If you’re single, you’re not alone. That’s because the trend toward singlehood is one of the biggest demographic shifts in the past half-century. Today nearly 48% of American adults age 18 and over are divorced, widowed or never married, according to the US Census Bureau.
As more people live longer, some of that shift toward singlehood may be due to the loss of a spouse or a late-in-life divorce. But part of that trend also comes thanks to shifts in society that have made stigmas against being single disappear. A recent 2018 survey by the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City found that fewer than one in three adults thinks that you must get married in order to live a fulfilling life.
Still, it can be hard to transition from coupledom to singlehood.
There can be speed bumps as you start along your new path. You’re likely missing your spouse and old routines—even if you’re getting out of a bad marriage. Memory can play tricks on you, making you think that your past life as part of a couple was rosier than it was. Becoming single could mean that you’re suddenly pushed out of your comfort zone and forced to do things on your own.
What to do: Allow yourself at least six months to adjust to your “new normal.” That will give you time to complete urgent personal business, such as setting up new accounts. And you’ll have the emotional space to grieve the loss. Later you may want to think about making big changes such as moving to a new city or shifting careers. If some changes have to be made faster—such as moving out of a house after a divorce—look for ways to make those moves more temporary by taking on a short-term lease or renting a room from a friend.
Being single can help you rediscover parts of you that have long been silenced. When you don’t have to worry about another person’s well-being and happiness…when you’re able to make every decision just for yourself…when you’ve spent years relying on the opinions of another…it can be both frightening and freeing to go it alone. Take time to see what interests you.
Examples: A single mother returned to college. On her first day of school, when other parents were helping their children move in, her son was helping her get settled. She went on to get her masters and now is working in a field she loves. A 38-year-old language translator from the UK used his singledom to pursue his dream of conquering the Polar Bear Challenge, a back-to-back marathon and half marathon. If you have similarly adventurous dreams, nothing is stopping you now.
Research published in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships shows that single people put more time and effort into building the relationships that matter to them, and many have richer and more supportive social circles than their married peers. Why? Some people get lazy about creating external social relationships when they have someone “built in” at home. But singles may have to work on rebuilding their social networks first. People who are transitioning into single life may find that their couple friends stop inviting them out…and that can be incredibly painful.
To reconnect, put yourself forward and invite friends to things—at least initially. Friends who knew you as part of a couple may be waiting to take a cue from you that you’re ready to socialize again. Consider group activities that don’t require coupledom, such as a painting class.
This also is a good time to shift your focus to building new friendships that fit your new life. By joining local groups dedicated to your interests—book clubs, sports leagues, volunteer groups—you’ll meet like-minded people who may become good friends. Support groups for the newly divorced or widowed may be a great way to meet people who are dealing with the same life changes. You can find groups through a church or synagogue—or online sites such as PsychologyToday.com or Meetup.com.
Because singlehood can be uncomfortable at first, make plans with at least one person every week.
Treat Yourself Right
There may not be another person there to do sweet things for you, but you can treat yourself. With no one else judging how you spend your time and money, you’re free to spoil yourself.
Bring home flowers for your table, splurge on a fancy dinner or reserve that professional driving experience. Remind yourself that you’re worth it. That includes cooking for yourself. Banish the thought that you shouldn’t be “bothered” when it’s only for one person. Buy a cookbook such as Cooking for One or The Single Guy Cookbook.
Give Back to Others
The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that single people are more likely to volunteer than their married counterparts (except when it comes to religious organizations), and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study discovered that single people were more likely to help friends, family and community members in need. Being involved has been shown to be both physically and emotionally healthy. It can help you feel good and banish possible feelings of self-pity. Drawback: Nearly one-third of singles in my research say that they felt there were high expectations placed on them to make their lives seem fulfilling. If you’re being asked to do more than you can, simply use that all-powerful word no.
Recent studies found that singles overall had a healthier body weight, according to Journal of Family Issues,than their married counterparts…and that they have more sex, according to the General Social Survey. That may point to the theory that when couples “settle down,” they sometimes can develop unhealthy habits. Use your new singledom to focus on your health, diet and exercise. Example: A 54-year-old consultant in Washington found that being single allowed her to pursue a passion for long-distance biking. When she was part of a couple, she felt she couldn’t prioritize the time to train or spend the money she needed to.
Do You Want to Stay Single?
Even though there are more singles than ever before—you still may feel pressured to jump back into coupledom. Many find that people in their lives are excited to fix them up with other single friends—often before they’re ready.
What to do: Tell matchmaker friends that you’re focusing on yourself but that you’ll let them know when you’re ready—assuming that you have any interest in recoupling, which you may not. Conversely, if you are interested in a new romance, let people know.
While some experts recommend waiting at least a year before jumping back into the dating pool, some singles find happy new relationships much sooner. Either way, know that finding a partner is not critical to your happiness.
Being newly single has changed your life. It’s not always easy, but it can be an exciting opportunity.