A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explains Singlehood that while being in a long-term relationship is an important human experience from a social and evolutionary perspective, there are certain categories of people who prefer to live life without intimate, life-long companionship.
Psychologist Menelaos Apostolou, the lead author of the new study, focused his research on three factors that influence people’s decisions to remain single:
- Sociosexuality refers to the willingness to engage in sex without commitment. High scorers tend to be more prone to casual sex and less interested in committed relationships.
- The dark triad refers to a set of noxious personality traits – namely, narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. High scorers tend to be manipulative and indifferent to the feelings of others, which can cause them to question the rationale for being in a long-term committed relationship.
- Career focus refers to individual differences in the willingness to focus one’s resources in advancing one’s career. People with high career focus also tend to deprioritize long-term relationships.
According to Apostolou, the nature of these traits indicates that they would be associated with singlehood.
“For example, people who score high in career focus may not have enough time to devote to finding and keeping an intimate partner,” explains Apostolou.
1000 individuals over the age of 18 participated in the online study designed by Apostolou and his research team. The study consisted of a series of questionnaires that measured sociosexuality, the dark triad, career focus, and people’s beliefs regarding dating and marriage.
They found that:
- High scorers on the dark triad and sociosexuality were more likely to prefer to be single
- Younger women who scored high in career focus were more likely to prefer to be single than men and older women
According to Apostolou, one reason why high scorers on the dark triad may have a strong disposition towards singlehood is that these traits have evolved to enable people to gain reproductive and other benefits by having opportunistic sex with many mates. As a result, they would not commit themselves to a long-term relationship.
However, from an evolutionary perspective, human nature has been shaped to seek and maintain long-term intimate relationships. Not being in such a relationship often triggers negative emotions such as sadness and loneliness that motivates individuals to terminate their singlehood spell.
“If people choose to stay single and to not have a family (which is the ultimate purpose of an intimate relationship), they would frequently experience loneliness, a lack of purpose, sadness, and so on,” says Apostolou.
However, people who score high on the dark triad and the related traits of sociosexuality and career focus can be somewhat impervious to the needs that cause most of us to enter into committed relationships.
While lifelong singlehood is anathema to the needs of most people, Apostolou actually speaks in favor of the occasional singlehood spell in between relationships. A short or long spell of temporary singlehood can actually help relationships in the long run because:
- It helps build strengths (e.g., getting a university degree), with the intent of returning to the mating market with better chances of attracting a mate
- It can help us contemplate what went wrong in a past relationship and not make those same mistakes again
For anyone who has a preference for singlehood but feels pressured to be in a relationship because of cultural or societal reasons, Apostolou has the following advice:
“In most cases, pressure to be in a relationship to start a family comes from close friends and family – that is, from people who care and want the best for us,” he explains.
For instance, parents have firsthand experience with the joys of being in a long-term relationship and raising children and they want their daughters and sons to experience those same joys.
However, Apostolou warns that people should not get into a relationship because others tell them to do so but because they want to and are ready to do so.
“It may pay to be single for some time, building your strengths and perhaps getting experience from casual relationships,” he says. “Ultimately, it is a good idea for people to have in the back of their minds that being in a long-term intimate relationship and having children would lead to a meaningful life, so as to avoid making choices that drive them away from that.”