The way we approach finding love (or something resembling it) has seriously changed in recent years, thanks to the surge of dating apps that are used by nearly 40 million people in the U.S. alone. Along with this dating revolution and a slew of other biological and societal factors comes a curious modern ailment—the fear of being single.
"We have to remember that we're not wired for this," explains relationship expert Wendy Walsh, PhD. "We have potentially thousands of potential mates just a mouse click or thumb swipe away, so this has sort of confused our biology." Overwhelming choice can make it difficult to commit to any one person, according to Walsh. Pair this with issues such as childhood trauma, societal pressure, or fertility concerns, and a life of singledom can feel like an impending doom.
Ahead, Walsh breaks down the keys to figuring out the root of this fear and how to move through it—whether that means finding a partner or not.
Figure Out the Cause
According to Walsh, there are three major factors that can contribute to the fear of being single. First, from a psychological perspective, she suggests that this concern may stem from a fear of abandonment potentially caused by a childhood trauma, such as losing a parent. "So the idea of single life isn't an opportunity to be independent to them—it may have to do with just their attachment style," she says.
Secondly, a fear of being single may come from societal pressures. Walsh explains that depending on where a person lives, there may be certain biases toward the lifestyle of a single person versus a person who is married or in a relationship. "In large urban centers, I think there’s a bias toward being single right now, but if you live in the suburbs or you live in family-oriented smaller cities and towns, being single is sort of the strange person in that particular group," she says. These societal expectations can make it difficult veer from the norm no matter your relationship status.
Finally, Walsh explains that women in particular face the biological reality of a fertility window that may contribute to relationship worries. Research shows that beginning around age 32, a woman's chances of conceiving decrease significantly and are cut in half by age 40. "What single life sometimes means to women is the fear of not being able to find a mate in time,” Walsh says. With millennials getting married much later than previous generations, this proves to be a real concern for those who want to have children.
Make a Relationship Plan
While many turn to dating apps and websites to combat the fear of being single, Walsh explains that this technology does not always support a search for serious commitment. "What modern technological dating does is it provides people with too many choices, and when they have too many choices, humans rarely stick to one," she claims. "It makes it harder to commit and stay committed because there’s this feeling like there’s a bigger, better deal out there or fear of missing out on another better mate."
Despite that fact that this initial analysis seems quite pessimistic, Walsh is convinced that if being in a relationship is what you what, you simply have to have a plan. "We make education plans, we make career plans, we make wedding plans, but we don’t make relationship plans," she says. While some prefer to leave love up to fate, Walsh believes that planning is the key. "In today's times with so many mates available, you can make it a strategy. You can figure out when you're ready and you can find a person who's willing to make a long-term commitment.”
So how exactly can you make a strategy for finding love? Walsh recommends taking a fresh approach to the way you use dating apps—that is if you feel you are ready for a serious commitment and want to actively go out in search of one. As a part of Walsh's self-proclaimed "dating prescription," she suggests not taking matches too seriously, as many seem to swipe with reckless abandon while others may carefully scrutinize the profiles of their potential suitors. In order to find out who's really interested in you, Walsh suggests keeping messaging to a minimum and hopping on a quick phone call or meeting for a coffee date to see if it's a match in real life, without letting flirty messaging create a fantasy of who a person might be in your head.
Find Your Mojo
If you're not interested in entering the dating app arena, that's okay, too. There are plenty of ways to work through the fear of being single without dating up a storm. "Work on your village," Walsh says. "Women have a unique ability to tend and befriend. They care for others, both generations below them and generations above them. They befriend and create large social communities," she explains. In addition to being a wonderful social outlet, Walsh says these relationships have been proven to fight things like anxiety and depression.
Along with finding your village of friends and mentors, Walsh thinks feeling good about being single is all about finding your mojo. “Volunteer, take a new class, take a wine tasting course, a cooking course, jump out of an airplane, join a community garden, please, carry a sign and go protest for something, just get involved with the world and something you haven’t done before and take a leap," she says. "Look at it as freedom to be you."
Walsh also notes that being single in the long run is also not something to fear. "There are going to be people who remain single across the lifespan, and that doesn’t mean that they’re not involved in the culture," she says. One recent study even found that older women who have never been married are among the happiest people in the U.S.
No matter your relationship status, happiness is always within reach so long as you immerse yourself in the things you are passionate about and surround yourself with the people you love—whether that's a significant other or not.