Are single people more fulfilled, sociable and self-sufficient than married couples, despite being marginalised by society? A psychologist has found, after reviewing hundreds of studies, that this is the case. Dr Bella DePaulo, of the University of California, claims the pervasive view that singles must be ‘sad and lonely’ is nonsense and that people on their own often have more meaningful lives.

Speaking at the American Psychological Society’s annual meeting, Dr DePaulo said that there was a relentless celebration of marriage and couples in popular culture which she labels ‘Matrimania’, while singles faced discrimination and stereotyping. Yet despite the stigma, she found, after looking at 841 studies, single people tended to be happier in their jobs, more likely to stay in touch with friends and family, more self-reliant and less inclined to negativity.

Dr DePaulo said:

For as long as most of us can remember one particular way of thinking about single people has prevailed. In the media, in popular culture, and in scholarly writing, too, the story that is told about single people is that they are sad and lonely. If only they would get married, the narrative insists, that would make them live longer, healthier and more socially connected lives. I argue that the story that has been told is more ideology than science. Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be. Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic and meaningful lives.

Dr DePaulo found that singles are more connected to parents, siblings, friends, neighbours and colleagues than married people are, and when people marry they become more insular.

Scholars often predict people will be more happy when married because of the emotional and psychological benefits of marriage, such as support, intimacy, caring and companionship. But they often fail to take into account the financial benefits and protections offered to couples.

Research comparing people who have stayed single with those who have stayed married shows that single people have a heightened sense of self-determination and are more likely to experience a sense of continued growth and development as a person. Other longitudinal research shows that single people value meaningful work more than married people do.

However, Dr DePaulo warned that: ‘A preoccupation with the perils of loneliness often obscures the benefits of solitude and can make single people unhappy. There is no one blueprint for the good life,’ she says. ‘What matters is not what everyone is doing… but whether we can find the places, the spaces and the people who fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.’

Well, it is a very good and helpful analysis of a complex subject. However, having lost my wife in February, after a happy marriage of 60 years, I feel devastated and can no longer feel a meaningful existence without her. I see her image everywhere and the depth of her loss has taken over my entire life. I have developed the kind of loneliness that’s self-imposed and even no longer enjoy good food as I did. All this amalgamation of things has happened to me since February, although I have always been self-sufficient, overbearingly reliant on no one and confident to an autocratic level.

The seclusion of living on my own has always had a negative effect on me. I am what you might call today a ‘sad single’ as opposed to a happy one.

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