Singleness vs. Loneliness
I’m sure we have all experienced a time where we have either sympathetically responded to someone who reports they are single, or have been witness to this type of interaction. There’s a common misconception associated with singleness where it is believed the unpartnered person is lonely and constantly seeking a romantic relationship. Even more maladaptive is the assumption that they are single because of their inability to sustain a relationship, their unworthiness of partner(s), and other outlandish ideas ALL of which typically locate the problem in the person who is single.
“We tend to think of being single as a matter of being alone rather than a matter of choosing the types of relationships we want to be in”(Perel, n.d.)
However, it is worth considering that someone who is single may be neither seeking a relationship nor lonely. The term loneliness can describe any person, partnered or single! Singleness can be a valuable time of self-discovery in which skills are mastered, hobbies are discovered, and an individual becomes self-aware and confident, independent of a partner (Book Soup Official, 2021).
Alone vs. Lonely
Being alone means that an individual is physically present without another person; this occurs anytime one person sits in a room in the absence of another. In contrast, loneliness is a state of being in which someone feels dissociated from or unfulfilled by their relationships (Julle-Daniere, 2020). An example of loneliness is a spouse who has felt disconnected from their significant other and feels lonely in their marriage. While it is true that single people may live alone and participate in activities and social engagements alone, if their relationships with themselves, friends, family, fur-babies and/or others are rich and fulfilling, they likely will not experience loneliness.
What if I am lonely?
Whether single or partnered, loneliness can prove harmful to one’s mental health. In these cases, some strategies may combat loneliness and enhance well-being and a sense of support.
- Reaching out to loved ones
- Joining a shared interest group
- Attending a class or workshop
- Exercising (especially in nature)
- Volunteering for a local cause
- Seeking mental health support
Benefits of Being single and/or alone
Whether it is by choice or temporary, there are benefits to alone time, as stated by Julle-Daniere (2020): “Being alone is a chance for you to refocus on yourself, on your needs, on what makes you feel good” (para 11). This refocus may sound daunting; however, self-reflection can lead to discovering activities that bring happiness and fulfillment into one’s life and enhance social interactions and future relationships. Being alone also allows our senses and minds to rest; this rest can become meditation, which has many health benefits (Julle-Daniere, 2020).
In the end, rather than assuming that our single friends are lonely, and feeling rushed ourselves to be in a relationship, might we consider the possibility that singleness allows for an opportunity to focus on an incredibly significant relationship, the one that they have with ourselves?
Here are some reflective questions that might be helpful to consider if/when you are experiencing singleness and/or aloneness:
Book Soup Official. (2021, June 25). John Kim with Mark Groves, discusses Single on Purpose: Redefine Everything. Find Yourself First. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkNracGKnBg
Julle-Daniere, E. (2020, April 16). Being Alone vs. Being Lonely. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/talking-emotion/202004/being-alone-vs-being-lonely
Perel, E. (n.d.). Letters from Esther #24: What does “Single” mean for you? Esther Perel. https://www.estherperel.com/blog/letters-from-esther-24-what-does-single-mean-for-you
Katie Mastromattei, MACP Candidate, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)