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The 3 Main Reasons People Stay Single

Research reveals 3 reasons people forgo romantic partnerships.

Key points

  • Little to no research has previously been done on examining why people remain single.
  • In one study, participants were interviewed or given structured questions asking them to indicate why they remained single.
  • In the second, men and women indicated which of 76 reasons would be most likely to keep them single.

The fictional trope of the 'cool uncle' is a common one, consisting of an ever-single man, adored by his nieces or nephews, who is often attractive and, despite eagerly dating, has no immediate plans to marry. Other tropes of singledom in Hollywood (and in fiction generally), however, exist, painting a detailed picture with a cast of vast characters, ranging from the hopeless suitor whose love is unrequired, to the widower, to the old maid. While these tropes exist in the land of make-believe, why do people stay single in the real world?

In a 2017 study titled 'Why people stay single: An evolutionary perspective," published in Personality and Individual Differences, a researcher, unable to "locate in the literature any studies which examine the reasons that drive individuals to stay single" sought to find out by conducting two studies. In the first, 30 participants (15 men, with an average age of 33, and 15 women, with an average age of 31) took part in in-depth interviews which asked participants for different reasons that led them or would lead them to stay single. Not all participants in this group were single; in fact, 41% were married, 24.3% were in a relationship, 23.7% were single, and 11% were divorced. Simultaneously, 122 participants (62 women, with an average age of 25.8, and 60 men, with an average age of 28.5), completed open-ended questionnaires which asked them to note the reasons that led them or would lead them to stay single. In this group, 28.5% of the participants were married, 27.1% were in a relationship, 25% were single, and 14.4% were divorced. The coded responses comprised a list of 76 reasons people remained single, grouped into 3 main categories:

Freedom of choice

  • To be free to flirt with whoever I want
  • So that I can have many casual relationships
  • To have a freer sexual life
  • To have more choices
  • So that I can go out more often
  • I am not the family type
  • I have not accumulated enough experiences to commit to a relationship
  • In order not to get bored
  • So as not to feel under pressure
  • So that I have more time to spend with my friends
  • To be able to go wherever I want without needing to answer to anyone
  • I fear that my negative aspects will be revealed
  • I would not have to worry about where my partner is and what he/she is doing
  • So that I have fewer obligations
  • I do not want to have a family
  • Commitment scares me
  • To avoid the responsibilities that a relationship entails
  • I do not like commitment
  • To avoid jealousy
  • My financial situation prevents me from having a relationship
  • So that I do not have to answer to anyone about what I am doing
  • So that I can be myself
  • I do not want to lose my freedom
  • I do not tolerate restrictions
  • So that I can dress the way I want without having to answer to anyone
  • I like to have my own space
  • I am doing well right now
  • I worry that a relationship is going to be damaging for my career
  • I have different priorities
  • To focus on my career
  • To be free to chase my own goals
  • I move often so it is not easy to keep a relationship
  • I prefer to be alone
  • I do not feel the emotional need to start a relationship
  • I got used to being alone

Constraints

  • I need some time to decide about my sexual orientation
  • Due to my sexual orientation
  • I cannot have children
  • I am not doing very well in the sexual domain
  • I am grieving
  • Sometimes I face sexual difficulties
  • My relationship may not be socially acceptable
  • I want to devote my attention to my children
  • I have children from a previous relationship
  • I have a serious health issue
  • I have a disability
  • I believe that I am too old to start a relationship

Difficulties with relationships

  • I recently broke up
  • I am afraid that I will be disappointed
  • Due to bad experiences from previous relationships
  • I am afraid that I will get hurt again
  • I feel that I need some time alone
  • I do not trust others
  • I do not trust easily
  • I am afraid that my partner will cheat on me
  • I am afraid that my partner will stop loving me
  • I am afraid that the relationship will fail
  • Love scares me
  • Change scares me
  • I go through a period of intense stress and anxiety
  • So that I will not be alienated from my friends
  • I cannot find someone interesting
  • I do not have enough time to devote to a relationship
  • I am not willing to make compromises and concessions
  • I do not feel ready to start a relationship
  • I am shy
  • I do not know how to start a relationship
  • I fear rejection
  • I am not good at flirting
  • I do not feel confident
  • I am afraid that what I will give to the relationship will be wasted
  • I am not good in relationships
  • I believe that nobody wants to be with me
  • I cannot find the right one
  • I believe that being relationship will not make me happier than I am right now

In the second study, 1096 participants were given a three-part survey asking them first to rate each of the 76 reasons given on a 5-point scale on how likely each reason was a factor or a potential factor for them. In the second part, their personality was measured, and lastly, demographic information was collected. The second study found that women gave higher scores to certain factors than men, including having bad experiences from previous relationships and being afraid of changing, while men found conflict avoidance and wanting to be free to flirt as greater reasons for remaining single. For the majority of factors, age played a role, meaning the older the participant, the more likely they were to give higher scores to reasons, with the exception of 'I want to be free to flirt around." Participants who scored higher in openness and extraversion scored constraining variables as higher, while those who scored high in conscientiousness scored these elements lower.

References

Apostolou, M. (2017). Why people stay single: An evolutionary perspective. Personality and Individual Differences, 111, 263-271.

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