Why are so many adults single?

Why Are So Many Adults Single?

Is everybody single?

If you are, it might feel like it. The reality is that the single adult population (women and men over 18 years of age) has risen to an alarming rate across the globe. Globally, there are now more single adults today than in recorded history, including those who are divorced, and widowed, and those who have never been married. At first it might be difficult to accept that everyone including those considered teenagers, and aging groups like senior citizens or middle aged adults, would be single for the same reasons. You might assume that the barely twenty, or the twenty somethings just haven’t had enough time, partners, or have met enough people.

Surely, those adults with decades of life behind them have been too choosey or just ‘unlucky’ in love. As for widowed adults, they fall into their own category in which understanding and sympathy is often applied. They didn’t choose to be single, and more so are probably shocked and surprised that they are single.

Traditionally, groups of adults are segmented into categories including millennials, seniors, divorcees, single mothers, college educated, etc. then studied individually, separately assigned a unique reason for their singleness. Objectively this makes sense – but when adult groups are studied independent of each other, and then assigned a cause for singleness specific to that group, fundamental concepts that plague them that will plague every uncoupled adult go unmentioned. Could it be that we are all single for the same reasons; yes.

What Does Being Single Mean?

To understand, and to answer this question we must consider our use of the term single. Like most concepts, this terminology is tied to an industry that manufactured it. Being married is not a natural state for human beings. We are all born single – so why does the meaning change as we enter into adulthood?

Marriage comes from a Middle English term which was first seen in 1250-1300 CE. However, the ancient institution likely predates this date. Language allows us to identify a specific group of people, and as cultures shift so do definitions. Today, there are many adults who are unwed (not legally married), but not considered single. As we evolve, and society evolves, our language must evolve in order to understand the ideas that can explain the current state that we are in.

So to say “single” in today’s day and age, as to refer to an unwed population is inaccurate. So what are unmarried adults, who are not in monogamous romantic relationships? Because of the variety of relationship types adults engage in around the world, anyone who is not in a couple – by way of an explicit agreement of commitment – are uncoupled. By understanding what we define as coupled, we can better understand why so many adults are unable to couple.

So how can defining an unprecedented growing population of adults help to solve your single status if you see it as a problem?

By understanding this fundamental truth – you were born single and without the intervention of societies, government, and culture, most individuals will stay that way. Through a well-designed, well-orchestrated campaign endorsed by religion and imbued by the Catholic Church the idea of marriage became a societal norm. Consider that almost every person who coupled, or legally wed, up until the 19th century had help. Most marriages were arranged by the family, or tribe, or leader – you could even consider Adam and Eve an arranged marriage.

Now, here you are, coupling on your own and to no surprise, it’s harder than you ever imagined. Most adults are not taught how to choose a romantic partner much less how to be in a long term romantic relationship. Paired with the disparaging numbers of eligible companions, the chance of finding a suitable spouse has dwindled to abysmal odds – it is survival of the fittest.

If you feel like quality matches have evaporated within your specific demographic, you’re not wrong. Accounting for all adult groups who fall into the uncoupled category, the reason for their singleness is the same across the board. The reality is that the only thing you need to get into a relationship is a willing participant.

Everyone is not single but majority rules. There are more adults living uncoupled today, and a large percent struggle to find a committed partnership. For those who are in a relationship, be it a marriage or not, has faced and overcome the following.

They have found someone who embodies both familiarity and compatibility that is ready and willing to be coupled.

Timing

Nothing plays a bigger role in whether you will get married, or enter into a relationship than timing. Imagine someone offers you a free meal after you have just eaten. You’re likely to reject it, or possibly accept it but eat it at another time. Now imagine someone offers you a free meal when you are starving. Not only will you readily except it, you are more likely to enjoy it and consider it the best meal you’ve ever had.

Timing in love and dating is no different. Most of what makes a person attractive is that we are meeting them at the right moment for us. We are meeting them at the peak of our need, when our desires are the greatest.

Women are not the only creatures with biological clocks. Our bodies, whether you are attuned with it or not, knows when you are ‘ready’ to fall in love. Because love is a biochemical response that we have little to no control over. The brain likes what’s familiar and when it’s found, unbeknownst to your conscious self, the body releases a cocktail of chemicals that are both exciting and addictive.

