Shani Silver spent what society calls her prime dating years “single and miserable.”
Throughout her 20s and 30s, the author and podcaster watched as her friends got engaged, married, bought houses, and went on vacations that her single-income bank account could only dream of.
“I was trying to find someone for 10 years, and for 10 years I couldn’t,” Silver, 40, said.
Then she had an epiphany. “I was completely feeding into what dating culture wanted,” Silver said. “I was going to keep swiping my adulthood away, paying more and more money trying to find someone because I believed the lie that my partner was hiding in there somewhere.”
After “a decade of bullshit,” Silver said she woke up. “I saw how good it felt to set myself free and start looking at my singlehood from a different perspective,” Silver said. “I couldn’t keep quiet.” So she went on to create her own podcast, A Single Serving Podcast, and write a book, A Single Revolution: Don’t Look for a Match. Light One.
The cultural pressure and financial incentives of paired relationships — specifically marriage — are tremendous. From the tax and health insurance benefits to obligatory plus-ones at celebratory events, our society sends a clear message: Romantic partners are the norm, and if you don’t have one, well, time to download a dating app and find your One True Love.
But more people — particularly straight women — are realizing that partnerships aren’t always happy or healthy, and that dating culture can be emotionally draining, anxiety provoking, and sometimes downright humiliating. A 2019 analysis of US Census data shows that about 40% of adults between ages 25 and 54 were unpartnered (neither married nor living with a partner). That’s up from 29% in 1990.
For some, it’s a choice. For others, singlehood is something they fall into through the death of a partner or a breakup. Divorce is more acceptable now than in decades past and women in particular have more educational and career opportunities that allow them to thrive solo. More people are opting for a child-free existence, and even if they want kids, they may have the financial means and social support to do so without a partner. While there are fewer research studies that have focused on how queer people feel about being single and the similar or different challenges they face, emerging evidence suggests singlehood among the LGBTQ community can be just as rewarding — and complicated.
Circumstances aside, it’s possible to be both single and happy, according to the experts we spoke to.
“There’s a misconception that single people are bad at relationships or need relationship advice,” Silver said. “We don’t need relationship advice, because we’re not in relationships. We need singlehood advice.”
Now more than ever, though, those who are doing life solo are overcoming the social and financial hurdles that stand in their way; they are swiping left on dating culture, doing away with traditional partnerships, and rejecting the ever-present stigma of a partner-free life.
“A Saturday night on my couch watching my Netflix with my cat and my glass of wine,” Silver imagined. “Like, don’t threaten me with a good time.”
People are doing just fine without partners.
Being single, for some people, is truly how they live their best, most authentic lives. Bella DePaulo, an expert on singlehood who works in the department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls these people “single at heart.”
“Just about everyone who is single at heart experiences a love of solitude. They like that time they have to themselves,” said DePaulo, who wrote the book Singled Out. “They don't worry about being lonely. They don’t feel lonely. And that’s something both men and women share.” Because of this, singles live “psychologically rich lives,” she added. They’re able to pursue a variety of interesting and novel experiences that enhance their lives and boost overall happiness and satisfaction.
“From the littlest thing to the biggest, like deciding whether you’re going to pick up your life and move across the country, single life is a life of possibilities,” DePaulo said. “They’re not trying to put their dreams and wishes into a mix with what a romantic partner wants.”
In turn, single people may have more time to prioritize their mental and physical health than partnered people.
Joules Lo’Well, 39, has experienced these benefits firsthand. After leaving an abusive marriage, the Texas resident said she spent too much time dating to try to fill a void she thought she had. “I was always stressed out. I was always anxious. Then I noticed that when I wasn’t dating, I felt more at peace,” Lo’Well said. “I felt healthier. My skin was clearer. I didn’t have any worries or stressors.”
After Lo’Well posted a video on TikTok sharing why she’s perfectly content staying single forever, which has been viewed more than 2.2 million times, she learned many people feel the same way.
“We’re told that marriage is the pinnacle of success for a woman. That’s what you’re supposed to strive for in life. That if you don’t have a man, you’re lonely. But that’s not true,” Lo’Well said. “Women have female friends. We have kids. We have family members. We have our pets. We’re taking art classes.”
Data from 2019 show that while half of single adults say they aren’t looking for a relationship or dates, single men (61%) are much more likely to be seeking a partnership compared with single women (38%).
There’s less research that explores queer people’s opinion on singlehood. But one 2016 survey found that 63% of single people in the US who identify as gay or lesbian have always wanted to get married, while 25% said they’re OK with never tying the knot.
Generally, research shows that single people have a much stronger network of supportive relationships than those with partners because they’re better able to stay connected with family, friends, and coworkers, for example.
“Single people are actually more sociable than married ones, and growingly so in past few decades,” Elyakim Kislev, an associate professor at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the Hebrew University and author of Happy Singlehood and Relationships 5.0, said in an email. “We tend to think that the era of ‘bowling alone’ is because of singles,” but it’s actually married people who are more likely to turn inward and forget their social surroundings, Kislev said.
“The narrative is that when you’re by yourself, there's a lack as opposed to there being a fullness,” psychotherapist Aishia Grevenberg said. But it’s important to “think about who you are and what you want. We just need time to do that away from other people because it has to be authentic.”
