Are You Destined For A Relationship Or Life-Long Singlehood?

Psychologist Menelaos Apostolou describes personalities that have the strongest tendencies towards a life of singledom.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 6, 2022

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences explains that even though being in a long-term relationship is a quintessential human experience, there are certain groups of people who prefer to live life without intimate companionship.

I recently spoke to psychologist Menelaos Apostolou to understand how sex without commitment, dark personality traits, and career focus drive people towards singlehood. Here is a summary of our conversation.

Could you walk us through the concepts of sociosexuality, the dark triad, and career focus? Why did you choose to study these three concepts within the purview of singlehood?

Sociosexuality refers to the willingness to engage in sex without commitment — high scorers tend to be more prone to casual sex.

The dark triad refers to a set of personality traits, namely narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Among other things, high scorers tend to be manipulative and indifferent to the feelings of others.

Career focus refers to individual differences in the willingness to focus one's resources on advancing one's career.

These traits are interrelated; for instance, high scorers on the dark triad tend to score high on sociosexuality and career focus.

The nature of these traits indicates that they would also be associated with singlehood. For example, people who score high on career focus may not have enough time to devote to finding and keeping an intimate partner.

What would you say was the most important finding of your study?

In the present study, we measure the three dimensions (sociosexuality, dark triad, and career focus), and how they were associated with relationship status.

We found that:

  1. High scorers in the dark triad and in sociosexuality were more likely to prefer to be single than low scorers
  2. In addition, younger women who scored high in career focus were more likely to prefer to be single than men and older women

Why do you think there is such a strong bend towards singlehood within these three categories of people?

One reason is that traits captured in the dark triad evolved to enable people to gain reproductive and other benefits by having opportunistic sex with many mates.

Accordingly, they would not commit themselves to a long-term relationship.

As a psychologist and researcher on the topic of singlehood, would you say that people who choose singlehood spend their lives being unsatisfied, or are they happy because of the autonomy they gain out of their choice?

For different evolutionary reasons, selection forces have shaped human nature so that people form long-term intimate relationships. Not being in such a relationship would trigger negative emotions such as sadness and loneliness that would motivate individuals to terminate their singlehood spell.

To answer your question directly, if people choose to stay single and not to have a family (which is the ultimate purpose of an intimate relationship), they would frequently experience loneliness, lack of purpose, sadness, and so on.

There are exceptions, however. That is, some people (e.g., high scorers in the dark triad) are better suited for single life.

Such cases are in the minority. For the majority of people, choosing to be forever single and not making a family equals a life characterized by emptiness, sadness, and loneliness.

Of course, this is not big news as most people know this, and strive to form long-term intimate relationships.

Although lifelong singlehood is an anathema, this is not the case for spells of singlehood. For instance, it could potentially pay to be single for some time in order to build your strengths (e.g., get a university degree), and then return to the mating market with better chances of attracting a mate.

It could also pay to stay single for some time after a relationship has ended so as to contemplate what went wrong and not make the same mistakes again.

Being in a long-term intimate relationship can teach us important values of communication, adjustment, empathy, etc. Would you say that people who prefer to remain single miss out on an important human experience?

Having an intimate partner as well as having children are among the most important positive human experiences.

Most of us have adaptations such as emotions that would trigger to prevent us from living a forever single life.

What advice would you have for an individual who has a preference for singlehood but feels pressured to be in a relationship because of cultural or societal reasons?

In most cases, pressure to be in a relationship that leads to family comes from close friends and family — that is, from people who care and want the best for us.

For instance, parents have firsthand experience of the joys of being in a long-term relationship and raising children and they want their daughters and sons to also experience them instead of leading an empty life being single, spending their resources on buying things, which will make little difference to their wellbeing.

With respect to your question, in general, people should not get into a relationship because others tell them to do so, but because they want to and are ready to do so.

As I said before, it may pay to be single for some time, building your strengths and perhaps getting experience from casual relationships.

I also think that it is a good idea for people to have in the back of their minds that being in a long-term intimate relationship and having children would lead to a meaningful life, so as to avoid making choices that drive them away from that.