Fear of Being Single 1
© American Psychological Association
Settling for Less out of Fear of Being Single
Stephanie S. Spielmann, Geoff MacDonald, Jessica A. Maxwell, Samantha Joel, Diana Peragine,
Amy Muise, & Emily A. Impett
University of Toronto
** in press at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology**
This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the
copy of record.
Fear of Being Single 2
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephanie S. Spielmann,
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON, M5S
3G3. Email: email@example.com
This research was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC) awarded to Geoff MacDonald and Emily A. Impett, and a SSHRC doctoral
fellowship awarded to Stephanie S. Spielmann.
The authors would like to thank Poppy Lockwood, Marc Fournier, Alison Chasteen,
Jason Plaks, and Jessica Cameron for their helpful feedback on this work, as well as Laura De
Santis, Rachel Frohlich, Nadia Gibbons, Sara Quinn, Celina Yang, and Angela Zhang for their
Fear of Being Single 3
The present research demonstrates that fear of being single predicts settling for less in romantic
relationships, even accounting for constructs typically examined in relationship research such as
anxious attachment. Study 1 explored the content of people’s thoughts about being single.
Studies 2A and 2B involved the development and validation of the Fear of Being Single Scale.
Study 2C provided preliminary support for the hypothesis that fear of being single predicts
settling for less in ongoing relationships as evidenced by greater dependence in unsatisfying
relationships. Study 3 replicated this effect in a longitudinal study demonstrating that fear of
being single predicts lower likelihood of initiating the dissolution of a less satisfying
relationship. Studies 4A and 4B explored the predictive ability of fear of being single for self-
reported dating standards. Across both samples, fear of being single was unrelated to self-
reported standards for a mate, with the exception of consistently higher standards for parenting.
Studies 5 and 6 explored romantic interest in targets that were manipulated to vary in
responsiveness and physical attractiveness. These studies found that fear of being single
consistently predicted romantic interest in less responsive and less attractive dating targets. Study
7 explored fear of being single during a speed-dating event, and found that fear of being single
predicted being less selective in expressing romantic interest, but did not predict other daters’
romantic interest. Taken together, the present research suggests that fear of being single is a
meaningful predictor of settling for less in relationships. [246 words]
Keywords: fear of being single; individual differences; romantic standards; longitudinal
Fear of Being Single 4
Settling for Less out of Fear of Being Single
“Single women lead lonely, depressing, and incomplete lives. Their unhappiness
increases exponentially with each passing birthday, because past a certain age a woman is
‘used up.’ All women are desperate to marry or remarry because marriage is their only
real chance for security and happiness” (Anderson & Stewart, 1994, p. 64)
Anderson and Stewart discuss the subtle yet destructive myths about singlehood that are
arguably as common today as they were 20 years ago. The myth is that singles (particularly
women) yearn for a relationship and they suffer or lack without it. Indeed, Western society
maintains an ideology that the romantic relationship is the most important social relationship
(Day, Kay, Holmes, & Napier, 2011; DePaulo & Morris, 2005). Such beliefs appear to promote
fears about the consequences of not finding a romantic partner. How do people’s concerns about
ending up single influence how they seek out and maintain relationships?
The present research explores the usefulness of fear of being single as a construct for
understanding relationship attitudes and behaviors. We construe fear of being single as entailing
concern, anxiety, or distress regarding the current or prospective experience of being without a
romantic partner. This fear may manifest as an immediate concern about one’s current
relationship status or anxiety about the prospect of being single in the future. In this sense, even
people who are currently involved in romantic relationships may be affected by fear of being
single. The goal of the present research is, first and foremost, to establish fear of being single as
a unique and psychometrically validated construct. Furthermore, we aim to explore the
implications of fear of being single in important relationship domains. In particular, distress
about not having a romantic relationship may promote an approach that any relationship is better
than no relationship at all. An important consequence of fear of being single may be, therefore,
to settle for less in relationships in order to gain and maintain a relationship.
Choosing whether to initiate, maintain, or dissolve romantic relationships involves
Fear of Being Single 5
complex decision making, such that individuals often weigh their options, and rely heavily on
heuristics and emotions to make these decisions (see review by Joel, MacDonald, & Plaks, in
press). To the extent that one fears being single, daily relationship decisions may be driven by a
desire to have or maintain relationships over other factors that typically predict commitment and
romantic stability, such as high satisfaction or relationship quality (e.g., Le, Dove, Agnew, Korn,
& Mutso, 2010; Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998). We demonstrate in the present research that
fear of being single predicts the tendency to make decisions that seem to prioritize relationship
status over relationship quality, which we colloquially refer to as “settling for less.” To better
understand how a deep desire to be involved in a relationship may lead to lower quality mate
selection, it is helpful to first understand normative desires for relationships.
Normative Desires for Relationships
Desire for intimate relationships, and concern about the status of one’s relationships, is a
normative human experience. Because of the importance of social connection to survival and
reproduction in our evolutionary past (Caporeal, 2001; Foley, 1995), humans require meaningful
and persisting associations with others for both physical and psychological well-being
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995). A lack of social connection is associated with negative emotional
states (Blackhart, Nelson, Knowles, & Baumeister, 2009), impairments in self-regulation
(Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Twenge, 2005), hostility and aggression (Leary, Twenge, &
Quinlivan, 2006), and negative health outcomes such as increased risk of contracting illnesses
and greater risk of mortality (Cohen, Doyle, Skoner, Rabin, & Gwaltney, 1997; House, Landis,
& Umberson, 1988).
Beyond a broad need for social connection, attachment theory specifically highlights the
need for close bonds with trusted attachment figures (Bowlby, 1969; Mikulincer & Shaver,
Fear of Being Single 6
2007). The attachment system is rooted in infant-caregiver connections, and is activated in
response to distress and threat in order to prompt individuals to seek security and comfort from
caregivers (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; Bowlby, 1969). The attachment system extends beyond the
infant-parent relationship, such that youth and adults form attachments with close others and
construe them as attachment figures (Fraley, Brumbaugh, & Marks, 2005; Hazan & Shaver,
1987). It is therefore a natural part of human development to desire someone who can serve as a
secure base from which to explore freely and securely and a safe haven to provide comfort and
security in times of distress (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007). People thus have deeply-rooted,
intrinsic motivations to gain and maintain close social connections. These basic biological and
psychological pressures for social connection may contribute to fears of being single.
Fear of Being Single
Fear of being single is defined in the present research as concern, anxiety, or distress
regarding the current or prospective experience of being without a romantic partner. Although an
important component of lay understanding of relationship dynamics, there is as of yet no existing
quantitative measure of fear of being single. However, past research involving qualitative
assessments, such as interviews and narrative analyses, has documented such anxieties about
singlehood. Indeed, this qualitative research suggests that, for a subset of individuals, a stable
relationship status is the primary source of psychological security, with its absence being a
source of distress and anxiety (Cole, 1999). Societal and family pressures, combined with
insecurity and self-doubt, cause some people to struggle to achieve a “comfortable definition of
the self as a single person” (Schwartzberg, Berliner, & Jacob, 1995, p. 5).
Combine the intrinsic desire for connection with the social stigma of being single (e.g.,
single individuals are perceived as having worse personalities and lower well-being than coupled
Fear of Being Single 7
individuals; DePaulo & Morris, 2005; Greitemeyer, 2009), and singlehood has the potential to be
a distressing state that can provoke feelings of isolation on multiple fronts. Schwartzberg and
colleagues (1995) explain that distress about being single may be a prevalent response given that
people are typically socialized to tie their personal and social identity to their relationship status.
For instance, quantitative research has demonstrated a well-defended ideology of the committed
relationship, such that Western societies endorse and defend the committed romantic relationship
as the most important adult relationship (Day et al., 2011; DePaulo & Morris, 2005). Single
people recognize that others expect them to be in relationships (Cole, 1999; Sharp & Ganong,
2011). Furthermore, most young adults expect that they will marry (DePaulo & Morris, 2005),
and the majority of Americans do indeed marry (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Essentially, it is a
couples’ world, and it may be difficult to live single within it. Studies on women’s experiences
with singlehood have found that the sense of having missed an important life transition leaves
many single women suffering intra- and interpersonal sanctions and feeling uncertain about their
futures (Sharp & Ganong, 2007). In fact, scholars on singlehood note that it is often considered
as a deficit state, marked by the lack of a relationship rather than as an entity of its own
(Reynolds & Taylor, 2005).
Psychotherapist Marcy Cole (1999) conducted extensive interviews with never-married
women in their thirties who desired marriage and a family. Cole found significant variation in the
lived experiences of singlehood. She noted that in terms of emotional responses to being single,
participants tended to fall into one of three distinct groups. The largest group consisted of those
who felt ambivalent about being single. Women in this group had fluctuating emotional
responses to singlehood, acknowledging the positive features such as autonomy and
independence, but also noting the frequent bouts of loneliness and judgment from others. The
Fear of Being Single 8
second group consisted of those who approached singlehood with empowerment, maintaining a
positive sense of self regardless of their relationship status. Lastly, some women experienced
chronic and intense anxiety, despair, and self-doubt in response to being single. Thus, qualitative
research suggests individual differences in fear of being single that may have meaningful
implications for relationship choices.
Despite its value, an important limitation to past research on the psychological experience
of singlehood is that the majority of this research has been conducted retrospectively, focusing
on the reflected experiences of single, middle-aged adults. As such, the past research exclusively
explores the experiences of those who have actually ended up single. By definition, individuals
who compromised their relationship standards to resolve fears of being single and who continue
to maintain those relationships would have escaped the purview of past researchers. We propose
in the present research, however, that those who fear being single may be eager not just to
initiate relationships but to maintain them even at significant cost. Thus, the focus of the present
research is on the process of managing fear of being single, rather than the outcome of ending up
single. The present research explores concerns about singlehood from participants with greater
diversity in age and experience than has typically been explored.
Past research on the lived experience of singlehood has also been conducted almost
exclusively with female participants. However, we propose that fear of being single is not a
uniquely female phenomenon. In fact, in a study of unmarried heterosexual adults over 30 years
old, men had stronger desires for marriage than women because they had weaker social support
(Frazier, Arikian, Benson, Losoff, & Maurer, 1996). Both sexes also experience discrimination
for being single. For instance, people evaluate both men and women more negatively, and
discriminate against them, when single compared to when coupled (Greitemeyer, 2009; Hertel,
Fear of Being Single 9
Schütz, DePaulo, Morris, & Stucke, 2007; Morris, Sinclair, & DePaulo, 2007). Therefore, in
terms of emotional and psychological needs to find and maintain intimate relationships, there
should not necessarily be differences between men and women.
Specificity of Insecurity
We argue that fear of being single provides a theoretically meaningful level of specificity
not taken into account with other measures of insecurity such as anxious attachment. Anxious
attachment tends to be marked by chronic neediness and clinginess with attachment figures, and
chronic fear of rebuff and rejection (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007; Spielmann, MacDonald,
Maxwell, & Baratta, 2013). Anxious attachment and fear of being single may therefore share
many theoretical and behavioral similarities. We argue, however, that fear of being single may
more directly reflect relationship-specific outcomes than more general measures of insecurity
because it is a relationship-specific construct. Gillath and colleagues (Gillath, Hart, Noftle, &
Stockdale, 2009; Noftle & Gillath, 2009) discuss the benefit of using an assessment at the same
level of specificity as the outcome, in order to account for a unique amount of variance typically
overlooked with trait measures. Indeed, their state measures of attachment were found to be
consistent with trait measures, although representing unique statistical constructs. We propose
that a key difference between fear of being single and anxious attachment may be the specificity
of the desired attachment figure. While those who fear being single by definition are focused
specifically on romantic attachment figures, anxiously attached individuals may be focused on
receiving comfort and reassurance from a broader range of attachment figures including peers
and family members (e.g., Cox, Arndt, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Abdollahi, & Solomon, 2008;
Fraley & Davis, 1997; Markiewicz, Lawford, Doyle, & Haggart, 2006). Therefore, when trying
to predict behavior in romantic relationship contexts, fear of being single may add a level of
Fear of Being Single 10
specificity above and beyond trait anxious attachment.
Settling for Less
Do people’s concerns about ending up single lead them to desperately seek out
relationship partners and cling to a relationship once they have one? People tend to have
expectations for their relationships in domains such as physical attractiveness, status/resources,
and potential for responsiveness/intimacy (e.g., Fletcher & Simpson, 2000; Fletcher, Simpson,
Thomas, & Giles, 1999). There is mixed evidence, however, regarding whether feelings of
insecurity, such as low self-esteem and anxious attachment, promote more or less willingness to
settle for less in relationships. Those who are less secure about their own value as romantic
partners tend to be more willing to compromise their standards in a relationship (Campbell,
Simpson, Kashy, & Fletcher, 2001; Regan, 1998). Moreover, decreased self-esteem as a
consequence of romantic rejection has been associated with lower mating aspirations (Kavanagh,
Robins, & Ellis, 2010). Similarly, individuals higher in anxious attachment tend to remain
committed to relationships that do not satisfy their needs (Slotter & Finkel, 2009), and are less
selective during mate initiation (McClure, Lydon, Baccus, and Baldwin, 2010). Hirschberger,
Florian, and Mikulincer (2002) likewise found that male and female students who had lower self-
esteem reported lower requirements on a number of partner traits, such as intellect,
attractiveness, social status, and interpersonal skills. However, following a mortality salience
threat, it was those with high self-esteem who were more willing to compromise their ideal
standards rather than those with low self-esteem. Furthermore, Tolmacz (2004) found that
anxiously attached individuals reported less willingness than securely and avoidantly attached
individuals to compromise their ideal mate standards.
