I’m 29 years-old, and while by many accounts I have what is considered to be an incredible life, the bane of my existence is that I don’t know how to be single. When my father asks me how I’m doing, I tell him about the great job I have, my amazing apartment, my sparkling social life, my exciting travels, and he listens attentively before finally responding, “OK, but why can’t you find yourself a man?”
I try to explain that times have changed since the days of the Soviet Union, and that being single nowadays isn’t a sign that you’re a social pariah. I have a wonderful life on my own, so it’s not worth it for me to marry Vanya the Village Idiot just to keep up appearances. But when I’m in bars with my friends, most of whom are also single, we secretly wonder if there is something wrong with us. And all of the advice that you get from smug married couples doesn’t help either. Half of them tell you that you need to “get out more” and “try harder” and the other half tell you that you need to “stop trying” because “you always meet someone when you’re not looking,” leaving you even more confused and frustrated than you were to begin with.
And all of the articles on the Internet telling you that being single is oh-so-awesome feel like a pack of lies. So what follows are some rules that I have constructed, many of which are based on extensive research, that have helped me genuinely embrace singledom instead of viewing it as a personality dysfunction. So read on, and feel your solo spirits rise. And for more amazing advice on the subject, be sure you know the 20 Signs You’re Afraid of Being Alone.
Know You’re Not Alone
Yes, you’re alone, but you’re not alone in being alone. In fact, you’re part of a well-documented trend. The average age of marriage is now 27.1 for women and 29.2 for men, up from 20.3 and 22.8 in 1950. And the approach to marriage among Millennials is very different than Baby Boomers.
In previous generations, marriage was the first step into adulthood. Today, many people consider it the last, which is why sociologists refer to today’s bonds as “capstone marriages”–the last brick that you put into a successful life, the one you place once all of your other affairs are in order. And even those who are in relationships are waiting way longer than Baby Boomers to get hitched. For more on this, check out This Is How Long Today’s Average Couple Dates Before Getting Married.
Realize You’re Actually Part of a Trend
Marriage rates in the U.S. have hit a historic low, a fact that worries a lot of social psychologists, given that marriage has been proven to have a variety of economic and health benefits. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center predicted that at least 25% of Millennials will remain single forever. So when your grandmother grills you about being single, you can tell her that times have changed, and that studies indicate that by the time today’s adults hit their 50s, one in every four will have never been married. Which means that, at the very least, there won’t be such a social stigma around it anymore.
Remember That Financial Independence Is a Good Thing
Next, you might want to try to convince grandma that being single isn’t as terrible as it sounds. One of the major reasons that so many Millennials are delaying serious relationships is because the presence of women in the labor force has increased dramatically over the last few decades.
Back in 1950, only 33.9 percent of women worked outside the home; now, that figure is up to 57 percent, and is expected to keep rising. Movements to close the gender pay gap, which has been getting more narrow in the last few decades, are going strong. Back in the day, a lot of women had to get married, regardless of whether or not they wanted to, just to able to afford a nice life. Now, women have a lot more options, and financial independence is something everyone can get on board with.
Focus On Your Career
Student loan refinancing company Comet recently asked 364 single Millennials why they weren’t in relationships, and 40 percent responded that it was because they were focusing on their careers. That might be a difficult concept for many older generations to grasp, but there’s an unequivocal benefit to being able to focus on your work without the inevitable interruptions and obligations of having to feed a baby at 4 in the morning and trying to convince your spouse that selling the house and moving to Hong Kong for a year is a great idea.
Travel and Take Risks
A lot of Millennials view being single not as a sign that you’re a loser but as a unique opportunity to do your own thing before wholly committing yourself to someone else.
“You can go and have any experience you want, whenever you want, and not have to worry about what someone else wants,” psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez told Bustle about the benefits of being single. “This is the time to travel on your own, to take a class just for fun, to do as many activities that you want, as you will not always have the chance to just pick up and do what you feel like.”
For many, this attitude is evidence that Millennials are selfish, overly individualistic, and entitled. But when Aziz Ansari polled seniors who had gotten married very young in his bestselling book, Modern Romance, many of the them—especially the women—said they wish they had been able to take more risks and figure out who they really are before settling down. So perhaps this attitude isn’t selfish so much as an attempt to rectify the mistakes that our grandparents feel they made. For more on this, check out, This Is Biggest Regret in Life Most People Have.
Recognize That Marriage Isn’t That Great Either
Many social psychologists posit the theory that the reason Millennials are so disillusioned with the institute of marriage is because divorce rates peaked in the early 1980s, which means that, unlike Baby Boomers, many of today’s adults grew up understanding the devastation that comes when things don’t work out.
The lives of those whose parents stayed together probably wasn’t a picnic either, as many of us know what it’s like to grow up in a household that resembled a perpetual war zone. Being single can be hard, and lonely, but for many, it sure beats living in an endless cycle of arguments about who’s supposed to do the dishes. Plus, we’ve seen how marrying someone you knew was wrong for you to begin with can end in tragedy. For a personal testimony on that, read up on how I Cheated on My Spouse. Here’s What I Wish I Had Known Beforehand.
