Single And Lonely: How To Avoid The Trap Of Single Loneliness

The truth is that many single people often feel lonely, even if they aren’t lonely all the time. Single loneliness is actually common and a chance for growth.
Digital Painting Of Young Person Running Toward Autumn Tree At Sunrise, Hope Concept
Emily Deaton

Given the societal pressure to put a positive spin on everything, it can be hard to open up about the ways that single loneliness affects us.

Key Takeaways:

  • Part of being single means learning to balance a sense of hope for a relationship in the future and contentment for our single lives as they are right now.
  • Many things are hard when it comes to being single, and when your romantic, sexual, or emotional needs aren’t being met by a partner, it can be particularly difficult to feel happy.
  • That said, it’s important to remember that no relationship is worth abandoning yourself for, so don’t “settle” for something that isn’t good — and healthy for you.

Struggling with loneliness or having a mental health crisis?

  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); Deaf or hard of hearing dial 711 before the number or connect via online chat

Complete Mental Health Resource List

Matthew, a friend of mine and disability activist in his late twenties, loves his life — he’s close with his family, has great friends, and he loves that he can make a real impact on the world through his work.

When Matthew enters a room, however, some people are initially focused on his wheelchair.

That doesn’t last long, though.

Matthew is someone who makes effortless connections with people wherever he goes.

His outgoing personality and sense of humor make him fun to be around, and sometimes, his confidence makes me believe that he has life all figured out.

Those outward impressions aside, he is a single, lonely man and feels like something is missing from his life.

“I’m not saying that my life’s not amazing now, but I’m not fully fulfilled,” Matthew explained to me.

“Everything else in my life is great, but the biggest thing that I don’t have is that significant other to talk to when I’ve had a good day or I’ve had something awesome happen, and that sucks.”

Being single does have its benefits, of course, and some people genuinely love being single.

Even so, I spoke with several single people from completely different backgrounds, and nearly everyone I talked to shared one thing in common:

At some point in their lives, they felt a deep sense of loneliness while being single.

Why are so many single people lonely?

In this article, I’ll explain how single loneliness can affect our lives, why being romantically unattached can lead to loneliness, the reason there are so many stigmas around being single, and share honest stories from those who have experienced it firsthand.

What Does Being Single And Lonely Really Feel Like?

quote from matthew shapiro, "i'm trying to put myself out there but being a person with a disability in the dating world is tricky to begin with. people don't view [disabled people] as potential partners and that's bullshit.

Let’s be honest: a relationship isn’t going to solve all of the problems you have in your life — and finding a kindred spirit, soulmate, or twin flame won’t suddenly make everything “better” — but it might make you feel less lonely.

Unfortunately, the painful realities of single loneliness are rarely discussed.

The truth is that many single people feel lonely often, even if they aren’t lonely all the time. For instance, Valentine’s Day can cause feelings of loneliness to temporarily emerge, easing after the holiday passes.

It can be difficult (but certainly not impossible) to “survive” Valentine’s Day if you’re single.

Of course, everyone experiences and manages their single loneliness differently.

Jackie is a 28-year-old divorcée from New York who works as the vice president of brand and content marketing for a site that allows online daters to receive their friends’ input on their matches.

For Jackie, single loneliness can look like scrolling through profiles on dating apps and hoping to find someone to connect with — even though she’s rarely had a good experience using such apps.

“The most frustrating thing [about being single] is the solitude of it all,” Jackie said. She explained:

“When I’m swiping on dating apps, it’s usually because I’m feeling some sort of heightened sense of loneliness and I’m trying to fill that void. But then I end up swiping on or talking to people who aren’t really great matches for me. I’m also frustrated by the lack of substance in most online conversations.”

Matthew, who is a disability advocate, speaker, and consultant, also finds himself feeling frustrated, if not anxious, when thinking about the challenges that arise from being single and trying to date.

The combination of nervousness and loneliness can make it difficult to open up to potential partners.

