8 Things to Know Before Dating an Only Child

Man and woman together outside on an active date. The man is wearing a white T-shirt and the woman is wearing a patterned dress. She is looking at him.

By Leah Spellman Berger

It’s no surprise that our childhood experiences often shape who we become as adults. But what role does birth order play in romantic relationships? And where do children without siblings fit in? 

With the average U.S. family now around three people and some folks waiting longer to have kids, it’s more important than ever to understand only children. If you’re in the early stages of a connection with a Bumble match who’s an only child, keep reading for expert perspectives on the strengths that only children have and possible challenges they may face in relationships. 

They’re often self-confident and successful

One of the things that may have attracted you to your partner is their self-confidence. Only children—like eldest children—tend to be success-oriented and high achievers because of the amount of encouragement, time, and attention given to them by their parents. Use this to get to know your Bumble match by asking goal-oriented questions such as: “What’s your proudest achievement?” or “What would your dream job be?”

Independence is inherent

One common factor that child and family psychotherapist Támara Hill has observed is that only children are typically very independent. While this is a positive trait, Hill cautions that you shouldn’t take this as a sign that your partner wants to be alone more often than not. Taking their independence as a want for alone time could have an unintended negative consequence in your partner not feeling needed or prioritized. Celebrate their autonomy while encouraging quality time, like going to the gym together instead of opting for solo workouts.

Accepting criticism may be difficult

Teasing, joking, and infighting are all common experiences for children who grow up with siblings, says Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, a licensed counselor. “You get used to it and learn to brush it off,” she says. “With only children, they don’t have that same kind of experience of being taunted or teased, so they can be more sensitive to criticism.” Be aware of this possibility and be deliberate in how you approach difficult conversations with your partner. Focus on “I feel” statements as they often result in moments of vulnerability rather than defensiveness. 

Relationship issues may be overwhelming

While fighting amongst siblings growing up isn’t necessarily a positive thing, counselor Benita Weems says it may help teach those with brothers and sisters how to deal with conflict from an early age. “Only children may not have as much tolerance and resilience to get through a disagreement,” she says. So keep in mind that your partner may need more space or time during intense discussions and disagreements. 

You’ll benefit from their attentiveness

Feeling seen and heard is a big part of creating intimacy in a relationship. If your Bumble match grew up in a healthy environment, it’s likely they had their parents’ full attention—a positive trait that they may mimic in their romantic relationship. Weems points out that there may be an extra level of appreciation for the companionship a relationship brings. “There can be a certain amount of loneliness that comes with being an only child,” she says. “So they may really crave that intimacy with a partner.”

Decisiveness may come naturally 

Whether it’s a small decision like figuring out where to go for dinner or a big one like deciding where to live, decisiveness can be a great quality to have in a partner. And for many only children, it comes naturally. “If you’re an only child and you’re bored, there’s no-one to ask, ‘What should we do?’” says Degges-White. Take advantage of your partner’s lifelong training in making decisions and save yourself time on trying to be agreeable.

They may be really close to their parents

For an only child, parents can play many roles beyond the obvious, including friend and coach. While that bond is certainly a positive, it may come with pressure or expectations that’ll need to be managed in your relationship. For instance, Weems points out that your partner’s parents may assume you’ll spend the holidays with them, or your partner might divulge more of the ins and outs of your relationship to their parents than you’d like. Discussing and setting these boundaries will help you settle on dynamics that are comfortable for all of you. 

They may experience moments of jealousy

Experiencing sibling rivalry and learning to deal with parents’ divided attention is par for the course for those who grew up with siblings. Often there’s an element of competition, so many people with brothers and sisters learn how to deal with jealous feelings from an early age, says Degges-White. Instead, many only children experience being the sole priority. In a relationship, it’s important to be aware that your partner may have moments of jealousy when you’re in the limelight.

Dating an only child won’t make your relationship any more or less fulfilling, but by having conversations about how these childhood dynamics have impacted them, you can form a deeper bond with your connection that’s sure to build a strong foundation for the future.