Singlehood: Can We Go It Alone?

“You should find yourself somebody,” “Nobody wants 40-year-olds,” “When will you have children?” – many single people face such unsolicited suggestions every day. But what exactly is singlehood and is this lifestyle always a matter of choice?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known use of “single” dates back to the late 1500s. The word comes from the Latin adjective singulus, which means “one” or “sole.” Its contemporary use to denote marital status across various cultures reflects the growing trend to choose a solitary life in developed countries.

Where Do Singles Come From?

The present social tendencies show that the number of people living on their own is increasing. The changes which affect cultures and conventions constantly broaden the tolerance for informal relationships. The strong drive for self-realization in members of individualistic societies makes them get married much later than was customary in the past. Economic reasons also affect the decision to put off marriage or even give it up entirely.

The decreased need to formalize the relationship has its own consequences: a permanent union has lost its status as the key feature of a happy life. The evolving family model gradually departs from the traditional approach shaped by culture and religion. Consequently, some people fulfill their attachment and safety needs in ways which differ from the previously dominant fashion.

So Is Single Life Easier?

Not necessarily. Family meetings or thoughtful friends often cause singles to wish they could hide away. The cultural realities and the widespread expectations towards young people exert strong social pressure. This makes singlehood appear suspicious, stir gossip, and provoke suggestions. Family and friends tend to think that singles must suffer terribly from their loneliness which “obviously” stems from the inability to build relationships.

Singlehood may indeed be caused by life’s problems and crossroads such as a divorce or emotional harm. Otherwise, anyone will feel angry and frustrated when their adult, mature choice is not accepted. Ceaseless questions and pieces of “good advice” create emotional tension and often make singles avoid future social situations which could expose them to similar behavior.

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Certain countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America still maintain the traditional family model and a collectivist cultural model. According to the dominant approach in those societies, the common good is more important than the wellbeing of individuals. The obligation to sustain elderly people still rests on the shoulders of their younger relatives. Children and grandchildren evoke the feeling of safety, hence the conscious (or unconscious) need to put pressure on an “unruly” daughter or grandson.

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The individualistic societies of Northern and Western Europe and North America tolerate singlehood more easily because individual personal growth is their dominant cultural model. It comes as no surprise that the number of single people in those countries increases the fastest.

A Ton of Plusses

Relationships have their price – spouses and partners know this best. Living in an emotional and economic dependency produces a string of challenges which often lead to tensions, conflicts, and crises. Of course, the feeling of closeness and support makes a huge reward well worth its high price. So what exactly are the advantages of singlehood?

Some studies suggest that singles manifest lower stress levels and better cope with difficult situations than people in relationships. Instead of investing time in cherishing the bond and bringing up children, singles can spend it on self-realization through professional career or education. The inherent human desire to feel important and appreciated may be fulfilled through social activity, for which single people actually have more time. Close friends also satisfy emotional needs and are perfect as emergency babysitters (provided that they like children). To sum up, the benefits are many and singles do notice them, persisting in their choice.

A Dash of Minuses

The stigmatization of single people is often the biggest social challenge in their lives and gives rise to many negative emotions. Wishing to avoid them, singles may sink deeper into isolation or loneliness. The threat exists wherever the cultural code calls for an active support by a close person. Diseases, economic problems, or other random incidents expose the lack of a life saver – a partner pursuing the same goal and sharing the responsibility. Despite the conscious choice, critical moments remain a greater challenge to those living on their own.

Climbing the Pyramid

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, traditionally depicted as a pyramid, is a classical theory used as the basis for analyzing human behavior. We know today that fulfilled fundamental needs are not always necessary to proceed to higher-level desires. Safety, for example, lies close to the pyramid’s base, right above the physiological needs such as sleep or food. Self-realization in turn forms the very top of human development.

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Even a quick look at the lives of our own single relatives or friends shows that they have more time and energy to care for themselves and fulfill their needs. Self-realization virtually seems to be at their fingertips. The evolving social model has created opportunities for satisfying the fundamental (“more important”) needs in other ways than just romantic relationships. Still, the ultimate well-being depends on the reason behind living a single life.

Loneliness: By Choice or by Force?

Sometimes singlehood stems from life’s circumstances and has little in common with a deliberate choice. People who have suffered emotional harm in unsuccessful relationships may appear no different than other singles. However, their inability to accept the state of affairs gives rise to the feelings of rebellion, frustration, and sorrow. The inner need to be close, start a family, and thrive as parents clashes with an enormous fear of involvement caused by negative experiences which often come close to a trauma.

The situation of people who wish to obey the rules of their religion becomes additionally complicated. Some of them cannot get married again, whereas marriage is the only form of relationship they accept. Members of LGBT minorities face similar difficulties. Numerous societies stigmatize their romantic relationships and the largest monotheistic religions – Christianity and Islam – classify them as morally disorderly.

First, Be Tactful

The interpersonal relationships of modern society are far more complicated than they used to be a couple of generations ago. This requires tactful behavior which cannot be overestimated. Asking a single sister when she will finally find a man or labeling a colleague at work “a confirmed bachelor” should truly become a thing of the past. Remarks and questions may hurt when they invisibly reopen an old wound. Thus, anyone wishing to call themselves tolerant needs an open and broad mind. Genuine, healthy tolerance thrives on cherished sensitivity and bears the fruit of empathy. Without it, we will merely go back to the social model of cavepeople.

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Translation: Elonora Joszko

Published by

Krzysztof Zaniewski


A careful observer of reality, a musician, who likes philosophical considerations as a hobby, and professionally works therapeutically with children and youth, from whom he draws inspiration and positive energy. The proud owner of the dog Isolde, who is an example of unconditional love. A passionate admirer of Richard Wagner.

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