With all the “We’re engaged!” pics popping up on social media, it may seem like everyone you know is one half of a happy couple. But if you’re riding solo, you’re in good company: one in four Australians now live alone.
First, let’s get this out of the way: Coupling up does have its benefits. Research suggests that happily married people are healthier than singles and less likely to have chronic diseases than their single peers. However, recent research points to the fact that we’re not all meant for relationships – and the many benefits of staying single. A massive 2015 study from New Zealand found that men and women who tend to avoid conflict and confrontation were happier alone than paired up.
These people belong to a bigger group of folks that psychologist Bella DePaulo, social scientist and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, likes to call “single at heart.” These are people for whom single life is their best, most authentic, most meaningful life, DePaulo says.
Whether you’re consciously uncoupled, living it up as a single guy or girl or trying to find solace until you meet the right person, know there are serious health perks to the single life – both physical and mental.
- You’re totally in charge of your happiness
People in a relationship often assume or expect that their partner will meet their needs – that he or she will take care of certain things, or they’ll figure out any issues together, says Wendy Wasson, clinical psychologist and founder of MySingleSpace, a site devoted to the happiness of single adults. Being single challenges people to be more responsible for their own well-being.
In fact, the stress of problematic partnerships is often from the misplaced expectations that you and your partner should be doing things to make the other happy, Wasson says. If you’re unattached, you avoid this trap since you realise: It isn’t going to happen unless I do it.
Since single people have to be more conscious of their needs, they develop the resources to create their own happiness.
“In the short run, this can be irritating because, yes, it would be nice to just be able to fall back on a partner,” she adds. But since single people have to be more conscious of their needs, they develop the resources to create their own happiness – which will be invaluable for healthy relationships in the future if they decide to couple up.
Finally, remember: Being in a bad relationship can be worse than being alone. People who have ongoing distress in their marriages are less able to enjoy the positive moments of their life, according to a 2014 study. The scariest part? The researchers point out this trait can actually be a precursor for depression – yikes!
- You may be more successful at work
There are a lot of factors that go into how happy you are at work, but without an S.O., you’re freer to pursue your career choices sans constraints, DePaulo says. Meaning: You don’t have to take into account what your partner thinks you should do, what city he or she will be able to find work in or whether you think the job you most want will pay enough for you to pull your financial weight in the relationship. Research even suggests singles may enjoy their 9-to-5 more since they value meaningful work more than married people do.
Of course, it can be dangerous to make yourself too available to your employer or co-workers (i.e. you stay late or work weekends just because you don’t have someone waiting for you at home), DePaulo points out. But having the flexibility to log long hours can certainly pay off if your goal is to move up the ladder fast.
Finally, don’t feel like being single and successful in your younger years means you’ll be single forever – research shows that highly educated women are having kids later in life (after age 40) more now than ever before.
- You have a strong sense of self
“As an adult, your goal is to be autonomous, or psychologically independent,” Deborah Hecker, author of Who Am I Without My Partner?: Post-Divorce Healing and Rediscovering Your Self says. It’s what we often call our sense of self – your identity and your ability to empathise, love, share, control aggression and otherwise form healthy relationships, she explains.
“One of the risks of being in a close romantic relationship is that your sense of self can get merged with your partner’s, to the extent that you could lose sight of who you really are,” DePaulo says. This is less likely to happen to single people: They have a better sense of who they are, in every sense from the most profound (What are your defining values? What really matters to you?) to the more superficial (What are your tastes and your interests?).
Savouring solitude and experiencing things unselfconsciously can teach you what defines you as a person and what brings you happiness. For those who are happier uncoupled, the benefit of this is obvious – you learn how to simply be happy for life. But for those who do want to be half of a whole, discovering this while you’re uncoupled can actually benefit your future relationship. “In order to give selflessly to your partner, you must first have a secure identity that is not threatened by making room for your partner’s needs in addition to your own,” Hecker says.
- You’re more likely to be (and stay) in shape
One UK poll found that among the scarily high number of people not logging the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week, almost three quarters (73 per cent) of them were married. Singles and divorcees were more active.
Why? The obvious explanation is that single people want to be in better shape to attract a potential mate, and while that may be true for some, it’s more likely thanks to avoiding all those other factors that cause you to skip the gym, like forfeiting your evening spin class to get home to make dinner together or trading your Saturday morning run for lazing around in bed with your sweetie. “Many single-at-heart people generally just take better care of themselves, including exercising a lot,” DePaulo adds.
