Remaining single by choice is something not everyone understands. It makes Charlotte Stefanski’s toes curl to think about meeting the groom’s friend at her best friend’s wedding. They aren’t friends, nor have they met before. “It’s just awkward,” she said. The bride-to-be persistently sets Stefanski up with men, so do her other friends who are in committed relationships or getting married. Her choice to stay single confuses them. “You need someone,” they would tell Stefanski, who is 21. But Stefanski thinks she is better off single.

Social Pressures to Get Married

In fact the number of never-married American adults has never been higher, according to Pew Research. Roughly six in ten young Americans between 18 to 35 are neither married nor in long-term relationships, up from 56 percent from their counterparts 10 years ago. In 1960, 59 percent of Americans were married by 29. Meanwhile, some never-married adults now say they hope to get hitched, while 1 in 7 say they don’t want to get married.

As the number of singles surge to a record high, the social pressure and stigma still shadow their lives, according to a University of Missouri-Columbia study. Unwanted spotlights are often thrown at them during events like social gatherings and weddings because of their age and marital status. Friends and family members scrutinize them, show worry or sympathy, assuming their single status is miserable and forced upon. Bouquet toss? Nightmares for most single women, according to a Jezebel poll.

Remaining single by choice and happy about yourself? Here are some tips to help you deal with the social pressure.

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Stay True to Yourself

Marriage is such an instinctive social ritual that people forget not everyone is bound to get married. Brenda Clevenger, a freelance writer and PR consultant in Kansas City, says being single by choice leaves room for other goals, whether it is to grow in your career, to travel more or to allow yourself to mature. 

You don’t need to be married to start a family or move forward in life, there’s no such rule, said Karen Belz, a freelance writer who specializes in marriage and relationships. Bella DePaulo, a psychology professor at University of California Santa Barbara who has been single for 63 years states that some people can even be single at heart. She found the realization of never wanting to get married was liberating. “I knew who I really was – someone who lives her best, most authentic, and most meaningful life by living single,” she said.

Escape the Pressure

It can be hard when friends and family members all seem to be getting married or into serious relationships. DePaulo remembers being hurt when her friends started socializing only with other couples. “I was left out or I was demoted to lunch during the week instead of dinner on the weekends.” But the peer pressure never changed her mind. Instead, she said she felt proud of herself for living the life that was best for her.

Marriage isn’t a cure nor a pathway to happiness. As a matter of fact, despite conventional wisdom, the level of happiness and satisfaction decreases continually over time after getting married, according to a studyMarriage doesn’t perpetuate either. Half of the married couples do part, according to American Psychology Association research. Many studies show that people who divorce are less well off than people who stay single.

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Your Definition of Happiness

“It would be so much better for everyone if we could all feel free to live the life that works best for us, whether that is married life or single life or something else,” DePaulo said. It’s hard to put a definition to happiness and it’s different for each person. Only you know what type of life is best for you.

“Don’t be pressured into anything just to please others,” she said.

Cultivate Other Forms of Close Relationships

Being single or unmarried doesn’t equal being unloved. Marriage is only a legal document that combines a stiff contractual relationship, while being in a loving relationship is an entirely different thing according to Gordon Morris. Morris works for Unmarried Equality, a singles rights advocacy group in Los Angeles. He has remained single his entire life. What matters most is love and the relationship, rather than formality, Morris claims. As the slogan of Equal Unmarried goes, “Love needs no license.”

DePaulo said that her dying mother was worried that she didn’t have anyone who would be there for her. But she was thinking the way our dominant cultural narratives teach us to think, that we only “have someone if we are married”. Being single by choice is a way to help maintain relationships.

Staying Single by Choice

“Don’t be depressed that you’re single and don’t beat down on yourself or feel like something is lacking in your life,” Clevenger said, “because it’s not.” The key is to appreciate the freedom and infinite possibilities you have. No one should bring you down, judge or shame you because you’re single. Being visible, open and proud is the only way to make social progress, Morris asserts. Once people get to know you, they will realize you’re fulfilled by your career or hobbies.

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The more people see that marriage is not a requirement for everyone, the sooner the day will come when single people can feel more free to lead a life that is best for them. Singles should not have to justify their choice of relationship status.

DePaulo reminds us that every single person should live their life fully, joyfully and unapologetically.