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The phenomenon of involuntary singleness

In recent decades, the rituals and social norms that configure each step of a love relationship have evolved to the scenario we have today: less marriages, more divorces, more frustrations and loneliness, more internet breakups, ghosting, liquid love and – surprisingly – more involuntary singles.

A recent sociological study by the University of Malaga, in collaboration with the BBVA Foundation, analyzed the evolution of life to two in Spain and, among the numerous conclusions – more couples not living together, greater equality, change in terms – there is a striking note, which goes unnoticed: the number of involuntary singles (that is, people who want to be in a romantic relationship, but they don’t find the right person for them) is increasing, accompanied by greater frustration and a greater feeling of loneliness.

The number of singles is already increasing in to of the world. This is the reality. A Pew Research Center analysis found that in 2022, 2022 % of adults between 25 and 54 years had not been married or lived with a boyfriend. In Spain, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), since 2015, the number of singles has increased by 8%, and the amount of people between 25 and

years living alone increased by 2%.

Much is said about voluntary singleness, empowerment and the freedom to not depend on anyone, but little is said about the difficulty in finding the right match. For 43% of singles interviewed in the University of Malaga study, however, this is the reason: they would like to meet, they want to find, but do not find the person. Ana, 35 years old, tells Aceprensa that this type of singleness is a suffering from which remorse, insecurities and frustrations. “There comes a time when you think ‘this is too difficult’. I can do everything in my power, but it ends up being something almost miraculous, very complicated.”

In a conversation with Aceprensa, Professor Luis Ayuso Sánchez, professor of Sociology at the University of Malaga and a member of the team that carried out the aforementioned study, points out that this increase in unique people, an increase that has been observed for years, is due to digitalization and a growing individualism.

The trend observed in the study is that more individual issues are prioritized – work or mobility – than couple issues. The romantic utopia is still present in society and in life projects, but the pace of external stimuli, the growing digitization of relationships – thanks to dating apps – and the mutation (in terms of relationships) from an objective society to a emotional, are hindering the lasting establishment of these bonds.

The emotional era[na vida real]

“The society we live in is a very emotional society, so the important thing is to feel, experience, experience”, says Ayuso. A trend that is accelerated by the impacts and stimuli that surround us and that force us to make decisions in an accelerated way. “I want to buy and I buy fast. I want to eat and eat fast. Everything is fast”. But courtship, love, is cooked over low heat. And yet, many relationships mimic what is already present in almost every sphere of society. “Just as I get tired of having shoes, I get tired of having a relationship because it doesn’t motivate me anymore. It no longer moves me.”

According to Ayuso, emotionality is changing the types of relationships. “When the basis of couple relationships was more objective, more ‘material’ [projeto de vida conjunto, como ter filhos], relationships were more solid”. Now, he observes, the basis of relationships is emotion, a subjective, ephemeral basis, which gives way to more liquid relationships. “Today I get up and I realize that I don’t want you anymore, and there’s no reason why I have to fight.” The dominant imperative each day we get up is to want to feel the same way from the beginning. That is, feeling these butterflies from the first stages of any relationship that inevitably, with the passage of time and the maturation of the relationship, becomes a more subtle emotion.”

A liquid love

As Ayuso highlights, relationships lost solidity and favored “liquid” love, an affection that stands out for its lack of commitment and complete rejection of dependence on others. Zygmunt Bauman, father of this expression, writes in his work Liquid love: on the fragility of human bonds that liquid relationships are relationships that fail to fill, no matter how hard you try, the place left by the stronger bonds, which, according to Baumann, characterized the relationships of the past. “Anyway, [na atualidade] this connection must not be well tied, so that it is possible to untie it when relationships change… something that in liquid modernity will happen every now and then.”

According to Ayuso, dating apps are also responsible for having completely changed dating rituals, especially in the initial phase. Such applications are tools that allow us to adapt to the birth of a new order, the digital society, but their objective is not aligned with that of the user. In O algo do amor, French journalist Judith Duportail exposes, echoing her own experience, how the purpose of these technologies is not find love, if not keep the user in constant search. Ayuso has the same opinion. The point of these apps, she says, “is to keep you thrilled, keep you hooked on the app, not make you fall in love. Because if you fall in love, you’ll delete the profile.”