The previous literature therefore yields mixed results about insecurity and the willingness
Fear of Being Single 11
to settle for less in romantic relationships. These inconclusive findings highlight the need for a
more specific measure of relational insecurity that reliably relates to willingness to compromise
one’s standards. Better understanding the phenomenon of fearing being single may shed light on
motivations to settle for less, and contexts in which settling for less will take place. We
hypothesize that those with stronger fear of being single will be willing to accept lower quality
mates in order to avoid being single.
The Present Research
The primary goal of the present research was to better understand the influence of fear of
being single on relationship choices. To this end, we sought to develop and validate a measure of
fear of being single, and to explore the effects of fear of being single on people’s willingness to
settle for less when (1) maintaining relationships with less satisfying partners (Studies 2C & 3),
(2) evaluating relationship ideals (Studies 4A & 4B), and (3) selecting dating partners and
initiating relationships (Studies 5, 6, & 7). In general, we hypothesized that stronger fear of being
single should be associated with greater willingness to settle for lower quality relationships.
Study 1 involved a qualitative design to explore people’s thoughts and feelings about
being single. Thematic analyses of open-ended responses highlighted the frequency and primacy
of specific concerns about being single and informed the creation of a Fear of Being Single Scale
in Study 2. Studies 2A and 2B involved factor analyses and validation of the Fear of Being
Single Scale across two independent samples. We examined the psychometric validity of the
scale by testing whether individual differences in fears of being single are associated (though not
redundant) with measures of interpersonal anxiety and negative affect, such as anxious
attachment and neuroticism, social avoidance goals, and general interpersonal sensitivities. Study
2C assessed a subsample of participants in relationships from Studies 2A and 2B, examining
Fear of Being Single 12
their current relationship satisfaction and relational dependence. We hypothesized that those with
stronger fear of being single would be more dependent on their romantic relationships, even
when they were relatively dissatisfied in their relationships. Study 3 was a longitudinal study of
individuals in relationships, assessing fear of being single and relationship satisfaction. We
monitored whether or not the relationship ended, and if so, which partner made the breakup
decision. We hypothesized that among those in less satisfying relationships, stronger fear of
being single would be associated with lower likelihood of choosing to end the relationship.
Studies 4A and 4B explored people’s standards for an ideal partner (4A & 4B) and minimum
standards for a partner (4B). We expected that fear of being single would predict setting lower
standards for a partner. However, we also considered the possibility that fear of being single may
not predict self-reported standards due to the psychological discomfort of consciously
acknowledging the willingness to settle for less. Next, Studies 5 and 6 explored how those with
stronger fear of being single evaluate less desirable dating targets in the context of internet
dating. In two internet dating tasks, participants evaluated their romantic interest in targets who
appeared either high or low in responsiveness (Studies 5 & 6) and who were either physically
attractive or unattractive (Study 6). We hypothesized that those with stronger fear of being single
would be more likely to express romantic interest in less desirable targets compared to those with
weaker fear of being single. Finally, Study 7 explored the effects of fear of being single at a
speed-dating event. We hypothesized that those with stronger fear of being single would be less
selective in expressing romantic interest toward others.
Our first step in understanding fear of being single involved the creation and validation of
a reliable assessment tool. To develop items for a quantitative measure of fear of being single,
Fear of Being Single 13
we began with an open-ended survey of individuals’ thoughts about being single. The purpose of
Study 1 was to explore the extent to which people report anxiety about being single and which
aspects of being single may or may not concern them. Unlike other qualitative studies on the
experience of being single, we invited participants of all ages, sexes, and relationship experience.
Participants & Procedure
Participants were 153 individuals (126 women, 27 men), recruited through online forums
such as Craigslist.org. Participants were entered into a draw for a $50 gift certificate. One single,
female participant was excluded because she was younger than 18 years of age, which was a
requirement in the recruitment ad. The age of the remaining participants ranged from 18 to 59 (M
= 30.5, SD = 10.8). Of the 152 participants, 48 were currently single, 20 reported they were
casually dating, 57 were exclusively dating, 10 were engaged, and 17 were married.
Participants were asked to think about the extent to which they “fear being alone (i.e.,
single, without a romantic partner).” Participants were asked to indicate in an open-ended
manner what they specifically fear, or do not fear, about being single.
Two independent raters coded the narratives for themes related to the specific aspects of
being single that participants reported as concerns or advantages. The coding was data-driven,
such that themes emerged from comments provided by participants (e.g., Braun & Clarke, 2006).
Each narrative received as many codes as were applicable, with coding indicating either the
presence or absence of a theme. An average Cohen’s kappa agreement between raters of .71
reflected reasonably good agreement overall (e.g., Landis & Koch, 1977).
Fear of Being Single 14
Open-Ended Responses about Fear of Being Single
Table 1 summarizes participants’ responses with examples for each theme. When
discussing whether or not they fear being single, a large proportion of individuals (39%) made
explicit claims about not fearing being single, while approximately 37% explicitly indicated fear
of being single to some degree. Some individuals expressed current concerns about being single,
some reported ambivalent feelings, and some reported expecting singlehood to be a growing
concern as they got older.
When discussing the aspects of being single which cause them anxiety, the most
commonly cited concern was lacking companionship and intimate connection with a partner. The
other most commonly cited worries were about losing a current partner, growing old alone,
missing out on having children and a family, judging oneself negatively – as well as being
judged negatively by others – for being unable to find a partner, and concerns that a romantic
partner provides unique comfort that friends and family cannot. A small proportion also reported
concerns about lacking financially and sexually without a partner, and one participant reported
that the benefits of a relationship are worth any associated costs.
Finally, when discussing reasons why being single does not cause them anxiety,
individuals were most likely to cite factors such as having close friends and family to turn to.
Some participants also indicated that being in a bad relationship would be a greater concern than
being single, or that their anxieties were attenuated by experiences of being single in the past or
having a negative relationship experience that helped them realize being single would not be so
bad. Lastly, a small proportion reported turning to religion to ease loneliness.
Predicting Themes from Age, Sex, and Relationship Status
We next explored whether the odds of reporting a specific concern about being single
Fear of Being Single 15
were predicted by participants’ age, sex, or relationship status. Relationship status was dummy
coded such that those who were single and casually dating were coded as single and those who
were exclusively dating, engaged, or married, were coded as in a relationship. We conducted
binary logistic regressions on each theme and simultaneously included age, sex (0 = female, 1 =
male), and relationship status (0 = single, 1 = in a relationship) as predictors.
Older age increased the odds of reporting concerns about growing old alone, odds ratio =
1.04, p = .05. Furthermore, older age decreased the odds of saying that close friends and family
members could ease concerns about being single, odds ratio = .86, p = .01. Not surprisingly,
being in a relationship increased the odds of fearing losing one’s current partner, odds ratio =
16.08, p = .008. Moreover, those in relationships were less likely to report that they would feel
bad about themselves if they ended up single, odds ratio = .07, p = .01. There were no predictive
effects of participant sex, and no other themes yielded significant effects.
The results of Study 1 shed light on the subjective experience of being single. Open-
ended responses revealed individual differences in the extent to which people report anxieties
about being single and highlighted variability in the specific issues of concern. Compared to
previous literature on singlehood, this study assessed prospective concerns about being single
from participants of all ages, sexes, and relationship statuses. Validating our suggestion that fear
of being single may be a more widespread phenomenon than past qualitative research has
suggested, we found few differences in concerns among people in these different groups. A
primary limitation to consider, however, is the small number of men in the sample relative to the
number of women. Given this limitation, it is possible that concerns about being single that are
specific to men were not adequately captured in this study. It is also quite possible that nearly 30
Fear of Being Single 16
male participants provided saturation of the qualitative themes (i.e., reached the point at which
no new themes are being added) as this sample size is above the requirement typically expected
for qualitative research (e.g., Boyd, 2001). Nonetheless, the relatively smaller sample of males
should be considered when interpreting the themes resulting from Study 1.
Studies 2A & 2B
The primary purpose of Study 2 was to create and validate a Fear of Being Single Scale,
informed by responses gathered in Study 1. We conducted factor analyses to refine the scale to
only the most representative items for both men and women. Then, we compared the final scale
to a battery of established measures of insecurity, social avoidance, and interpersonal sensitivity
to determine convergent and discriminant validity. Specifically, given that fear of being single
should reflect interpersonal insecurities more generally, we assessed convergent validity with
measures of anxious attachment, neuroticism, and measures of sensitivity such as loneliness,
depression, and need to belong. Furthermore, because a key aspect of fear of being single is an
emotional state contingent on one’s relationship status, we also assessed convergent validity by
having participants report their relationship contingent self-esteem. Finally, because fear of being
single likely represents an avoidance, fear-based motivation (i.e., strong desire to avoid being
single), we examined convergent validity with a measure of social avoidance goals. Because we
construe fear of being single as a fearful and avoidance-motivated experience, we examined
discriminant validity with a measure of social approach goals, as fear of being single should not
likely be associated with reward-based approach motivations.
Participants & Procedure
To conduct the factor analyses and to create a scale that was generalizable to the general
Fear of Being Single 17
community, we collected two independent samples of participants consisting of online
community members (Study 2A) and university undergraduate students (Study 2B). Participants
first indicated their age, sex, and relationship status, and then completed the items created for our
initial version of the Fear of Being Single Scale. Participants then completed the battery of
measures discussed below in order to establish convergent and discriminant validity of the Fear
of Being Single Scale.
Study 2A. The sample of participants in Study 2A consisted of 304 individuals recruited
through online forums (e.g., Craigslist.org) in return for entry into a draw for a $50 Amazon.com
gift card. Three participants younger than 18 were excluded for not satisfying age eligibility. The
remaining 301 participants (233 women, 66 men, 2 unreported) ranged in age from 18 to 69
years old (M = 29.3, SD = 9.7). One hundred thirty-one participants reported they were single, 31
were casually dating, 99 were exclusively dating, 7 were engaged, and 33 were married.
Participants were primarily from Canada and the United States.
Study 2B. Study 2B consisted of 147 undergraduate students (108 women, 39 men) at the
University of Toronto, participating in return for course credit. Participants ranged in age from
17 to 34 years old (M = 19.2, SD = 2.7). One hundred and five participants were single, 9 were
casually dating, 28 were exclusively dating, 3 were engaged, and 2 were married.
All participants completed the following measures. Additional measures were collected
from participants in relationships, which are discussed in Study 2C.
Fear of Being Single Scale. Prominent themes about being single from Study 1 were
formulated into a series of 17 scale items. Participants responded to each statement on a scale
from 1 (not at all true) to 5 (very true).
Fear of Being Single 18
Attachment Style. Participants completed the Attachment Style Questionnaire (ASQ;
Feeney, Noller, & Hanrahan, 1994), reporting on a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 6 (totally
agree) the degree to which they agreed with statements on subscales of anxious attachment (e.g.,
“I worry that others won’t care about me as much as I care about them;” 13 items; M = 3.40, SD
= .88, α = .88) and avoidant attachment (e.g., “I prefer to depend on myself rather than other
people;” 16 items; M = 3.37, SD = .65, α = .81).
Big Five Inventory. Participants responded on a scale from 1 (disagree strongly) to 5
(agree strongly) to items assessing personality traits measured with the Big Five Inventory (BFI;
John & Srivastava, 1999), including neuroticism (e.g., “I see myself as someone who worries a
lot;” 8 items; M = 3.17, SD = .81, α = .84), openness (e.g., “I see myself as someone who is
creative and inventive;” 10 items; M = 3.86, SD = .65, α = .82), conscientiousness (e.g., “I see
myself as someone who keeps working until things are done;” 9 items; M = 3.43, SD = .68, α =
.80), agreeableness (e.g., “I see myself as someone who is the kind of person almost everyone
likes;” 8 items; M = 3.63, SD = .66, α = .72), and extraversion (e.g., “I see myself as someone
who is outgoing, sociable;” 8 items; M = 3.23, SD = .83, α = .85).
Relationship-Contingent Self-Esteem. Participants indicated the extent to which their
self-esteem fluctuates as a function of the quality of their relationships on the Relationship-
Contingent Self-Esteem Scale (e.g., “My feelings of self-worth are based on how well things are
going in my relationship;” 11 items; M = 3.34, SD = .78, α = .87; Knee, Canevello, Bush, &
Cook, 2008). Participants in relationships responded regarding their current romantic partners,
while those who were single responded according to their past relationships in general
(descriptive statistics represent both single and coupled participants).
Social Goals. Participants completed the Friendship Goals Questionnaire (Elliot, Gable,
Fear of Being Single 19
& Mapes, 2006), rephrased to refer to close relationships more generally. On a scale from 1 (not
at all true of me) to 7 (very true of me), participants indicated their social approach goals (e.g., “I
am trying to enhance the bonding and intimacy in my close relationships;” 4 items; M = 5.39, SD
= 1.36, α = .92) and social avoidance goals (e.g., “I am trying to make sure that nothing bad
happens to my close relationships;” 4 items; M = 5.18, SD = 1.27, α = .78).
Need to Belong. To assess general feelings of belonging, participants completed the
Need to Belong Scale (Leary, Kelly, Cottrell, & Schreindorfer, 2007). On a scale from 1
(strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), participants responded to items such as, “I need to feel
that there are people I can turn to in times of need;” 10 items; M = 3.38, SD = .67, α = .80.
Depression. Depression was assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Studies
Depression Scale (Radloff, 1977). Participants reported their frequency of 20 depressive
symptoms over the prior week (e.g., “I felt that I could not shake off the blues even with help
from my family or friends”), from 1 (rarely or none of the time) to 4 (most or all of the time), M
= 2.02, SD = .63, α = .92.
Loneliness. Loneliness was assessed with the UCLA-Loneliness scale (Russell, Peplau,
& Cutrona, 1980). Participants responded to 20 items such as, “How often do you feel that you
lack companionship?” from 1 (never) to 4 (always), M = 2.30, SD = .56, α = .94.
