In an era where technology makes it easier to find, talk, and connect with someone, why are more people putting off coupling up and living the single life instead?
Well, if you look into the research, marriage isn’t as hot as it used to be. According to a 2014 study from the PEW Research Center, 20% of people who are 25 and older have never been married. And that number has jumped considerably compared to 1960 when almost one out of every 10 people was single.
The things that people value and take joy from have changed—finding career satisfaction, having more dating options, and traveling have all become more appealing to younger generations. Social scientists across the board are realizing that the culture of career development and an ideal that we should squeeze more out of life while we can is leading many to put off marriage.
But data can only take you so far—What are people actually saying about their decision to put off marriage? We looked to two experts on sociology to see what they had to say about why being and staying single may be a life-choice that’s just as fulfilling and rewarding as the more traditional path of meeting someone and starting a family.
Bella DePaulo: Marriage Isn’t the Only Happily-Ever-After
One voice advocating for making the most of the single life is, Bella DePaulo. The Harvard-educated social psychologist is the author of a book about the single life and has lived the single life for the better part of 60 years. Hearing her talk about being single for so long is like listening to someone having a revelation. (Just check out her recent TED talk about her life’s work.)
The belief that marriage is the happily-ever-after for everyone is something she dismantles. All the stories about the success of marriage eclipse the stories about single people who are happy on their own, she says. More importantly, she addresses the idea that love is all you need. (Sorry, Beatles fans.)
Love is fine and dandy, but love is not enough. People want more than that in life.
“We humans also crave autonomy and mastery and purpose and meaning. Single people have that autonomy. They are in charge of their own lives,” DePaulo explains.
Eric Klinenberg: Living and Being Alone are Valuable Life Experiences
The idea that self-discovery might be more fulfilling than teaming up with another is echoed by Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociology professor and author of his own book about single culture. In an interview with New York Public radio, he explained that people are taking longer to find themselves.
“People are spending a big chunk of their lives—much of their 20s and even into their 30s—becoming a grown up,” Klinenberg said. “They’re investing their time in their job, they feel anxious about their career, and they’re having a very difficult time moving into that next stage of what we’ve traditionally thought of as grown-up life.”
Being in a relationship is a rich and rewarding experience, but more and more people are finding that it’s not the only rich and rewarding experience out there. No two people are the same and no two people find happiness and fulfillment in the same way either. As you explore life and your options, both in and out of relationships, you may discover that the individual road to your happiness may not go in the direction you thought. If it turns out that direction leads to a relationship, that’s great. If it leads you somewhere else, perhaps the solitary life is worth exploring too.