel good about themselves, they need to marry.

I don’t know if I can say that yet. It is just one study. I want to wait to see if other studies find something similar. But I do think these results are promising.

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