Do fast food to fast love

A hook that leads to fast love –

fast love – and who, according to Ayuso, is the one characterized by not wanting to commit. “I want to live it very intensely, for a few months”. And when other phases come that are inevitable in any relationship, that require effort and renunciation, “oh no, that doesn’t interest me”. Fast love, new people, everything always changing.

Ana also observed this problem on many occasions, this lack of emotional maturity that leads to having great difficulty in committing. “You can find someone, but the fact of starting is difficult because the people are very afraid of commitment, of sacrifice, of renouncing themselves”.

[na atualidade] A fear that arises from the certainty that, when being with one person (let’s put aside polyamory), one cannot be with another. And now more than ever: largely because of applications like Tinder, one becomes very aware of the opportunity cost that a relationship entails, of everything that is “lost”.

As an extra commodity, the question “Is it worth it?” nestles in consciousness in the face of any difficulty or change of course, because I know there are many more fish in the sea and I see them on Tinder. Why should I conform?

It is from the confrontation with this dilemma that on/off relationships are formed: fragile relationships from birth that turn on and off as needed. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and researcher of human behavior, explains that many people no longer want to fight for a relationship because this implies significant emotional wear and tear. For this reason, digital relationships are gaining more and more prominence, not least because the processes of entering and leaving a relationship have changed: the entrance is characterized by a swipe [o ato de deslizar o dedo na tela]; the output, by ghosting [desaparecimento]. These relationships have little or no emotional involvement and, in most cases, are simply on the virtual plane. They are a hobby, a game.

Until they want children.

And the children, when?

A romantic utopia, comments Ayuso, is very present in life projects. The problem arises when, at a certain age, after having experienced, felt and “lived” a lot, the biological clock ticks and the agenda is full of contacts, but empty of any possibility of commitment. “Paradoxically, the more contacts we have, the more possibilities there are to meet people, the more difficulties we have in finding a partner”, confirms Ayuso.

According to Rafael Lafuente, an experienced speaker in affective-sexual education, comments to Aceprensa, this singleness “is involuntary now, at this moment, for a person of 35 or 38 years that you don’t want to be without a spouse or child. But what you should ask her is how she lived or acted when 25 or 26 years old”.

As he explains, all decisions have consequences, “and if, during our youthful years, we did not occupy ourselves or worry about the subject, if we only cared about our career, our professional fulfillment and the enjoy our sexual pleasures, without any glimmer of commitment”, the result is natural.

In a recent article by The Economist titled “Tinder drove me to freeze my eggs” [O Tinder me levou a congelar os óvulos], Anna Louie Sussman recounts how not finding any man good enough to have a child led her to freeze her eggs. This “social” egg freezing, as she puts it, is an action motivated by life circumstances rather than medical reasons. In a study cited in the article, 85% of women stated that they froze their eggs because of the absence of a husband; only 2% froze their eggs to focus on their professional career.

One of the theories that Sussman cites – and that would explain this difficulty to find a husband–is the lack of “eligible” men, that is, men with good education and good work, good-looking, and well-connected. But she herself, at a certain point, wonders “if dating apps, with their illusion of infinite possibilities, feed our hopes to keep looking for the best”.

That is, the – non-existent – ​​perfect husband.

Beware of expectations

Having a too high standard, with unrealistic expectations, is, according to Lafuente, a problem, especially among women. “Either a man appears who is a mixture of superhero, religious leader and owner of a Big Four, or he will not do.” Ana also considers that this – the high expectations – is one of the biggest difficulties. “When you don’t meet certain requirements right away, you’re not open to meeting that person.” Also the rejection of – or fear of – effort and emotional involvement, mentioned by Fisher, makes finding a match more difficult. “We want the love story to appear already assembled”, comments Lafuente. “As if it wasn’t necessary to build a relationship”.

The solution he sees is clear: create dates, single plans ILR – in real life [na vida real] –, to promote exchanges that allow a match. It’s better to start as soon as possible, because “the more years go by, the more delicate you become. With acquired habits, it is more difficult to change your life or be willing to share it.”

© 2022 Acpress. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

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