The Key Characteristics of People Who Enjoy Being Single

Lifelong single people have psychologically healthy personalities.

Posted Feb 11, 2019

Is there a personality profile of single people? Do single people have certain personality traits or characteristics that distinguish them from people who are coupled or married?

We like to think of personality as something that is fairly consistent over time, though that is not always true. From that perspective, the single people most likely to have distinctive personalities are those who stay single.

Not all people who stay single have chosen to do so. Similarly, some people who are married or coupled wish they weren’t, but stay in their romantic relationships anyway. Those considerations suggest a different way of looking at personality: What are the personalities of people who feel positively about single life or aspects of single life (such as having time alone), regardless of whether they are single?

To answer all of these questions, I’d prefer to see studies based on large, nationally representative samples of men and women, of all ages. Here, I’ll share the relevant results, even if all my ideal criteria are not met.

Dejan Dundjerski/Shutterstock
Source: Dejan Dundjerski/Shutterstock

The Personalities and Characteristics of People Who Stay Single (Lifelong Singles)

They are more optimistic.

A study of more than 10,000 Australian women in their mid-70s found that the lifelong single women with no children were more optimistic than the married women, with or without children, and the previously married women, with or without children.

They experience more personal growth.

A study of young and mid-life adults in the U.S. compared lifelong single people to consistently married people over a five-year period. The people who stayed single were more likely than those who stayed married to agree with statements such as, “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, changing, and growth.”

They experience more autonomy and self-determination.

The same study found that the people who stayed single experience more autonomy and self-determination. They are more likely to agree with statements such as, “I judge myself by what I think is important, not by the values of what others think is important.”

Their feelings of personal mastery are not greater, but they get more protection from negative feelings out of their personal mastery.

Lifelong single people are no more likely to experience personal mastery — a can-do attitude, a sense that you can do just about anything you set your mind to — than married people. But single people get more out of that attitude. Both single and married people who experience more personal mastery are less likely to have negative feelings, but the protection from those feelings is even greater for the lifelong single people.

The findings were from a nationally representative U.S. study of lifelong heterosexual singles who were at least 40 years old and were not cohabiting. They were compared to married people who were at least 40 years old.

Their level of self-sufficiency is not greater, but their self-sufficiency protects them from negative feelings, whereas married people’s self-sufficiency puts them at risk.

The same study showed that the preference for self-sufficiency — wanting to handle things on your own — was no different for the lifelong single people as compared to the married people. However, whereas self-sufficiency served the single people well (the more self-sufficient they were, the less they experienced negative emotions), it put the married people at risk (the more self-sufficient they were, the more they experienced negative emotions).

They are less extraverted.

A study of nearly 7,000 Wisconsin adults in their mid-50s found that those who had been single all their lives were less extraverted than those who were married.

Their level of self-esteem is exactly the same as for people who are married.

In a survey of representative national samples from more than 30 European nations, the people who had always been single (and had never been in a domestic partnership) had levels of self-esteem that were identical to those of the married people.

They value freedom more.

A survey of more than 200,000 people from 31 European nations (as analyzed by fellow Psychology Today blogger Elyakim Kislev) showed that lifelong single people valued freedom more than married people did. These findings, though, were not specific to lifelong single people. Divorced, widowed, and cohabiting people also valued freedom more than married people did.

The Personalities and Characteristics of People Who Are Single at Heart

People who are single at heart feel that single life is their best life, even if they are not currently single.

They have a greater sense of personal mastery — a can-do attitude and sense that they can do just about anything they set their mind to.

This is a more robust finding than the one reported above for lifelong single people. Those people did not experience any more personal mastery than married people — they just got more out of their mastery. When we look at people for whom single life is their best life — the single-at-heart — we find that they have a greater sense of personal mastery than people who are not single at heart.

They are more self-sufficient — they like handling problems and challenges mostly on their own.

The patterns are the same for self-sufficiency as for personal mastery. Lifelong single people don’t differ overall from married people (though lifelong single people are protected from bad feelings by their self-sufficiency, whereas married people are put at risk). People who are single-at-heart, however, are more self-sufficient than those who are not single-at-heart.

