5 May 2024

Are you more suited to being single?

From Sunday Morning, 8:35 am on 5 May 2024

Why are some long-term single people secure and thriving while others struggle? A new study suggests attachment style could be a major factor.

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No matter what your relationship status, focussing on your own development is important, Geoff MacDonald, one of the study's authors and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, tells Jim Mora.

“I actually think in a roundabout way, that idea of focusing on yourself first is about setting the stage. If you decide you want to be a single person, it'll make you better at that.

“But I think for a lot of people, it will give them the itch to be in a relationship and to make them a better relationship partner,” he says.

Societal norms and narratives still favour people getting on the “relationship escalator,” he says, but getting on it too soon can be a mistake.

“Sometimes people will find themselves in relationships and kind of wish that they hadn't internalised those messages and listened to their own internal clock instead.”

His research, he says, disproves a common societal trope.

“The idea is that as you get older as a single person, you're going to get less and less happy. Exactly the opposite is true, older singles actually tend to be happier than younger singles.”

Although this is in line with research showing people get happier as they get older, he says.

“People who are single get happier about being single as they get older, but people who are in relationships get happier about being in a relationship as they get older.

"So, it does seem to be true, I think what happens is that as you get older, you have less energy to be worried about things, you have less energy to put up with stuff that you don't feel like putting up with.

“And I think that people just become more authentic, happy versions of themselves as they get older.”

Society is changing fast, but our social norms are slower to catch up, he says.

“For example, a lot of men who are interested in women, still expect their female partners to take care of most of the housework, even though the man and the woman are each working an equal number of hours.

“Another might be that there's a lot of women who have trouble dating a man who makes less money than they do. But as the gender pay gap has been closing, there's less and less of those kinds of men available.”

The most important message to come from his research is that love comes in many forms, he says.

“Love can come from family, love can come from pets, love can come from friends. So, there's a lot of different ways that people can satisfy these kinds of needs.

“And of course, love can also come from yourself. Getting right with yourself makes everything else in life easier.

“I think that's what secure singles do the best, they're open to a relationship if it comes along, but only if it makes their life better.

“But otherwise, they're finding ways to make themselves happy through things like relationship with their friends and relationship with their family.”