A new study suggests that a person’s fear of being single can be spotted by potential partners and may drive away romantic interest. The findings were published in the Journal of Personality.
Research has shown that fear of being single is linked to dysfunctional behavior within romantic relationships, such as settling for less and being less likely to end a problematic relationship. However, study authors Stephanie S. Spielmann and Kevin P. Gahman describe a puzzling finding — despite these issues, those who fear being single appear to have no trouble attracting romantic partners.
Spielmann and Gahman designed two studies to explore two possible theories for why fear of being single might not affect a person’s success in finding a partner. The authors reason that fear of being single is either not easily detected by others, or is not seen as a deterrent to potential partners.
A first study had 235 single adults between the ages of 18 and 80 randomly assigned to evaluate the desirability of one of three invented dating profiles. The profiles were manipulated by researchers to depict someone who was either high in fear of being single, low in fear of being single, or a narcissist (control).
The results suggested that participants were able to accurately detect the fear of being single in the profiles. The profiles that depicted people with a high fear of being single were rated by participants as having a higher fear of being single, while those depicting someone with a low fear of being single were rated lower in fear of being single.
The profile authors that were rated higher in fear of being single were also rated as less desirable by the participants. Interestingly, the participants’ own fear of being single appeared to influence this effect. The subjects who were more afraid of being single themselves were less harsh when rating the profiles perceived as high in fear of being single.
A second study replicated these findings using real-life dating profiles. This time, participants evaluated profiles that varied according to the profile author’s self-reported fear of being single. Subjects evaluated a mix of 16 dating profiles that were either extremely high, extremely low, moderately high, or moderately low in fear of being single. Again, subjects were more or less accurate in detecting the fear of being single from the profiles and rated the high fear of being single profiles as less desirable.
Interestingly, profile authors that were deemed strong in fear of being single were also rated as less physically attractive — suggesting that the reduced desirability of those who fear being single may have to do with the fact that they are expected to be less physically attractive.
As Spielmann and Gahman say, this effect may offer an explanation for why past studies involving speed-dating did not find fear of being single to decrease dating success. Evaluating a speed-dating partner involves visual cues, whereas reading someone’s online profile does not. In the former context, people may be less accurate in their perceptions of a person’s fear of being single, due to the tendency to “erroneously use the target’s physical attractiveness as a cue to their fear of being single.”
As the authors conclude, the findings suggest that fear of being single is accurately detected by others and is generally seen as unfavorable, at least within the context of text-based dating profiles. The reason why fear of being single does not lead to reduced dating success is unclear and further research is needed. However, the two studies suggest that this effect may have to do with a potential partners’ own fear of being single, as well as the tendency for people to use a person’s physical attractiveness as a cue for their fear of being single.
The study, “Detectability and Desirability of Fear of Being Single in Online Dating Profiles”, was authored by Stephanie S. Spielmann and Kevin P. Gahman.