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Single, secure and satisfied: the new science of being alone

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Anna Brech
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A new study has identified an emerging group of people who are single as “a secure personal choice”

 With single-person households on the rise around the world and more of us choosing to live single than ever before, researchers have identified a “third pathway” to being single.

In a new paper reported by Psychology Today, academics led by Melbourne professor Christopher Pepping look at the attachment habits between three forms of “long-term singlehood”.

And one of these groups is people who are “single, secure and satisfied”.

In this emerging model, “long-term singlehood may not reflect difficulties in relationships but may instead be a secure personal choice whereby attachment needs are met in relationships other than romantic pair-bonds,” say the researchers.

In other words, these are the people who are choosing to live single. 

They’re not alone because they haven’t found the right person, or because they’re too fussy or have attachment issues.

They simply - gasp - are content being alone.

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Now, to anyone who is happily single, the identification of this group may be eye-rollingly obvious.

But, in a world where many of us are still implicitly taught that “settling down” into a relationship is the “right thing” to do, it’s still an important distinction.

After all, until recently, single people weren’t even considered worthy of research, as Harvard scholar Bella DePaulo points out.

“The idea has been that everybody wants to get married, and eventually everybody will, so why bother studying single people?” she said recently at a talk in Denver on her research at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

“There are studies here and there but in terms of an actual recognized, established science of single life, we have nothing.”

DePaulo aims to blitz what she sees as a bias towards the benefits of marriage in academic research with studies of her own that show single people have stronger social networks, with greater room for self-growth and fulfilment

Today’s single women have a strong sense of self, say researchers

Another recent study of over 1,000 single women in the States by research company Hill Holliday/Origin found that they operate around values of “confidence, ambition and independence”. 

“On the whole, today’s single women have a strong sense of self and reject the outdated notion that they’re missing out on all that life has to offer,” the researchers say. 

“Marriage just consumes less space in the lives of single women and in our culture than it once did.”

And yet, this group still suffers from a lack of visibility: “Despite this dramatic shift, single women still believe that there is an expectation from others that you can’t be happy in your 30s or 40s if you’re single.”

This misleading perception of singledom is what led New York writer Glynnis MacNicol (above) to document life as a single child-free woman.

“It was nearly impossible, no matter how smart, educated, or lucky I was, not to conclude that I had officially become the wrong answer to the question of what made a woman’s life worth living,” she writes in her memoir, No One Tells You This.

MacNicol has determined to become the voice that is missing in popular culture: the single, secure and satisfied person identified in this latest study by Pepping et al (2018).

For this group, attachment needs are met in non-romantic relationships and sexual needs, when present, “are also met outside of long-term monogamous relationships”, says psychiatrist Grant Brenner, summarising the research.

“People may choose to remain single for various reasons, personal and professional, spiritual and religious, out of preference for solitude, and/or reduced needs for the regular company of a specific romantic partner,” he says.

“Securely single people chose to do so with eyes wide open.”

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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