Being Single in the 21st Century
First of all, to be single in the 21st century is completely and utterly ordinary. In fact, in the U.S. there are nearly as many adults who are not married as are married. And of those who are unmarried, close to two thirds have never been married. Furthermore, a Pew Research Centre study estimated that by the time today’s young people reach their 50s, about one quarter of them will have been single all of their lives.
Fewer women than ever before are financially dependent on a spouse. Not only is being single no longer as stigmatised as it once was, but it may actually bring value to your life. More than a dozen studies have shown that when people marry, they become no happier than they were when they were single – aside from a short honeymoon period (Luhmann et al., 2012).
Not only are married people no happier than single people, those who remain single may actually derive other benefits from their singlehood. A study of over 10,000 Australian women in their 70’s discovered that lifelong single women who had no kids were more optimistic and less stressed than married women (with or without kids). They were also the most highly educated and volunteered more, had the healthiest body mass index, and were the least likely to be smokers or to be diagnosed with a major illness.
Feeling Left Behind
Many people are now choosing to remain single, no longer put off by the possible stigmatisation, judgement, and unwarranted pity of others. Many people are now actively deciding that they want to live a different life, focus on their career, focus on their interests, rather than searching for ‘the one’ and raising children.
But what about those that are not single by choice. Spending your teens and your twenties with your friends can be a great time with lots of fun and adventures, but what happens when your friends find their own partners and, one by one, they start to cancel on you in favour of focusing on their blossoming relationship.
It’s hard not to feel left out when everyone else is paired off. Suddenly there is a feeling of loneliness or even jealousy. There might be a sense that if you don’t make all the plans to see your friends, you’ll never see them at all – especially once they start to have children and build a family of their own.
Research shows that when couples move in together or get married, they become more insular, and this includes spending less time with their friends. Some couples even forget that the word ‘I’ exists and favour using ‘we’ instead, as in; ‘we’re fine’ as a response to ‘How are you?’
Being single with a group of friends can be a fun time; swapping stories of bad dates, awkward encounters, and near-misses. But when you are the only single friend left, you might suddenly feel like you don’t want to continue sharing these once-funny stories. There can be a dread that your former ally will go home and snigger about these stories with their perfect partner and pity their single friend. This most likely isn’t the case, but it can be easy to imagine after a long period of unchosen singlehood.
As mentioned, many people are now choosing the single life over spending their time searching for ‘the one’. As Sasha Cagen, author of Quirkyalone, puts it, you need to “inhabit singledom as your natural resting state… there is no patience for dating just for the sake of not being alone.”
But how do you live the single life, happily, if you are not actively choosing to be single?
- Immerse yourself in meaningful activities, and live in the now. Happiness in general is more about your mindset and how you spend your time than about your relationship status.
- Recognise that not all of your thoughts are facts. Very often, negative thoughts pop into our heads without us even realising it. Eventually, we can start to believe these thoughts as gospel. But it is important to question these thoughts, look at the patterns, when do these thoughts tend to pop up? What is the opposite of this negative thought? For example if your negative thought is ‘I’m not good enough for that guy’ try thinking something along the lines of ‘I’m not going to settle for a relationship with someone who doesn’t appreciate me’.
- Don’t wait to be in a relationship to pursue your goals. A lot of the time we can be guilty of thinking that our life will begin once we are married or living with our spouse – like we are in some kind of limbo until then. Ask yourself, how would your life change once you are in a relationship? Maybe you would travel more, maybe you would start looking to buy a flat, or maybe you would start thinking about having children. These are all things (with the magic of modern science) that we can start working on without a partner.
- Use your past to inform your future, but not to sabotage it. Bad relationships can stick with us for a long time, causing you to perhaps lose trust in people or to expect the worst in others or yourself. We can also be guilty of looking at the past through rose tinted glasses – we remember the good and forget the bad. It is important not to compare your ex to your current partner or date – they may have different qualities or looks but that doesn’t make one worse than the other. We can, however, use our past to inform our future – think about the qualities in previous partners that you appreciate and those that were red flags for you and adjust your search accordingly.
- Don’t put your date on a pedestal. Thinking that the next date could be ‘the one’ puts a lot of pressure on the date and can make you feel a little crazy. Furthermore, if you desperately want and hope that your next date will turn into a relationship, you can be blinded to some serious red flags.
