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The Fear of Being Alone, FOBA

Fear of being alone (FOBA) may end up in life-changing mistakes and we must recognize it and fight its consequences. As cynical as it appears to use another person to assuage our fears, for many people, it is a major reason to find a partner and marry.

A research team from the University of Toronto conducted seven comprehensive and complementary studies to examine how the fear of being alone affects the incentive to marry.

Their findings show that 40 percent of respondents feared not having a long-term companion and another 11 percent feared growing old alone. This fear, their studies show, may have led respondents to marry and settle for partners who were lower-quality on one or more levels (e.g. emotional support, intellectual comparability, or physical appearance). Moreover, they found that it was a major reason for reaching out to exes and trying over and over again to recover an already broken relationship.

The fear of being alone often coincides with the fear of aging alone, as people are usually overly pessimistic about their future and buy into the many myths about growing old and aging.

A Pew Research study shows that 57 percent of the population between the ages of 18 and 64 anticipate memory loss in old age, while only 25 percent of those ages 65 and above actually experience it (the gap remains among all age cohorts: 65-74, 75-84, and even ages 85 and older). Furthermore, while 42 percent expect serious illness in old age, only 21 percent of people aged 65 and above actually experience the same. All in all, young people appear to fear being physically vulnerable in old age more than elders actually experience it.

The School of Life just published a great clip on this issue (you can view this below). They list several reasons why we must fight FOBA. I picked five:

  1. FOBA can lead us to some very wrong choices in selecting our partners (or even entering into a relationship in the first place—not all of us really need to). Because of FOBA, we simply may not wait for the right candidate or may not realize we feel better when we are on our own.

  2. Having FOBA, we may not advocate for our needs and could be at the mercy of someone who fears loneliness less. If our partner feels we have nowhere else to go, the imbalance between us only grows. This way, we only become more miserable over time.

  3. FOBA is one of the parents of FOMO (fear of missing out). Those who have too lightly signed away their freedoms will always look sideways and wonder what they missed. This is simply because they are not truly satisfied with what they have.

  4. FOBA may also mean we won’t get to know ourselves well enough. The constant presence of ill-fitting companions can stop us from exploring ourselves, our feelings, and our ideas in a way that true solitude allows.

  5. FOBA may lead to us choosing mediocrity in other aisles of life—not only in relationships. Once we give up on something that we really want, we may get used to giving up and settle on other things in our lives, simply because we get used to lowering our expectations.

Indeed, my own study reveals that not only do partnered people feel lonely in surprisingly high numbers, but that long-term singles are oftentimes better equipped to deal with loneliness later in life. Following these findings, and based on the interviews I conducted, it is clear to me that singles can be—and often are—happy and satisfied with their lives. Ultimately, there's no need to rush into the wrong relationship because of FOBA.

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