How Our Psychology Affects How Long We Stay Single

In previous posts, we’ve looked at how different aspects of our identity and lives affect how long we stay single. A lot of the aspects of our identity we studied have to do with the things we do in our day-to-day lives or the environments we surround ourselves with. Sure enough, we’ve seen that somethings make a difference. For instance, taking public transit frequently can mean finding a partner 4 months sooner. In the last post, we’ve seen that having certain political views correspond to spending nearly a year longer single. A stunning relationship we uncovered in our political results was that people who appear unsympathetic spend significantly more time single.

But sympathy isn’t a political view, it’s an aspect of personality.

As we’re about to find out, our psychology is one of the key determiners of how long we stay single!

It’s worth repeating is that these results are based on Nanaya user data. We don’t determine what it means to be single or in a relationship – our users do. So the best way of understand what “single” means here is the time between when people say they’re in a relationship.

These are also pretty general results! You can get personalized results by trying Nanaya for free today!

About Psychology

Psychology is one of the primary ways by which Nanaya determines the odds of people finding a match. While other aspects of identity, such as which communities you belong to and your class, indicate the types of people you might encounter and date, your psychology and values are the most important for understanding long-term compatibility.

We have recently developed four principal, distinct personality traits associated with romantic outcomes: energy, confidence, determination, and lifestyle. When taken together, this defines someone’s Nanaya Romantic Personality Type. (for more details and an explanation of how we made this, read this post). These Nanaya Romantic traits are actually composites of the several dozen specific traits we use to determine the odds of finding a match. In this study of how long people stay single, we’ll only show results for a few of these traits.

For each of these traits, scores range from -100 to 100. For the purpose of this study, we evaluate four groups in this range. The groups are people who score in these ranges: -100 to -50, -49 to 0, 1 to 50, and 51 to 100. Nanaya Romantic Traits were designed to be normal distributions while the additional trait dichotomies we evaluate here may not have normal distributions, resulting in more variation in statistical confidence per bin.

Now on to the results!

Nanaya Trait: Energy

Energy describes how actively people approach the relationships they are in. At one end of the spectrum, people are more expressive, creative, playful, and intense. We describe these people as Passionate. One the other end of the spectrum, people tend to be more reserved (not necessarily “introverted”), calm, and sober. We describe these people as Tranquil.

Table 1. Nanaya Romantic Personality Trait: Energy Data.

Interesting! In general, there is little variation in outcomes but people who are more tranquil will spend slightly less time single than those who are more passionate on average. Specifically, those who are very tranquil will spend about four months less single than those who are very passionate.

Some might find this result counter intuitive. Shouldn’t people who are more passionate be single for a shorter time? One possible answer is that people who are very passionate may come across as over-eager or even obsessive, whether or not that’s actually the case. If people are passionate, they are more likely to have strong opinions, which as we have seen has an impact on outcomes. On the other hand, people who are tranquil are more laid-back and easier to relate to.

That said, as tempting as it is to read into this result – the variation of outcomes is rather small compared to other traits as we’ll see.

Nanaya Trait: Confidence

Confidence describes how much reassurance and emotional validation people need from their partners to be satisfied in a relationship. For those familiar with the Big 5, this trait is most similar to neuroticism.

At one end of the spectrum, people are more independent, daring, and self-satisfied. We describe these people at Secure. At the other end, people are more careful, deliberate, and needing of attention. We describe these people as Cautious.

Table 2. Nanaya Romantic Personality Trait: Confidence Data.

Here, confidence has a major effect. People who are Very Secure will find themselves in relationships about eight months faster than people who are Very Cautious. This feels like a very intuitive result!

Nanaya Trait: Determination

Determination describes how much people are able to define and stay dedicated to achieving their personal goals. For some people, these personal goals can be relationship goals but not always. People familiar with the Big 5 personality traits, this one is most similar to Conscientiousness.