- Do put yourself on a pedestal.Don’t think that you have to change yourself in order to be dateable. The more that you change yourself, the harder it is to keep up the facade, the more exhausting the relationship becomes, and the more unhappy you will become.
- Tell your friends how you feel. If you are feeling left behind by your friends, it is perfectly okay to express this to them. They may not be able to keep up with your original social routine, especially if they have their own children, but they may empathise with you more.
In many western countries, we are led to believe in a world of meritocracy – that good things come to those who deserve them. So, if we are not in a relationship, we may come to believe that we don’t deserve love, happiness, or companionship. However, it is important to remember that dating is all about compatibility and timing, and waiting for these to be aligned can be exhausting. Furthermore, as discussed in our blog on the impact of dating apps, the overwhelming amount of choice in partner is causing daters to be less tolerant of imperfect dates.
Those of you who are currently single should revel in the fact that you have been selective up until now. There are plenty of unhappy couples in the world who perhaps started their relationship too young, before they knew who they really were and what they wanted in life. You should be proud of not settling for any old relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship. Get to know who you are, what you want in life, and what you want in a partner.
If you’d like to process your feelings about relationships or dating with an experienced therapist – and perhaps explore your relationship patterns – then get in touch. We have sessions available seven days a week at our Clapham and Tooting centres. Contact our team by calling 020 8673 4545 or emailing [email protected]
“Those of you who are currently single should revel in the fact that you have been selective up until now. ” – It’s completely unhelpful to tell people how they ‘should’ feel. It also assumes that people have been selective, which may not be true or how they see it at all.
We apologise if you feel that this blog was endeavouring to tell you how to feel, it wasn’t meant to feel this way. And yes, perhaps people have not been purposefully selective in this way, but there is something to be said for not settling for a relationship that creates unhappiness, whether one is conscious of this decision or not. We take your comment on board and will be more careful with this in the future.
Personally I didn’t take this stance as offensive and trying to see it in Laura’s point of view. I’m 33 and single, so definitely get depressed with my unchosen single hood. A lot of the things said here was very comforting because I could relate on a deep level, like feeling I don’t deserve to be loved or happy because all my friends are married and I’m not. It’s something that really hits my ego hard on a daily basis, especially when my already taken friends are hit on in front of me at the pub/club, and I’m invisible. It just seems to put emphasis on the reason WHY I am single, like being unattractive, short, fat, whatever else I tell myself.
But what you said above about “revel in the fact that you have been selective up until now” is a nice way to think about it. I have chose and settled for horrible partners in the past, instead of dating with intention… but ended those relationships when I knew they were not right for me, so feel like I have been selective on who I date is partially correct here.
I think the most painful experience for those who have been single for a very long time as we get older is the feeling of “this will never end” and panicking that we will never “meet the one”. It’s a hard concept to get over when we are surrounded by happy couples and spend the holidays alone. Sometimes it is the feeling of “missing out” or not joining the “happy couple club”, so this is particularly hard for single-adults who had envisioned what their life *should* look like. For example, married by 30, kids, house and gorgeous husband… yet reaching 40 and this hasn’t happened has a very negative affect on personal desires. Furthermore, I personally do not wish to have children so my biological clock is not ticking in that regard, but being single in my mid-30’s and not married by now has made me feel somewhat ‘worthless’ and ‘undesirable’. Something I am trying to work on and reading articles like this can be very helpful.
At the end of the day, we all want to feel loved, appreciated and desired.
We are so glad that you found this article helpful and that it has given you some new angles with which to approach this area of life. It can be really difficult to move away from the *shoulds* in life, can change one’s perspective on dating and can lessen the anxiety and pressure that we can feel with dating and planning out our lives to the letter.
Women in the old days were very old fashioned, which is why it was very easy finding love back then. Today, not so easy for many of single men really trying to find love now.
Thank you for reading and commenting on our blog. It can indeed be quite difficult to navigate the changing world of romantic relationships, and we wish you luck in your endeavour to find love.
Hi, I never been married and I have no kids. I’m an extrovert, who was always on the go, until this Pandemic. Now, I’m suffering with loneliness. I’m looking to join a support group of women who’s over 55 and who’s going through what I’m experiencing.
