7 Psychological Effects of Being Single for a Long Time
Romantic relationships are not the end-all-be-all of your life and mental health, but being single for a long time can have an impact on your identity and well-being (just like any kind of relationship status). Keep reading to learn more about the psychological effects of being single for a long time.
Clinically Reviewed By: Don Gasparini Ph.D., M.A., CASAC
August 16, 2023
Table of Contents
Relationships play a crucial role in shaping peoples’ sense of identity, quality of life, and mental health—including romantic relationships. Our culture values romantic partnership as symbols of success and joy, but the truth is romantic relationships are not the end-all-be-all of your life and mental health. However, being single for a long time can have an impact on your identity, life and well-being—just like any kind of relationship status. In short, whether you’re single or not, your mental health isn’t solely influenced by your relationship status, it’s more about your behavior and actions in the broader context of life. Keep reading to learn more about common psychological effects of being single, and the impact that being single for a long time can have on your relationship skill and mental health (spoiler alert: there’s not just one answer).
7 psychological effects of being single for a long time
1. Fear of rejection or vulnerability
Single people may feel more worried about getting rejected or opening up in new relationships. After long stints of singlehood, people may be extra careful when getting to know new potential partners. They may question whether they can establish meaningful emotional bonds, which can further contribute to their cautious approach when interacting with new potential partners.
Prolonged singlehood can lead to loneliness and isolation, as people may lack a consistent emotional connection with a partner. This sense of isolation might make it harder to open up to new people, and the fear of not finding that deep connection again could add to the apprehension of entering new relationships.
3. Lower self-esteem
Some people may experience a decline in self-esteem or self-worth after being single for a long time due to societal pressures or personal beliefs about being in a relationship. In a world that emphasizes the importance of romantic partnerships and portrays them as benchmarks of success and happiness, people who have been single for a long time may question their own worth based on their relationship status, comparing themselves to others who are in relationships or have reached certain milestones.
4. Heightened social anxiety
Being single for a long time can sometimes lead to heightened social anxiety, particularly in situations involving couples or new dates. Some single people may feel anxious in situations with couples, feeling excluded or awkward as the “third wheel” in these situations. Prolonged singlehood may also make people feel less confident about dating, increasing social anxiety in dating situations.
5. Change in priorities
Instead of focusing on a partner, single people may prioritize career goals, hobbies, friendships, and self-care. Being single for a long time gives people a chance for introspection and self-exploration; single people may prioritize exploring their own values, interests, and personal growth. Being single can also allow people to prioritize friendships, potentially leading to deeper and more meaningful connections with friends who become like chosen family.
6. Personal growth
Being single for a long time can foster personal growth, helping people develop a strong sense of self-reliance and independence. Single people may become better at handling life’s unexpected twists and turns solo. They may also build up greater emotional resilience and coping skills than partnered peers, learning to navigate the complexities and emotions of life without a partner’s immediate support.
7. Desensitization to romantic relationships
Over time, single people may become desensitized to the idea of being in a romantic relationship, leading to a reduced desire to pursue romantic connections. This apathy toward romantic relationships can be short-term or long-term. Some people, for instance, may find long-term satisfaction from being single, appreciating the freedom and opportunities it provides.
Does being single for a long time affect your mental health?
Being single for a long time can potentially affect your mental health—in the same way that any relationship status can. The mental health impact, though, varies based on personal circumstances and coping mechanisms.
For some people, being single for a long time can have positive mental health outcomes, such as increased self-discovery, personal growth, and the freedom to pursue individual interests and goals. However, for others, extended singlehood may have less favorable effects on mental health; being single for a long time may cause feelings of loneliness, isolation, and social exclusion, potentially leading to depression and anxiety.
Factors like personality, social support, life circumstances, and individual resilience can also impact the mental health effects of being single for a long time. For example, people who are resilient and have a strong social support system may experience fewer adverse mental health effects from being single.
In short, being single doesn’t necessarily affect your mental health for better or worse; the outcomes vary based on many factors. Single people (or anyone for that matter) can maintain their mental health while single by fostering strong social connections, engaging in fulfilling activities, practicing self-care, and seeking support when needed.
Does being single for a long time make you bad at relationships?
The impact of singlehood on relationship skills varies widely, depending on a person’s attitude, willingness to learn, and adaptability.
Some single people may learn communication and compromise skills by maintaining other relationships with friends, family, and co-workers—setting them up for success in future romantic relationships.
Other single people may limit emotional connections, potentially affecting communication and compromise in future romantic relationships.
Transitioning from singlehood to romantic partnerships might require an adjustment period for some due to limited practice in emotional connections and compromise.
Being single for a long time does not inherently make someone bad at relationships; rather, it can affect a person’s approach to relationships and their relationship skills. The impact of prolonged singlehood on relationship skills is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, though, and individual attitudes, willingness to learn, and adaptability play pivotal roles in determining one’s readiness and aptitude for meaningful relationships—both platonic and romantic.
Single people may focus on understanding their own values, desires, and aspirations, which can enhance their ability to communicate effectively in relationships—both friendships, and future romantic partnerships. Also, even while single, people can learn and grow from other relationships, including friendship, family relationships, and relationships with co-workers. These relationships can provide insights into effective communication, emotional intelligence, and the art of understanding diverse viewpoints—all of which are pivotal for building healthy and lasting platonic and romantic connections.
Also, many people who have been single for a long time may find that their time alone has sharpened their ability to be mindful and selective when choosing a partner. Having tasted the benefits of independence, they may be more inclined to seek out relationships that align with their personal values and contribute positively to their overall well-being.
However, like any skill, maintaining healthy relationships requires continuous effort and learning. As mentioned, some people may cultivate healthy platonic relationships while they are single. Others, though, may limit their exposure to emotional connections while single, and in turn struggle with communication, compromise, and decision-sharing when they eventually transition into a romantic relationship due to lack of practice. Independence cultivated during singlehood may also hinder the development of behaviors conducive to collaborative romantic relationships. While being single doesn’t inherently lead to poor relationship skills, people who don’t have as much practice maintaining healthy relationships may need more time to transition into a romantic partnership.
Charlie Health and relationships
If you’re struggling to connect with others or form the kinds of relationships that you want, Charlie Health is here to help. Our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides high-quality mental health treatment—including group, family, and individual therapy—for people who want more than once-weekly support. Our compassionate team of clinicians can help provide the tools and personalized care to move forward to a brighter and more manageable future, including learning how to connect with others and build healthy relationships. Fill out this short form to get started today.