“I clam up when I have to be vulnerable, which is very ironic because I’m not quiet, I’m not afraid to talk, but when you have to go out on a limb like that [with someone else], it’s hard,” Matthew said. He continued:

“I’ve lost friendships and people who were important because I’ve put myself out there and they didn’t feel the same way. That’s fine [that they didn’t feel the same], but that [shouldn’t] have to mean you completely eliminate that person from your life.

There’s been a number of occasions where I don’t talk to those people anymore, and they were people I leaned on pretty heavily. 

To not have those people in my life anymore sucks because then my circle gets smaller and smaller and loneliness sets in.”

As a person with a disability, Matthew has found that he faces additional challenges when it comes to dating.

“I’m trying to put myself out there, but being a person with a disability in the dating world is tricky, to begin with. People don’t view [disabled people] as potential partners, and that’s bullshit,” he said.

At times, he finds that shifting his attention towards other aspects of his life is a welcome distraction.

“[Single] loneliness is something I struggle with regularly,” Matthew said.

“Often, I end up throwing myself into work or other things. I’m always looking [for a relationship], but in my situation [as a person with a disability], it’s easier said than done to date and to be open.”

Similarly to Matthew, I’ve often found distraction to be the best way to cope with being lonely and single. The busier I am, the less time there is to think about being single.

Though I don’t have a fear of commitment or disinterest in being in a relationship, I don’t have much experience — okay, so I don’t have any experience — with being in a romantic relationship.

This only adds to my sense of loneliness and frustration.

Unfortunately, no matter how disappointed we are with awkward conversations on dating apps, how sad it is to lose friendships when our feelings aren’t reciprocated, or how much we try to distract ourselves, it seems almost impossible to shake the feeling of single loneliness for very long.

Clinical psychologist and author Dr. Carla Manly explained why we are so often confronted by our single loneliness. She told me:

“As humans are gregarious and pair-oriented by nature, it is common for those who are not in relationships to feel lonely at least some of the time. Many people who are not in a relationship are seeking to be in a relationship in order to find a companion and not feel alone in life.”

Being single can be lonely, and that can manifest differently in everyone.

Often, we use websites and dating apps to seek out a quick and easy way to connect with others, only to be left disappointed in the end.

Sometimes, we use distractions to avoid thinking about our loneliness.

No matter what being single and lonely feels like for us as individuals, it’s hard to deny that it has a real impact on our lives.

Why Is Being Single And Lonely So Hard?

quote from lisbeth meredith, "i don't believe, personally, that being in a forever relationship is on the agenda for every single person."

As I mentioned, feelings of loneliness can come about in those who are single for a variety of different reasons.

But why do some of us seem to struggle with it so much? Is it normal to feel depressed about being single?

Not Having Our Romantic, Sexual, Or Emotional Needs Met

I feel lonely because of those specific needs not being met but there’s no way for me to fulfill them. — Christina Norwood

Being single is especially difficult when you’re not being fulfilled in other areas of your life.

Not everyone cares about grand romantic gestures, but it’s still nice to be reminded that you’re appreciated romantically and to know when someone is in love with you.

Even just having someone to share Valentine’s Day or a New Year’s Eve kiss with is understandably a desirable thing.

When it comes to having that need met, however, it’s hard to feel fulfilled romantically when you’re not in a relationship with someone or if you feel like you’ll never find your soulmate.

After all, reading a book or watching a movie isn’t nearly the same as actually experiencing a romantic relationship yourself.

I spoke with my childhood best friend, Christina Norwood, about the reasons why being single can feel so isolating. She explained that not having a romantic connection is one of the most difficult parts of being single. She told me:

“I have a steady support system I can turn to when I need it, including a very close group of friends I can hang out with and rely on. A lot of my emotional needs really are fulfilled that way, but there’s no way to get romantic desires fulfilled — and that gets really lonely, especially as I’m getting older and most of my friends are getting married, engaged, or at least dating. 