“How can you truly explore something so personal without having personal time?” Grevenberg said. “That’s really something to be enthusiastic about. A healthy relationship with yourself will save you every single time in any relationship.
“Self-love will be there for you no matter what,” she said.
Marriage is no longer the be-all and end-all.
As a 21-year-old, Veyonce DeLeon could care less about finding someone to share life with. Instead, DeLeon would rather focus on her voguing career.
“Since middle school, people have embedded in me that dating is a distraction and that I should focus on myself,” DeLeon told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not as interested in marriage and having children as my parents and older family was. Everything I do is for the benefit of myself. Any way that I treat myself is just a reflection of how I want somebody to treat me down the line.”
You can’t blame her. While marriage can be great, it typically benefits men more than it does women, at least in heterosexual relationships. (Research shows same-sex couples tend to be just as happy, if not happier, than straight couples in some countries.)
For example, studies show that people who are married are less likely than those who are not to develop heart disease and more likely to survive cancer, with the lion’s share of the benefit belonging to men (the gender makeup of the marriages included in the data set was not specified).
Much of the disparity comes down to how we were raised. It’s socially acceptable for women to ask for help, seek friendships, talk about their emotions, and take care of others, whereas for straight men it often isn’t; instead, they depend on women to have rich social lives, which is why singlehood for them tends to be more lonely overall, according to Deborah Carr, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Boston University. (That’s not to say men can’t be happy and single. They can.) This could explain why, compared to 30 years ago, men are more likely to be unpartnered than women, according to the 2019 US Census data. (Women in heterosexual marriages actually initiate nearly 70% of all divorces in the US.)
In fact, one of the “biggest trends hands down is polyamory,” said Grevenberg, the psychotherapist. Many people are beginning to question how realistic it is to have one person meet all their needs. “It’s such a heavy burden to place on anyone,” she said. A 2016 study found that about 20% of single adults in the US reported engaging in “consensual nonmonogamy” at some point in their lives; men and those who identified as gay or bisexual were more likely to report having been in this kind of relationship.
Married people tend to have (a lot) more money, too. A 2005 study found that married people experience a per-person net worth increase of 77% over single individuals, with their wealth increasing 16% for each year of marriage. More recent data from 2019 reveal similar financial benefits for partnered adults, especially men.
If you consider why these differences exist, however, you’ll find some pretty unlevel playing fields. Single people don’t have access to the same advantages — tax benefits, split bills, health insurance deals — that coupled people do. It also doesn’t help that wealthier people are more likely to get and stay married than those with lower incomes.
Still, it’s important to remember that people are single for a wide variety of reasons. People who are married can love and crave some of the benefits of singlehood, like solitude; people who are single can still wish to be married; and those whose partner died can relish their newfound singlehood even while grieving their loss.
“If for some reason I had to get married, I would suffer such a blow to my emotional well-being. Single is just who I am, and trying to live the socially sentimentalized and celebrated life of the couple, that for me would be a smaller, lesser life,” DePaulo said. “Coupled people are unfairly benefited and privileged and single people are discriminated against and disadvantaged systematically, yet they are flourishing despite everything they have stacked up against them.”
A person’s relationship status doesn’t need to be “fixed.”
Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of being single is the judgment that comes with it: You’re so handsome — why are you still single? Aren’t you lonely? Why can’t you just go on a couple dates and see what happens? Over time, the invasive questioning can prompt people to doubt themselves: Should I try harder?
“There’s still that persistent stigma that if people are single, it’s because they have some character flaw or they’re too picky,” Carr of Boston University said. “There is a tendency to blame those who are on their own rather than to respect the fact that they have made a decision to live on their own terms.”
“People need to ask themselves what makes them happy and, to the extent possible, ignore what other people are saying,” she added.
A 2022 study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that coupled people tend to be, on average, happier than those who are single, but “that effect is not as large as people make it out to be because there's actually a lot of variability,” lead author Yuthika Girme, an associate professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, told BuzzFeed News.
In reality, single people may not be their happiest selves because of societal expectations. Those included in the study reported feeling less social support and greater discrimination than coupled folks, which can look like exclusion from social events, pressure to settle down, and assumptions that single people are incapable of commitment.
What’s more, single women feel this discrimination more harshly, Girme said. “If you’re in a relationship, you may have to pick up the slack and emotional labor, but if you remain single, then you get questioned a lot more than single men ever would,” she said. “It’s hard being a woman, and we often see these dichotomies across a whole bunch of different life domains.”
It takes time to understand singlehood.
Deciding to embrace your single status, whether it’s intentional or not, isn’t always easy and can take a lot of reflection.
“Taking ownership of your decision perhaps is the most difficult part of having a single lifestyle,” Grevenberg said, adding that you can ask yourself questions like: “Why am I doing this? Is this a lifestyle change or just a pause from dating?”
How you feel about singlehood usually fluctuates over time, too. You may spend a lot of time and energy seeking a relationship in your 20s but realize the single life is the best life in your 40s — like Silver, the author and podcaster, who has been thriving ever since bidding her dating apps farewell about three years ago.
Her advice is simple: Don’t wait until you’re in a relationship or married to appreciate your singlehood. Do it now. “You set the temperature; you light whatever candle scent you want; you choose the music; you get that pet without having to accommodate anyone else’s allergies.”
“You are completely free to live whatever kind of life you want.” ❤