The authors never compared people of different marital or relationship statuses in the studies they described. They did, however, mention this:
According to Kierkegaard, a married person with a secure, well-respected job and children may have a happy and (in many respects) meaningful life, but not necessarily a life rich in diverse perspective-changing experiences. Although most people choose such a conventional, secure, and well-respected life, others… choose the esthetic wanderer’s life instead—unconventional, unstable, and uncompromising.
Several of the characteristics and experiences of people who lead psychologically rich lives have also been linked to staying single or liking single life. For example:
- Open-minded. In “The badass personalities of people who like being alone,” I reviewed multiple studies showing that people who like spending time alone, and people who are unafraid of being single, are more likely than others to be open-minded.
- Personal growth. In a study of adults at midlife, more than 1,000 people who had always been single were compared to more than 3,000 people who had been continuously married. The people who stayed single, compared to those who stayed married, reported experiencing more personal growth. They were more likely to agree with statements such as: “For me, life has been a continuous process of learning, changing, and growth.”
- Autonomy. In the same study, the people who had stayed single were more likely to agree with statements such as “I judge myself by what I think is important, not by the values of what others think is important.” In response to questions on the Single at Heart quiz, people who are single at heart are more likely to describe themselves as self-sufficient, as having personal mastery, and as wanting to make their own decisions about matters both small and large.
- Adventurous. People who are single at heart may be especially likely to pursue their dreams. That could mean pursuing adventures or other intriguing opportunities, or choosing meaningful work over more lucrative work when they can’t have both, or being there for the people who mean the most to them.
- They don’t put just one person at the centre of their lives. By definition, people who are single at heart do not organise their lives around a romantic partner. They spend time with, and care about, the people they find valuable, without automatically prioritising a romantic partner or a potential partner.
Can we conclude from the research that single people lead psychologically richer lives than people who are married? I don’t know about single people in general, but my own hypothesis is that people who choose to be single for positive reasons, such as the single at heart, would tend to experience more psychological richness in their lives.
This article was first published here.