What you do have control over is if you will accept these feelings over the long term, settle down or couple with the person that you’re dating, or reject it. Unfortunately, if you and your body are not in sync you will decrease your chances of ever finding love, and possibly a lifelong relationship.

When the body experiences the chemical reaction that is falling in love, especially for the first time, it’s an indicator that this person is the best reproductive partner for you. If your logical brain decides that it is not the right “time”, you will not make the decision to partner.

Unfortunately, these chemical highs cannot be recreated at whim. You cannot know how real the love is, but you can know after engaging with more partners, and when no one else compares that you just don’t feel the same. You might think to yourself, after another failed date that it didn’t feel right, but what the body is actually telling you is that it doesn’t feel familiar.
This is a dilemma.

Your body will never agree with your logical brain because the brain is looking for what is familiar but the body is looking for what is new, so which do you trust? What you shouldn’t trust is waiting to “feel” ready to couple. Timing means everything when it comes to love but waiting to choose is not the same as waiting for the right time. When your body tells you to commit consider it. When you don’t feel ready, risk it. The ability to couple isn’t an invitation from science or the universe.

Right timing is about choosing to be ready and making a decision, be it a difficult one, to which there is no right or wrong answer.

The misconception is that timing can precede a decision. It can’t. You have to decide that you want to be in a committed relationship before the opportunity will ever arise itself. You must decide that you are ready, and then you must commit to that decision. Unfortunately, most single adults have no allegiance, other than to their own loneliness, to serve as the basis of this commitment. Unless you can be certain that your decision feeds into a higher purpose for your life, you will never make it, and no one will ever be right for you at the right time.

Circumstances

Contrary to popular belief marriage is not a guaranteed milestone in every adults life. As it becomes increasingly accepted to be uncoupled, or unwed, the chances of any individual getting married relies in part on their circumstances. This is not to say that any circumstance can’t be overcome but you should be acutely aware of your odds.

Finding the right romantic partner for you is a numbers game, more so than ever before. All across east Asia birthrates are declining, and adults are postponing marriage, some not marrying at all.

In Asia, men outnumber women by nearly 40 million. In India, there are 8 single adult men for every 1 single adult female. It is inevitable that some men just won’t find a partner. In the US, marriage is becoming a privilege with growing disparities between classes. Poor people in the US and Canada alike are less likely to be wed. This is alarmingly prevalent in the African American community where a study found a racial marriage gap of 33 percentage points between blacks and whites. So if you are living under the fallacy that meeting someone will result in a committed relationship by chance alone, you have to seriously consider the circumstances around you; including your race, religion, economic standing, education, and sex. More so, if you’re being hard on yourself for the fact that you are unable to couple with the candidates at your disposal you first ask yourself these critical questions.

  • Is there statistically enough eligible partners for me?
  • Am I competitively attractive in the dating market place?
  • Can I trust my ability to choose a partner?

The second predictor of partnership after timing are circumstances.

Consider a young, heterosexual couple who have been dating for three months. The woman gets pregnant and now they are faced with many decisions that they weren’t previously considering. This couple decides to marry. Or consider a couple in which one partner is a citizen of another country, and facing deportation. The couple now has to make a decision to couple in a short time, that might have taken years without the pressing circumstance.

Circumstances will dictate your success in dating, and play an important part in how you couple. Almost as important as timing, because it is the circumstance that makes the timing right or wrong.

Analysis Paralysis

Too much choice is a bad thing. In his book, ‘The Paradox of Choice’ Barry Schwartz describes the more choices there are, the less satisfied we become. Indeed, it’s sometimes called the tyranny of choice and we face this tyranny everywhere. Too many choices lead to paralysis by analysis, a state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. The more people we can choose from to marry, or couple with, the less likely we are to choose.

Before societies married for love, the purpose of legal or ceremonious unions were clear: to have children, to increase family wealth, bloodline and lineage, legacy, etc. Today, priorities have shifted and social pressures to be legally wed have waned. Why get married to just anyone if you’re not really feeling it? Added to this notion the abundance of options via smartphones, social media and dating apps, single adults are drowning in choice but paralyzed by it as well.