It can feed into a cycle sometimes, where I feel lonely because of those specific needs not being met but there’s no way for me to fulfill them, so then I feel lonelier and those negative emotions just feed each other.”

In addition to not receiving your desired romance, having your sexual needs unmet can also contribute to feelings of loneliness.

While some people are able to satiate their sexual cravings without a committed partner, or even another person in general, others prefer to be in a relationship to have their sexual needs met.

For those who can’t be sexually fulfilled any other way, not having a romantic partner can be immensely frustrating and lonely.

Finally, single people who don’t have their emotional needs met — such as feelings of love and belonging as defined by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — may feel an increased sense of loneliness.

With the coronavirus making it difficult to connect with people in-person, it can be harder to maintain important emotional attachments, especially for people like Jackie who are self-isolated and living alone.

Though she says she has a good support system, she has been more aware of being single during the pandemic and her general feelings of loneliness have contributed to her single loneliness.

“The pandemic has just heightened my feelings of singleness. Before [self-isolating], I could always hang out with my friends and be around people and do things that made me happy,” she explained.

“Now, being isolated, living alone, and being single, I see so many people I know who are in relationships and married who get to be together and have that person there, and I feel more single than ever now.”

Pressure From Yourself — And Others — To Be In A Relationship

I look at outside influences, like my brother and my sister-in-law, or friends in relationships, and I’m always the third wheel. — Matthew Shapiro

When you feel pressured to be in a relationship, whether it’s coming from yourself or others, it’s easy to become consumed by your single loneliness.

Dr. Patricia Celan is a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University. She explained that having any sort of pressure to be in a relationship can quickly become overwhelming when you’re single.

“Society also puts a lot of pressure on single individuals to find relationships, and they may feel this pressure internally or from friends and family, causing distress,” she said.

I spoke with Lizbeth Meredith, a woman who divorced her abusive ex-husband in the early 1990s. Several years after her divorce, her ex-husband kidnapped her children and took them to Greece.

It took two years before she was finally reunited with her children where she lived in Alaska.

Understandably, dating wasn’t a priority for Lizbeth immediately after her two daughters returned home.

As time passed, however, she began to feel that she should start dating, partly as a way of providing her children with a father-figure. She told me:

“When I was in my thirties and my kids were back from Greece, I felt pressure to find a wonderful replacement father. I wanted [my kids] to have a nuclear family, and I wanted them to have a wonderful man in their life.”

Now that her daughters are grown adults, Lizbeth said that she doesn’t feel the same sense of pressure to be in a relationship.

“As [my daughters] got older, I felt less pressure to find ‘the one,’ and as I get older, I hear them talking, and they talk about who’s going to take care of me when I get older,” Lizbeth said with a laugh.

“I try to reassure them that I’m more than okay and that I’m doing great.”

Matthew, the consultant and disability advocate I spoke with earlier, explained that he also pressures himself to be in a relationship, albeit for different reasons. He told me:

“No one’s ever tried to push it on me, but I look at outside influences, like my brother and my sister-in-law, or friends in relationships, and I’m always the third wheel — or the ninth wheel because I have six wheels already [with my wheelchair].”

Unlike Matthew, Elizabeth, who is studying for her Ph.D. in rehabilitation at Southern Illinois University, doesn’t pressure herself to be in a relationship, despite feeling lonely at times.

However, she has experienced pressure to be in a relationship from outside sources.

During her first year as an undergraduate, she attended a church that heavily emphasized the importance of being in a relationship, putting pressure on single individuals. She told me:

“If you went to church and you went with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you were put on a pedestal. The way they excluded singles was by suggesting [being single] was just temporary and that you would find someone someday.”

Beth, a single mom of three girls and a PrEP coordinator, can relate to outside pressure, having received it from well-meaning family members. She told me:

“I’m not compulsively looking for a relationship, but I have had a family member or two say to me, ‘You should be doing this, it’s time [to date].’ People think, ‘Oh, it’s been seven years [since your divorce], you should be in a relationship.’ I’m open to it, but I just haven’t found anyone I would want to be in a relationship with.”

