The next four years after graduation were hard for me. In college I was constantly surrounded by close friends, I was always having lots of fun, always spending time with a lot of great people, and I was usually dating someone. After college, that all changed. I was working full-time—at a job I liked, but the relationships I had there weren’t anything close to what I had with my college friends. I was living by myself too, so sometimes when I came home after work the evenings seemed to drag on forever.
I’ve known a lot of other people who went through something similar. People who weren’t in a long-term committed relationship, or who were in one that wasn’t going well. Today I want to do something a little different and go over the pros and cons of being single, versus being in a committed relationship. Because it’s one of the things—maybe more than anything else—that so many people wish was different than what it is. It’s my hope that by taking an honest look at the good and the bad, that we can all be a little more appreciative of where we are and have a bit more understanding of where we want to be.
The Cons of Being Single
The first and most universal downside of being single has got to be loneliness. From my experience in counseling and therapy, this is by far the most complaint I get related to this issue. I’ve certainly felt my share during those evenings when I was living alone. Now, are you doomed to always be lonely outside of a committed relationship? No, I don’t think so. Some people just aren’t inclined that way, and I think it is possible to satisfy the need for community outside of this type of romantic relationship. We’ll talk more about that later.
I have a 28-year-old son who is single, and something I know he and a lot of other single people over a certain age have to deal with is social pressure. Once you reach a certain point in most parts of the world, marriage is kind of the expectation. When you stay single—whether you want to be or not—then that tends to be the first question friends ask you when you’re catching up. That can be painful, either because you’re not where you want to be, or because of the implication that you’re not where you should be. It helps to know what you want and to appreciate the good things about where you are.
Although adoption or artificial insemination are both options, there’s a good reason that children are usually raised by two parents. Not that you can’t or shouldn’t be a single parent, just that it’s a lot harder. The task of both raising and supporting a family simultaneously is a huge undertaking, even for a family as small as two. But on the bright side, in many ways it’s still a lot better than a traditional family in which the two parents can’t stand each other.
This one may not be a problem for everybody, but I know that it is for many people. When you don’t have a partner, especially if you know you want one, you tend to have a feeling that something is missing. This isn’t quite the same thing as loneliness, although it may be related. It’s more about feeling that you’re missing out on wonderful life experiences that you can’t get outside of a committed relationship. I think the best answer to this one is to be deliberate. Understand what you’re giving up and what you’re gaining by being single and know where you want to be.
The Pros of Being Single
Maybe the most obvious advantage of not being in a committed relationship is that you can experiment with different partners, possibly finding a really wonderful partner eventually, and at the very least, hopefully, enjoying yourself in the meantime. Like anything else, it’s possible to take this too far or go about it in a problematic way, but in itself there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a very good thing, although it lacks the intimacy that comes with commitment over a long period of time.
A remarkable study covered in USA Today found that people in relationships that were full of conflict were a whopping 300 percent more likely to develop a serious illness and die by middle age, over those with peaceful and harmonious relationships. So one possible pro of being single is having less stress. Now, committed, romantic relationships certainly aren’t the only ones that can be conflicted, but they come with a greater degree of responsibility and expectation and are overall more difficult to manage than those with less pressure.
Without a partner that you always have to consider in your plans, you have a far greater degree of freedom to do what you want, when you want. Now, a lot of people say that this one is overrated since what a lot of single people want more than anything is to have a partner, not to, for example, go on an impulse road trip to Yellowstone. But this really just depends on what you want. You can do a lot of great things with that freedom if you’ve got the will and the imagination.
Related to this, one advantage that can be extremely important for certain people is the freedom to focus on work. When you’re committed to a partner, that partner sort of has to come first. Or at the very least, they’ll demand an equal share of your time and attention. Without that, you have the ability to devote yourself to whatever you’re passionate about, and that may allow you to achieve some incredible things with your life. In fact, according to ancient manuscripts, the Apostle Paul said that it was better to be single if you could do it without going wrong because of it. I think the majority of us do better with a partner—but if you’re one of the few, be proud.
The Four C’s
The key thing about all this is that I absolutely believe you can be happy with or without a committed partner. Even if you want a partner, and you know you want a partner, that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable in the meantime. There are four things which, in my opinion, are absolutely indispensable to a meaningful relationship, romantic or otherwise. They are commitment, communion, community, and communication.
Now, I’m not going to keep you much longer and a couple of these are pretty self-explanatory. Communication is the bedrock of good relationships—as any psychologist will tell you. And community is pretty much what it sounds like, just spending time with that person, and preferably with other good people as well. Single or not, no one does well in isolation.
But I should probably talk a little bit about commitment and communion. Every marital ceremony that I know includes vows. Typically this includes a vow to love the other person for the rest of your life, among other things. But that isn’t the only way to have commitment in a relationship. If you have a friend that you know will always have your back, no matter what, and you feel the same towards them, then that’s a form of commitment. Sincere commitment is the evidence that proves a relationship is meaningful and also elevates it to a whole new level.
Last but not least, when I say “communion” I’m not talking about the wafer-in-the-mouth Christian sacrament. I’m talking about deliberately engaging with another person on a deep level, beyond just the day-to-day stuff that you would talk about with anyone. Those things are fine too, but a deep relationship cannot survive on small talk alone. You’ve got to let yourself be vulnerable. Talk about what really matters to you and hear them in return.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!