The rise of ‘relationship virgins’
IF YOU believe the movies then romantic relationships are the most significant element of life; they're THE connection needed for deep fulfilment and meaning.
But, if that's true, then what if you're not part of romance, does that mean you're missing out on that emotional perspective that's necessary to provide meaning to your life? And what if you've never been part of a partnership and you're a, dun-dun-dunnnnnn … a 'relationship virgin'?
In her studies social psychologist and author, Bella DePaulo has noted that people who make it to their 20s and beyond without ever having a relationship are often stigmatised with a view that they are "less happy, less well-adjusted, and lonelier than adults of the same age who did have romantic relationship experience."
But in her book, Singled Out, DePaulo says that stereotype isn't fair. The Harvard Ph.D. expert argues, "everything you've heard about the benefits of getting married and the perils of staying single are grossly exaggerated or just plain wrong."
In Australian a 2014 Pew Report forecasts that by the time today's 20-30-somethings reach the age of 50, about one in four of them will have never married. But hold your panic because that's not necessarily a bad thing. Other data suggests single people tend to have greater involvement with the broader community than those coupled up.
"Single people are expanding the traditional boundaries of family. The people they care about the most might include family in the traditional sense. But they'll also loop in friends, ex-partners and mentors. It's a bigger, more inclusive family of people who matter," Dr DePaulo said.
So who is right? Hollywood or the Harvard expert?
In a bid to debunk the myths we spoke to some longstanding singles who shared their experiences about doing things solo. After a few chinwags it soon became clear that despite their unattached status, these 'relationship virgins' still, shock horror, lead meaningful and authentic lives as single people. Have a gander …
LILLY, 27, FEMALE, SYDNEY
"For me best thing about not being in a relationship is that I can live my life worrying about someone else. Honestly, I'm a busy person and being able to fit friends and family in is hard enough without having to stress about finding dates.
My generation also uses dating apps to meet potential partners for sexy time so I don't generally feel judged for being single. But, if I do feel like someone's questioning my choices I'm pretty forthright in letting them know they're mine to make.
I know myself really well. I think as a teen who never really got caught up in a relationship I had a lot of time for self-development. I'm really independent but also self-aware enough to know that if someone came along I'd need to make room for them emotionally.
It's kinda funny actually because while I've never been in a relationship, many of my friends come to me for relationship advice. I think that's because I've definitely got love for myself as a person and I've not been stifled by anyone's ideas about who I should be - I think for many of my friends this is actually an issue in their relationships.
I suppose I do kind of envy the idea that in times of disaster I would like someone other than my parents or sisters to look to for support - at this age some of my friends have kids and I just can't count on them at the drop of a hat. But, while I look at how a partner could help me, I've gone through some pretty nasty stuff in my life already without one so, I don't know if I need them for that or just like the idea of it.
Mostly I just think it would be nice to wake up to someone to tell me I look beautiful without makeup on or kiss me when I wasn't expecting it. If I'm not in love with someone those little gestures just don't feel as special. Then again, how many cats do I have to get to make up for all that love? Kidding! I only have three cats. KIDDING! I have one.
For now I'm not worried about finding a partner. My older sister was single for a long time before she found her partner and they're married and so in love; I won't force a relationship because I want real connection, like them. I've still got time to find someone and until then I'm enjoying this phase."
RACHEL, 30, LONDON
"Right now, I feel like the best thing about not being in a relationship is I don't have the burden of someone else to worry about. Sounds selfish, I know, but I don't think I've met someone yet that hasn't made me feel like I've had to dramatically adjust my life to keep them happy.
Recently I went back to Uni and I'm working so shaking up my schedule isn't going to happen. In the past I was more committed to finding someone to have a relationship with but there was always something that got in the way before things got official.
While my romantic relationships might total zilch I have amazing platonic relationships with guys and girls; some of them are people I've tried to date in the past and we just stayed in touch. The only time I do kinda get weird about my dating history is when I can feel the judgement of others when I just casually say, 'I've never been in a relationship'. There's definitely a stigma from some who look at me like I'm a sad loser or something. Then I can't help but judge their relationships. Then it's like everyone judging everyone … I wish that wasn't the case.
Do I always think I'll be single? Y'know, I hope not. I want someone stable so I can eventually have a kids and a family of my own. But, keeping that goal in mind, I'm also not going to desperately cling onto anyone who will have me just so I can pop my relationship cherry. I would find that demoralising after waiting so long pair up. I'm not ashamed to be single."
EVE, 36, SYDNEY
"I'm single but I'm not not having sex, if that's what anyone is wondering. I have had plenty of intimate relationships that I enjoyed, still do, just no one has ever tickled my fancy enough to keep around.
Judging by my past flings you'd never be able to pick one type of person I'd be with - I've dated men and women and I'm adventurous - so I'm an easy person to set up. But, it's just not my focus to date everyone I can all the time.
Don't get me wrong, I've been madly in love too - a few times. I didn't have to be in a solid 'we're dating exclusively' scenario to feel that deep connection. Sadly, those experiences didn't work out for a various reasons, mostly because I was unwilling to stay overseas for them to continue.
At times I feel I've been on the receiving end of really harsh judgments from people around me who think I should just settle down ASAP. One of my friends said, 'You should just date the first decent person that asks you out otherwise people might think there is something wrong with you and then you might be alone forever.' That really shook me at the time. I was like, 'Is there something wrong with me?' But I don't see how that makes sense. There are so many factors that go into making up a whole, full, healthy life and I'm not failing just because I'm single.
Honestly, I don't know why I'm single. Maybe my standards of what I want in a long-term partner have gotten higher as I've got older but, is that a bad thing? I feel like because I've been single in my teens, 20s and now 30s I've fit a lot into my life without being held back by relationships that were never going to last. I know people who have done the opposite and think that's tragic.
Sure there are days I'm sad about being single, but then I think of my friends and I know they are sometimes just as sad they're in unfulfilling relationships; there are good days and bad days for both sides. Overall, I'm fine with how my love life has played out. Maybe when I'm 50 and still haven't found the connection I might feel differently but mostly I'm content."
DYLAN 29, AMSTERDAM
"I'm a guy who is nearly 30 so relationship is a bigger thing to enter now, more so than when I was 20 or something. For sure, my standards are higher and I know this could be pretentious but if I want to share my life, it has to be with someone that is worthy of doing that with.
Even though he's been in a relationship for a few years, my best friend asks me for advice all the time. He's not always asking about specific things, it's more about getting another guy's perspective and seeing stuff in a different light. I try and play devil's advocate and call him out on his bullshit, and on her bullshit.
Also, admittedly I'm kind of anxious about any future women not accepting me for my quirks because I'm not used to sharing my life with anyone. I'm a not a freak but everyone has got their weird idiosyncrasies.
I think for me, at the end of the day, even though I'm almost 30 I don't feel I missed out on anything. I value my alone time very much."
* Names and details have been changed for privacy. Some quotes have been edited for clarity.
This story originally appeared on whimn.com.au and is republished here with permission.