Crying into a pint of ice cream alone on Valentine’s Day? Talking through your problems with your cat? Taking your mom to your office holiday party?
Hardly. These are absurd stereotypes of singledom — not the reality.
“[Does] getting married result in lasting improvements to mental health, physical health, or any of the other supposed goodies?” asks Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Singled Out. “The answer … is no.”
Marriage and partnership have their perks, but scientists have shown again and again that being single has a long list of benefits.
Here are five big ones:
1. Healthy heart
In a study that followed more than 9,000 middle-aged adults for eight years, rates of heart disease were lowest among those who had never been married. The difference between those who had been married the whole time and those who had been single the whole time was not significant, but those who were “remarried,” “divorced,” and “widowed” — all statuses that can come from getting hitched — were significantly worse off.
2. Fit body
When researchers surveyed more than 13,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 64, they found that the ones who had never been married exercised more each week than those who were either married or divorced. This effect held even after controlling for age. You could argue that single people have more time, are more concerned with keeping up appearances, or are less likely to have children (something a later study pointed to as the real contributing factor), but that would be pure speculation — and the end result is the same.
Another study based in Australia surveyed thousands of women about their level of physical activity. When they followed up four years later, those who had gotten married in the interim were much more likely to be “inactive.”
3. Strong social network
Does it ever seem like friends who couple off suddenly pay less attention to you? That’s because it’s true. “Multiple studies [have shown] that married people are less likely than single people to help, support, visit, and maintain contact with friends, family, and neighbors,” DePaulo writes. The same is true for partners who are unmarried but living together. One study even showed that once people get married, they have less contact with their siblings.
Marriage and cohabitation mean much of a person’s love and attention is focused on one person. Single people, meanwhile, may have more emotional energy to share with friends, siblings, parents — and themselves.
4. No settling
People who can embrace being single are less likely to end up settling for unhappy partnerships, feeling stuck and unfulfilled. One study found that a fear of being single made people much likelier to “settle for less,” prioritizing relationship status over personal happiness. This is especially important because while there’s a stigma against growing old alone, people perhaps have more reason to fear ending up in bad marriages. One study of 1,649 people 65 and older found that “married persons who felt inequitably treated were more distressed than persons who had always been single.”
“Solitude, in contrast to loneliness, is often a positive state — one that may be sought rather than avoided,” wrote two University of Massachusetts psychologists who added that the solo state has been linked to “freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality.” Singles — especially those who live alone — may have more time for solitude and its many psychological benefits. Preliminary research has also suggested that people are more likely to feel good than bad about their alone time, and that we form better memories when we’re by ourselves.