Know That Finding “the One” Doesn’t Actually Make You Happy
When I went into the Yale Happiness Course, I already knew that making a lot of money doesn’t make you happy. But I was surprised to find out that finding “The One” doesn’t, either, at least not for the long-term. Studies have found that couples who get married do being happier than the unmarried people during their honeymoon periods, but often come back to baseline after the first 18 months of marriage.
This is something I’ve witnessed firsthand with my married friends, many of whom listen to me complain about being single before exasperatedly reminding me that they’re not any happier than I am, they just have a different set of problems to deal with. Chris Rock has a great joke about this, in which he says that “You’re either married and bored, or single and lonely. Ain’t no happiness nowhere.” It’s good to remind yourself that life isn’t a Disney movie, and that getting married doesn’t end in a happily ever after.
Take Your Time
In the Comet study cited earlier, the overwhelming reasons that Millennials gave for not being in relationships were that they were either “picky” or “hadn’t found someone they liked enough to date.” This comes down to the basic truth, backed up by scientific studies, that Millennials simply have much higher expectations for relationships than previous generations. Ansari explored this extensively in Modern Romance, saying that many Baby Boomers just wanted to marry someone who was nice and seemed to make a good life partner; today’s adults, on the other hand, want someone they truly believe is their “soulmate,” which is much harder to find.
Many older adults view this as evidence that Millennials are simply too demanding, and maybe they’re right. But here’s another theory: while many people think that the plummeting rate of marriage is a sign that Millennials don’t take marriage seriously, some psychologists argue that this demographic actually takes marriage more seriously, which is why they want to wait until they find someone they think is truly The One to tie the knot. Whether or not this is an effective strategy is something only time will tell. Perhaps the next generation will get married earlier, as a sort of counter-revolutinary move, while yelling, “I don’t want to end up like you, MOM!” Or maybe, just maybe, this approach will pay off, and we’ll all end up in much happier unions than those of our parents.
Do Some Soul-Searching
Do you even want to get married? Like, really want to? Or do you just feel pressured to by society? This question comes up a lot for me, especially in therapy. All of the trained professionals I have on staff tell me that if I really wanted to be in a relationship, I’d already be in one. After all, it’s so difficult to parse our innermost desired from the things that society tells us we should want. And what people do in practice is often a greater indication of their subconscious desires than what they say in theory. Everyone complains about their life, but the truth is that most people have the lives that they secretly want. So ask yourself, “Do I really, in my heart of hearts, want to be in a relationship? Or do I just think I do?” Either way, viewing your single status as a choice, rather than a prison sentence hoisted upon you by an unfair world, can provide major benefits to your mental health.
Do Some Mind Tricks
I’ve come up with a little trick that really helps me when I’m feeling glum about being single. I imagine myself in, say, five years, married to a man I believe is my soulmate, cuddled up together in a hammock reading our respective books. And I imagine how that person will think it was so stupid of me to have spent so many years suffering and beating myself up about not being in a relationship instead of enjoying the freedom and excitement at my disposal.
I’m not even talking about positive affirmation, or visualizing the life you want in order to make it happen, though many people swear by that. I’m saying that viewing your current life from the perspective of a future you that has everything you want right now might make you realize just how good you have it.
Get a Dog
Maybe you’ve read all of this and are, like my father, still thinking, “OK, that’s great, but I still really want someone.”
One way to abate your loneliness that’s clearly in your control is to get a pet, which studies have proven helps reduce stress and provide emotional support, which are two of the major benefits to being in a good relationship. The moment that I got my dog was also the moment that I stopped getting into toxic relationships, because I no longer felt the need to date simply so that I had a warm body to curl up to or someone to watch TV with on a Friday night. In fact, I found many of the things I wanted from a man–someone to love you unconditionally who will also protect you and provide constant companionship—from my dog. For more on why this is a good idea, check out 15 Amazing Benefits of Adopting a Pet.
Do Online Dating the Right Way
The paradox of modern dating culture is that there have never been so many different ways to meet someone, and yet, there are more people single than ever before, which is why dating coaching is such a booming business. A lot of people feel that online dating has actually made it harder to meet someone special, and they’re right.
In her groundbreaking 2010 book, The Art of Choosing, business professor Sheena Lyengar showed that, while we think of having tons of options as an inherently good thing, research shows that when people have too many options, they are statistically less like to make any decision at all. Online dating fits perfectly into this theory, because it creates the illusion of an unlimited number of options, and thereby makes people less likely to commit to anyone at all.
That’s why so many dating coaches advise their clients to stop expecting to fall in love right away and instead take the time out to really get to know someone. Many of us write people off too quickly. “Why go on a second date with someone I had an OK time with, when I can go on a first date with this girl I just matched with who seems super awesome” we think to ourselves, without realizing that this mentality essentially sentences us to an endless cycle of first dates.
Some people take time to open up, and sometimes getting excited about someone that you’ve just met is just a sign that things will burn out quickly. That’s why dating coaches suggest going on at least three dates with someone before deciding whether or not there’s potential there. And for more great tips from experts, check out why I Hired an Online Dating Coach and This Is What I Learned.
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