Being happy in a relationship depends on whether you really want a boyfriend or if you really want to avoid drama

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen
August 25, 2015
Corbis Images

Watch enough romantic comedies and you might be convinced that unless you find your soul mate or, failing that, any breathing human with relationship potential, you're doomed to a life of bitter loneliness. But despite how appealing Nicholas Sparks makes relationships seem, some people are truly happier being single, says new research in Social Psychological & Personality Science.

The study looked at over 4,000 college students and found that what determined a person's happiness was not their relationship status but rather their goals fora relationship. Two groups of people emerged from the data: those with high approach goals-people who deeply desire a close romantic relationship-and those with high avoidance goals-people who deeply desire to avoid conflict and drama. (Avoiding drama isn't always the healthiest though. Here are 4 Ways to Confront Relationship Roadblocks.)

And while most of us probably judge one of those groups right off the bad as being "wrong," the research team found that whether you align closer to Taylor Swift or to every guy she's ever dated (sorry, Taylor!), it doesn't matter so long as you're staying true to what you really want.

Neither category is better than the other; they are just different," says lead author Yuthika Girme, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Being high in avoidance goals might protect you from the typical costs of being single (i.e. loneliness) but trying too hard to avoid conflicts can also be bad, she explains. On the other hand, being high in approach goals might mean you have better quality relationships since you're willing to address conflict head on, but it can also mean you are likely to deal with more drama in your life in general (which can be stressful) and you find breakups more painful. (Although they'll always be more painful for us than for him-You'll Recover From That Broken Heart Faster Than Your Ex.)

This can, however, cause problems if you and your partner (or lack there of) don't match up. If you're firmly drama-free but are in love with someone who seems to be going for an Oscar, or if you're itching to star in your own rom com but are without a leading man, it can cause a lot of turmoil.

Start by accepting yourself for who you are, Girme says-she's a firm believer that we all lean to one side naturally and is skeptical that someone can force themselves to be the other type. If you can recognize whether you have high avoidance or approach goals, then you can look at how to make life adjustments that will honor others' feelings while still protecting your personal happiness. (For example, these 6 Things You Should Always Ask for in a Relationship will improve your happiness so much that they're worth the confrontation.)

"Coupled-up people high in avoidance goals might appreciate that relationship conflicts are inevitable and that dealing with important conflicts can improve relationship quality," Girme says. "Similarly, for single individuals low in avoidance goals, it might be important to realize that single people can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Being single means people can focus on themselves, their personal aspirations and goals, and other important relationships such as relationships with family and friends."

And considering over half of Americans are single, this question of how to be happy whether or not you have a heart on your Facebook profile is a major one. Perhaps it's time to sit down and decide what truly makes you most happy and comfortable and then live that way, no apologies. Because you deserve a real happily ever after, not the ending other people think is best for you.

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