Stop Saying that Being Single Is Better Than Being in a Bad Relationship

That’s too generous to romantic relationships and too grudging to single people

Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave
Published in
4 min readMar 5, 2021

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Photo by Tolga Ulkan on Unsplash

I hear this all the time: “Being single is better than being in a bad relationship” (or a bad marriage). There are other versions, too, such as, “It is better to be single than to wish you were.” Sometimes I read those platitudes in the media and sometimes people say them to me, knowing that I am one who lives my single life fully, joyfully, and unapologetically.

I don’t like those sentiments and I wish people would stop expressing them.

My problem is not that I think the statements are inaccurate. It is true that being single is better than being in a bad relationship or a bad marriage. It is demonstrably true — research shows that. Actually, research shows more than that. Being single is even better than being in a romantic relationship that isn’t particularly bad. And look at this conclusion from the social scientists who conducted that research:

“…it appears that people who reported anything less than “strongly agreeing” that their relationship was high quality experienced more negative affect while around their partners than when separated from them.”

I think that research is very important. But those findings are not the main reason why I don’t like it when people say that being single is better than being in a bad relationship. What I really dislike is that the sentiment is just so grudging. It makes single life seem like the sad, pitiful choice you would make only if your only alternative was a lousy romantic relationship or marriage.

Some people really do want to be coupled — sometimes desperately so — and for them, single life would just be something they’re stuck with and not something they would ever choose. But there are other people very different from them. People who are single at heart lead their best lives, their most authentic and meaningful lives, by living single. Single life for them is not just better than a bad marriage, it is better than a good one.

A few years ago, a journal article got a lot of attention for its claim that happy single people are those who are avoiding conflict and…

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Bella DePaulo
Fourth Wave

“America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience,” according to the Atlantic. SINGLE AT HEART book coming on Dec 5, 2023. www.belladepaulo.com