You will not make the right choice for a lifetime but for the moment. Understanding that there isn’t a one right person for you, but many right people. And the success of your relationship is based on your willingness to make choices throughout the process, and not just at the start.

The pressure of choosing was alleviated by the support of community, and families with a decision like marriage being far too important to leave to the individuals. Now that single adults are tasked in making that decision alone, they are failing. They are remaining single, uncoupled, or divorcing en masse.

Biochemistry

The idea of love as a primary reason for marriage began to spread in the late 18th century and early 19th century, partly due to the French and American revolutions. In addition, the shift in cultural preference to marry for love was fueled through literature, theatre, and later film. Movies since have depicted love marriages as the only worthwhile kind of marriage. Over time the arts – film, literature, music and theater – propagated romance as the core expression of love, fostering the idea of ‘true love’.

Humans are naturally wired for love. We bond with family similar to any species on the planet.
Chemically, the body will develop what we consider romantic love via a cocktail of natural hormones. The biochemical makeup of love as described by Dr. Helen Fischer includes, three vital components; lust, attraction and attachment. Within these functions are specific hormones that drive them; endorphins, testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment. When we engage in romantic love our bodies experience increased levels of these natural hormones, simultaneously releasing every happy chemical at once. But our brain evolved to motivate reproduction, not to make us feel good all the time. This is why the good feeling doesn’t last.

Naturally, hormone levels decrease over time and when the natural high wears, we are left feeling confused. Our logical brain is unable to rationalize staying with a partner when our biochemistry abandons that initial high release of hormones. Just as the body is designed to do, we find ourselves experiencing chemical releases amongst many people. So who do we choose? The ability to couple is thinking greater than the body feels. Strong love feelings are a great indicator of who to date but a poor compass when it comes to who to marry. Our body deceives us. Why we do like danger, adrenaline. Why do we like game players, norepinephrine. Why should we avoid sex before commitment, oxytocin. Unless we are able to apply logic, after the lust fades, we find our bodies seeking new partners to regain the love “high” that we initially felt. While exciting, this is not sustainable and will not lead to partnership in the long term.

Lack of Education

“Nowhere do we realistically teach ourselves and our children how love deepens and stumbles, survives and evolves over time, and how that process has much more to do with ourselves than with what is right or wrong about our partner.” Ms. Krista Tippett opens her conversation with ‘The School of Life’ founder, Alain de Botton. And this is true.

How much do you know about being in a relationship? Even though a majority of adults will date, none will be taught how. The lack of education about what is required to be in a healthy long lasting relationship is appalling. Similar to healthy living, and financial literacy most adults are not taught how to be good partners and function within a healthy relationship. There is no wonder that nearly 50% of US marriages will end in divorce. It’s no wonder more adults globally are remaining virgins into their late twenties, and infidelity amongst couples is on the rise.

We are ill-equipped to handle long term commitment. In part, we know this, which has contributed to the delay in marriage.

A lack of education about what it takes to be in a healthy partnership, coupled with intense propaganda from film, and music, single adults are being led towards an unattainable vision of love. From one profound meme to the next, we are navigating partnership from our highest feeling states when it is from the more unfavorable circumstances where we need to be the most loving and understanding. Education on what happens to the body when we are in love, knowledge on how to be empathetic, or a good listener, and set healthy boundaries are currently just independent studies. We can see the results of this miseducation. Marriages are ending and more adults will never be married. Without help from our communities like generations past, more adults will fail to couple, because they simply don’t know how.

The idea that marriage is guaranteed, or promised, is a myth that is detrimental to single adults.

The concept might seem old-fashioned and institutionalized but the need for partnership and community has not waned from our desires. Johann Hari, in his book ‘Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope‘ writes, ‘the leading cause of depression are humans with fundamental needs not being met. One critical need being to love.’

We might not agree on whether marriage is a critical part of life, but love definitely is. Being single is not a problem to solve but being afraid of loving and the fear of being loved deeply, is.

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