No one in my own life has ever put any major pressure on me to be in a relationship.

Like Matthew, I put the pressure on myself, often looking around at the people I know who are in relationships and feeling as if I’m somehow behind in the game of life.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and when it comes to being single, I have to agree.

Despite knowing that I shouldn’t compare myself to others, I still do it sometimes.

This, of course, never ends well for me.

I’ve never been in a serious relationship and seeing so many friends who are, whether they’re married or not, overwhelms me because I am lonely and single.

Whether we put the pressure on ourselves to be in a relationship or receive it from friends, family members, or other influences in our lives, it can make single life feel lonely.

The Struggle Of Determining What We Want And Deserve

Fresh out of a divorce, I wanted to rediscover myself and my wants. — Jackie Rapetti

As important as romantic relationships are to individuals’ sense of well-being, especially as young adults, it’s sometimes important to put them on pause to learn more about yourself.

Unfortunately, making this conscious decision doesn’t mean you won’t feel loneliness or single depression at the same time.

Likewise, it’s helpful to have a strong sense of what you want, require, and deserve in a relationship, but it is also possible to overanalyze things and focus exclusively on your loneliness — rather than what you need.

Dr. Paula Wilbourne, a psychologist and co-founder of Sibly, a website that virtually connects individuals with health coaches, explained that examining one’s choices while single can be either positive or negative, depending on an individual’s perspective. She said:

“Pressure [of being single] creates an invitation for the single person to question their choices and their value as a person. It may encourage a person to compromise on the things that matter most to them, in either their single life or in the partner they might choose for themselves.”

After divorcing her ex-husband after several years of marriage in her mid-twenties, Jackie, the woman from New York I spoke with earlier, took a temporary break from dating and chose to focus on herself.

“For the past two years, I haven’t felt the need [to date],” she told me. “Fresh out of a divorce, I wanted to rediscover myself and my wants.”

While the divorce from her ex-husband triggered Jackie’s process of self-discovery, I began to question and re-examine my beliefs — about myself, religion, dating, and relationships — shortly after entering college.

Growing up, I attended a Baptist church in a relatively conservative area. In school and church, abstinence was encouraged until marriage, though this message always seemed aimed primarily at girls rather than boys.

These messages also exclusively talked about heterosexual relationships, implying that anything else was either sinful, unnatural, or entirely out of the realm of possibility.

When I saw these ideals in practice and not just in theory for the first time in college, I realized how harmful they could be.

I had Christian friends who wanted to remain abstinent until marriage, and I watched them spiral into depression after becoming intimate with their partners.

Other friends of mine, particularly women, also seemed to feel a sense of shame about their desires and bodies.

Religion was and still is an important part of my life.

However, I was at odds when I examined the faults in my old system of beliefs. I made the choice to put relationships on hold to figure things out, thinking this would set me up for a healthy relationship in the future.

Despite choosing not to date during this important time of self-discovery, I often found myself wishing for a romantic relationship.

As I explored my thoughts and feelings, I was startled when I realized something about myself: I had never really had romantic feelings for anyone.

The more I thought about this, however, I realized that this wasn’t necessarily true.

I knew that I didn’t identify as asexual and that I wanted to have a romantic relationship with another person.

Although it took time, patience, praying, tears, and research, I concluded that I was queer during my junior year of college.

I didn’t become confident in my identity overnight and it’s taken years for me to settle into it.

Sometimes, I questioned whether I really was queer.

I didn’t claim this identity as an adolescent, but looking back, I know I’ve always felt this way. In the past, I had misinterpreted romantic feelings as feelings of admiration or friendliness.

While I don’t think I actively repressed my sexuality, I know that I grew up thinking that being straight was the only option for me.

