Despite what society might try to tell us, being single doesn’t have to be a bad thing - in fact, for some people, it's even better than being paired up, with researchers finding that single life can impart a whole lot of benefits that marriage doesn’t.
In a recent presentation to the American Psychological Association, psychologist Bella DePaulo, pointed to evidence that single people can have richer, more meaningful lives than their married counterparts.
"The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude," said DePaulo, from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life - one that recognises the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful."
One study cited by DePaulo showed that people who are single are often closer to their parents, siblings, friends, neighbours, and co-workers. Another study showed they had a heightened sense of self-determination, and demonstrated continued growth and development as an adult.
DePaulo is now conducting her own research into this topic in the hopes of breaking down “singlism” – the stereotype that single people are somehow less worthy than their married counterparts.
"More than ever before, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them. There is no one blueprint for the good life," she said. "What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives."
Not that being single is a cakewalk. Along with the many benefits, there are also a number of unique challenges faced by single people – whether they're staying that way by choice or otherwise. Not only do single women have to contend with the totally unfair cliché of the single lady with 12 cats instead of a husband, but they're also missing out on significant government benefits, says DePaulo.
"People who marry get access to more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections, many of them financial," DePaulo said of single people living in the US. "Considering all of the financial and cultural advantages people get just because they are married, it becomes even more striking that single people are doing as well as they are."
Even research itself is limited in how it paints a picture of single people. When looking for background research, of the thousands of articles looking at marriage, DePaulo analysed 814 studies where they had used the term “never married”. Most didn’t even look at single people in their own right, using them to instead investigate marriage.
“Only a very small number of the studies were motivated by a desire to learn anything about single people. Typically, single people were the comparison group in studies designed to elucidate something about marriage,” she said.
Further research is needed to help cut through the stereotypes, and there’s no denying that DePaulo is biased when it comes to the advantages of single life – “Always have been, always will be,” she told Ian Johnston at The Independent. But the limited evidence so far shows that being single in no way means you can’t lead a fulfilling life.
It’s 2016 – do whatever makes you happy.
The research was presented at the American Psychological Association's 124th Annual Convention.