- You’re able to avoid feeling lonely
“There’s no question that loneliness is a dangerous source of stress, but it’s an incorrect assumption that people in long-term romantic relationships aren’t lonely and single people, by default, are,” says Terri Trespicio, founder of online workshop Break-Up 911, for the newly single.
When you’re single and feel lonely, you typically turn to and invest in multiple someones (like friends and family), strengthening your support system and easing your loneliness.
The upside for singles: Because you’re not in a committed relationship, you don’t expect to derive all your needs for human connection from one person, Trespicio says. While no one should really expect that, it’s easy when you’re coupled up to unknowingly fall into that habit – and then find it hard to figure out why you don’t feel fulfilled despite having someone by your side. When you’re single and feel lonely, you typically turn to and invest in multiple someones (like friends and family), strengthening your support system and easing your loneliness.
- You sleep more soundly
Snuggling is great and all, but if your partner disturbs your sleep due to a sleep disorder, different bedtime or simply tossing and turning all night, it can seriously mess up your sleep. “People with obstructive sleep apnoea can make a great deal of noise and are very restless, which can disturb their partner,” says Dr Steven Scharf director of the University of Maryland Sleep Disorders Center. There’s also periodic limb movement disorder (where one flails about in their sleep), REM behaviour disorder (which includes “acting out” dreams), sleep walking, night terrors – the list goes on.
“In many cases, partners in these scenarios end up in separate bedrooms at night because one of them can’t sleep,” Scharf adds. If you’re single, you not only get to sleep in your own bed, but you aren’t forfeiting the endless health perks that come from eight solid hours a night.
- You can create your own routine
Without a partner and the accompanying obligation to someone else’s schedule, you control your time – which means you can create a routine that works for you, Wasson says. And research shows that people with structured schedules – like consistent meal times, bedtimes and events – have a higher quality of life and higher chances of staving off mental illness. Go ahead and start that blog, take that photography class you’ve been wanting to try and keep up your weekly brunch dates with friends.
- You’re more resilient
Yep, you’re tough. Think about it: Singles are making their way and thriving in a society that values and celebrates coupled people, DePaulo says. Plus, regardless of how great your support network of friends and family, you’ve probably learned to handle stress on your own better than someone who has another half. In fact, the RAND Corporation, which has been studying military members wounded in 9/11, found that the wounded warriors who were single were less likely to have symptoms of PTSD, more successful at overcoming injury or illness and less likely to have emotional (i.e. depression) or physical (i.e. obesity) health problems compared to those who were married or divorced.
- You have richer friendships
We’ve all experienced it, either in our own relationships or those of a friend: Couples hang out more and more with each other, and less and less with other people. Turns out there’s actually a psychological term for it – dyadic withdrawal, says Gwendolyn Seidman, associate professor of psychology at Alright College in Pennsylvania.
Studies show singles are more attentive to their siblings, parents, friends and neighbours compared to married people, regardless of whether the couple just started dating or have been together for years.
Why should you care? Well, for starters, lacking social bonds is comparably as bad for your health as smoking, according to a study that found people with fewer close friends were 50 percent more likely to die within the seven and a half years after the study, regardless of age.
Having that group of people you care about and who care about you can be profoundly important, providing potential layers of support instead of investing all of your emotional capital into just one relationship.
Plus, there’s that whole when-shit-hits-the-fan aspect. “The more effort you make with the people in your life and the fuller your life is, the happier and more resilient you will be – whether you ultimately couple up or not,” Trespicio says. And DePaulo agrees: “Having that group of people you care about and who care about you can be profoundly important, providing potential layers of support instead of investing all of your emotional capital into just one relationship.”
- You stress less about money
For women, being single could mean scoring a bigger paycheck. A 2010 analysis found that among unmarried, childless women under 30, there’s actually a reverse gender gap wherein these ladies are earning eight percent more on average (but up to 20 percent more in certain cities!) than guys of the same group.
And while being in a dual-income household can mean more money in the bank, sharing your account with someone else also puts your health and happiness risk. In a 2014 survey, 33 percent of people with combined finances admitted to having lied to their partner about money, while 35 percent had been deceived themselves. Naturally this took a toll on their own well-being as well their relationship: Three quarters said financial infidelity affected their bond in some way, with almost half reporting a resulting argument and one third pointing to a loss of trust in the relationship.
Being on your own financially means there are no surprises when it comes time to make a big purchase, get a loan, or apply for a credit card – and no guilt for whatever you decide to buy with your hard-earned cash (as long as it’s not your entire paycheck!).