In 2020, about 45.4% of Americans 18 and older, or 114.3 million, were unmarried, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s current population survey. To put that in perspective, in 1950, that number hovered around 22%
Another subset of that growing demographic has never been in a relationship at all, either by choice or by circumstance. Maybe they’ve never met anyone worth settling down with or have grown too accustomed to living alone and calling the shots to give it up now.
There are myriad reasons for staying relationship-free. Below, readers who’ve been single their entire lives share how that came to be and what they think about their decisions now.
Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.
Are you single by choice?
I am definitely not single by choice. I went to a high school with predominantly girls, and the bar for boys was so low, it was hell. I have always wanted a partner. I especially wanted to date when I was younger so I could get rid of silly dating rookie mistakes and be mature by the time I got serious with someone. Most men’s first impression of me is intimidating, though. It has always been that way, even during my formative years. But I seriously don’t know how to meet decent men. Am I in the right city? Maybe New York isn’t where I am supposed to be. Losing weight got me a lot of attention, and gaining weight made me feel invisible, and then I think, do I seriously want to be with a guy who’ll change the way he feels about me on something that fluctuates so often, like weight?
What have your dating experiences been like?
I have had some really bad experiences with going on dates via the apps. One guy I met on Hinge literally told me I was fat on the date and he was super homophobic. I now do FaceTime dates so I don’t have to waste my time getting ready to go on the train to meet a subpar guy.
Basically, at this point, I am the queen on the situationship; I have a terrible affinity for dating emotionally unavailable men. They treat you as if you are their girlfriend, but if the subject comes up they turn it down.
Can you see yourself being in a relationship in the future?
I really hope so. I do see myself getting married at some point as well. I want someone to make time for me like I would make time for them. Someone who celebrates me to ease my insecurities. I want someone who will geek out with me for every new Marvel movie coming out. Someone I can do nothing with, like just take a midday nap. Someone who is funny and lighthearted to balance my seriousness and anxiety. Someone who is already a person and is consistently working on themselves like I am. Preferably a man in therapy. Someone to travel with and go to events, so I don’t have to go alone. Someone who is liberal, because I volunteer too much for abortion rights that I can’t be with a conservative. I absolutely love to cook with guys that I am dating, so I need someone who sees themselves as an equal partner. I want a best friend, someone I can be a better person with. And lastly, someone with good credit. —Alia, a 26-year-old straight woman from New York
How did it come to be that you have never been in a relationship?
One of the clichés of romantic fiction is that as soon as you stop looking, the right person will come along. In my experience, however, if you stop looking, you just stay alone. By making absolutely no effort to find a mate, I have succeeded in not finding one.
If I’m being honest, I think one reason I’ve stayed single is that it was easier than pursuing a relationship. I am, by nature, a very lazy person, and finding someone and then having a long-term romantic and sexual relationship with that person is hard work ― from what I’ve seen anyway. One of my goals since childhood was to have my life be as simple and uncomplicated as possible, and not pursuing romantic and sexual relationships has been a key part of achieving that.
Also, in the last year or so I became aware of the term “aromantic,” and I immediately realized that it could apply to me.
What have your dating experiences been like? What’s the closest you’ve come to getting in a relationship?
In my youth, there were women around, and I certainly found some of them attractive, but actually pursuing one of them romantically wasn’t something I thought about. I also noticed that my friends (male and female) who were in relationships didn’t seem any happier because of it and, in many cases, were unhappier because of it.
Nothing much changed when I went off to college. I did go on a couple of dates, largely because my male friends pushed me to do so. They were much more typical male college students ― getting drunk, getting high, sleeping around. I didn’t then (and still don’t) smoke, drink or use drugs, so that set me apart and limited my opportunities to meet women in bars where those things were the norm. I was also then (and still am) an atheist who doesn’t attend church, so that eliminated another area where many people meet their mates.
My senior year in college, I had a class with a woman who was a friend of a friend, so I kind of knew her. We ended up working on a big project together, and that developed into something. I will freely admit that she was the aggressor. We dated for about six months. I graduated and went back home, but she still had two years of college, so we tried having a long-distance relationship for a while, but ultimately it ended. I felt like I was playing the role of “boyfriend” rather than being an actual boyfriend, which was unfair to both of us. I wasn’t being my true self, and that bothered me. It wasn’t something I wanted to do again.
Over the years I would occasionally meet a woman I liked and enjoyed talking to and spending time with, but ultimately that was all I wanted to do. Some of those women are still very good friends of mine. We have dinner, we talk, and in some cases we have traveled together, but always as friends.
Did you ever feel any pressure from friends and family to settle down, especially when you were younger?
At one point in my 20s, thinking that having a romantic partner was more or less a required part of life, I signed up for a dating service. (This was pre-internet, when you went to an office and looked through a book of photos and résumé-type descriptions of interests to choose a date.) I went on one date, and it was an uncomfortable dinner that neither of us enjoyed. As in high school, the whole thing seemed forced and insincere to me.
My family has never really said anything about my single status. My parents, my aunts and uncles, even my grandparents were all involved in bad relationships that ended in divorce. I don’t think they saw any need to push me into joining them.
As for my friends, now, as we all enter our 60s, I get the feeling that a lot of my friends wish they had taken the path I did. Many are now divorced and looking for a new relationship or are in marriages that no longer work but which they can’t bring themselves to end. Often, while listening to my friends talk about the trials and tribulations of their own relationships, I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet. ― David, a 61-year-old straight man living in North Carolina
Why do you think you’ve avoided a relationship up until this point?
Well, I grew up in a strict conservative household where sex was just for making babies. My mom would refer to a vagina as “down there” instead of using actual terms. So when I moved out when I was a few months shy of being 21, I “rebelled” and was only looking to lose my virginity. I had never dated in high school. Once I lost my virginity, I enjoyed the attention from men and being wanted, as I wasn’t wanted when I was a teenager. In my early 20s, I wasn’t looking for a relationship but more to see how I could increase my body count. I enjoyed the independence and sleeping around, and doing what I wanted ― safely, of course.
But I am Indian, and marriages are a big deal in Indian culture, so my parents started pressuring and asking about marriage when I turned 26. I would indulge them and text the guy they had in mind, but it was more just so I could fulfill the favor to them.
Honestly, romantic relationships didn’t really cross my mind. I downloaded Bumble because I liked how women made the first move. I do consider myself a fierce feminist. The first man I met in person off…