Hurt Feelings Proneness. Participants completed Leary & Springer’s (2001) Hurt
Feelings Proneness Scale, responding from 1 (not at all characteristic of me) to 5 (extremely
characteristic of me), (e.g., “My feelings are easily hurt;” M = 3.27, SD = .79, α = .78).
Rejection Sensitivity. Rejection sensitivity was assessed on the Rejection Sensitivity
Scale (Downey & Feldman, 1996) by the expectancy of, and anxiety about, rejection during
several hypothetical scenarios (e.g. “You approach a close friend to talk after doing or saying
Fear of Being Single 20
something that seriously upset him/her”). Participants’ expectancy scores are multiplied by their
anxiety scores for each scenario, and the products for the nine scenarios are averaged to reflect a
total rejection sensitivity score. Total scores may range from 1 (low rejection sensitivity) to 36
(high rejection sensitivity), M = 9.98, SD = 4.53, α = .79.
The analyses proceeded in three stages. First, the Fear of Being Single Scale was refined
via exploratory factor analyses (EFAs) in Study 2A. Then, the refined scale was cross-validated
via confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) in Study 2B. In the third stage, Studies 2A and 2B were
combined to assess the convergent and discriminant validity of the final scale.
Refinement of the Initial Scale: Exploratory Factor Analyses
In order to create an assessment tool that captures singlehood concerns of both men and
women, unrotated maximum likelihood EFAs were conducted separately for men and women on
the original 17 scale items in Study 2A, selecting only items loading highly for both sexes. Items
without a single loading greater than .50 were deleted, as were any items with substantial cross-
loadings on a second factor (>.40). As can be seen in Table 2, this process yielded 8 items for
men and 10 items for women, loading onto a single factor for each sex (based on eigenvalues >
1) and accounting for more than half of the variance. The final scale was created by selecting
only the six items that remained for both sexes (M = 2.76, SD = 1.07).1 The final scale included
the items: “I feel it is close to being too late for me to find the love of my life,” “I feel anxious
when I think about being single forever,” “I need to find a partner before I’m too old to have and
raise children,” “If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel like there is something wrong with
me,” “As I get older, it will get harder and harder to find someone,” and “It scares me to think
that there might not be anyone out there for me.” Cronbach’s alphas for men (α = .87), women (α
Fear of Being Single 21
= .86), and both sexes combined (α = .86) revealed substantial reliability of the reduced scale.
Validation of the Final Scale: Confirmatory Factor Analysis
In the second stage of analyses, the generalizability of the final scale was explored by
conducting a CFA to determine whether the single factor structure derived in Study 2A provided
an adequate fit to the data in Study 2B (M = 2.70, SD = .82, α = .75). The single-factor 6-item
Fear of Being Single Scale evidenced good model fit, χ2(9) = 12.72, ns, CFI = .98, RMSEA = .05
(Bentler & Bonett, 1980; Browne & Cudeck, 1993).
Testing Invariance of the Scale across Participant Sex
To confirm that the factor structure of the Fear of Being Single Scale did not differ
significantly for men and women, we conducted a series of multi-group CFA models, where we
increased the number of equality constraints in each model (e.g., Kline, 2011; Millsap, &
Olivera-Aguilar, 2012; Reise, Widaman, & Pugh, 1993). Table 3 summarizes the goodness of fit
statistics for each model. As shown in this table, constraining factor loadings, item intercepts,
and item residuals to be equal across sexes did not significantly alter fit (thus meeting the
stringent criteria for strict invariance). Models constraining the variance, Δdf = 1, Δ2 = 0.04, ns,
and mean, Δdf = 1, Δ2 = 0.84, of the fear of being single factor to be equal across sexes did not
significantly alter fit, indicating that both sexes have similar variability and mean levels of the
construct. In sum, the results of these analyses confirm construct comparability across sexes.
Convergent and Discriminant Validity
Finally, Studies 2A and 2B were combined to create a larger sample (N = 448) with
which to assess convergent and discriminant validity of the Fear of Being Single Scale. Table 4
displays the zero-order correlations and multiple regressions predicting fear of being single. As
expected, insecurity-related variables such as anxious attachment and neuroticism positively
Fear of Being Single 22
predicted fear of being single.2 Moreover, fear of being single was positively associated with
social avoidance goals. Discriminant validity was demonstrated by a nonsignificant association
with social approach goals. Finally, fear of being single was positively related to, although
distinct from, measures of interpersonal sensitivity, including relationship-contingent self-
esteem, rejection sensitivity, hurt feelings proneness, depression, loneliness, and need to belong.
Studies 2A and 2B produced a reliable and psychometrically validated Fear of Being
Single Scale. The preliminary scale of 17 items informed by responses in Study 1 was subjected
to factor analyses on two different samples of participants. A final 6-item scale loading onto a
single factor provided a good fit to the data. Importantly, this scale represented the concerns of
both male and female participants.
The results of these studies provide the groundwork for subsequent analyses testing our
critical hypothesis that people will be likely to settle for less out of fear of being single. We
conducted a first test of this hypothesis in Study 2C using data from studies 2A and 2B.
One way in which individuals may be thought of as compromising their relationship
standards (i.e., settling for less) is to remain committed to and invested in a poor quality
relationship. Typically, dependence and commitment are considered to be positive and important
aspects of relationship stability. Relationship dependence leads to greater commitment over time
(Attridge, Berscheid, & Sprecher, 1998; Wieselquist, Rusbult, Foster, & Agnew, 1999).
Furthermore, in a recent meta-analysis of longitudinal studies of romantic breakups, relational
dependence was one of the strongest predictors of relationship stability (Le et al., 2010).
However, to the extent that one’s relationship is less healthy or satisfying, dependence and
Fear of Being Single 23
commitment may be less desirable. For instance, a study of women with abusive partners found
that commitment was the key predictor of returning to the offending partner immediately after
leaving a women’s shelter, while satisfaction was not (Rusbult & Martz, 1995).
For individuals with stronger fear of being single, nearly any relationship may promote
dependence and commitment. Specifically, to the extent that those with stronger fear of being
single are insecure about their ability to find and keep a partner for the long term, they may
remain non-selectively committed to a relationship once they have one. Indeed, other studies
have found that insecure individuals, such as those with anxious attachment, are more vulnerable
to staying in relationships that do not satisfy their needs. For instance, whereas more secure
individuals feel less committed to their romantic partners and are more likely to break up with
their partners when the relationship does not meet their needs, anxiously attached individuals
tend to maintain their relationship commitment despite their lack of need satisfaction (Slotter &
Finkel, 2009). In a longitudinal study of newly married couples over their first four years of
marriage, couples with insecure partners were the most likely to be in stable, yet unhappy
marriages (Davila & Bradbury, 2001). In this way, those with stronger fear of being single may
also settle for less by remaining committed to less satisfying relationships.
To explore the hypothesis that fear of being single would predict dependence in less
satisfying relationships, we examined only participants in Studies 2A and 2B who reported being
involved in a romantic relationship. These participants provided additional data regarding their
current relationship satisfaction and dependence. Specifically, we hypothesized that there would
be a significant interaction between fear of being single and relationship satisfaction predicting
relational dependence. While most participants will likely be dependent on relationships marked
by high satisfaction, we expected that only those with stronger fear of being single would be
Fear of Being Single 24
dependent on less satisfying relationships.
Participants & Procedure
The subsample of data in Study 2C was taken from Studies 2A and 2B. Specifically,
Study 2C included all participants from Studies 2A and 2B currently involved in romantic
relationships. There were 172 participants included in analyses (147 women, 24 men, 1
unidentified), ranging in age from 17 to 57 years old (M = 27.6, SD = 9.2). Participants in this
combined sample had been in their current relationships between 1 month and 40 years (M =
39.9 months, SD = 57.3). The following items were provided in addition to the items mentioned
above, only to those participants who reported being in a romantic relationship.
Relationship Satisfaction. Participants reported their satisfaction in their current
relationship using the Satisfaction Scale developed by Murray, Holmes, and Griffin (2000).
Participants responded to four items on a scale from 1 (not at all true) to 6 (extremely true) such
as, “I am extremely happy with my current relationship” (M = 4.50, SD = 1.21, α = .90).
Relationship Dependence. Participants also indicated how dependent they were on their
current relationship on Murray, Holmes, MacDonald, and Ellsworth’s (1998) Dependence Scale.
On a scale from 1 (not at all true) to 9 (completely true), participants responded to five items
such as, “I feel that I need my partner a great deal,” and “If I couldn’t be in this relationship, I
would lose an important part of myself” (M = 5.33, SD = 1.93, α = .85).
We conducted a hierarchical regression predicting relationship dependence, with fear of
being single (standardized) and relationship satisfaction (standardized) entered in Step 1. To
Fear of Being Single 25
ensure that results were not attributable to systematic differences in length of the current
relationship, relationship length was included as a covariate in Step 1. The interaction between
fear of being single and relationship satisfaction was entered in Step 2. One outlier 3 standard
deviations below the mean in satisfaction was excluded from this analysis. Results revealed that
the length of one’s current relationship was a marginally significant, positive predictor of
relationship dependence, β = .13, p = .08. Furthermore, both current relationship satisfaction, β =
.48, p < .001, and fear of being single, β = .23, p = .003, were significant, positive predictors of
relationship dependence. These main effects were qualified by a significant interaction between
fear of being single and relationship satisfaction, β = -.18, p = .02 (see Figure 1). Simple effects
tests revealed that at high levels of relationship satisfaction, fear of being single did not predict
relationship dependence, β = .06, ns. However, among those who were less satisfied in their
relationships, stronger fear of being single predicted greater dependence on the relationship, β =
.37, p < .001. Examined differently, higher satisfaction promoted greater dependence than lower
satisfaction overall, but the magnitude of this effect was greater for those lower in fear of being
single, β = .68, p < .001, compared to those higher in fear of being single, β = .37, p < .001.
Follow-up analyses revealed that these effects cannot be accounted for by anxious
attachment. We included anxious attachment as a covariate in Step 1, and to account for bias in
the estimate of the fear of being single by relationship satisfaction interaction (Yzerbyt, Muller,
& Judd, 2004), we also included the interaction between anxious attachment and satisfaction in
Step 2. First, analyses revealed that the interaction between fear of being single and satisfaction
remained significant when controlling for the main and interaction effects of anxious attachment,
β = -.15, p = .04. Furthermore, while the main effect of anxious attachment was a significant,
positive predictor of dependence in the model, β = .41, p < .001, the interaction between anxious
Fear of Being Single 26
attachment and satisfaction was not significant, β = .05, ns. Indeed, across all studies in this
paper, follow-up analyses replacing fear of being single with anxious attachment as the
independent variable did not produce significant results, further highlighting the distinction
between anxious attachment and fear of being single. Furthermore, although we focus on anxious
attachment as a covariate because of its theoretical similarity to fear of being single, it is worthy
to note that the interaction between fear of being single and relationship satisfaction predicting
relationship dependence also remained significant when controlling for other relevant variables
such as neuroticism, p = .008, depression, p = .05, and need to belong, p = .03. Therefore, fear of
being single accounted for variance in the association between relational satisfaction and
dependence that could not be accounted for by more general insecurities.
Study 2C demonstrated that, compared to their less fearful counterparts, those with
stronger fear of being single are more dependent on less satisfying relationships. While
relationships higher in satisfaction were associated with higher dependence regardless of
individual differences in fear of being single, those who were more afraid of being single
reported being relatively dependent even on relationships they found less satisfying. Moreover,
the present findings hold above and beyond the effects of anxious attachment, as well as other
general insecurities such as neuroticism, depression, and need to belong. This suggests that fear
of being single plays a unique role in the maintenance of dissatisfying relationships beyond
insecurity-related constructs that are typically examined in the literature on close relationships.
Fear of being single is a unique predictor of settling for less in one’s relationship.
If fear of being single is associated with greater relationship dependence, even in less
Fear of Being Single 27
satisfying relationships, might fear of being single also discourage people from ending less
satisfying relationships? Study 3 examined this question by recruiting a large sample of
individuals in relationships and tracking their relationship status over time. Importantly, we
predicted that fear of being single would not predict whether participants broke up or not.
Experiencing a breakup is a dyadic process that may often be beyond a relationship member’s
individual control, particularly if they are the one being rejected. Therefore, although we see in
Study 2C that fear of being single predicts greater dependence in less satisfying relationships, we
may not be able to extrapolate from this that fear of being single should predict overall breakup
rates, because there remains an unknown factor of how one’s partner feels about the future of the
relationship. We hypothesized, therefore, that fear of being single should not predict overall
breakup rates. Focusing on what can be predicted knowing only one member of the couple’s
feelings about the relationship, we did have a hypothesis regarding fear of being single for the
subset of participants who reported experiencing a breakup. We expected that for those who
were relatively less satisfied with their relationships, stronger fear of being single would be
associated with a lower likelihood of initiating a breakup.
Participants & Procedure
Study 3 involved an initial relationship questionnaire, followed by a weekly tracking of
relationship status. Participants in dating relationships were recruited both locally from the
undergraduate participant pool at the University of Toronto (N = 278 participants) and online
from Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk (N = 3,827 participants). Participants were first asked to
complete a series of questionnaires about themselves and their romantic relationships. A total of
493 participants were excluded from the present analyses: 147 for not currently being in
Fear of Being Single 28
romantic relationship, 315 for exhibiting response sets according to an algorithm applied to
reverse-coded items, and 31 for providing unrealistic responses to the demographics questions
(e.g., relationship lengths that were not possible given their ages).3 The final sample consisted of
3,612 participants (2,045 women, 841 men, 726 not reported), with an average age of 26 (range
= 16 to 68, SD = 7.5 years), and an average relationship length of 22 months (range = 1 month to
40 years, SD = 30 months). Participants completed the following measures as part of a larger
package of questionnaires.