The Personalities and Characteristics of People Who Are Unafraid of Being Single

A series of studies identified, and then examined, people who are unafraid to be single. They are people who disagree with statements such as, “I feel anxious when I think about being single forever,” and “If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel that there is something wrong with me.”

They are more open-minded.

They are more original, curious, and imaginative.

They are less neurotic.

They are less likely to be tense or moody or to worry a lot.

They are more agreeable.

They are more considerate, kind, and trusting.

They are more conscientious.

They are more reliable, organized, and thorough.

They are more extraverted.

When we compared lifelong single people to married people (see above), we found that the singles were less extraverted. But when we instead compare people who are unafraid to be single to those who are afraid to be single, those who are unafraid are more extraverted.

They are not overly sensitive to rejection.

They are not particularly likely to expect to be rejected, and they are not especially anxious about the possibility of being rejected.

They do not get their feelings hurt too easily.

They do not have a particularly high need to belong.

They are less likely to agree with statements such as, “I need to feel that there are people I can turn to in times of need.”

If and when they are in romantic relationships, their self-esteem doesn’t depend on how that relationship is going.

The Personalities and Characteristics of People Who Like Spending Time Alone

German adults were the participants in two studies in which the “desire for being alone” was assessed. People who like being alone agree with statements such as, “I like to be completely alone,” and disagree with statements such as, “I feel uncomfortable when I am alone.”

They are more open-minded.

They are more original, curious, and imaginative.

They are less neurotic.

They are less likely to be tense or moody or to worry a lot.

They are not any more or less agreeable than people who do not like spending time alone.

They are not any more or less extraverted than people who do not like spending time alone, but they are less sociable. (The extraversion scale and the sociability scale measure similar things, so I don’t know why the results are different.)

The Personalities and Characteristics of People Who Are Not Currently Coupled

In a series of small studies of middle-aged German adults, people who were currently romantically coupled were compared to people who were not currently in a romantic relationship. The participants either described themselves on the various personality scales, or they were rated by the experimenters or by other people in the study who interacted with them, but did not know their relationship status.

If all we know about a group of people is that they are (or are not) currently in a romantic relationship, we should probably assume that their approaches toward single life are much more varied than if we were looking at people who had stayed single their entire life, or people who are single at heart or unafraid to be single or who like spending time alone. Accordingly, the results revealed no significant differences on various traits and characteristics. It is telling, though, that the single people did not score any worse than the coupled people.

Their level of self-esteem is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

The comparison of lifelong single people to married people in a survey of more than 30 European nations (described above) showed the same thing.

Their level of agreeableness is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

Similarly, as noted above, people who like spending time alone are no more or less agreeable than people who don’t like alone time. People who are unafraid of being single, though, are more agreeable than people who are afraid of being single.

Their level of conscientiousness is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

People who are unafraid of being single are more conscientious than people who are afraid of being single, as mentioned above.

Their level of neuroticism is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

People who like their time alone and people who are unafraid of being single are less likely to be neurotic than their counterparts.

Their level of social skillfulness is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

Although this is not a personality trait, it is perhaps worth noting that their level of physical attractiveness is no different than it is for people who are coupled.

Conclusions

The personality profile of lifelong single people suggests good psychological health. They are optimistic; they experience more personal growth, as well as more autonomy and self-determination. They also value freedom more. Overall, they do not experience any greater personal mastery or self-sufficiency than married people, but they get more out of their feelings of mastery and self-sufficiency in that they are more protected from negative emotions.

Some lifelong single people wish they were coupled, and those people are likely to have different personality profiles than the people who choose to stay single. What if we zero in on people who seem to like single life, or aspects of it, regardless of whether they are currently single or have been single all their lives? What do their personality profiles look like?

In most ways, they are even more psychologically healthy. People who are single-at-heart have a greater sense of mastery and self-sufficiency. People who like spending time alone are more open-minded and less neurotic. People who are unafraid to be single are also more open-minded and less neurotic. They are also more agreeable, more conscientious, and less sensitive to rejection. They do not get their feelings hurt too easily, and if and when they are in a romantic relationship, their self-esteem does not depend on how that relationship is faring. They also do not have a particularly strong need to belong, which may or may not be a positive characteristic, but probably serves them well.