Anyone who has watched a lonely friend shack up with a useless buffoon can relate to this new finding: People really do settle for less in a relationship when they fear being single.
"Well, duh!" you say?
Just wait. For the first time, the dating phenomenon has been proven, thanks to research conducted at the University of Toronto.
Stephanie Spielmann, a postdoctoral fellow in social psychology, surveyed more than 3,000 people ranging from teens to septuagenarians. Participants were rated on a "fear of being single" scale based on their responses to statements such as "I feel it's close to being too late for me to find the love of my life" and "If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel like there's something wrong with me."
For those with romantic partners, Spielmann and colleagues looked at participants' relationship satisfaction compared with their "fear of being single" scores. For singletons, the researchers set up a mock dating site and tracked how likely lonely hearts were to settle for duds online.
Sure enough, participants with stronger fears about being single were more likely to stay in relationships they were unhappy with – and more likely to date people who weren't good for them, the researchers concluded in a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The Globe spoke with Spielmann for more details.
In which areas were people like to settle?
They settled in the area of personality, choosing someone who might come off as more of a jerk or uncaring as a partner. We also manipulated physical attractiveness and saw similar results, so people who were more afraid of being single were more willing to date someone unattractive.
Isn't it healthy to abandon the search for perfection in a mate?
In certain contexts, settling for less could actually be beneficial because you're never going to find a totally perfect partner. The interesting thing in our studies, though, is that those who feared being single were still recognizing that a jerk was a jerk. They were acknowledging that they were less likely to have a successful relationship with that person when we asked them. Their decision to have a relationship in the immediate future seemed to be outweighing the potential long-term costs of dating someone less desirable.
Who was more likely to settle out of fear of being single, men or women?
It was roughly the same for both men and women – they both expressed similar levels of fear of being single and we saw that affecting their relationship positions in similar ways.
Did the tendency to settle increase with age?
Interestingly, it didn't.
Any advice for people who tend to settle out of fear of being alone?
We still don't know how we can help people to feel more secure about being single. But at the very least, this research does suggest that maybe people should take a step back and start considering what is motivating the decision to settle in their relationships.