Fear of Being Single. Participants first completed the six item Fear of Being Single
Scale (M = 2.75, SD = .97, α = .83).
Attachment Style. Anxious attachment was assessed using the ASQ (Feeney et al.,
1994), M = 3.28, SD = .80, α = .86.
Relationship Satisfaction. Satisfaction was assessed using the five-item satisfaction
subscale from the Investment Model Scale (Rusbult et al., 1998). An example item is, “My
relationship is close to ideal.” Participants responded to items on a 9-point scale from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 9 (strongly agree), M = 6.69, SD = 1.81, α = .94.
Weekly Relationship Status Follow-Up. After completing the initial background
questionnaire, participants were emailed weekly with the question, “Are you and your romantic
partner still together?” Participants who were still together were asked to simply respond with
“yes.” Participants who had broken up were also asked to answer a follow-up question: “If you
are no longer in your romantic relationship, please also indicate who initiated the breakup, by
giving us a number on a scale ranging from 1 (Entirely my partner’s decision) to 3 (Mutual
decision) to 5 (Entirely my decision). Every three months, a gift card draw was conducted for
participants who had responded to at least 80% of our emails during that period. Participants
Fear of Being Single 29
were removed from the email list when they asked to be removed.
A total of 1,242 people participated in the weekly email follow-up, and they responded to
our emails for an average of 10 weeks (range: 1 to 29 weeks). Out of those participants, 226
reported breaking up over the course of the study; 1,016 remained in their relationships. Out of
the participants who broke up, 202 responded to the follow-up question regarding their breakup
initiator status. The mean response was near the mid-point of the scale (M = 2.86, SD = 1.44).
We first investigated who was most likely to experience a breakup over the course of the
study. Because participants were asked about their breakup status weekly, we were able to take
into account not only whether participants broke up, but also how long it took them to break up.
Thus, we tested this hypothesis using Cox regression survival analysis, which models both the
occurrence of an event (i.e., breakup), and how long it took for the event to occur. Cox
regression provides a hazard ratio, which represents the relative rate at which a particular event is
likely to occur (in this case, a breakup) for every unit increase in the predictor variable. Fear of
being single, relationship satisfaction, and relationship length were first standardized and entered
in Step 1. The interaction between fear of being single and relationship satisfaction was entered
in Step 2. Relationship status was entered as the event (1 = broke up, 0 = still in relationship),
and the number of weeks for which participants responded to relationship status emails was
entered as the time variable.
Relationship satisfaction predicted a significantly lower likelihood of breaking up over
the course of the relationship, b = -.59, p < .001, hazard ratio = .56. In other words, for every
standard deviation increase in satisfaction, participants broke up at only .56 times the rate.
Similarly, relationship length predicted a significantly lower likelihood of breaking up, b = -.56,
Fear of Being Single 30
p < .001, hazard ratio = .57. For every standard deviation increase in relationship length,
participants broke up at only .57 times the rate. Fear of being single did not predict the likelihood
of breaking up, b = .02, p = .81, nor did fear of being single interact with satisfaction to predict
the likelihood of breaking up, b = -.08, p = .19.
Our key analysis centered on the subset of participants who experienced a breakup over
the course of the study. Using hierarchical linear regression, we tested the hypothesis that,
relative to weaker fear of being single, stronger fear of being single would predict a lower
likelihood of initiating the breakup of a less satisfying relationship. Fear of being single,
relationship satisfaction, and relationship length were standardized and entered in Step 1. The
interaction between fear of being single and relationship satisfaction was entered in Step 2.
Initiator status (1 = entirely the partner’s decision to 5 = entirely the participant’s decision) was
entered as the dependent variable.
Once again, Step 1 revealed a main effect of satisfaction, such that participants who were
more satisfied with their relationships at Time 1 reported that the breakup was less of a personal
decision and more so a mutual or partner’s decision, β = -.15, p = .04. There were no main
effects of fear of being single, β = -.09, ns, or relationship length, β = .00, ns. The predicted
interaction between fear of being single and satisfaction in Step 2 was marginally significant, β =
.13, p = .07 (see Figure 2). Simple effects tests revealed that for those with relatively higher
relationship satisfaction at baseline, fear of being single did not predict breakup initiator status, β
= .05, ns. However, among those with relatively lower relationship satisfaction at baseline, those
with stronger fear of being single were significantly less likely than their less fearful counterparts
to have initiated the breakup, β = -.18, p = .04. Framed differently, for those with relatively
weaker fear of being single, lower satisfaction predicted significantly higher likelihood of
Fear of Being Single 31
initiating the breakup than higher satisfaction, β = -.27, p = .006. However, satisfaction did not
predict initiator status for those with relatively stronger fear of being single, β = -.03, ns.
We next conducted the same analysis with attachment anxiety included as a covariate in
Step 1, and with the interaction between attachment anxiety and satisfaction included as a
covariate in Step 2 (as suggested by Yzerbyt et al., 2004). Analyses revealed that the interaction
between fear of being single and satisfaction was significant when controlling for the main effect
and interaction of anxious attachment, β = .21, p = .02. Furthermore, there was no significant
main effect of anxious attachment predicting breakup initiation, β = .02, ns, and the interaction
between anxious attachment and satisfaction was marginally significant, β = -.15, p = .09.
Therefore, the effects of fear of being single on relationship maintenance were not accounted for
by anxious attachment.
The results of Study 3 revealed that fear of being single is a longitudinal predictor of
whether or not one initiates a breakup in a relatively less satisfying relationship. These results
replicate and extend the findings from Study 2C, and suggest that fear of being single may
motivate individuals to persist even when they are not happy in a relationship. These effects if
anything became stronger when accounting for anxious attachment. Thus, both correlational and
longitudinal data suggest that fear of being single is a unique predictor of settling for less in
Studies 4A & 4B
Does the phenomenon of fear of being single leading to settling for less extend to
selecting new partners? Given that those with stronger fear of being single may desperately
desire a relationship, one strategy for maximizing their chances of beginning a relationship could
Fear of Being Single 32
be to set lower standards when it comes to choosing a partner. People tend to have schemas, or
cognitive expectancies, of what they consider to be ideal in a romantic partner based on factors
such as responsiveness and intimacy potential, physical attractiveness, and status/resources
(Fletcher & Simpson, 2000; Fletcher et al., 1999). Being willing to settle for lower quality mates
would increase the pool of acceptable dating candidates and thus reduce the risk of ending up
single. In this sense, setting lower standards may provide psychological comfort, reassuring
those with stronger fear of being single that they will not be single for long. Lowering their
standards for a dating partner may therefore help ease people’s fears about being single.
On the other hand, those higher in fear of being single may not consciously acknowledge
lowering standards because of the psychological discomfort such an admission could evoke. The
most commonly cited fear of singlehood in Study 1 was the risk of missing out on
companionship and loving experiences. In other words, an important aspect of fear of being
single is a desire for a high quality relationship. Therefore, regardless of whether or not those
with stronger fear of being single actually settle for lower quality partners, they may not be open
to admitting this to themselves. It may be threatening to acknowledge holding low standards, out
of fear that one may not find a quality relationship. Indeed, Tolmacz (2004) found that anxiously
attached individuals reported less willingness to compromise their ideal mate standards. It is
unclear, therefore, whether the insecurity of fear of being single would prompt individuals to set
lower or higher standards for a mate. The purpose of Studies 4A and 4B was to explore whether
or not those with stronger fear of being single tend to report lower standards for a mate. Studies
4A and 4B were correlational studies in which participants reported their fear of being single and
their standards for a dating partner. Participants in both studies were asked about their ideal mate
characteristics. However, it is possible that people’s dream partner is not affected by their
Fear of Being Single 33
anxieties about being single, but perhaps the extent to which they are willing to accept deviations
from their ideal partner (i.e., compromise their standards) is driven by fear of being single.
Participants in Study 4B were therefore also asked to indicate the minimum for which they
would be willing to settle in order to date someone.
Participants & Procedure
Study 4A. Participants were recruited online through Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk
(www.mturk.com). A total of 254 individuals completed the survey. However, 8 individuals
were excluded because of response sets. There remained 246 participants (161 women, 84 men,
1 unidentified), 88 single and 158 in relationships. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 78 years
old (M = 31.8, SD = 11.9). While 218 participants identified as heterosexual, 28 identified
otherwise (6 homosexual, 17 bisexual, 3 undecided/questioning, 1 other, and 1 unidentified).
Participants completed the following measures in the order presented.
Study 4B. Participants were again recruited through Mechanical Turk. In accordance
with other hypotheses being explored in these data, individuals were required to be single at the
time of the study to be eligible to participate. One hundred fifty-nine participants completed the
survey. However, 7 participants were excluded because they were in serious romantic
relationships, and 11 were excluded because of response sets. There remained 141 participants
(86 women, 55 men) included in analyses. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 78 years old (M
= 30.00, SD = 10.41). Of these participants, 121 identified as heterosexual, 6 as homosexual, 9
bisexual, 4 undecided/questioning, and 1 unidentified. Participants completed the following
measures online in the order listed.
Fear of Being Single 34
Fear of Being Single. Participants first completed the six-item Fear of Being Single
Scale (Study 4A: M = 2.77, SD = 1.09, α = .83; Study 4B: M = 2.93, SD = 1.08, α = .87).
Attachment Style. Anxious attachment was assessed using the ASQ (Feeney et al., 1994;
Study 4A: M = 3.18, SD = .85, α = .88; Study 4B: M = 3.39, SD = .88, α = .91).
Ideal Partner Standards. To gauge participants’ standards for a romantic partner,
participants in Study 4A were provided a series of hypothetical traits on a measure adapted from
Buss and Shackelford (2008), and were asked to indicate, “In a romantic partner, how important
are the following characteristics?” Participants responded on a scale from -2 (undesirable – a
“deal breaker”) to +2 (indispensible – a “must have”). Traits were aggregated to form domains
of standards for physical attractiveness (5 items: physically attractive, good looking, sexually
appealing, physically fit, and good health; M = .96, SD = .50, α = .81), resources (3 items: high
income, good earning capacity, and good financial prospect; M = .40, SD = .67, α = .84), good
parenting potential (5 items: desire for home and children, good cook and housekeeper, priorities
of raising children well, fond of children, and likes children; M = .85, SD = .78, α = .86), and
good partner potential (8 items: priorities of being a loving partner, devoted to you, loyal, mutual
attraction/love, kind and understanding, emotional stability and maturity, pleasing
disposition/personality, and dependable character; M = 1.51, SD = .47, α = .88).
To ensure that effects for ideal partner standards were not due to the specific instrument
used, we employed a different scale in Study 4B than in 4A. To gauge standards for an ideal
partner, participants in Study 4B were provided a series of traits, and were asked to indicate the
percentile score that would be most desirable for that trait (e.g., Regan, 1998). This method
enabled us to determine above what percentage of all other same-sex individuals one’s perfect
partner would fall on a given characteristic. Responses were provided in percentile format,
Fear of Being Single 35
ranging from 0% to 100%. Traits were aggregated to form assessments of ideal standards for
physical attractiveness (3 items: physically attractive, sexy, and healthy; M = 69.63%, SD =
17.71, α = .76), resources (4 items: wealthy, powerful, good earning capacity, and has material
possessions; M = 48.02%, SD = 18.99, α = .82), good parenting potential (1 item: wants children;
M = 47.89%, SD = 35.84), and good partner potential (4 items: attentive to partner’s needs, easy
going, friendly, and good sense of humor; M = 74.13%, SD = 15.69, α = .83). All participants
completed ideal partner standards first as an anchor from which to base minimum partner
Minimum Partner Standards. After evaluating ideal partner standards, participants in
Study 4B were provided with a list of the same traits, and were asked to indicate the minimum
percentile score that they would find acceptable when considering a potential romantic partner.
Responses were again provided in percentile format, ranging from 0% to 100%. Participants
rated the extent to which they would settle on physical attractiveness (M = 48.50%, SD = 20.25,
α = .83), resources (M = 31.42%, SD = 19.35, α = .88), parenting potential (M = 31.86%, SD =
33.59, single item thus no α), and good partner potential (M = 53.16%, SD = 19.28, α = .89).
Correlations between fear of being single and dating standards in each domain of
physical attractiveness, resources, good parent, and good partner are presented in Tables 5 and 6.
The first columns in the tables present zero-order correlations, and the second columns present
partial correlations controlling for anxious attachment.
Study 4A. When it comes to standards for attractiveness, resources, and being a good
partner, the zero-order correlations with fear of being single were not significant. However, fear
of being single was significantly, positively correlated with standards for being a good parent.4
Fear of Being Single 36
Moreover, the effects held controlling for anxious attachment, with the exception of standards
for attractiveness, which were positively correlated with fear of being single when accounting for
anxious attachment. Furthermore, there were no significant interactions for all four standards
domains between fear of being single and participant age, sex, relationship status, or sexual
orientation (comparing heterosexual with all non-heterosexual categories combined).
Study 4B. The results for ideal standards replicate those of Study 4A, such that fear of
being single did not significantly predict standards for attractiveness, resources, nor good partner
potential, and predicted marginally higher standards for good parenting potential. Moreover,
participants’ minimum standards were not predicted by fear of being single, with the exception
of good parenting potential which was again positively predicted by fear of being single.
Columns 3 and 4 in Table 6 display the correlations controlling for anxious attachment.
