Key points

  • Singlehood is often a preference, especially for people who are goal-focused.
  • Some people are single because they perceive they have traits which might interfere with attracting a prospective mate.
  • Goal achievement is viewed as a strategy that can enhance mating success in the future.

When meeting new people, singles are frequently asked if they are married. If the answer is no, the social pressure is on. Because what comes next can characterize the interaction as comfortable, awkward, or judgmental. Some singles even wear a ring on their wedding finger to avoid being asked this question in the first place. But according to research, not everyone is uncomfortable admitting they have chosen to fly solo.

Source: 3652586/Pixabay
Woman smiling.

Selecting singlehood

Menelaos Apostolou (2017) examined this question in a piece aptly entitled “Why People Stay Single.” [i] Viewing the issue from an evolutionary framework perspective, he identified both a preference for singlehood and traits which might interfere with attracting a prospective mate. His research identified 76 different reasons people remain single and classified them into 16 factors, which were then separated into three broad domains. The reasons people choose to remain unattached apparently vary according to age, sex, and personality.

Freedom of choice

Apostolou’s proposed theoretical framework predicted two broad reasons that would drive people to choose to stay single: to increase fitness and anticipated difficulty landing a mate. The first reason, described as “freedom of choice,” recognizes that singles have more freedom to pursue goals and casual relationships. Apostolou recognizes goal achievement as a strategy that can increase fitness through enhancing mating success in the future.

He notes that increasing fitness through singlehood through the “freedom of choice” strategy will likely benefit men more than women, allowing them to jump-start careers and enhance social status, which will put them in a good position to attract high-value mates. He also notes that biological differences factor in here as well because men do not run the risk of getting pregnant through casual encounters. Consistent with his prediction, Apostolou found that men rated “freedom of choice” significantly higher than women did.

The wisdom of age

As with so many other things in life, when it comes to someone’s willingness to enter a relationship, age matters too. Apostolou found that younger people who were still furthering their education would be more likely to focus on a career than a relationship. For other factors within the “freedom of choice” domain, his results found that older people, who likely have more relational experience, may be more cognizant of the factors causing them to prefer to stay single. In other words, the effects of age may reflect a better comprehension of why someone is driven to stay single, as opposed to a change in the perceived importance of different reasons.

Relational constraints

Regarding other reasons why people stay single, Apostolou noted that within the “constraints” and “difficulties with relationships” domains, some people stay single because they have trouble finding a partner. Examples include individuals who prefer to stay single if they are handicapped in some way or suffer from a serious illness. Another factor hindering people from forming intimate relationships was having children from a prior relationship.

Obviously, we recognize these findings reflect personal perceptions because many people underestimate their attractiveness, physically, socially, and emotionally, notwithstanding what they personally view as impediments.

Although Apostolou found other reasons contained within the “constraints” and “difficulties with relationships” domains, he found that both domains were significantly correlated with age, with older people endorsing higher scores. He points out that this, too, may be a result of more life experience, allowing people to become more aware of the difficulties involved in entering into a relationship.

The bottom line is that there are many different reasons for choosing to remain single. With age comes wisdom and often a greater appreciation for the reasons why people choose to enjoy fun, faith, family, and friends—while remaining unattached.


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