It’s that little voice inside your head that nudges you to go on a third date with a Bumble match even though you aren’t really feeling it, or to avoid breaking it off with someone despite the fact that they’re all wrong for you. Sometimes, it creeps in when you get a wedding invite and you panic about who you’ll bring as your plus-one. Why are you scared of being single? According to psychologists, there are several super legit reasons for this fear — but if it goes unchecked, it can be pretty detrimental to both your love life and your overall emotional well-being.
First, let’s get one thing straight: It's totally normal to fear being single.
“At our core, down to our very biology, we are programmed for connection,” says Dr. Sherrie Campbell, a licensed counselor and psychologist. “We are drawn to connect with an intimate partner for reproduction alone on a biological level. When we have a partner, it can deepen the experience of our existence and importance in this world. We get that feeling that we are needed and necessary in another’s life.”
Unfortunately, even in today's increasingly progressive society, there's some persistent single-shaming that only adds to the stigma. Case in point: Aunt Judy, who has made an annual Thanksgiving tradition out of interrogating you about why you haven't settled down; or your coworker Karen, who insists on setting you up with her cousin despite your disinterest. A longstanding cultural narrative has led many people to subconsciously equate their self-worth with their relationship status, and I for one look forward to the day when that comes to a screeching halt.
“Given the strongly couple-oriented nature of society, there is often a great deal of overt and subtle pressure from others to be coupled,” explains Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy from Fear. “As a result, it can be quite scary to be single.”
Dr. Manly also points out that this fear can be even more pronounced in women, due to deeply flawed gender stereotypes and expectations. In the past, single men fared much better than women financially, but not only that — it was simply considered more socially acceptable for them to wait to marry.
“Historically, a single male was seen as an ‘eligible bachelor’ whereas a single female was often termed a ‘spinster’ — a term that holds a negative connotation,” she adds. “That said, both males and females can certainly feel pressured by society and family to be partnered.”
According to Dr. Manly, this fear of being single often stems from concerns about you’ll be perceived by family, friends, coworkers, and even total strangers. In other words, even if you don’t personally mind not having a partner, you may be worried that other people will view you in a negative light because of it.
“This often stems not just from historical factors, but also from current family and social pressures,” she tells Elite Daily. “Many people fear going to a restaurant, event, or movie alone for fear of being seen as defective, unlovable, or unworthy. In addition, there is certainly a protective element to being partnered. For example, harm is less likely to come to a couple walking alone than to a single woman in the same situation.”
While this fear is definitely common, experts agree that it’s something worth digging into. For one, it can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Not only that, but it may also lead you to pursue relationships for the wrong reasons.
“In general, when we act out of fear, we can make errors that cause us harm in the long run,” says Dr. Manly. “If you choose to get into a relationship after consciously dating and fostering a good bond, the chances of having a successful relationship are far better than if you jump into a relationship because all of your friends are getting married and you don’t want to be alone. It’s simply unwise to move into any relationship for fear-based reasons, whether it’s a fear of being alone, a fear of displeasing your parents, financial fears, or a fear of being left out.”
The fact is, if you give into your fear and get into relationships due to the wrong motivations, you may overlook red flags, dealbreakers, and other big issues.
“This fear can make us codependent, and this codependency or fear of being alone can keep us in toxic relationships — which break our self-worth and sense of personal value down,” explains Dr. Campbell.
When you’re actively avoiding being single as a result of your fear, you’re likely to take less time getting to know potential partners before diving headfirst into relationships, and obviously, that’s a somewhat risky approach.
Fret not, though — experts say this fear is something you can definitely overcome. The first step? Figuring out why being single is so scary for you personally.
"It’s really important to get to the root causes of this fear," says Dr. Manly. "Self-work can be powerfully healing in addressing this issue. Seeing a psychotherapist, journaling, or bibliotherapy can be incredibly helpful tools in learning how to enjoy one’s own company."
If your fear stems from societal norms and expectations, becoming aware of those pressures is key. In fact, a 2005 study conducted at The University of Virginia found that people who increased their awareness of potential stigmatization of singles also took steps to validate their sense of self-worth and overall happiness. BTW — if your friends or family are adding to the stigma or contributing to this pressure to be in a relationship, Dr. Manly says it’s totally acceptable to let them know that their input, no matter how well-intentioned, is toxic or unhelpful.
As Dr. Campbell notes, focusing on self-love is a phenomenal way to fight your fear of being single. The more you learn to make yourself happy (and reinforce the idea that you don't need a partner to have a fulfilling life), the more likely you are to not only reap the many benefits of being single but also to only pursue quality relationships that are worth your time and effort. Dr. Manly advises that you start taking yourself out on dates to get more comfortable with your single status.
"Going out to lunch by yourself, taking a walk in the park during the day, or going to a matinee movie are all wonderful little steps that build inner confidence," she tells Elite Daily.
Here's a question: What if rather than making a commitment to someone else, you made one to yourself? Consider making a promise to accept, love, and cherish yourself for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, with a partner or without, as long as you live. Once you begin to turn your attention toward building up your self-worth (rather than snagging a SO), you'll slowly begin to realize that singledom is nothing to fear. Besides, as author and speaker Marilyn Ferguson once wrote, "Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is a freedom."
Morris, W. L. (2005). The Effects of Stigma Awareness on the Self-Esteem of Singles. doi: 10.18130/v3cz6n
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, psychologist and counselor