As a queer disabled woman who was still settling into my honest self, I started to create my own ideas of what a good relationship would look like for me as an individual over the past few years.

I’ve had examples of loving relationships in my life; however, these examples didn’t really involve disabled people my age, nor did they involve queer people.

In her book, Untamed, one of my favorite authors and activists Glennon Doyle suggests that we ask ourselves what is “the most true and beautiful thing” we can imagine for ourselves whenever we question something.

When I considered the truest and most beautiful relationship I could think of, and what it would look like for me, I was both excited and scared.

Imagining this relationship gave me immense hope.

Still, that true and beautiful relationship felt — and sometimes still feels — so far away and the loneliness of being single is often present.

When you put pressure on yourself to be in a relationship, single loneliness might be all you think about.

Even if other people are the ones placing pressure on you to be in a relationship, the expectation that you should be in one is a painful reminder of your singleness.

Finally, when you’re discovering or rediscovering yourself, your values, and your worth, many thoughts will be focused on a future relationship.

Though it’s important to establish a sense of confidence and self-worth, doing so doesn’t prevent you from feelings of single loneliness.

Why Is There A Stigma Around Being Single?

quote from dr. carla manly, "given that our society is generally couple-oriented, many people consciously or unconsciously assume that there is something wrong with a person who is single."

Even though being single isn’t uncommon, with the United States Census Bureau suggesting over 42% of adults were single in 2017, there is often a stigma against being single, and this can heighten feelings of loneliness.

Dr. Celan, the psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University I spoke with earlier, explained that several common misconceptions can harm single people. She told me:

“Unfortunately, there is a stigma for single people. Often, [people believe] that there is something wrong with someone to explain why that person is not in a relationship, even if it’s actually just a personal choice. There can also be a stigma of single people being selfish, even though someone may actually be a very selfless volunteer or philanthropist despite not seeking a relationship.”

The myth that single people are selfish for being that way has no real data to back the idea.

In fact, many single people are more connected with those in their communities and highly likely to assist friends, family, or neighbors in need, according to a 2015 study.

While there isn’t one singular reason why such myths exist, some of the common misconceptions about being single may originate from ideals and traditions pertaining to marriage — even though plenty of folks don’t want to get married.

Historically, marriage was often about maintaining alliances and increasing one’s power and wealth.

Marriage has been — and still is — considered important in various religious cultures, as well.

With marriage being perceived as important, unmarried single individuals, particularly women, were often viewed as outcasts.

The California psychologist I spoke with, Dr. Manly, added that old viewpoints, even ones that are generally viewed as outdated today, can still affect the way single women are viewed. She explained to me:

“Given that our society is generally couple-oriented, many people consciously or unconsciously assume that there is something wrong with a person who is single. This is especially true for single women, and dates back to eras when a single woman was seen as an unwanted spinster with low prospects for a happy future.”

Jackie, the native New Yorker who now lives in Minnesota, said that she has experienced this stigma on a minor level as the result of not being in a relationship. She told me:

“For women, you’re either in a relationship or you’re not, because there’s this notion that ‘Oh, women aren’t sleeping around,’ but with guys it’s like ‘Oh, you’re not in a relationship, but you’re just being a guy getting with all the girls.’ Men can have it both ways, but for a girl, it’s different.”

Stigma against being single doesn’t just have the potential to affect you on an emotional level, it can also affect you financially.

Being single sometimes comes at a cost, with married men earning an estimated 26% more than their single male counterparts, though factors such as race, socioeconomic status, age, and ability all factor into the discrepancy.

In part, the financial disparities between married and unmarried men may come from the idea that unmarried people are more selfish and less giving, whereas married individuals are more frequently viewed as compassionate.

Surprisingly, when comparing incomes of married versus unmarried women, there’s not a huge difference between the two.

Some studies theorize that this occurs because employers account for the possibility of a woman, particularly one who is married, taking time off during and after a pregnancy by adjusting their wages, which is sometimes referred to as the motherhood penalty.

