What the Fear of Being Single Can Make Some People Do

4 min read
Nadya Korobkova/Shutterstock

Source: Nadya Korobkova/Shutterstock

How badly do you need a relationship? While romantic relationships are generally associated with an array of positive outcomes (Kansky, 2018), some people desperately want a romantic partner while being blind to another equally important truth: Singlehood can also confer rewards and offers a happy, fulfilling life (Apostolou and Christoforou, 2023).

Not recognizing the opportunities of being single, some people see singlehood as a status to avoid at all costs. This can be problematic. New evidence supports the idea that when people experience a strong fear of being single, they might behave in ways counter to their best interests (Spielmann et al., 2023).

The Problem of Fearing Singlehood

Scholars have identified a few common features among people with strong fears of being single (e.g., Spielmann et al., 2013). For example, these individuals are more likely to:

  • Think something is wrong with them if they don’t have a partner
  • Feel anxious about staying single throughout their lives
  • Feel a pressure that it might be “too late” for them to find long-term love
Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

Source: Peggy_Marco / Pixabay

While many people fear being single from their current status as single people, other people with strong fears of singlehood are currently in long-term relationships. Whereas the former group might feel actively stigmatized for being single (DePaulo & Morris, 2006), the latter dreads the possibility of a breakup.

They might experience a strong motivation to stay in the relationship not just because they want to be in the relationship but also to avoid future singlehood (Cantarella et al., 2023).

Fear of Being Single and Unhealthy Behaviors

Why might a strong fear of being single be problematic for people? Accumulating evidence suggests that people strongly motivated to avoid singlehood might engage in risky behaviors for their well-being.

  • Fear of being single increases longing for ex-partners (Spielmann & Cantarella, 2020). Pining for lost love is not inherently problematic; however, prolonged preoccupation with an ex-partner limits mental space for other, potentially more positive thoughts. It can drain people of energy they could otherwise spend investing in their experience being single. Singlehood affords myriad freedoms to explore and develop new interests, and these benefits of singlehood might be hard to see if you’re preoccupied with an ex.
  • Fear of being single encourages settling. When people are driven to avoid singlehood, evidence suggests they are likelier to lower their standards and settle for less-than-satisfying relationships (Spielmann et al., 2013; Spielman and Cantarella, 2020). Being unhappy is one thing, but fear of being single becomes especially problematic if it encourages people to remain in relationships that are emotionally or physically abusive.
  • Fear of being single predicts wanting breakup sex. Consistent with the idea that the fear of being single induces longing for ex-partners, people—women specifically—who have a strong fear of being single are more likely to want breakup sex (Moran et al., 2024). Breakup sex could be perceived as an opportunity to rekindle a broken relationship or shift from “off” to “on” again. But, rekindling a romance likely works better when the motivation is not simply to “not” be single; a thriving long-term relationship requires much more substantive motives.
  • Fear of being single predicts less COVID-related social distancing in dating contexts. During times of heightened COVID risk, people with stronger fears of singlehood were likelier to pursue close physical proximity in potential dating contexts (Spielmann et al., 2023). In other words, whereas most people might adhere to safety standards, the possibility of a romantic connection may be too enticing for people with strong fears of singlehood. For them, it may have been worth risking their health to meet someone.

Singlehood is not one experience (Grime et al., 2023). The diversity that underlies the experience of singlehood is critical to appreciate, perhaps especially for individuals who might fear life as single. Experimental work has shown that spending time thinking about the negative aspects of singlehood can induce fears of being single; thinking about the positive aspects does not cause such concerns (Spielmann et al., 2020).

This leaves open the possibility that attention to the opportunities, not only the costs, of singlehood might support healthier relationship-related habits.

Facebook image: Nutlegal Photographer/Shutterstock

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