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The One True Love That Protects You From Loneliness

Sometimes another person is not the best protection against loneliness.

Key points

  • People who are "Single at Heart" are not embracing the standard script for adult life, the one that puts a romantic partner at the center of it.
  • Authenticity is at the heart of what it means to be Single at Heart.
  • The Single at Heart love their time alone and do not buy into the narrow-minded view that single people are alone in the world.

Those single people who love being single–what are they really like? I’ve been studying people powerfully drawn to single life for many years. I call them "Single at Heart." For them, single life is their best, most authentic, meaningful, fulfilling, and psychologically rich life. They are not single just because they had bad dating experiences, because they have “issues” or any other negative reason. They love what single life has to offer.

I created a quiz, “Are You Single at Heart?” to better understand what it means to be Single at Heart. More than 17,000 people (and counting) from more than 100 nations have answered the quiz questions. I also asked people who identify as single at heart to share the stories of their lives with me.

In most ways, the results of my studies matched what I had anticipated. For example, people who are Single at Heart love their freedom. They love getting to curate their own lives. They want to be the deciders, deciding about the little things in their everyday lives (like what to eat or when to sleep) or the big, life-altering choices.

They like welcoming whomever they want into their lives and however many (or few) people they want without defaulting to the conventional script of building their life around a romantic partner who expects prioritization above everyone else. They like deciding for themselves about the place of children in their lives. They enjoy intimacy on their own terms–that’s a big plus, too.

The One Surprising Finding: The Overwhelming Love of Solitude

I expected to find that people who are Single at Heart love their solitude. But I was blown away by just how defining a characteristic this desire turned out to be. In the quiz, one of the questions asks, “When you think about spending time alone, what thought comes to mind first?” Among people who scored as clearly not Single at Heart, a solid majority, 59 percent, said that they worried about being lonely. But among those who score as clearly Single at Heart, nearly every one of them–98 percent!–chose the other alternative, “Ah, sweet solitude!”

I asked the dozens of Single at Heart people who shared the stories of their lives with me how important it was, if at all, to have time to themselves. Every one of them said it was important. With great emphasis, some said it was extremely or hugely important. Several said it was like breathing.

When I first started studying the solitude findings, I thought they meant that people who are Single at Heart are mostly all introverts. That turned out not to be true. Disproportionately, yes, they are introverts, but a few are extroverts, and some describe themselves in other ways (e.g., ambivert; “introvert who can be social if she needs to;” “depends on the situation”).

Discovering the research of Thùy Vy T Nguyễn and her colleagues was a revelation. As I’ve discussed previously here at “Living Single,” in their research program, those social scientists found that introversion was not a particularly important predictor of appreciating solitude. Sure, many introverts cherish the time they have to themselves, but extroverts, too, who are outgoing and sociable, can enjoy their own company and like having some solitude.

What mattered more was authenticity. On personality tests, authentic people agree with statements such as, “My actions are congruent with who I really am,” and disagree with statements such as, “I believe certain things so that others will like me.” The people who were true to themselves were most likely to seek out solitude for positive reasons–because they valued it and enjoyed their own company, and not just because they had been rejected or didn’t have any friends, or were too insecure around other people.

Authenticity is at the heart of what it means to be Single at Heart. People who are Single at Heart are not embracing the standard script for adult life, the one that puts a romantic partner at the center of it and is valued, respected, celebrated, and privileged. They are staying true to themselves, and that makes all the difference.

In solitude, you are face-to-face with one person: yourself. That’s a more desirable, meaningful, and fulfilling place to be if the person you are with is who you really are. Being true to yourself is heartening. Trying instead to live the life that other people think you should lead, a life that doesn’t suit you, is unsettling; you don’t want to be alone with that person.

Loving solitude is not inconsistent with enjoying the company of other people. In fact, some are at their best with other people when they have gotten their full measure of solitude. What is important is not the absolute amount of time you have to yourself but whether you have the mix of time to yourself and time with others that is right for you.

Why the Love of Solitude Is So Powerful

After a longstanding preoccupation with loneliness, social scientists have begun to study the potential benefits of solitude. Spending time alone, they have suggested, can be good for rest and relaxation, freedom from the pressures and wishes of other people, creativity and spirituality and good mental health, and thinking deeply about what you really want your life to be.

For people such as the Single at Heart, who embrace their single lives despite all the relentless messaging insisting that no one really wants to stay single, their love of solitude is a superpower. All those things people say to scare single people away from their single lives? They don’t work with people who cherish their solitude. “You’re going to be alone!” the fear mongers say, with horror in their voices. Um, yes, we hope so, say the Single at Heart! We love our time alone and do not buy into the narrow-minded view that single people are alone in the world. We know better.

“You’re going to grow old alone!” Nope, you can’t scare us with that one, either. We hope we will continue to have our cherished time to ourselves as we grow older.

When other people face extended solitude for the first time and struggle with it, people who have always appreciated their time alone are relatively unfazed. During the pandemic lockdowns, for example, the Single at Heart defied all the dire predictions about the special suffering of single people. They already knew how to be alone, benefit from their solitude, and stay in touch with others.

In later life, the Single at Heart are not dismayed and disoriented by the time–and the life–they have to themselves, the way the newly single, divorced, and widowed people sometimes are. They’ve been investing in their single lives all along. They’ve mastered being single. They flourished while single when they were younger and continue to thrive as they grow older.

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