As a whole, the stigma against single people can put more pressure on us to be in a relationship and may also affect our self-esteem.

Although our ideas of what it means to be single have changed, the concern over an “unhappy future” still exists for many.

For instance, single people — especially those without children — are often concerned that no one will care for them as they age.

While it is a valid concern for anyone to have, the same thing could be said for people who do have children.

After all, children sometimes move away as adults. Families may experience devastating emotional rifts as the years pass.

Having children does not guarantee a permanent familial support system of life-long caregivers.

Needless to say, being fixated on a presumably “better” future that involves a relationship, permanent companionship, or possible children can lead to feelings of unhappiness and discontent in the present.

However, there is good news!

One study suggests that single people who are aware of the stigmas that exist against them are better able to deconstruct these flawed beliefs.

Armed with knowledge about them and why they aren’t true, single people can improve their feelings of self-worth.

Ultimately, there are various reasons why people — both single and married — may view single folks as selfish or uncaring.

As hurtful as these ideas can be, it’s important to remember that misconceptions don’t have to shape our realities.

There are several common myths about single people, including the belief that they are more self-centered and less kind than married people.

Centuries-old traditions can contribute to stigmas that still exist today, which can have emotional and financial effects on those who are single.

Though these stigmas have been proven to be false, they can still amplify feelings of low self-worth and loneliness.

Does Anyone Actually Enjoy Being Single?

quote from jackie rapetti, "being single has allowed me to grow and rediscover so much."

When you’re lonely, the idea of enjoying your singleness seems absurd. Shouldn’t you be single and depressed? Don’t the two go hand in hand?

Not at all.

Some people truly love being single. Even for those who feel lonely when they’re not in a relationship, there are still benefits to living the single life.

Lizbeth, the author and probation officer, was in her twenties when she divorced her abusive ex-husband in the 1990s.

Although she was pulled back into her ex-husband’s world after he kidnapped their children and fled with them to Greece, she was finally free of him when her children were returned to her two years later.

Once Lizbeth was reunited with her daughters, dating was the last thing on her mind.

Since then, however, she’s dated on and off, and though she’s had several relationships since her divorce, she’s happy being single. She told me:

“I don’t believe, personally, that being in a forever relationship is on the agenda for every single person, and I hope [women] give themselves the message that that’s okay, that that constant looking, looking, looking, and feeling inadequate when that relationship doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean we’re inadequate.

A friend of mine was teasing me about my relationships, and I said that I sometimes feel self-conscious that I don’t have super long relationships, and she said, ‘I just think about you having shorter seasons of love,’ and that was a wonderful way to put it, because I wouldn’t trade my other relationships I had in my past for anything. I learned from them. As long as I didn’t leave them with too much scar tissue and vice versa and we both grew, that’s okay. It’s really okay to just accept ourselves and think we can have an exciting, meaningful life. [Being single] isn’t a failing, it’s just a fact.”

Like Lizbeth, Jackie, the woman from New York I spoke with earlier, was grateful to be single after getting out of a toxic relationship.

When she ended things and divorced her ex-husband in her mid-twenties, the opportunity to be single was freeing.

“Being single has allowed me to grow and rediscover so much,” Jackie told me.

“I’ve taken up so many new pursuits, including my new favorite: stand-up comedy! My ex was a Debbie Downer, and for whatever reason, I listened to his voice. I have my own voice again now, though, and it feels great.”

Being single also gave my childhood friend, Christina, an opportunity to practice getting out of her comfort zone, too.

Although she wanted a relationship when she initially started college, she’s now thankful it didn’t happen. Christina told me:

“I used to be a doormat. I still have a hard time with confrontation, but I used to be a doormat for everybody. But, I’ve had some jobs since then, and some life situations that have helped me improve that. I wouldn’t say I’m more comfortable with [confrontation], but I am more willing to bring things up with people and to not let myself be walked over. 