Any directions you can give me?
Hi, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry that the pandemic has had this impact on you. I’m sure there are many extroverts out there also suffering from the sudden stillness. I’m not sure where you are based and so can’t suggest specific groups, but it is worth having a look at the Mind website as they often list local support groups.
Being single is certainly no fun at all, especially for many of us men that really hate it. And it is certainly much worse when the holidays come around.
Thank you for reading and commenting on our article. Being single can certainly feel lonely and the holidays don’t help. We hope that this article is helpful in moving forward and embracing being single until the right person comes along.
My bf left me at 20 when I was pregnant. My son is now 13 and I am 34. Been single this whole time and I am broken beyond belief. The pain of this loneliness is so overwhelming that I just sob and sob in bed at night. I don’t know how to be okay or happy about being single. Haven’t been on a date in 5 years and the last date was just stupid and disappointing. I wish I could be helped.
Hiya, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment on this post, and so sorry that you are going through a hard time. When someone leaves at such a pivotal time it can be such a loss and something that we need to grieve before we can move on. It is often said that we need to be alright with being alone before we move forward with a relationship, but I know that this is often easier said than done. Have you considered seeking out counselling to fully process the loss of that relationship and to be able to move forward (perhaps into the dating world) more healthily and confidently?
I’m 26 and never been on a date in my life. i have anxiety and no ones ever asked me out before. i‘m very stressed these days and fearing for my future.
Hello, and thank you for taking the time to leave us a comment. Dating can be a stressful and anxiety-inducing activity, particularly with the rise of dating apps which has only increased during the pandemic. However, it doesn’t have to be. I would question whether you have to necessarily “go on a date” to enter into a relationship with someone. Sometimes the best relationships come from more organic beginnings such as friends or colleagues, building into a more romantic relationship. Saying this, it might be worth exploring how your anxiety and increased stress levels might be impacting this area of your life as well. Good luck, and thanks for reading.
Hi am choice i have been trying to date different people but it doesn’t work, so it makes me feel like i am the mistake, I don’t really know what to do but i just really wish I could get some one to make me smile everyday just because i call her my own
Hi Choice, thank you for leaving your comment on this post. Dating is difficult and can be disheartening at times, but it is important to remember that just because someone else isn’t right for you, doesn’t make you wrong or a mistake, it just means that you weren’t a good match. There are plenty of people out there and you will find the right person for you. If you work on being authentically yourself and happy within yourself, you will find someone who complements you.
I live in the UK. Been married before once but now and will never be in a position to get married. Had a dead end job for years which I am about to lose. Will be almost impossible for me to get another job even a rubbish one. Was struggling to pay the bills and mortgage as it was and the house has lots of problems. It will be repossessed. How to cope with the loneliness for the rest of your life when you dont have hardly any friends either.
Hi Imran, thank you for your comment, and sorry to hear that you are going through such a tough time. It is difficult to create new friendships and relationships at the moment, as the pandemic has most people sticking to what they know, however, there are people out there who are creating opportunities for us to meet new like-minded people. If you look at your local area’s resources, you will likely find some opportunities for building community with like-minded people.
Yeah being single isnt the best and you do tend to put yourself down. And as you get older dating becomes harder too. But i alway try to think about the days i enjoy my own company relaxing watching a great movie., just really thoes days that your content with your self. It really helps
Hi Stacey, thank you for your comment and your positivity! This is a really great way of looking at it as your relationship with yourself will impact any relationships with others, so it is important to work on yourself as a priority. Thanks Stacey!
Nice article, but it doesn’t make single people feel any better. I am 42 years old female and am still single, never had relationship, married and I know it is too late to have kids. For me I have come to the point of depression and grief over what I am missing out on and feeling the loss of never having the family I wanted.
It’s impossible to be a happy single once you have reached a certain age especially knowing that people way younger than you are experiencing love and sex and your not. CUTS you to the bone.
Hello, and thank you so much for taking the time to respond to our blog post. I understand that you are not happy being single and that you are grieving the loss of that future that you had wanted. There are people who are single by choice and enjoy the independence of being single and not tied to another person, but not everyone does enjoy this when what they truly wanted was a relationship and family.