The pressure mounts for many singles. But this pressure is unjustified. Many singles do not feel pitiful, alone, abandoned, or unlucky. They perceive themselves as attractive, articulate, well-educated, handsomely employed—and just happy to live on their very own.
I interviewed 142 singles in Europe and the U.S. and analyzed several large databases for my book, Happy Singlehood. My research showed me that singles are using several strategies to defy social pressure, very successfully.
The first strategy is simple to understand yet quite hard to implement: awareness of social and familial pressure. Happy singles are those who are aware of the social pressure they experience. In fact, awareness was the first step they took to deal with their situation and to confront social pressure. One study found that singles who increased their awareness of potential stigmatization of singles also took steps to validate their self-worth and improve their happiness.
The problem is that many singles do not recognize they are stigmatized, simply because no one talks about singles’ rights. The same research found that only 4% of singles spontaneously listed “singles” as a stigmatized group, and when explicitly asked whether singles were stigmatized, only 30 percent of singles and 23 percent of coupled people agreed. In contrast, 100 percent of gay males, 90 percent of obese individuals, 86 percent of African-Americans, and 72 percent of women acknowledged that their group was stigmatized.
Inner Optimism and Positive Self-Perception
Having a positive outlook was a central theme throughout my interviews and agreed with evidence from other cases on how optimism is important for singles’ wellbeing. This sounds quite obvious, right? But many singles may worry about not having the seemingly “safety net” that comes with spouses and children, and thinking this way only increases the pressure on singles to conform to others’ norms and reduces their emotional wellbeing.
To counter that, there is a need to develop positive thinking that promotes internal assurance and a sense of self-reliance. Although optimism is not something singles can simply turn on in their minds, there are many ways to adopt such positive views. A meta-analysis of 39 studies shows that positive psychological interventions have helpful effects on subjective perceptions of well-being, measured at three and six-month intervals following the intervention. For singles, these practices might be even more beneficial for the development of a positive self-perception exactly because singles’ problem often relates to social pressure. In my study, an unmarried person with positive self-perception reports close to a 30 percent increase in happiness over an unmarried person without positive self-perception.
Choosing Single-Friendly Environments
The happy singles I met were those who found communal living arrangements or supportive environments to fit in, surrounding themselves with other like-minded people. Such environments promote privacy, which allows singles to avoid negativity, while also providing myriad opportunities to connect with others. These singles enjoy numerous social and recreational activities, without the expectation or requirement of having a partner. The creation of single-friendly settings is not limited to the younger generations, and single-friendly networks are also prevalent among middle-aged and senior singles. In places such as Los Angeles, London, and Tokyo it is often considered “cool” to live on your own, regardless of one's age. Many cities join them and are developing more single-friendly environments and opportunities to all age cohorts. As the options for single-friendly environments grow, singles deliberately seek out such safe spaces to improve their self-perception and, consequently, their overall levels of well-being.
Defiance of Discriminatory Practices
Valentine’s Day is only one peak of ongoing social and familial pressures to couple up. Even at work, there are many cases where singles are required to work extra hours because they are assumed to have “no life.” Coworkers often assume that singles don’t have to leave in time because they aren’t rushing home to a partner or family. Of course, no one forbids singles to remain unmarried but the pressure and judgment are sometimes so intense that they feel they must pursue a lifestyle that does not fit their needs.
Yet singles should feel comfortable enough to directly defy such pressure and discriminatory practices. Such an approach is certainly not new to many groups of ethnic or sexual minorities, and rightly so. These groups are often used to fighting for their rights and place in society, and are now receiving recognition by many governments and institutions. Singles may face the same types of pressures to conform and should fight creatively and individually against such practices, advocating for acceptance. The happy singles I met were often able to change others’ perspective by pointing out that there is more than one way to live. Some even called to promote the singles’ movement for independence and freedom to remain unmarried and receive equal treatment.
It often seems that there are many workshops or strategies that are designed with the intention of improving or prolonging marriages and couplehood. For singles, such ideas are fewer and farther between. Considering some of the latest research, it certainly seems like this concept could be very beneficial to singles as well. Addressing the feelings and needs of singles is just as important as addressing those of couples. There is substantial evidence indicating that empowering actions, such as attending a course, participating in a workshop, or taking consulting sessions, can improve the ability to face social pressure more effectively. Empowering singles is not only about feeling good with being single, but also about the ability to contextualize social attitudes and to understand that today's singles are the majority of the adult population in many countries.