That’s something I’m glad I’ve improved [while being single], and that’s something that probably would’ve been a problem if I’d started dating when I first started in early college because I wouldn’t have spoken up if something had made me uncomfortable.” 

I spoke with Kelley, an academic advisor at The George Washington University. Though she’s in her mid-thirties and currently in a relationship, she is unmarried.

While Kelley felt anxious about being single as a young adult, over time, she became increasingly happy and comfortable as a single person.

Like Jackie and Christina, Kelley gained confidence in herself. She told me:

“I think being single is like wine, it gets better as we age. In my twenties, I was insecure about it, as after college my friends were settling down, some getting married, and some even having kids. Now, in my mid-thirties, I travel, pursue professional opportunities, host events often, and continue to invest in my personal growth.”

Dr. Celan, the post-graduate trainee in psychiatry, reminded me that there are perks to being single that we often overlook. Dr. Celan said:

“Relationships can be complicated, stressful, and involve a lot of work past the initial excitement and romance. Being single means not needing to worry about that and being able to focus on your own goals and enjoyment in life without needing to make selfless sacrifices for your significant other when you’d really rather not.”

Listening to others’ stories helps me to appreciate being single.

While I would still love to have a relationship with someone, I’m also aware that having a relationship could complicate some elements of my life.

Additionally, I’m now able to look at my past self and be immensely thankful that I wasn’t in a relationship at certain times of my life.

I can’t imagine how awkward it might have been for me to date a guy in high school, at a time when I didn’t understand my sexuality.

I likely would’ve come to terms with my sexuality sooner, but I also may have had to come out in a very public way before I felt prepared to do so, and having heard stories from others in the queer community, particularly from several gay men, I know that coming out at a young age or before you’re ready can be difficult.

Finding the right person at the right time isn’t always easy or simple — and some folks even self-sabotage the relationships they find themselves in.

Although I look forward to being in a relationship with a committed partner one day, I also know that they take work, as Dr. Celan pointed out.

I, along with the other individuals I spoke with, still feel single loneliness sometimes.

Being single, as hard as it can be, isn’t lonely for everyone, at least not all the time. As a single person, you have the freedom to make your own decision and do what you want — when you want.

Even for those who often feel lonely, we can learn to enjoy the benefits that singleness has to offer while we can.

Don’t Settle For “Good Enough” If You Are Lonely

quote from beth cox, "i've done a lot of thinking about what a healthy relationship would look like and i'm waiting for that. i'm not interested in having a relationship that's not healthy, because i'd rather be single than do that."

If you’re depressed about being single for so long, the fear of being lonely and alone is a powerful thing.

Unfortunately, it can convince you to stay in a bad relationship.

Starting or remaining in an unhealthy romantic relationship can have a major negative impact on your well-being.

With her personal experience in a toxic relationship and in helping others as a domestic violence advocate, Lizbeth knows that staying with someone harmful is never worth the risk. She told me:

“There is nothing that’s accomplished by getting into a harmful or toxic relationship and overlooking those feelings in our gut, those signs when we start being isolated from our friends and family. There is nothing good that will come from that.

There’s a quote from Julia Roberts that says something along the lines of, ‘Women, you need a partner, not a project,’ and it’s true. If I want to rehab someone, I do that in my volunteer work, but I don’t want to do that in my dating life.”

Like Lizbeth, Jackie got married to her ex-husband in her early twenties.

Much of her relationship was long-distance, as her ex-husband was in the military. Over time, the relationship began to break down.

Though she’s currently looking for a new relationship, Jackie acknowledges that she’s much happier being single now that she’s divorced and no longer in a toxic relationship. She told me:

“In my previous relationship, my orb of happiness was in the future, and we were always talking about [the future] to the point where I was only thinking about that. I was so fixated on the future. Thinking about that, I feel like I missed out on living my life in the moment. I’m much more conscious of that now.

