People who spend lots of time on their own get a bad rap in modern society. We tend to think of them as sad, lonely or even slightly suspicious; “keeps herself to herself” is never a positive accolade, after all.
But, argues social psychologist Bella DePaulo, there’s a difference between people who are forced to be alone through rejection and exclusion, and “true loners” who simply enjoy their own company.
In a new piece for Psychology Today, DePaulo examines evidence for badass personality traits that go hand-in-hand with the latter category; people who relish solitude, and actively seek it out.
As a sub-category, this includes people who are unafraid of being single, and whose self-esteem, “when they are in romantic relationships... does not depend on how those relationships are faring”.
These kind of people agree with the statement, “when I am alone, I feel relaxed” and disagree with the statement, “I feel anxious when I think about being single forever.”
To examine the personality traits of people who love being single or love being alone, DePaulo looks at two landmark studies: Stephanie Spielmann’s “Fear of Being Single” survey and the “Desire for Being Alone” scale, developed by Birk Hagemeyer and his colleagues.
Both studies analysed five personality traits:
- Neurotic: tense, moody, worries a lot
- Open: original, curious, imaginative
- Extroverted: Outgoing and sociable, talkative, assertive
- Agreeable: considerate and kind, trusting, cooperative
- Conscientious: reliable, organized, thorough
“If our stereotypes about people who like being alone were true, then we would find that they are neurotic and closed-minded,” DePaulo writes. “In fact, just the opposite is true. People who like spending time alone, and people who are unafraid of being single, are especially unlikely to be neurotic.
“People who like spending time alone, and people who are unafraid of being single, are also more likely than others to be open-minded,” she adds.
In fact, these kind of personalities score well on all five traits; they are agreeable, conscientious and “not overly sensitive to rejection”. In addition, people who are not scared of being single “on the average, have more friends than married people do, and do more to maintain their relationships with their friends, neighbours, siblings, and parents”.
DePaulo notes that not everyone accepts this, since “people who like being single, who choose to be single, are threatening cherished worldviews about what people should want”.
But, she adds, “as more and more people openly embrace their single lives, maybe things will change”.
Main image: Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murray/Amazon