All findings held controlling for anxious attachment. Furthermore, there were no significant
interactions of fear of being single with participant age or sexual orientation, but there were
mixed results for interactions with participant sex. There was an interaction between sex and fear
of being single predicting ideal standards for good parenting, β = -.20, p = .05, such that fear of
being single predicted higher ideal standards for parenting potential among women, β = .27, p =
.01, but not among men, β = -.08, ns. There was also an interaction between sex and fear of being
single predicting ideal standards for good partner potential, β = -.26, p = .01, such that women
reported higher ideal standards for a good partner when they had a greater fear of being single, β
= .24, p = .02, while men did not, β = -.20, ns. There were no other interactions with ideal
standards, and no interactions with minimum standards.
The results of Studies 4A and 4B suggest that self-reported dating standards are not lower
Fear of Being Single 37
for those with stronger fear of being single. Whether participants were asked about their
standards for an ideal partner or the bare minimum for which they would settle in a partner, fear
of being single was consistently unrelated to dating standards. In fact, in rare cases where fear of
being single was associated with dating standards, it was actually associated with higher
standards. Specifically, those with stronger fear of being single reported higher standards for a
partner who would be a good parent. This finding suggests that having children and a family is
an important component of fear of being single. Indeed, participants in Study 1 noted in their
open-ended responses about being single that missing out on having children was a relevant
concern. Furthermore, an item in the Fear of Being Single Scale taps into fears about not having
and raising children, and as we note in Footnote 4 may be driving the effects in Studies 4A and
4B. It appears, then, that when considering a hypothetical mate, the prospect of dating someone
who does not want children may be more of a “dealbreaker” for those with stronger fear of being
single, at least at the level of abstract standards. Furthermore, the effect in Study 4B (although
not Study 4A) revealed a moderation by participant sex, such that women with stronger fear of
being single held higher standards for an ideal partner with parenting and partner potential than
did men. While effects that do not replicate across studies should be interpreted cautiously, it is
possible that such sex differences reflect concerns over parental investment. Women invest a
greater amount of reproductive time and energy per child than men, which may make them more
selective and concerned with paternal support (e.g., Geary, 2000).
Although participants did not report a willingness to lower their standards when choosing
a mate, self-reported standards do not always predict behavior. For instance, speed-dating
research has shown a mismatch between what people claim they want in a partner before a dating
event and what they ultimately select during their real dating interactions (Eastwick & Finkel,
Fear of Being Single 38
2008). In this way, those with stronger fear of being single may state they would not settle for a
lower quality partner, but may behave differently when presented with an actual dating prospect.
Therefore, the purpose of Study 5 was to explore whether those with stronger fear of being single
express romantic interest in actual dating prospects of relatively lower quality.
To examine whether those with stronger fear of being single are willing to settle for
lower quality dating partners, participants in Study 5 indicated their desire to date more or less
desirable dating targets in an internet dating scenario. Desirability was experimentally
manipulated by varying the degree to which targets were high vs. low in partner responsiveness.
Responsive partners are caring, understanding, and validating (Reis, Clark, & Holmes, 2004).
Those who perceive their relationship partners as responsive feel more intimate, more satisfied,
and more committed to their relationships (Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Reis et al., 2004).
Therefore, to the extent that individuals would be willing to compromise their standards for a
responsive partner, they would be settling for less on a central component of good relationships.
After reading a dating target’s profile consisting of a photo and a self-description,
participants rated their romantic interest, assessed as their degree of interest in the target’s
personality and desire to go on a date with the target. We hypothesized that those with stronger
fear of being single would express greater romantic interest in the unresponsive targets than
would their less fearful counterparts. Furthermore, to account for the possibility that participants
would express romantic interest in lower quality targets due to motivated perceptions that they
could form a successful relationship with a lower quality target, participants evaluated the extent
to which they anticipated being able to form a successful, lasting relationship with the target.
Fear of Being Single 39
Participants & Procedure
Participants were single, heterosexual, undergraduate women who participated for course
credit. This study included only heterosexual women for simplicity of study material preparation
(i.e., only male dating profiles were presented). Ninety-nine participants began the study, but 11
participants were excluded: One participant was excluded because she reported being in a serious
relationship, three participants were excluded because they left the majority of questions blank,
one participant experienced language difficulties, one participant left the study for an extended
period of time to take a phone call, and five participants revealed response sets. There remained
88 female participants in our analyses.5 These participants ranged in age from 17 to 32 years old
(M = 18.73, SD = 2.06). Eighty-four participants indicated they were single, and four reported
they were casually dating.
Participants first completed questionnaires assessing fear of being single and attachment
style. Next, under the cover story that the study was about “personality and evaluations of online
dating profiles,” participants viewed an ostensibly real internet dating profile of a man from the
Toronto area. The dating profile included an attractive male photo, as well as a written profile
that depicted the man as either high or low in partner responsiveness. Following the profile,
participants evaluated the target on attractiveness and responsiveness, and indicated their
romantic interest in the target.
Materials and Measures
Fear of Being Single. Participants completed the Fear of Being Single Scale (M = 2.69,
SD = .99, α = .84).
Attachment Style. Attachment style was again assessed using the ASQ (Feeney et al.,
1994; M = 3.22, SD = .91, α = .90).
Fear of Being Single 40
Dating Profiles. Dating profiles were created by the authors. All profiles included one of
two counterbalanced attractive male photos gathered from the internet, pilot tested for
equivalency in physical attractiveness, F(1,21) = 2.51, p = .13. Each photo was accompanied by
an “About Me” section that the men had supposedly written themselves. These biographies
differed in the extent to which the man appeared responsive. Pilot testing revealed a significant
difference in perceived caring and responsiveness between the two profiles, F(1,20) = 303.60, p
< .001. Those in the High Responsiveness Target condition read a profile wherein the target
made statements such as, “When I’m dating someone, I really care about putting in the effort and
making it work. For me, that means paying attention to my girlfriend and getting to know who
she really is as a person,” and “I figure the most important thing is that we’re there for each
other, no b.s.” Those in the Low Responsiveness Target condition read a profile with statements
such as, “I love what I do, so I need someone who respects that and is willing to take the back
seat when necessary,” and “I like to keep conversations light and not too serious when they’re
not work-related, and I most prefer situations that are easy and problem-free.”
Responsiveness. As a manipulation check, participants rated the responsiveness of the
male target. The manipulation check was an aggregate of the questions, “How caring is this
individual?” “How considerate is this individual?” and “How responsive does this individual
seem towards his future partner’s needs?” rated on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely); M
= 3.04, SD = 1.29, α = .93.
Attractiveness. To confirm that the attractiveness of the target photos was not affected
by responsiveness condition or fear of being single, participants rated the target male on the
following items developed by the authors, on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely):
attractive, handsome, and cute. Items were aggregated to form a single attractiveness rating; M =
Fear of Being Single 41
3.37, SD = .78, α = .85.
Romantic Interest. Participants evaluated the extent to which they were romantically
interested in the target males. Romantic interest was assessed with items developed by the
authors tapping into expectations that one would “click” romantically with the target, interest in
learning more about the target, the target’s desirability as a romantic partner, and the extent to
which participants desired to go on a date with the target. Ratings were made on a scale from 1
(not at all) to 5 (extremely); α of the four items was .88, M = 2.55, SD = .94.
Anticipated Romantic Success. We gauged participants’ anticipated romantic success
with the target using the item, “How successfully do you think you and this individual could
form a lasting romantic relationship?” Participants indicated their anticipated relationship
success on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely); M = 2.22, SD = 1.00.
Perceived Responsiveness. To confirm that responsiveness condition influenced
participants’ perceptions of the targets’ responsiveness, a hierarchical regression analysis was
conducted for perceived responsiveness. Condition (dummy coded: 0 = low responsiveness
condition, 1 = high responsiveness condition), and fear of being single (standardized) were
entered in Step 1. The interaction between responsiveness condition and fear of being single was
entered in Step 2. The analysis revealed a main effect of responsiveness condition, β = .87, p <
.001, such that those who read the high responsiveness profile rated the target as significantly
more responsive than those who read the low responsiveness profile. There was no effect of fear
of being single, β = -.03, ns. Moreover, the interaction between condition and fear of being single
was not significant, β = -.11, ns.
Fear of Being Single 42
Attractiveness. The same regression analysis as above was conducted on ratings of
target attractiveness. Neither responsiveness condition, β = .08, ns, nor fear of being single, β =
.11, ns, were significant predictors of attractiveness ratings, nor was the interaction between
condition and fear of being single, β = -.06, ns.
To explore our primary hypothesis that those with stronger fear of being single may
express romantic interest in lower quality dating targets, romantic interest in the target was
regressed onto responsiveness condition and fear of being single in Step 1, and their interaction
in Step 2. Responsiveness condition was a significant predictor of romantic interest, β = .32, p =
.002, such that those who read the high responsiveness profile were more romantically interested
in the target than those who read the low responsiveness profile. There was no main effect of fear
of being single, although the data reflect a non-significant positive trend, β = .17, p = .11.
However, the interaction between responsiveness condition and fear of being single was
significant, β = -.29, p = .05 (see Figure 3). Simple effects tests were conducted to explore the
effects of fear of being single at ±1SD within each condition. Within the high responsiveness
condition, fear of being single was not a significant predictor of romantic interest, β = -.02, ns.
Within the low responsiveness condition, fear of being single was a significant predictor of
romantic interest, β = .37, p = .01, such that those with stronger fear of being single were more
romantically interested in the low responsiveness target than those with weaker fear of being
single. Framed differently, while those with weaker fear of being single were more romantically
interested in the high responsiveness target than the low responsiveness target, β = .52, p < .001,
those with stronger fear of being single showed no difference in preference between the high
responsiveness and low responsiveness targets, β = .12, ns. This interaction was not further
Fear of Being Single 43
moderated by participant age, β = -.009, ns.
All effects of fear of being single on romantic interest remained significant when
accounting for anxious attachment, which was not a significant predictor of romantic interest in
our model, β = -.12, ns. The fear of being single by responsiveness condition interaction
remained significant, β = -.46, p = .01, when controlling for bias due to the interaction between
anxious attachment and responsiveness condition (Yzerbyt et al., 2004). Importantly, the
interaction between anxious attachment and responsiveness condition was not significant, β =
Anticipated Romantic Success
To examine the possibility that those with stronger fear of being single are more likely to
believe that they could form a successful lasting relationship with less desirable targets,
anticipated romantic success was regressed onto responsiveness condition, fear of being single,
and their interaction. Responsiveness condition was a significant predictor of anticipated
romantic success, β = .42, p < .001, such that people expected to be able to form a more
successful lasting relationship with the high responsiveness target than the low responsiveness
target. However, there was no main effect of fear of being single, β = .12, ns, nor was there a
significant interaction, β = -.03, ns.
The results of Study 5 suggest that women with stronger fear of being single may select
dating partners in a relatively non-discriminating manner. Despite accurate recognition of the
responsiveness of targets, and despite lower expectations of forming a successful, lasting
relationship with the less responsive target, those with stronger fear of being single nonetheless
expressed greater romantic interest in the low responsiveness target. Specifically, those with
Fear of Being Single 44
stronger fear of being single were not only more romantically interested in the less responsive
target compared to their less fearful counterparts, but they were also relatively equally interested
in both the responsive and unresponsive targets. These findings suggest that romantic interest on
the part of those with stronger fear of being single is not informed by perceptions of
responsiveness or desirability in the same way that it is for less fearful individuals. As a
consequence, women with stronger fear of being single may be prone to being equally drawn to
both responsive and unresponsive partners.
Study 6 was designed to replicate and extend the results of Study 5. Study 6 included
both male and female participants, to examine whether the effect of fear of being single on
romantic interest in lower quality dating partners can be extended to both sexes. Furthermore,
Study 6 tested for willingness to compromise more generally. Perhaps people are willing to
compromise on responsiveness but not on other domains in order to enter a relationship. For
instance, Study 4A demonstrated that fear of being single predicts higher standards for
attractiveness (when controlling for anxious attachment). Study 6 therefore also included
manipulations of physical attractiveness. Finally, participants in Study 6 reported their explicit
desires for having sex, going on a date, and forming a long-term relationship with each target.
While participants in Study 5 evaluated romantic interest largely in terms of the target’s general
desirability and romantic appeal (e.g., only one item tapped into explicit desire to go on a date),
this more explicit measure of romantic interest in Study 6 provides a powerful test of the effect
of fear of being single on willingness to settle, as it taps into desires that may promote actual
initiation of lower quality relationships. We again hypothesized that those with stronger fear of
being single would express greater romantic interest in less responsive and less attractive dating
Fear of Being Single 45
targets than their less fearful counterparts.
Participants & Procedure
Participants were single, heterosexual men and women recruited from Mechanical Turk.
A total of 252 participants completed the survey, with 214 (123 women, 91 men) included in
analyses. Two participants were excluded for being in a romantic relationship, one reported
being neither heterosexual nor bisexual, and 35 revealed response sets. Participants ranged in age
from 18 to 68 years old (M = 29.5, SD = 10.8).
The procedure was similar to that of Study 5, such that participants completed measures
of fear of being single and anxious attachment, and then evaluated an ostensibly real internet
dating profile. In addition to the manipulation of responsiveness used in Study 5, the targets in
the present study also varied in attractiveness, with participants viewing either a highly attractive
or less attractive photograph with the profile. To ensure that effects were not due to particular
photos, participants were randomly assigned to view one of two attractive or unattractive photos.
Fear of Being Single. Participants first completed the Fear of Being Single Scale (M =
2.79, SD = 1.04, α = .85).
Attachment Style. Participants completed the anxious attachment (α = .90, M = 3.20, SD
= .90) subscale of the ASQ (Feeney et al., 1994).
Attitudes toward Online Dating. Online dating is sometimes considered as a less
desirable means of meeting someone (e.g., Wildermuth, 2004). We therefore wanted to take into
account participants’ general attitudes toward online dating when evaluating the dating targets.
