Single Vs. Married on Valentine’s Day

Single vs. married: who has it better on Valentine’s Day? Or any other day, for that matter?

For many the grass is often greener. Contrary to the Valentine’s hype, some couples aren’t so happy, some singles are quite happy.

Some couples are happy but no longer in their honeymoon bliss—a natural enough eventual outcome, of course. Such pairs might appreciate John Kenney‘s humorous Love Poems for Married People (2018) “in which he celebrates what happens to romance after years (and years, and years) of partnership” (Ari Shapiro, NPR). Long-term relationships, after all, often become more (comically) problematic than one had hoped for.

Many singles are happy, yet may nevertheless dread the external pressures Valentine’s Day can bring. Too bad, because in actuality, and speaking in theory and generalities, being single is no worse than being married, and being coupled is no better than being single. Of course it all depends on each person, each circumstance.

In a 2016 Psychology Today post, foremost expert on singledom Bella DePaulo, PhD, addressed the single vs. married issue. Cutting to the chase, “…I don’t think there is a simple, one-size-fits-all answer,” she said, “to the question of whether it is better to stay single or get married.”

A pertinent quote from DePaulo’s earlier book Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After: If you are not already a happy person, don’t count on marriage to transform you into one. If you are already happy, don’t expect marriage to make you even happier…finally, if you are single and happy, do not fret that you will descend into despair if you dare to stay single. That’s not likely either.”

On the other hand, DePaulo notes some (perhaps unexpected) upsides to singlehood (Psychology Today):

Lifelong single people do better than married people in a variety of ways that don’t get all that much attention. For example, they do more to maintain their ties to friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, and coworkers than married people do. They do more than their share of volunteering and helping people, such as aging parents, who need a lot of help. They experience more autonomy and self-determination, and more personal growth and development.

Additional DePaulo quotes from a similar-themed 2017 article (NBC News):

…(C)ouples tend to turn inward after they marry, paying less attention to their friends and parents. Married people have “the one,” but single people have “the ones.”

We think that because married people have someone, they are protected from loneliness and single people are not. But that is another example of a misleading cultural narrative fixated on the perils of single life. It ignores the special pain of feeling lonely within a marriage. It fails to appreciate the deep fulfillment that solitude can offer, with its opportunities for creativity, reflection, relaxation, rejuvenation, spirituality and peace.

Compared to those who are afraid of being single, people secure in being single are less likely to be lonely, depressed or neurotic. They are less sensitive to rejection and get their feelings hurt less easily. They are more imaginative and more open to new experiences. They don’t need to marry in order to live happily ever after. They already have it figured out.

If you’re interested in more of her work, DePaulo has many available titles. However, a recent one that pulls a lot of her stuff together is Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone (2017).

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