RSS
Fear of dying alone drives women AND men into bad relationships
Both sexes lower the relationship bar out of spinsterhood fears
 
But it's better than a bad relationship, right?
But it's better than a bad relationship, right? (Courtesy Shutterstock)

In news that will be completely unsurprising to those who have dated people who spend more time playing Grand Theft Auto than speaking in full sentences, science has confirmed that our fear of being single keeps us in bad relationships.

A study from the University of Toronto recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that people often stay in relationships because they are afraid of ending up alone. The more fearful they are, the more likely they are to majorly lower the bar for what they expect in a romantic partner.

"Those with stronger fears about being single are willing to settle for less in their relationships," said the lead author Dr. Stephanie Spielmann in a statement. "Sometimes they stay in relationships they aren't happy in, and sometimes they want to date people who aren't very good for them."

Apparently as annoyed as we are when our mothers remind us that "Better is the enemy of good," we agree with them when it comes to our relationships, at least to a degree. Anyone who has been the only one dancing to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" at their college roommate's wedding knows the uncomfortable truth: There is, albeit temporary, comfort in having another person by your side.

What is actually surprising about the study, though, is that the data showed men are as concerned as women about becoming lonely cat ladies. "In our results we see men and women having similar concerns about being single which leads to similar coping behaviors, contradicting the idea that only women struggle with the fear of being single," co-author Dr. Geoff MacDonald said in a statement.

That's right. Contrary to the myth that men seek an eternity of bachelorhood fun and games, it turns out they, too, worry that they will face a lonely bitter end in which potted ferns are their only form of loving companionship.

This is particularly fascinating, since women have generally been considered the gender with a romantic expiration date, while men have the option of taking the sexy lone-wolf route with women coming and going in their lives. Women were long stigmatized for being single and taught that there was a narrow window of attractiveness and desirability before they were considered off the market for good.

But everybody hurts, regardless of whether they pee standing up or sitting down. "Loneliness is a painful experience for both men and women," said MacDonald, "So it's not surprising that the fear of being single seems not to discriminate on the basis of gender."

There's also the fact that men today have more of a reason to worry about remaining single than they did fifty year ago. Since women are no longer as (or at all) dependent on men for their financial and social security, men aren't guaranteed a lifetime of female companionships. There may be fear of dying alone, but there is no actual need for women to marry for their economic wellbeing or societal standing. Thus, they aren't a guarantee for men, which is why they may be as likely as women to worry now about their chances of finding someone better...or just someone.

So when you are wondering about whether you should stay with someone who can't remember your birthday, take comfort in knowing that Mr. or Mrs. Right may be right out there, trying to find the courage to leave his or her dead-end relationship, too.

 
Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week