Participants were asked about their perceptions of the ease of meeting someone online and the
Fear of Being Single 46
quality of partners available online. Participants responded on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5
(very much) to two items, “How easy do you think it would be to meet a romantic partner on an
online dating website?” and “How likely is it you could meet a desirable, high quality dating
partner on an online dating website?” These items were aggregated to form a measure of positive
attitudes toward online dating (M = 2.66, SD = .99, α = .73).
Dating Profiles. Target responsiveness was manipulated using the same profiles as in
Study 5. Furthermore, participants were randomly assigned to view either an attractive or
unattractive photo in conjunction with the profile. Within the attractive and unattractive
conditions, participants viewed one of two randomly assigned photos. Pilot tests revealed a
significant difference in attractiveness between the attractive male photos (M = 3.01, SD = .15)
and unattractive male photos (M = 1.40, SD = .08), F(1,21) = 101.72, p < .001, and between
attractive female photos (M = 4.01, SD = .11) and unattractive female photos (M = 1.74, SD =
.11), F(1,24) = 399.08, p < .001.
Responsiveness. As a check of the responsiveness manipulation, participants rated the
extent to which the target was caring, considerate, and would be responsive to his/her partner’s
needs, on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely); M = 2.73, SD = 1.31, α = .96.
Attractiveness. As a manipulation check of the attractiveness manipulation, participants
rated the extent to which the target was attractive, cute, sexy, and handsome/beautiful (depending
on target sex), on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely); M = 2.55, SD = 1.05, α = .94.
Romantic Interest. Building on Study 5, romantic interest in the present study was
captured with items assessing more explicit romantic desires. Specifically, as in Study 5,
participants reported on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely) the extent to which they
would like to go on a date with the target. However, participants additionally rated the extent to
Fear of Being Single 47
which they would like to have sex with the target and would like to form an exclusive
relationship with the target. These three items were aggregated to form a single assessment of
romantic interest reflecting relationship approach (M = 1.95, SD = 1.05, α = .88).6
Anticipated Romantic Success. Once again, participants indicated the extent to which
they expected they could successfully form a lasting romantic relationship with the target, on a
scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely); M = 1.90, SD = 1.06.
Attitudes toward Online Dating
We first explored whether general attitudes toward online dating affected people’s
perceptions of the dating targets. The analysis revealed that the more positive attitudes
participants held toward online dating, the more attractive they perceived the targets, r(214) =
.12, p = .08, the more romantic interest they expressed toward the targets, r(214) = .16, p = .02,
and the more they expected being able to form a lasting relationship with the target, r(214) = .19,
p = .006. Because attitudes toward online dating were associated with our dependent variables of
interest, all analyses included attitudes toward online dating as a covariate.
Perceived Responsiveness. To confirm that responsiveness condition influenced
perceptions of the targets’ responsiveness, a hierarchical regression analysis was conducted for
perceived responsiveness. Responsiveness condition (0 = low responsiveness, 1 = high
responsiveness), attractiveness condition (0 = unattractive, 1 = attractive), fear of being single
(standardized), and online dating attitudes were entered in Step 1. All two-way interactions were
entered in Step 2, and the three-way interaction was entered in Step 3. Online dating attitudes
were entered only in Step 1. The analysis revealed a main effect of responsiveness condition, β =
Fear of Being Single 48
.80, p < .001, such that those who read the high responsiveness profile rated the target as
significantly more responsive than those who read the low responsiveness profile. There were no
main effects of attractiveness condition, β = .01, ns, fear of being single, β = .01, ns, or online
dating attitudes, β = .03, ns. Moreover, neither the two-way nor three-way interactions were
significant, all βs < |.11|.
Attractiveness. The same regression analysis as above was conducted on ratings of
target attractiveness. The analysis revealed a main effect of attractiveness condition, β = .57, p <
.001, such that participants rated the attractive photos as significantly more attractive than the
unattractive photos. Moreover, there was a main effect of responsiveness condition, β = .18, p =
.001, such that high responsiveness targets were rated as more physically attractive than low
responsiveness targets. As shown earlier, online dating attitudes were also a significant, positive
predictor of attractiveness, β = .12, p = .04. There was no main effect of fear of being single, β =
-.04, ns. Once again, none of the higher-order interactions were significant.
As with the manipulation check analyses, romantic interest was regressed onto online
dating attitudes, fear of being single, attractiveness and responsiveness conditions, and all two-
and three-way interactions in separate steps. The analysis revealed a main effect of
responsiveness condition, β = .23, p < .001, and attractiveness condition, β = .41, p < .001, such
that participants were more romantically interested in the high responsiveness target and
attractive target, respectively, than the low responsiveness and unattractive target, respectively.
Online dating attitudes were also a significant, positive predictor of romantic interest, β = .15, p
= .01. There was no main effect of fear of being single, β = -.05, ns.
Replicating the results of Study 5, there was a significant interaction between fear of
Fear of Being Single 49
being single and responsiveness condition, β = -.17, p = .05 (see Figure 4). The pattern of results
replicated those from Study 5. Simple effects tests show that within the high responsiveness
condition, fear of being single was not a significant predictor of romantic interest, β = -.03, ns.
However, within the low responsiveness condition, fear of being single was a marginally
significant predictor of romantic interest, β = .21, p = .06, such that those with stronger fear of
being single were more romantically interested in the low responsiveness target than those with
weaker fear of being single. Framed differently, while those with weaker fear of being single
were more romantically interested in the high responsiveness target than the low responsiveness
target, β = .29, p = .007, those with stronger fear of being single showed no difference in
preference between the high responsiveness and low responsiveness targets, β = .05, ns.
Another significant interaction was found between fear of being single and attractiveness
condition, β = -.20, p = .02 (see Figure 5). Simple effects tests revealed that within the attractive
condition, fear of being single was not a significant predictor of romantic interest, β = -.07, ns.
However, within the unattractive condition, fear of being single was a marginally significant
predictor of romantic interest, β = .21, p = .06, such that those with stronger fear of being single
were more interested in the unattractive target than their less fearful counterparts. Furthermore,
those with weaker fear of being single expressed considerably greater interest in the attractive
target compared to the unattractive target, β = .48, p < .001, whereas those with high fear of
being single expressed only marginally greater interest in the attractive target, β = .20, p = .06.
The two-way interaction between responsiveness condition and attractiveness condition
was not significant, β = .13, ns, nor was the three-way interaction between all variables, β = -.02,
ns. Inclusion of participant sex as a moderator in the model yielded a main effect of sex, β = -.40,
p < .001, such that males expressed greater romantic interest than females. However, sex did not
Fear of Being Single 50
moderate the interaction between fear of being single and responsiveness condition, β = .14, ns,
nor the interaction between fear of being single and attractiveness condition, β = .19, ns.
Inclusion of participant age as a moderator yielded a main effect of age, β = -.13, p = .04, such
that older participants expressed less romantic interest in the targets. However, age also did not
moderate the interaction between fear of being single and responsiveness condition, β = .01, ns,
nor the interaction between fear of being single and attractiveness condition, β = .19, ns.
The interaction between fear of being single and responsiveness condition was not
significant when accounting for the main effect of anxious attachment and its interaction with
responsiveness condition and attractiveness condition, β = -.12, ns. However, there was neither a
significant main effect of anxious attachment, β = .10, ns, nor a significant interaction between
anxious attachment and responsiveness condition, β = -.08, ns, nor a significant interaction
between anxious attachment and attractiveness condition, β = -.05, ns. Therefore, although the
interaction between fear of being single and responsiveness condition was not significant when
controlling for anxious attachment, the nonsignificant effects of anxious attachment make
evident that the fear of being single effects cannot be explained by anxious attachment.
Anticipated Romantic Success
Anticipated romantic success with the target was regressed onto online dating attitudes,
fear of being single, responsiveness and attractiveness conditions, and all interactions, as above.
There were main effects of responsiveness condition, β = .40, p < .001, as well as attractiveness
condition, β = .14, p = .02, such that participants anticipated greater romantic success with the
high responsiveness target than with the low responsiveness target, as well as with the attractive
target compared to the unattractive target. As previously mentioned, online dating attitudes were
a significant positive predictor of anticipated romantic success with the target, β = .17, p = .007.
Fear of Being Single 51
There was no main effect of fear of being single, β = .06, ns.
Replicating the results of Study 5, the interaction between fear of being single and
responsiveness condition was not significant, β = -.08, ns, suggesting that those with stronger
fear of being single do not necessarily express greater romantic interest in less responsive targets
because they anticipate greater romantic success. However, there was a significant interaction
between fear of being single and attractiveness condition, β = -.17, p = .05. When evaluating the
attractive target, fear of being single did not predict anticipated romantic success, β = -.008, ns.
However, when considering the unattractive target, fear of being single was a significant,
positive predictor of anticipated romantic success, β = .23, p = .04. Examined differently, those
with weaker fear of being single anticipated greater romantic success with the attractive target
than the unattractive target, β = .25, p = .03, whereas those with stronger fear of being single
anticipated equally high romantic success with both the attractive and unattractive targets, β =
.006, ns. No other interactions were significant. Once again, these results hold when accounting
for anxious attachment.
This pattern of findings suggests that anticipated romantic success may explain (i.e.,
mediate) why those high in fear of being single express greater romantic interest in the less
attractive targets. In the analysis predicting romantic interest, including anticipated romantic
success as a mediator (by including the main effect as well as the interaction with attractiveness
condition to account for bias in the fear of being single by attractiveness condition interaction;
Yzerbyt et al., 2004) reduced the fear of being single by attractiveness interaction to
nonsignificance, β = -.14, p = .13, with anticipated romantic success remaining a significant
predictor of romantic interest, β = .51, p < .001. A Sobel test suggested full mediation, Sobel = -
1.93, p = .054. There was, however, no evidence that romantic interest in less responsive dating
Fear of Being Single 52
targets is mediated by anticipated romantic success with those targets.
Those with stronger fear of being single appear to be willing to settle for less during mate
selection. The results of Study 6 replicate those of Study 5, indicating that those with stronger
fear of being single express relatively high romantic interest in less responsive dating partners.
As in Study 5, participants generally recognized that the less responsive targets were in fact less
responsive. However, despite this knowledge, those who more strongly feared being single
expressed greater romantic interest in the unresponsive target than did their less fearful
counterparts. Moreover, those who more strongly feared being single expressed relatively equal
romantic interest in both the responsive and unresponsive targets. In other words, despite
recognizing that some targets were less likely to be caring and supportive than others, those who
more strongly feared being single did not seem to be taking a prospective partner’s
responsiveness into account when making decisions about romantic interest. Across both Studies
5 and 6, these results could once again not be accounted for by anxious attachment.
Anticipated romantic success did not serve to explain the desires of those with stronger
fear of being single for less responsive dating targets. Those with stronger fear of being single
were not expressing romantic interest in less responsive people because they more easily
imagined being able to form successful relationships with them. Partner responsiveness is
arguably one of the most fundamental components of satisfying, committed relationships (Maisel
& Gable, 2009; Reis et al., 2004) and a key marker of high quality, lasting relationships (Huston,
Caughlin, Houts, Smith, & George, 2001; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). It is unfortunate,
therefore, that those with stronger fear of being single may not be selecting partners on this trait.
For one who fears being single, a responsive partner may provide the support and security
Fear of Being Single 53
needed to assuage concerns about abandonment, relationship dissolution, and future singlehood.
The results of Study 6 revealed that those with stronger fear of being single may be
willing to settle not only for partners low in responsiveness, but also those low in attractiveness.
Unlike the responsiveness findings, however, greater interest in low attractiveness was explained
by anticipation of greater romantic success. In fact, those who more strongly feared being single
may have been attuned to the benefits of settling for a less physically attractive partner. A
partner’s lack of physical attractiveness may limit their romantic alternatives (e.g., Buss &
Shackelford, 2008; Feingold, 1990), reducing one’s mate competition and promoting the
partner’s romantic investment in the relationship (Rusbult et al., 1998). In this way, those with
stronger fear of being single may be capable of securing their future relationship status if they are
willing to settle for less attractive mates.
Although Studies 5 and 6 supported our hypothesis that those higher in fear of being
single are more likely to settle for less at the mate selection stage, it is possible this effect
emerged because participants were somewhat removed from the targets they were evaluating.
Participants knew they were not going to meet the target being evaluated. Perhaps when coming
face-to-face with a potential partner such that the costs of potentially compromising one’s
standards are more salient, those higher in fear of being single may not settle for less. Thus, in
Study 7, we examined how fear of being single affects relationship initiation decisions in a
speed-dating context. We hypothesized that those higher in fear of being single would be less
selective during a speed-dating event by indicating interest in more potential partners. In
addition, this study allowed us to examine the romantic attractiveness of individuals varying in
fear of being single. By examining the romantic interest shown by others, we were able to assess
whether fears about being single may be associated with relatively low interest from potential
Fear of Being Single 54
partners, which would suggest that fears of being single may be warranted. Finally, we explored
whether the motivations people have to participate in a speed-dating event play a role in their
decisions to be less selective. We hypothesized that those with stronger fear of being single
would be motivated to speed-date in order to avoid being single rather than to pursue the
potential rewards that a relationship has to offer such as a close, meaningful connection. Finally,
we explored whether the motivations to speed-date served to explain why those with stronger
fear of being single were less selective in expressing romantic interest.
Participants & Procedure
Individuals who were attending speed-dating events organized by a local speed-dating
company (25dates.com) were invited to participate in the study. Data were collected at six
separate events in the Greater Toronto Area. In total, 120 individuals participated in the study.
Eight participants were excluded from analyses for response sets, 3 for indicating a relationship
status other than single, and 5 for not indicating their sex. The remaining participants (61
women, 43 men) ranged in age from 19 to 38 years old (M = 27.08, SD = 4.02).
