Researcher Dr. Elyakim Kislev Says There Are Many Benefits To Being Single

Sometimes, being single can be lonely. There are few feelings worse than showing up to brunch only to find that every one of your friends has brought their significant other, or having to grit your teeth while you tell family members that no, you won’t be bringing anyone home for Thanksgiving this year.

But there are many overlooked benefits of singlehood, too. Dr. Elyakim Kislev, a research fellow and assistant professor at Hebrew University in Israel, has studied the subject at length. He’s written about his findings in a new book, Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living.

“There is a huge misconception that being alone and lonely are the same,” he told HuffPost Canada. Not all single people necessarily want to be in relationships, and not all married people are happy. “Marriage is a [specific] level of commitment, and it doesn’t fit everyone.”

Kislev talked to us about some of the advantages to single life.

You’re not stuck in an unhappy marriage

It’s a mistake to assume that all marriages or long-term relationships are happy. That might sound obvious, but Kislev said many people get married because they’ve internalized stereotypes about what it means to be single.

“Because society does not accept singlehood as such, many people are pressured to marry, despite uncertainty over their chosen spouses,” he said. “They marry only to realize later they made a premature decision, which only leads them to long years of unhappy marriage, or even divorce.”

He was surprised by how commonly people cited the fear of dying alone as a major factor in staying in an unhappy relationship, he said. “It is quite amazing how so many people force themselves into marriage because they worry that no one will take care of them when they are old.”

Making choices now for the future you want in 40 years’ time can often backfire, he said. “In contrast, I found long-term singles to be skillful in weaving their social networks toward their later years, which made them feel ready and happy with aging on their own,” he adds.

Single people have stronger social networks

One of the biggest takeaways from Kislev’s research is that it’s always a mistake to neglect your friends when you’re in a relationship. A 2006 study found that married couples spend less time calling, writing and visiting with friends than single people do, and that married couples are less likely to provide emotional support or practical help.

That means, of course, that if your marriage collapses, you have fewer people to turn to. And that means you’re at more of a disadvantage than people who are unhappily single, Kislev explains.

“Many people don’t pay attention to this crucial difference, but the unhappily married usually lose twice,” he said. Because they usually don’t have as many friends as single people, they become “socially isolated in addition to their emotional misery.”

He adds that in his research, he’s found that “a single person who maintains his or her positive self-perception and invests time in social activities can be much happier than the average married person.”

Single people are better educated

Kislev looked at education rates among married people, divorced people, co-habitating people and people who had never been married across 30 different countries. The married people were the least-educated overall. Co-habitants were the most educated, followed closely by single people. Single women, Kislev points out, are even more likely to better educated than single men.

…but that doesn’t make their lives easy

Despite all these pluses, Kislev said single people sill face “hidden” discrimination. He’s found that singles often work harder for less household income than their married peers. Many real estate agents are less willing to rent homes to unmarried people, because they often seem less reliable than those in relationships.

And many people react with pity or disgust to meeting a single adult: “Just think of what many feel when they see an unmarried old guy, for instance.”

Still, the single population is growing. Increased global mobility in search of work, more independence for women and a decreased focus on tradition are all part of the rise of the single demographic, Kislev said. According to the Pew Research Center, a quarter young adults will never marry, and around half of those who will marry will get divorced.

How to be happily single

Kislev says one of the ways people can be happier while single is to simply be aware of the stigmatization. If you know that systems that prioritize marriage to the detriment of single people exist, you’re more likely to be “indifferent” when you come across a discriminatory comment, he says.

He also recommends choosing “single-friendly” friend groups or workplaces, where the people around you don’t make you feel like a weirdo for not having a partner. Being comfortable enough to defy social pressure and keep your head held high when you say you’ll be attending a dinner parter alone is a skill, but it’s a worthwhile one, Kislev says. “The happy singles I met were often able to change others’ perspective by pointing out that there is more than one way to live.”

He’d also like to see policies enacted that would make it easier for single people to get by: the growth of small apartments with shared spaces, for instance. He also suggests talking to children about “how to accept singlehood and live happily ever, after even if they will find themselves alone,” he said.

“We need to accept the notion of a full scale of what it means to be committed: marriage, cohabitation, living apart and being together, occasional couplehood, and so on, he said.

“The relationship landscape should be as diverse as we are.”

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