Single individuals tend to have a lower desire for a romantic relationship when they are more socially satisfied and place their friends higher in their life priorities, according to new research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
“The population of singles is on the rise and very few seem to care. In the U.S. alone, Pew notes that the share of married adults age 18 and older has declined from 72% in 1960 to 50% in 2016. Of course, many talk about this shift per se, but very few discuss the characteristics of this growing population,” said researcher Elyakim Kislev of the School of Public Policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“I believe that it is important to study how relationship desire appears in singles’ lives, how their lives look like. Being single myself, I know that there are new communities of singles, new ways of life, and new patterns of behavior that we must acknowledge and research. In this particular research, I focused on the group of singles who are not seeking relationships. I estimate this group to be around 20% of the total population of singles.”
For his study, Kislev examined data from the German Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics (Pairfam), a longitudinal survey of more than 12,000 individuals and their partners, parents, and children. As part of the survey, single participants were asked the degree to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement “I would like to have a partner.”
The survey also assessed how satisfied the participants were with their friends and level of social contact, and the relative importance of friends in their life.
After controlling for factors such as age, health, education, employment, income satisfaction, and number of children, Kislev found that the importance of friends and social satisfaction were correlated with the degree of choosing singlehood.
“My findings show that people that desire relationships at higher levels tend to assign their friends lower importance and are less satisfied with their social lives. And vice versa, singles with less relationship desire think their friends are more important and are also more satisfied with their social lives,” he told PsyPost.
“In short, these results show that singles with low relationship desire are more social and derive greater support from their friends. These findings also defy common negative perceptions of singles with low relationship desire as having social difficulties.
Longitudinally, single participants who reported an increase in their level of social satisfaction and the relative importance of friendships from one year to the following one showed a decrease in their desire to find a partner.
In his book, “Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living“, Kislev finds that single people, especially those who have been single for a long time, have more extensive social networks than do their married peers, which can help buffer singles against feelings of loneliness.
But there is still much to learn about the social life of singles.
“I would be happy to know more about the social net of singles. It might well be that singles with low relationship desire transfer some of the assumed responsibilities of the nuclear family to their networks of friends and I want to know more about how it looks like and about what shapes communities of singles these days,” Kislev said.
“We should ask how the ‘new singles’ create communities, how they derive social support from their friends and wider family, and how these new constructs relate to their overall well-being over their life span.”
“I believe the population of singles deserves more attention as such. I will even dare to say that we need to accept and embrace solo living more. Chasing after having a partner is fine as long as it is in line with our true goals, not those of our family or the society around us,” Kislev added.
The study, “How do relationship desire and sociability relate to each other among singles? Longitudinal analysis of the Pairfam survey“, was published June 24, 2020.