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Why So Many Men Stay Single

Self-assured and attractive, but there are things they won't give up.

Key points

  • Many daters are reluctant to take relationships to the next level if it involves sacrificing autonomy and independence.
  • For men, self-esteem is a significant predictor of being married or single by choice.
  • For men and women, self-ratings of desirability do not directly predict marital status.
itayverchik / Pixabay
Source: itayverchik / Pixabay

As I addressed in a previous post,i there are various reasons men and women prefer to fly solo. But especially after a particular age, single men face unique questions.

People often speculate they must fear commitment, have been betrayed in a prior relationship, or have some type of personality disorder. Research indicates, however, that the explanation may be far more straightforward.

Single by Choice

Notwithstanding the proliferation and popularity of dating apps, it is also true that many people enjoy the freedom and flexibility of single life.

Even many daters are reluctant to take relationships to the next level if it involves sacrificing autonomy and independence. Indeed, we all have friends who lead fulfilling lives, who seem perfectly content keeping romantic relationships at arms-length, often to the dismay of partners seeking greater intimacy.

We tend to psychoanalyze relationship-reluctant individuals as if something was “wrong” with them. What happened to them in the past? Were they abandoned in childhood? Did an ex-partner betray them? We also stereotype men as more likely to be gun-shy regarding relational intimacy or walking down the aisle.

Sometimes, relationship reluctance is indeed due to a past betrayal or broken heart. Other times, however, it is simply due to personal preference. According to research, for self-assured men, in particular, singlehood signals success and satisfaction.

The Significance of Self-Esteem

Menelaos Apostolou and Rafaella Philippou (2022) explored the effects of self-esteem and desirable traits on the decision to remain single.ii They distinguished between involuntary singlehood, defined as people who would rather be in an intimate relationship and those who are single by choice. They investigated the link between possessing valuable traits that people prefer in a partner and self-esteem on singlehood status.

They found that self-esteem was a significant predictor of marital status for men. Higher scores correlated with a higher probability of being in a relationship or single by choice rather than involuntarily single. They found no such link between self-esteem and marital status for women.

The Deception of Desirability

Apostolou and Philippou also looked at the impact of desirable traits on relationship status. They noted that, as referenced in current literature, such traits include intelligence, good character, appearance, social status, and resource acquisition potential. The researchers observed that people who lack such qualities would find it harder to attract and retain intimate partners.

However, Apostolou and Philippou found that generally, for both genders, self-ratings of desirability did not directly predict marital status. However, some traits had significant indirect effects on men, the largest being “good looks,” where higher scores were linked with higher self-esteem, which was associated with a higher likelihood of being in a relationship or single by choice.

Avoiding Stigma or Stereotype

When considering the agenda, aspirations, or relationship potential of single men, especially men who have aged out of their younger years, we recognize that we shouldn't stereotype or stigmatize. But we also should recognize the potential absence of ulterior explanations for resisting relationships; some self-assured men are simply single by choice.

Facebook image: Kues/Shutterstock



[ii] Apostolou, Menelaos, and Rafaella Philippou. 2022. “What Predicts Involuntary Singlehood: Investigating the Effects of Self-Esteem and Having Desirable Traits in a Greek-Speaking Sample.” Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, June. doi:10.1037/ebs0000299.supp (Supplemental).

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