It is not uncommon to see couples almost everywhere you go in today’s society, holding each other’s hands, having lunch together, or just taking a stroll. It is evident that these people are in a romantic intimate relationship. However, it is also not uncommon to see a lone person eating at a restaurant or even enjoying a day out with a couple (often being described as a third wheel in these situations). These people, upon being asked, would describe their current relationship status as being “single”. This would normally be accepted as a valid answer, and the matter would be put aside as there are a number of people in today’s society who are “single”. Of course, these events would not play out the same if the person asking such a question happened to be a social psychologist. Unlike any other person, a social psychologist would stop to think: “Why exactly are you single? Is it your own choice, or is it a symptom of problematic attachment?” In order for the social psychologist to answer these questions, the definition and theories of singlehood and interpersonal attraction must first be understood. This essay will critically discuss theories of interpersonal attraction, attachment styles and Sternberg’s typology of love, thereby reaching an explanation as to why people may adopt single lifestyles. Personally, I believe that the majority of singlehood is a matter of one’s choice, and not a symptom of problematic attachment.
By definition of a dictionary, the term “singlehood” is described as ‘the state of being unmarried’ (The Free Dictionary contributors, “Singlehood”, The Free Dictionary). For a social psychologist, that very term means that one either chooses not to or simply cannot participate in a romantic intimate relationship, due to having difficulty regarding such relationships. From one perspective, a person may remain single for various reasons; they are not ready for commitment, they just got out of a long-term relationship, they are afraid of getting emotionally hurt, etc. This collectively alludes to the theories of interpersonal attraction. “Interpersonal attraction evaluation refers to the evaluations we make of other people – the positive and negative attitudes we form about them” (Baron, Byrne and Branscombe, 2007, p209). The conceptual definition of attraction refers to the positive attitudes we have towards other people, while the operational definition refers to the procedures we take and the criteria we rely on to make evaluations of other people. Attraction has both internal and external determinants. Psychologist John Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout our lives (Bowlby, 1969). We are in fact born with the natural need to affiliate. Depending on the satisfaction of our need to affiliate, the basic role affect will influence attraction. Externally, we feel attraction towards a person due to the following factors: The Propinquity Effect – physical distance and functional distance, repeated exposure effect, and observable characteristics. Thereafter we have interactive determinants of attraction – this includes factors such as similarity in interests, beliefs and attitudes, and mutual liking. However, attraction can also be defined by the Balance Theory (state of ease and balance), Social Comparison Theory (consensual validation) and Evolution Theory (our adaptive response to potential danger, that is, dissimilarities).
One theory of interpersonal attraction that may help us understand why people adopt single lifestyles is the Social Exchange Theory (SET). This theory suggests that all human relationships are formed by the use of a subjective cost-benefit criteria and the comparison of alternative. This theory is based on the ratio of costs and rewards in a relationship. Things such as a sense of acceptance, support and companionship by a potential partner are regarded as social rewards. Costs can be...
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