Being single on Valentine's Day isn't easy on the heart and it doesn't exactly help that all of the medical research favors the coupled: married people are alleged to live longer, die of heart attacks less often and suffer fewer bouts of depression, among other quality of life and medical outcomes. One review of the literature found that, overall, single men have a 34 percent higher risk of death and single women have a 23 percent higher risk of death, compared to their married counterparts.
But take heart, free agents: a deeper look into the research reveals that a life a deux isn't the panacea we once thought -- in fact, making a life solo has its own health benefits.
First of all, as married people know, not all marriages are created equal. A happy one is sure to increase an overwhelming sense of emotional support and well-being, which is associated with lower levels of depression, cardiac death and other chronic and occasionally fatal diseases. But an unhappy marriage produces quite the opposite.
"A bad marriage can make a person feel more isolated than being single," sociologist Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book about trends in singledom, told the New York Times.
And that assertion is actually backed up in the research. In a piece about longevity researchers and their observations about marriage in The Atlantic, Veronique Greenwood wrote:
Marriage was health-promoting primarily for men who were well-suited to marriage and had a good marriage. For the rest, there were all kinds of complications.
For example, women who got divorced often thrived. Even women who were widowed often did exceptionally well. It often seemed as if women who got rid of their troublesome husbands stayed healthy -- most women, it seemed, can rely on their friends and other social ties. Men who got and stayed divorced, on the other hand, were at really high risk for premature mortality. It would have been better had they not married at all.
In other words, single people are more likely to have health problems if they grow isolated or don't have the influence of a spouse with healthful behaviors. But many single people are substantially less isolated than their counterparts.
And other attributes of singles are secondarily correlated with a healthy life. Take, for example, fitness. A 2011 survey of 10,000 young adults found that both married and divorced men and women were more likely to have gained weight during the course of their romantic ventures than single people.
"Divorces for men and, to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk," the study's lead author Dmitry Tumin told USA Today at the time of the study's release.
Solid friendships, a happy work environment, a life of purpose and (of course) a healthy diet and active lifestyle are all indicators of a long and healthy life -- and they can belong to anyone, single or coupled.