On one side of the spectrum, people are more focused, strict, and consistent. We describe these people as Rigid. On the other side of the spectrum, people are more lenient, open-minded, and able to adjust to the decisions of others. We describe these people as more Flexible.

Table 3. Nanaya Romantic Personality Trait: Determination Data.

Determination proves to be an even stronger indicator of outcomes than Confidence. Namely, people who are Rigid are more successful at entering relationships. People who are the most Flexible will spend on average one year and one month longer single than those who are most Rigid! This is nearly as extreme as the difference between dating in your early 20s and dating past the age of 45.

 There are several different possibilities. One being they know exactly what they want and won’t waste time dating people who don’t interest them. This might be construed as pickiness, but it clearly serves in the interest of people who are more rigid. Second, if Rigid types know they want a relationship, this can accelerate the transition from casual dating to a committed relationship. Third, their determination and consistency may be perceived as security (we note that Determination and Confidence are distinct), making them more attractive to people they date.

Another interesting observation is that there is a bit more variation in outcomes of those who are most Flexible, as evidenced by the weaker statistical confidence and the fact that these traits are normal distributions with nearly equivalent numbers of people falling in Very Rigid and Very Flexible groups.

Nanaya Trait: Lifestyle

Lifestyle describes how open people are to new experiences. “New experiences” doesn’t always mean living an adventurous lifestyle. Those familiar with the Big 5 might recognize that this is similar to Openness-to-Experience.

On one end of the spectrum, people are more satisfied living a varied life, always trying new things. We describe these people as Wild. On the other end of the spectrum, people are more content to fall into routines, stay in on weekend nights, and attend to creature comforts. We describe these people as Tame.

To be clear, Wild can mean something as simple as people who are open-minded to trying new restaurants. Conversely, people who always going mountain climbing or traveling to the same, exotic vacation spots don’t necessarily qualify as Wild.

Table 4. Nanaya Romantic Personality Trait: Lifestyle Data.

Again, there’s significant variation in outcomes depending on how open to experience people are. Those are Very Tame will on average spend about half a year longer single than those who are Very Wild.

Depending on how you look at these results, it can be intuitive or counter-intuitive. Intuitively, people who are more Tame will be less willing to have new experiences, yet having new experiences is the primary mechanism by which one meets new people, expanding the horizon of who they can date. Counter-intuitively, people who are “Wild” are less willing to settle down. In this context, Wild may be a misnomer. Another way to understand how this isn’t an appropriate presumption is considering the inverse using the same logic: people who are more “Tame” would be less willing to take chances and entertain new relationships because they would prefer to maintain the status quo of being single. Ultimately, this trait is not a reflection on peoples’ desire to be in a relationship, rather an indicator of what outcomes actually are.

Another way of looking at this result is that people who are more open-to-experience will be more lively and relatable. Having more life experiences will generally allow someone to be able to relate with more and different types of people from different backgrounds. This further explains why people who are Wild will have shorter rebound times than those who are more Tame.

Other Trait: Introverted/Extroverted

This should be an easy one! One would expect that people who are more Extroverted will be meeting more people and therefore have more opportunities to date and end up in a relationship. This effect is directly captured by the Nanaya algorithm to predict your love life – but are we right? Does someone’s extroversion really have an impact on when they’ll wind up in a relationship?

Table 5. Extroversion Data.

The results are not surprising! People who are Very Introverted will on average spend a little over a year longer single than those who are Very Extroverted.

Other Trait: Playful/Sober

Playfulness is factored into the Nanaya Romantic Trait Energy, though it’s only one partial contributor. Above, we showed that Energy is not a strong indicator of how long someone spends single. But can the same be said for the trait on its own?

Table 6. Other Trait: Playfulness Data.

While someone’s personality and age are the greatest indicators of how long they stay single, Playfulness or Soberness is one of the most telling personality traits. People who are Very Sober will spend between 13 and 14 months longer single than those who are Very Playful.

