If it feels like everybody is married but you just want to be single, there's some great news for you. Not only is marriage not the end goal for everyone — single people may have a more fulfilling life ahead of them than their married counterparts. According to a study presented at the American Psychological Association's Annual Convention in Denver, many single people are likely to experience more psychological growth and development than married folks.
"Americans are convinced that getting married makes people happier, healthier, more connected to other people and better off in all sorts of other emotional and interpersonal ways. They believe that science shows those things," Dr Bella DePaulo, the study author who looked at 814 studies, tells Bustle. "But as I explained in my talk, most of those claims are grossly exaggerated or just plain false! For example, studies that follow people over time find that when people get married, they end up no happier than they were when they were single. At best, they get a brief increase in happiness around the time of the wedding, but then they go back to being about as happy or as unhappy as they were when they were single."
There are many proven benefits to being single, including placing more value on work, but also being closer to friends, coworkers, and family and continuing to grow and develop as a person. So in terms of fulfillment and personal expression, being single is looking like the strong choice. But, as the research finds, single people are often not studied in their own right. Instead, they are studied as a control, or a "foil" to learn about married people or people being in relationships, who are always presented as the star of the show. It's a problem in the research and in society as a whole.
"Firstly, most people, including the singles themselves, view singlehood as a temporary state. They assume that singles are unhappy with their state slang are working actively to change it. There may be a feeling that they won't remain single long enough to complete the study," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "The other reason that singles aren't studied much is because society doesn't value them. Society promotes, encourages, and rewards coupledom and particularly marriage. This is particularly hard on single women because unmarried men are portrayed as 'sowing their oats' or 'playing the field' while unmarried women are considered to be old maids that are left on the shelf. The bias against [heterosexual] women is that they aren't really valued and validated unless they have been chosen by a man. It's self-perpetuation, meaning that the single women buy into this value judgement about themselves just as much as anyone else. I think that examining these stereotypes and breaking them down is the best way to eliminate them."
And DePaulo's research shows, that's just not happening enough. "How about recognizing that many single people see time alone as a wonderful opportunity, as something they embrace as a place where they enjoy enhanced creativity, rejuvenation, relaxation, and spirituality, instead of obsessing about how those poor single people must be so lonely?" DePaulo says.
So Which Is Best?
It feels like with all the benefits to being single and all the benefits of being in a relationship, it can be more and more difficult to decide what's better. But no status is "better" than the other. It is just down to you— what makes you happy, fulfilled, and content. As DePaulo said a press release:
More than ever before, Americans can pursue the ways of living that work best for them. There is no one blueprint for the good life. What matters is not what everyone else is doing or what other people think we should be doing, but whether we can find the places, the spaces and the people that fit who we really are and allow us to live our best lives.
So it doesn't matter how many ridiculous bachelorette parties you're going to, how many people who say children are the only way they feel fulfilled, or how much your bestie loves being single. The independence and freedom of being single isn't going to make you happy if you're desperate to be in a relationship, and the stability of being married isn't going to make you happy if you only want flexibility and autonomy. It's about doing what's right for you, no matter what that looks like.
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