At the speed-dating events, participants first completed measures of Fear of Being Single,
Attachment Style, and Motivations to Speed-Date. They then went on a series of approximately
25 dates with members of the opposite sex, each date lasting three minutes. At the end of the
event, participants indicated with whom they were interested in sharing their contact information.
Fear of Being Single. Participants completed the Fear of Being Single Scale (M = 2.60,
SD = 1.00, α = .85).
Fear of Being Single 55
Attachment Style. Attachment style was assessed using the Experiences in Close
Relationship Scale Short Form (ECR-S; Wei, Russell, Mallinckrodt, & Vogel, 2007), which
asked participants to indicate their agreement with items on a scale from 1 (Strongly disagree) to
7 (Strongly agree). Six items assessed participants’ levels of attachment anxiety (e.g., “I need a
lot of reassurance that I am loved by romantic partners;” α = .56, M = 3.78, SD = .87).7
Motivations to Speed-Date. Participants indicated their reasons for attending a speed-
dating event on a scale from 1 (Disagree strongly) to 7 (Agree strongly). These motivations were
drawn from McClure et al. (2010), and two motivations expected to be particularly relevant to
fear of being single were added (“to prevent being single any longer;” “to avoid being alone”). A
factor analysis suggested that the scale items grouped into two broader motivation categories:
avoidance goals (3 items; “to prevent being single any longer,” “to avoid being alone,” and
“because I’m lonely;” α = .86, M = 2.93, SD = 1.55), and approach goals (2 items; “because I
could meet someone special,” and “to look for a meaningful relationship;” α = .87, M = 4.78, SD
Romantic Interest. Following each date, participants indicated whether they would like
to share their contact email with each individual, by selecting yes/no beside that individual’s
dater number. At the end of the event, the total number of daters the participant selected was
computed as a measure of romantic interest. The number of daters who indicated that they would
like to share their contact information with the participant (regardless of the participant’s mutual
interest toward them) was computed to represent daters’ romantic interest in the participant.
Fear of Being Single and Romantic Interest
We first tested whether fear of being single was systematically related to the number of
Fear of Being Single 56
daters in whom a participant expressed romantic interest, and the number of daters who
expressed romantic interest in the participant. The dependent variables represented frequency
counts (number of daters the participant selected, or was selected by), which violate the
normality assumption of traditional regression. Thus, to account for the non-normal distribution
in the dependent variables, poisson regressions with a log link function were used (e.g., Coxe,
West, & Aiken, 2009; Gardner, Mulvey, & Shaw, 1995).8 Because initial poisson regressions
evidenced significant overdispersion (whereby the data evidenced greater variability than
expected for a standard poisson regression, φs > 2.74), in each model a scaling parameter was
estimated to correct for overdispersion (Coxe et al., 2009). Participant sex significantly
influenced the number of daters a participant selected, t(99) = 6.96, p <.001, with men selecting
significantly more daters (M = 12.7, SD = 7.05) than women (M = 5.17, SD = 3.86). Sex was
therefore entered as a control variable in all subsequent analyses. Sex did not significantly
moderate the effects of fear of being single.
Fear of Being Single and Selectivity. We first tested the hypothesis that those with
stronger fear of being single would be less selective by opting to share their contact information
with a greater number of individuals than their less fearful counterparts. The results supported
this hypothesis. Fear of being single predicted romantic interest in a greater number of daters, b =
.14, SE = .07, Wald’s χ2(1, N = 101) = 4.65, p = .03. This effect remained marginally significant
after controlling for the main effect of anxious attachment, b = .13, SE = .08, Wald’s χ2(1, N =
101) = 2.79, p = .095, which was not a significant predictor of selectivity in the model, b = .02,
SE = .09, Wald’s χ2(1, N = 101) = .06, p = 81.
Fear of Being Single and Being Selected. We examined whether individuals higher in
fear of being single garnered less romantic interest from others. We performed a poisson
Fear of Being Single 57
regression predicting number of daters who expressed interest in dating the participant from fear
of being single, entering sex as a covariate. Fear of being single did not significantly predict the
number of individuals who were interested in dating the participant; b = -.04, SE = .06, Wald’s
χ2(1, N = 101) = .52, p = .47, an effect that did not change controlling for anxious attachment; b
= -.07, SE = .07, Wald’s χ2(1, N = 101) = .96, p = .33. Anxious attachment was not a significant
predictor of selectivity in the model, b = .05, SE = .08, Wald’s χ2(1, N = 101) = .46, p = .50.
Fear of Being Single and Motivations to Speed-date
Because the approach and avoidance goals for speed-dating were highly correlated, r =
.58, they were simultaneously regressed to predict fear of being single. While avoidance goals
were a significant positive predictor of fear of being single, β = .48, p < .001, approach goals
were not a significant predictor of fear of being single, β = .05, ns.
Fear of Being Single, Avoidance Goals, and Selectivity
We conducted a mediation analysis using the ‘mediation’ package in R software, which
enabled us to account for the fact the outcome variable was a count frequency (using a causal
inference approach; Imai, Keele, & Tingley, 2010). We conducted a bootstrap analysis with
5,000 resamples, entering sex as a covariate in the mediation. This analysis revealed that the
association between fear of being single and interest in a higher number of daters was fully
mediated by avoidance goals (indirect effect estimate = 1.09, 95% CI = [.26, 2.10], p = .01).
When avoidance goals were taken into account, the association between fear of being single and
number of daters selected became nonsignificant, b = .01, SE = .09, p = .87. Importantly, the
reverse mediation model was not supported (fear of being single remained a significant predictor
of avoidance goals when number of daters selected was included, b = .91, SE = .12, p < .001).
Furthermore, the association between fear of being single and selecting more daters was not
Fear of Being Single 58
mediated by approach goals (indirect effect estimate = .29, 95% CI = [-.25, .99], p = .29). These
analyses suggest that speed-dating out of a desire to avoid being alone specifically may lead
individuals higher in fear of being single to be less selective in a speed-dating context.
The results of Study 7 add further to the evidence that individuals higher in fear of being
single are less discriminating in whom they are willing to date, even when the costs of
compromise are sitting in front of them. Those higher in fear of being single were less selective,
and this willingness to date a larger number of potential partners was explained by their
motivations to avoid being alone. Importantly, it is not the case that those with stronger fear of
being single have to be less selective because they are less likely to be selected themselves. We
did not find evidence that those higher in fear of being single garnered lower romantic interest
from others than their less fearful counterparts.
The results of Study 7 once again hold accounting for anxious attachment. Importantly,
attachment style in Study 7 was assessed using a different measure than the previous studies.
Specifically, the ECR-S used in the present study focuses more exclusively on attachment in
romantic relationships than the ASQ. Therefore, the results of Study 7 suggest that the unique,
predictive effects of fear of being single are distinguishable from anxious attachment even when
both measures are focused on romantic relationships.
Previous research on speed-dating has found that prospective dating partners seem to be
aware when others are being unselective in who they choose at the event. Moreover, such
nonselective pursuit of relationships is typically perceived unfavorably by prospective dating
partners (Eastwick, Finkel, Mochon, & Ariely, 2007; McClure et al., 2010). In the present study,
however, we find no association between fear of being single – and its associated nonselectivity
Fear of Being Single 59
– and romantic interest garnered by others. It is possible that fear of being single is either not
easily detected by prospective dating partners, or that the insecurity encompassed in fear of being
single is perceived by prospective dating partners as relatively benign and thus not undesirable.
Future studies should examine the extent to which fear of being single is detectable to others, and
the perceptions people hold regarding others’ fears about being single.
The present research suggests that the fear of being single, long an aspect of lay theories
of relationship behavior, may be a productive individual difference variable for relationship
researchers. Studies 1, 2A and 2B explored the content of people’s fears about being single and
yielded a psychometrically valid and reliable Fear of Being Single Scale. Further, the present
research suggests that those with stronger fears tend to lower their relationship standards both in
existing relationships and when selecting new partners. Study 2C found that higher scores on the
Fear of Being Single Scale predicted greater dependence in less satisfying relationships. Study 3
implemented longitudinal methodology to demonstrate that those with stronger fears of being
single were less likely than their less fearful counterparts to initiate the dissolution of a
relationship in which they were relatively dissatisfied. Turning to mate selection, Studies 4A and
4B showed that fear of being single was unrelated to ideal and minimum standards for a partner,
showing that self-reports do not suggest a tendency to settle for less. However, Studies 5 and 6
(using experimental methodology) asked participants to indicate actual romantic interest and
showed that those with stronger fears of being single were more interested in less responsive and
less physically attractive targets. Finally, Study 7 explored the effects of fear of being single in a
real-life, speed-dating context. Once again, fear of being single predicted less selectivity in
choosing romantic partners. Taken together, these studies suggest that a fear of being single is
Fear of Being Single 60
consistently associated with settling for less from romantic relationships as a means of
attempting to avoid ending up alone.
Importantly, these effects held accounting for age and sex, and were found above and
beyond more general insecurities typically investigated in the literature on close relationships,
particularly anxious attachment. We found time and again that anxiously attached individuals
experienced a stronger degree of fear of being single. However, the present research documented
vulnerabilities to compromising one’s standards for a relationship related to fear of being single
that were not related to anxious attachment. Taken together, the present research highlights how
individual differences in fear of being single may clarify the previously mixed findings on the
relation between insecurity and settling for less in relationships.
Given that fear of being single and anxious attachment are theoretically similar in the
extent to which individuals experience chronic neediness and insecurity, why might fear of being
single have such unique predictive power? Both types of insecure individuals may be chronically
concerned about attachment figure availability and excessively seek reassurance about an
attachment figure’s devotion (e.g., Mikulincer, Birnbaum, Woddis, & Nachmias, 2000; Shaver,
Schachner, & Mikulincer, 2005), but the key difference may be the specificity of the attachment
figure desired. Those with stronger fear of being single may specifically require a romantic
attachment figure to satisfy needs for security and intimacy. In contrast, individuals whose issue
is more centered around anxious attachment generally may be able to find comfort with parents
and close friends as attachment figures when they are single (e.g., Schachner, Shaver, & Gillath,
2008). Thus, the fear of being single construct may be more uniquely tapping into the motivation
specifically to settle for less in the romantic domain. Future research examining the willingness
to settle in domains such as friendship may help test this hypothesis.
Fear of Being Single 61
The results of the present study suggest that singlehood is a relevant concern for a
relatively large number of people. Close to 20% of participants in Study 1 openly expressed fears
about being single, while another 15-20% expressed ambivalence or anticipated fear.
Furthermore, the median scores on the Fear of Being Single Scale ranged from 2.67-2.83 on a 5-
point scale across all studies in the present research, highlighting that half of the participants in
our undergraduate and community samples were above the mid-point on the Fear of Being
Single Scale. Considering how common fear of being single may be in the general population, it
is important to consider its implications. The picture painted by the results of the present research
is one of an individual high in neuroticism and social sensitivity who nevertheless may
frequently remain in trying relational situations. This has the potential to be a toxic combination,
and indeed, we see in Studies 2A and 2B that fear of being single is strongly associated with
indicators of mental health difficulties such as depression and loneliness. Such difficulties may
also serve to perpetuate the societal judgments of those who are single as being unhappy and
unfulfilled (e.g., Greitemeyer, 2009), as the experience of those with stronger fear of being single
may be generalized to singlehood overall. In other words, those with stronger fear of being single
may be accurately portrayed in the quote by Anderson & Stewart (1994) presented at the opening
of this paper. To the extent that this group of singles is more visible or salient, perceptions of
singlehood as painful and lonely may be attributed more generally, perhaps serving to explain
the negative judgments of singles documented in the literature (e.g., DePaulo & Morris, 2005;
Greitemeyer, 2009; Hertel et al., 2007; Morris et al., 2007). However, the picture we are able to
paint of those higher in fear of being single does not suggest that an accompanying feature is
relatively low romantic attractiveness. The results of Study 3 demonstrate that those with
stronger fear of being single were no more likely to experience a breakup compared to their less
Fear of Being Single 62
fearful counterparts, and Study 7 demonstrated that fear of being single did not predict others’
romantic interest in a speed-dating context. These findings suggest that those with stronger fear
of being single may not be objectively off-putting to potential romantic partners, and that such
fears may be relatively unwarranted.
One issue that is important to consider is whether “settling for less” is in fact a
maladaptive strategy. Indeed, willingness to weather difficult periods in relationships can be a
valuable trait that may have positive relational effects. For instance, greater dependence and
commitment predict sacrifice, forgiveness, relationship-maintaining attributions during conflict,
and resilience against negative information about one’s partner (e.g., Arriaga, Slaughterbeck,
Capezza, & Hmurovic, 2007; Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002; Menzies-Toman &
Lydon, 2005; Van Lange, Rusbult, Drigotas, Arriaga, Witcher, & Cox, 1997). Furthermore, Joel,
Gordon, Impett, MacDonald, and Keltner (in press) found that when people perceive their
partner has invested in the relationship, they feel more grateful for their partner and experience
increased commitment. In this way, those with stronger fear of being single may behave in ways
that demonstrate their deep investment and commitment to the relationship, which may promote
a lasting relationship by pleasing their partners and creating reciprocal dependence. A related
issue is whether the prospect of being single is so frightening that those with stronger fear of
being single experience higher well-being in dissatisfying relationships than when single. In
supplemental analyses, we explored this question using the data in Study 2, which included
participants who were single and in relationships. The results suggested that those who feared
being single were no less (or more) depressed and lonely when in a less satisfying relationship
than when single.9 These data do not suggest that those who fear being single are better off in
“bad” relationships than being single (which would justify settling for less), although perhaps
Fear of Being Single 63
measures of a sense of meaning or purpose would tell a different story.