This ties in a little bit with our discussion of the impact of drugs, not to mention that one side of this dichotomy is “sober.” Why do alcohol and cannabis appear to reduce rebound time? It’s may be on account of the fact that they can temporarily help people be more Playful by reducing inhibitions (alcohol) and inspiring creativity and playfulness (cannabis). The implication being for people who don’t drink or smoke cannabis that working on yourself to be more lighthearted rather than serious can have a significant impact on how long you stay single. More work would need to be done to establish this as a fact, but it’s an interesting possibility.

Other Trait: Needs Instant Gratification/ Can Delay Gratification

There have been a few popular psychology books written lately that reference the marshmallow test in their titles, which queries peoples’ ability to delay gratification.

Does this have an impact on love life? One can hypothesize that people who are able to delay gratification are more willing to stay single looking for the perfect partner. Is this really the case?

Table 7. Other Trait: Instant Gratification Data.

The result is pretty incredible. The difference in rebound time between the extremes of delaying instant gratification is about 14 months on average, with 2.4 years and 1.2 years being the average rebound times for those who can and cannot delay instant gratification, respectively.

Put simply, people who need instant gratification will quickly find themselves in relationships lacking the desire or perhaps the ability to regulate that need.

This result has an interesting correspondence to the relationship between someone’s level of education and rebound time. The rebound times of someone without a high school degree and someone with a doctorate are 1.2 and 2.2 years, respectively. This result is eerily similar to the ability to delay instant gratification. Indeed, there is some correlation between the trait result and level of education (which we may cover in another study). So the patience that results in staying single longer for those with more years of education may be related to their capacity for staying in school!

Other Trait: Independent/Dependent

This is one of the traits that factors into the Nanaya Romantic Personality Trait Confidence. There, we saw that people who are Cautious, related to being Dependent, spend substantial more time single than those who are Secure, related to being Independent. Separately, we also saw that in the case of Nanaya Trait Energy and one of its factors, Playfulness, that the impact of the factor is moderated considerably by the other traits used to compute the Nanaya Trait.

In this case, will people who are Dependent share the same fate as those who are Cautious? Or will their need for reliance result in shorter rebound times?

Table 8. Other Trait: Independence Data.

Here, those who are Most Dependent will on average spend about seven months longer single than those who are the Most Independent. The result is similar, though of slightly smaller impact, than that of Confidence.

Where understanding the variation of rebound time as a function of independent gets to be interesting is when we add in Views on Being Single, which was covered several posts ago.

First, it’s good to understand if people’s desire for a relationship is necessarily tied to their personality? In the chart below, for users grouped in different levels of dependence we show the breakdown of their views on being single.

Figure 1. Breakdown of expressed desire for relationship as grouped by assessed trait of independence.

In general, as people are more dependent the more likely they are to desire a relationship. However, peoples’ desire to not be in a relationship doesn’t change very much in relation to how dependent they are. Rather, the difference is coming from the people who are apathetic about the prospects of a relationship and how that number diminishes as people become more dependent. What this really tells us is that most people (again, Nanaya users here) do want relationships and regardless of how dependent someone is, there’s a reasonable chance they might prefer to not be in a relationship.

But we’re now left with some deeper questions: what about people who are more independent and want relationships or people who are more dependent and don’t want relationships? Are they operating at conflict with themselves? What are their outcomes? And a troubling question: are our romantic outcomes more driven by our psychology and unconscious or mindset and will?

Let’s consider four groups of people in Figure 2.

Figure 2. In this figure, the on-diagonal groupings are “self-consistent” in self-report and personality assessment, while the off-diagonal groupings are conflicted.

Here, users who want or don’t want a relationship identify themselves by expressing what they feel makes them happiest in how they answer “Generally, how content are you being single?”