That relationship wasn’t good for my mental health at all and I lost who I was, so I’m definitely way happier out of that particular relationship. I’ve grown so much in these past two years [being single] and have done so much for myself.”

With the experience of a negative relationship behind her, Jackie, a single content manager and writer, knows that sacrificing her well-being for a relationship isn’t worthwhile.

“Now, I’m seeking a more serious relationship,” Jackie told me. “Is it something I need? No. Something I want? For sure.”

But it’s also something I struggle with,” she admits.

“If I can be happy by myself, why should I seek a man? But romantic love is something worthwhile and it’s like a special little cherry on top of life itself, so I want that again.”

Similarly, Beth, the single mom and PrEP coordinator, has been single for the past seven years following her divorce and has learned that being single is preferable to being in an unhealthy relationship. She said:

“Since I’ve been single, I’ve done a lot of self-work. I think one of the things that got me into my previous relationship was low self-worth, so I’ve done a lot of work in that area, and I now have a much better idea of what I would accept from myself and from someone else. I have a good idea of what I’m looking for [now]. 

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what a healthy relationship would look like and I’m waiting for that. I’m not interested in having a relationship that’s not healthy, because I’d rather be single than do that.”

Elizabeth, who I spoke with earlier, has a visual impairment and is studying for her Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University.

While she hasn’t had any toxic relationships in the past, she was given the opportunity to pursue a relationship that didn’t feel “right” when a couple from her church invited her to meet their son, who also had a disability.

During their first meeting, they watched a movie and had dinner together.

However, Elizabeth was unpleasantly surprised when she realized that the man wanted to meet her to start a romantic relationship — immediately.

“At the end [of the night] he offers to pay the bill [for dinner], and then says, ‘So this means we’re official, right?’ I’m like, ‘Let’s talk in the car,’” Elizabeth told me.

Elizabeth knew that she could have easily agreed to start a romantic relationship with this man.

However, she felt that starting one with a person she didn’t know well and whose interests didn’t seem to align with hers was a bad idea.

Elizabeth declined his offer to begin a relationship — even though it meant she would remain single.

Upon hearing Elizabeth’s response, the man replied, “And my mama told me you were an advocate for the disabled.”

The implication that Elizabeth, a disability advocate and disabled person herself, had to date him because she was an advocate only solidified her feelings.

“I didn’t want to date him because his personality didn’t fit with mine. I hate that he equated being an advocate with ‘You have to do everything I want [because I’m disabled],’” Elizabeth explained to me.

“I’m looking for someone who can make me happy. If that’s a disabled person, great, if that’s an able-bodied person, great, but I’m not about to make my partner my project or view my partner with pity. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to him if the relationship is based on, more or less, a lie.”

As someone who’s never been in a relationship before, I understand the temptation to rush into something. A relationship is something I want, and I’m willing to make things work with someone I love.

In listening to others’ experiences, however, and after spending years working on myself, I am reminded of this truth: no relationship is worth abandoning myself for.

When you’re lonely and single, the idea of starting a relationship with anyone can be appealing if it means alleviating your loneliness.

Similarly, you may try to convince yourself to stay in a bad relationship to prevent yourself from experiencing loneliness.

In reality, it’s unhealthy to start a serious relationship with someone you’re not compatible with, just as it’s unhealthy to stay in a toxic relationship.

Loneliness is scary sometimes, but it’s better to be alone than to lose yourself in a bad relationship.

Closing Thoughts

Some days, being single feels like the end of the world.

Having a romantic relationship with someone else is an important part of life for many people, and when you don’t have that, facing the ups and downs of life often feels scary and lonely.

Being single, whether for a few months or decades, isn’t a waste of time.

Even though it may feel like you’re stuck in a holding pattern, always looking ahead makes it hard to enjoy the best parts of your life right now.

Allow yourself to feel the loneliness that comes with being single, but don’t drown in these feelings.

Editor’s Note: This article is a transcript from “On Loneliness: A Video Series About Coping With Feeling Lonely.” The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This video is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.

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