A similar question arises as to whether lower fear of being single is always adaptive. For
example, taken to the extreme, little concern over being single could be associated with an
unwillingness to accommodate or settle for anything but the highest standards in a way that
leaves romantic or sexual needs unmet. It is possible that relational status is a key moderator of
any such effects, with a very low fear of being single among those in relationships reflecting
security in the present relationship, and a low fear of being single among those who are single
reflecting avoidance of intimacy. Nevertheless, these ideas are highly speculative given that our
data suggest almost exclusively positive consequences of a low fear of being single.
Although the present research has several strengths, including careful scale development,
a multi-method approach to validation, diverse samples of students and community members,
and consistent replication of key findings, the primary limitation of the present research is the
exclusive focus on avoidance-based motivations. Our research focuses solely on perceptions of
threat when it comes to being single, and does not address the potential rewards of being single
that may motivate people to be single. Similarly, we do not focus extensively on the potential
rewards of being in a relationship that may motivate people to approach relationships (e.g.,
Spielmann, MacDonald, & Tackett, 2012). However, the results of Study 7 revealed that fear of
being single was not associated with romantic approach motivations when it comes to
relationship initiation. While participants’ open-ended responses in Study 1 provided some
insight into the rewards of singlehood, such as independence and close connections with friends
and family members, the wording of our question still prompted participants to focus on reasons
for “not fearing being single” rather than explicitly wanting to be single. Future research would
benefit from an exploration of the perceived rewards of being single and the relative influence of
Fear of Being Single 64
approach- and avoidance-based motivations when it comes to singlehood.
The present research also does not address the boundary conditions at which those with
stronger fear of being single are not willing to settle for less. In our research, the targets under
consideration were far from the least attractive and least responsive targets possible. This was
necessary given that internet daters have a tendency to put their best face forward to get a date
(Gibbs, Ellison, & Heino, 2006; Rowatt, Cunningham, & Druen, 1998). It would have been out
of the ordinary for us to have depicted targets in an extremely unfavorable light. We cannot
speculate on how undesirable a target would need to be before someone who fears being single
would not be willing to be with them. Furthermore, there may be domains on which those with
stronger fear of being single are unwilling to settle, such as parenting potential. Future research
should explore how “low” those who fear being single will truly go, and whether there are
certain domains on which those with stronger fear of being single are unwilling to compromise.
Although the longitudinal results of Study 3 shed light on potential long-term
consequences of fear of being single, the present research cannot speak to the antecedents of
such fears. While some of the open-ended responses in Study 1 indicated that past experiences of
heartbreak or loneliness affected their feelings about being single (either for better or worse), the
present research does not clearly examine the root of fears about being single. Although some of
our results suggest that fear of being single may not be associated with objective desirability or
greater likelihood of losing one’s romantic partner, the extent to which these fears are prompted
by past experiences of romantic rejection, prolonged singlehood, or other factors is not yet clear.
Future research should further explore the antecedents of fears about being single to inform
methods for preventing or resolving such insecurities in their early stages. Similarly, future
research should explore additional long-term effects of fear of being single. Does selecting a
Fear of Being Single 65
relationship partner lower in responsiveness exacerbate fears of being single over time? Does a
stable, fulfilling relationship alleviate fears over time? Research on insecure attachment styles
suggests that repeated experiences with validating, responsive partners can slowly increase
security over time (e.g., Fuller & Fincham, 1995; Mikulincer & Shaver, 2007; Ruvolo, Fabin, &
Ruvolo, 2001). While this may be the case with fear of being single as well, it is also possible
that such relationship experience could potentially heighten people’s fears of losing their current
partner in particular. Future research could examine whether length of the relationship and
responsiveness of one’s partner produces different concerns about losing one’s specific
relationship vs. being single more generally.
In conclusion, the extent to which one fears being single appears to have important
consequences for relationship decisions. During relationship initiation and maintenance, those
who fear being single may prioritize relationship status above relationship quality, settling for
less responsive and less attractive partners and remaining in relationships that are less satisfying.
This is the first research to empirically explore chronic concerns about singlehood, and it
suggests that fear of being single may be an important construct to consider in relationship
Fear of Being Single 66
1 Applying a promax or varimax rotation to the factor analyses yielded largely similar
item selection. The rotation is arguably a minor concern given that the final scale loads onto only
one factor. Variations of the scale produced with different rotations yielded highly similar means
and α reliabilities. Furthermore, all associations presented in the Convergent and Discriminant
Validity section in Study 2 remained unchanged when comparing the different scales.
2 To confirm that fear of being single and anxious attachment are distinct constructs, we
conducted a large-scale maximum likelihood exploratory factor analysis with promax rotation.
Data were merged from Studies 2A, 2B, 4A, 4B, 5, & 6 (N = 1,137), as they all measured fear of
being single and anxious attachment with the ASQ (Feeney et al., 1994). Fear of Being Single
and Anxious Attachment loaded onto separate factors. Importantly, none of the Fear of Being
Single Scale items cross-loaded with anxious attachment items (defining cross-loading as greater
than .40), or vice versa. With a large sample size, including both single and coupled participants
recruited from the undergraduate and online community, this factor analysis provides compelling
support for the distinction between fear of being single and anxious attachment.
3 Response sets were determined based on patterns of responding to reverse-coded items
for which there were equivalent items worded in the opposite valence. Participants were
excluded if they responded on the same extreme ends of the scale for reverse-coded items. For
instance, attachment style assessed on the ASQ (Feeney et al., 1994) includes items such as "I
find it easy to trust others," as well as "I find it difficult to trust others." If a participant indicated
strongly agree/agree or strongly disagree/disagree to both statements, they were excluded.
4 This positive association appears largely attributable to the item on the Fear of Being
Single Scale having to do with a desire for children (i.e., “I need to find a partner before I’m too
Fear of Being Single 67
old to have and raise children”). Analyses excluding this item revealed mixed effects for the
association between Fear of Being Single and standards for good parenting potential (in Study
4A, r = .08, p = .47, for single participants and r = .26, p = .001, for participants in relationships;
in Study 4B, r = .06, p = .46, for ideal standards and r = .12, p = .15, for minimum standards).
Overall, it appears that the association between fear of being single and higher standards for
parenting is largely driven by this child-relevant scale item. We thank Ottmar Lipp for the
suggestion to conduct this analysis.
5 This sample of participants was included in Study 5 of Spielmann, Maxwell,
MacDonald, and Baratta (2013), but the present associations have not been published elsewhere.
6 The three items assessing interest in dating, sex, and long-term relationships loaded
onto a single factor, suggesting that these items could not be parsed into short-term vs. long-term
mating goals (e.g., Gangestad & Simpson, 2000).
7 One item (“I do not often worry about being abandoned”) was less reliable than the
other items. Reliability without this item is α = .67, and does not alter the pattern of results.
8 Although the data were collected at different speed-dating events, the observations
within a particular event were not significantly dependent (Intraclass Correlations < .10, ps >
.31). Thus, nesting data within events using multi-level modeling techniques was not necessary.
9 For this analysis, high and low relationship satisfaction were categorized via median
split. Three relationship groups were formed: Single, Low Satisfaction Relationship, and High
Satisfaction Relationship. Relationship groups were dummy coded and interactions with fear of
being single were entered into hierarchical regressions. Fear of being single did not significantly
interact with relationship group to predict depression, R2 change = .001, p = .79, or loneliness, R2
change = .005, p = .34.
Fear of Being Single 68
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Fear of Being Single 80
Table 1. Frequencies and examples of themes from open-ended narratives in Study 1
Presence of Fear of Being Single
Explicit no fear being single
“I don't fear being alone…Having company is not the
same as being fulfilled as a person. I believe that part of
fulfillment is knowing you are capable to function on your
own.” (female, single, 29 years old)
Explicit fear of being single
“I worry what my future will be. Will I just end up
another old lady forgotten and alone?” (female, single, 58
Ambivalent feelings about
“I am very family oriented and have life long friends thus
I will never be truly alone. However the thought of being
single without a romantic partner somewhat bothers me. I
also strongly feel that having a romantic relationship with
a partner is tiresome and involves too much work. So
sometimes I am bothered by being alone but also feel
relief.” (female, single, 23 years old)
Anticipate being fearful in the
“I tend to not worry so much about whether I am alone or
single at the moment, but do have a fear of being alone
when I am old. Singleness at 25 years old does not sound
so bad, but to be single forever sounds terrible.” (female,
dating, 25 years old)
Reasons for Fear of Being Single
Fear not having the long-
term companionship of an
“I fear that there will be no one there that I can share
intimacy with like cuddling, hugs and kisses and the fact
that there is somebody that is ready to do anything or go
anywhere with you.” (female, dating, 23 years old)
Fear losing current partner
“I do sometimes fear the possibility that something will
happen to my husband, such as a grave illness or an
accident….I can't imagine the thought of experiencing
something joyful and not being able to share it with him.
Our domestic rhythms revolve around each other, and if I
have to spend the evening alone, time seems to pass more
slowly, and the night seems shapeless and devoid of
routine.” (female, married, 28 years old)
Fear growing old alone
“I fear being alone because I keep thinking how awful it
would be to be alone as an elderly person.” (male, dating,
47 years old)
Fear never having children
and a family
“I fear not having someone means I'll miss out on great
parts of life: marriage, children, family.” (female, dating,
27 years old)
Fear of Being Single 81
Fear feeling worthless or
bad about themselves
Being alone to me means being a failure, unlovable, and
never being loved (female, dating, 57 years old)
Fear friends and family
aren’t enough to ease
anxieties about being single
“Although every relationship has its costs and benefits,
romantic relationships seem to possess a unique set of
benefits that can't be achieved through other types of
interactions.” (female, dating, 23 years old)
Fear people will judge them
negatively if single for too
“There seems to be a societal expectation, and no doubt an
extended family expectation, that an attractive woman
such as myself should not remain unattached indefinitely.
The ‘old spinster’ cliché comes to mind.” (female, single,
age not reported)
Won’t have as much sex if
“I really miss making love! Just because you get older, it
does not mean that passion takes a backseat.” (female,
single, 49 years old)
Will suffer financially if
“My biggest fear is that I will not be able to support
myself financially.” (female, dating, 48 years old)
Any relationship, even if
bad, is better than being
“I think being with someone (in a relationship) is worth
whatever else comes along with it.” (male, dating, 38
Reasons for No Fear of Being Single
Having friends and family to
turn to eases anxieties about
“Regardless if I have a significant other or not in the
future, I will always have people who love me and who I
love.” (female, dating, 18 years old)
Being alone is a better
alternative than being in a bad
“I have grown enough emotionally and psychologically to
know that I would rather be on my own than be a part of
another unhealthy relationship.” (female, single, 35 years
No longer fearing being alone
due to a past experience with
loneliness, such as being single
or in a bad relationship
“In the past, I have relied on men to make me happy, and
when they have let me down, I felt no control over
myself…. Upon doing a lot of soul searching, I have come
to realize that my state of happiness depends on me. I am
responsible for finding peace within myself so I'm no
longer dependent on someone else to make me happy or
make me feel worthy.” (female, dating, 27 years old)
Religious beliefs ease anxieties
about being single
“I never feel alone because God is always there.” (female,
married, 29 years old)
Fear of Being Single 82
Table 2. Factor loadings for men and women in Study 2A
1. I fear being alone when I am old.
2. I feel like I’m supposed to be in a serious romantic
relationship by now.
3. I sometimes feel as though everyone is in a
relationship except for me.
4. It scares me to think that there might not be
anyone out there for me.
5. People who never date or marry are kind of sad
6. I feel it is close to being too late for me to find the
love of my life.
7. I feel anxious when I think about being single
8. I need to find a partner before I’m too old to have
and raise children.
9. If I end up alone in life, I will probably feel like
there is something wrong with me.
12. I worry about how others will judge me if I am ever
single for too long.
13. If I never marry, I’ll have a lonely life
14. As I get older, it will get harder and harder to
% of variance accounted for
Note: bolded items included in the final Fear of Being Single Scale
Fear of Being Single 83
Table 3. Summary of models testing invariance of fear of being single scale across sexes.
1) Configural Invariance
2) Weak Invariance
3) Strong Invariance
4) Strict Invariance
5) Equal Factor Variance
6) Equal Factor Mean
Note. All model 2 values are non-significant.
Fear of Being Single 84
Table 4. Convergent and discriminant validity of Fear of Being Single Scale (Studies 2A and 2B
Social Avoidance Goals
Social Approach Goals
Relationship Contingent Self-esteem
Need to Belong
Hurt Feelings Proneness
Fear of Being Single 85
Table 5. Correlations between fear of being single and dating standards in Study 4A
for anxious attachment
Note. *** p < .001, * p < .05
Table 6. Correlations with fear of being single in Study 4B
Controlling for Anxious Attachment
Note. * p < .05, + p < .10
Fear of Being Single 86
Figure 1. Dependence on a relationship as a function of relationship satisfaction and fear of
being single in Study 2C
Low Satisfaction (-1 SD)
High Satisfaction (+1SD)
Fear of Being Single
Fear of Being Single 87
Figure 2. Initiator status as a function of relationship satisfaction and fear of being single in
Low Satisfaction (-1 SD)
High Satisfaction (+1 SD)
Fear of Being Single
Fear of Being Single 88
Figure 3. Romantic interest as a function of target responsiveness and fear of being single in
Low Responsiveness Target
High Responsiveness Target
Fear of Being Single
Fear of Being Single 89
Figure 4. Romantic interest as a function of target responsiveness and fear of being single in
Low Responsiveness Target
High Responsiveness Target
Fear of Being Single
Fear of Being Single 90
Figure 5. Romantic interest as a function of target attractiveness and fear of being single in
Fear of Being Single