We assess how independent or dependent people are through a personality test that’s decoupled from any of our questions about romantic views. There are two groups who are “self-consistent” in their expressed intention and underlying personality: those who want a relationship and with dependent personalities while those who don’t want a relationship. While the other two groups can be considered to be willing to act contrary to what their personality may dictate or in a state of dissonance. So what are their outcomes?

Table 9. Single survival data for groups identified in Figure 2.

There’s a lot we can take away from this, but first we understand that, on average:

  • Independent people will end up in relationships faster than dependent people regardless of desire for a relationship.
  • Someone who desires relationships will likely have a shorter rebound time than someone who do not desire relationships, provided they are similarly dependent.

Remarkably, our personalities appear to play a bigger factor in how long we stay single more so than our expressed desire to be or not to be single.

This result can also help reform the popular advice: the best way to start a relationship is to not look for a relationship.

That’s not the case! Wanting a relationship does not appear to hurt peoples’ outcomes necessarily. After all, that was a U-shape curve. What actually hurts people is their dependent nature. When looking at the result for Dependence and Confidence, it’s seems that people are more attractive when they are independent and confident. Here, that appears to be the case even if they want a relationship.

So the advice is sort of wrong. It’s ok to want a relationship, provided that deep down you’re comfortable and confident being on your own. Confidence is sexy is an expression that appears to be confirmed here.

Other Trait: Empathetic/Unempathetic

The personality assessment that Nanaya uses determines how empathy plays a role in someone’s personality but we do not use it in our algorithm. Nonetheless, it offers another dimension for our research.

In our discussion of the impact of political values on how long people stay single, we concluded with a hypothesis: do people with unempathetic political views spend more time single because of their political views themselves or is there a deeper, underlying reason for why this is the case?

(It’s worth restating here that people on all sides of the conventional political spectrum can have unempathetic views and this observation from our categorization our results is what led us to this hypothesis.)

Table 10. Other Trait: Empathy Data.

At a high-level, the more empathetic someone is, the less time they’ll spend single. This is something expected. If someone doesn’t care about others, they’ll find it harder to find others that will care about them. People who are Very Unempathetic will spend on average about 13 more months single than people who are Very Empathetic.

The rebound time for those who are Very Unempathetic is very long, about 2.7 years, ignoring error and uncertainty. When taking error and uncertainty into account, it’s conceivable that the outcomes for people with unempathetic personalities is very similar to those with unempathetic political views.

Moreover, we saw in the results of rebound time as a function of political alignment that people who are politically empathetic and unaligned tend to have similar outcomes. Here, there really isn’t too much variation between those who are near the middle of the empathy spectrum and those who are most empathetic. The variation is about two to three months of rebound time.

But this isn’t the whole story! Let first consider that the results of this trait are rather lopsided, with significantly fewer people falling in the Very Unempathetic group. There are two implications here. The first one is trivial, there is less statistical confidence in those results. Nonetheless, even if the reality is closer to the lower end of the confidence interval the conclusions won’t really change.

The second implication is more important – a lot fewer people have unempathetic personalities than hold unempathetic political views. Therefore, we cannot necessarily claim that personality and political views are directly related. However, unempathetic political views imply that someone is unempathetic toward others, whether or not it’s actually a core part of their personality.

So we can consider the following logic:

  1. People with unempathetic political views have demonstrably longer rebound times
  2. People who are actually unempathetic people comprise a much smaller fraction of the population than those who hold unempathetic political views.
  3. Having unempathetic political views is perceived as being truly unempathetic to many people
  4. Thus, the underlying relationship between unempathetic political views and rebound time is the perception of the lack of empathy rather than personal lack of empathy.

Ok! Maybe this is simply a very convoluted way to say the obvious: be a nice person and you’ll do a lot better job at attracting people!

Stay Tuned

Visit the blog next week when we’ll summarize all the advice we can draw from our research into how long people stay single.

Until then, predict your own love life with Nanaya, now on iOS and Android!