Like most people I know, I was raised to believe that being in a loving committed relationship is something that I should not only want, but actively seek out. And like everyone I know, I have experienced a great deal of joy and pain in both the pursuit and attainment of romantic love. A few years ago I entered into my first serious relationship with someone I cared deeply about. However, like many couples I’ve known over the years our love didn’t last, and just four years after getting married we decided to break up.
Before entering into this partnership I had been single for several years, and I was very independent as a result. With only myself to think about I did whatever I wanted whenever I liked and enjoyed spending time with whoever I pleased. But rather than appreciating the independence that being single afforded me, all I could think about at the time, and all I wanted in fact, was to be somebody’s girlfriend.
Part of the problem with being single is that we’re constantly reminded how undesirable it is. And this is especially true if you happen to be female: if you’re a single woman having sex then you’re likely to be thought of as a slut, a sexual conquest, or a ‘home wrecker.’ And if you’re not, the chances are you’ll be perceived as sad and lonely or labelled a frigid spinster (God forbid you’re a cat-lover too!) One has only to think of popular films and TV shows like Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, How to be Single, and Sex and the City to realise just how pervasive these stereotypes are.
Everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’
Some might argue that single women are beginning to be portrayed in a more positive light in the media. And whilst this is true, it’s also fair to say that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Bar a few examples, including (suprisingly) the 2012 Disney Pixar film, Brave, in which teenage Princess Merida saves herself from being married off against her will, the ‘damsel in distress’ and ‘happy ever after’ tropes that we’re all so familiar with are, unfortunately, still very much the norm. And the so called undesirability of singledom isn’t only strengthened through our engagement with films, TV shows and books; it’s also reinforced by friends and family members who persist in asking whenever they see us whether we’re seeing someone yet. In fact, everywhere I turn there seems to be some hint to the idea that single people are not as happy or content as those lucky souls who have found ‘the one.’
But being single isn’t always an unhappy experience. For some, including myself at the moment, it’s a perfectly worthwhile and valid choice. Since coming out of my last relationship I’ve been hugely grateful for the freedom and autonomy that being single offers. It isn’t a sad or lonely experience, nor is it characterised by an increased appetite for casual sex with strangers. For me, being without a partner is an enriching and stress-free experience which offers a multitude of learning opportunities. Most importantly, though, it’s exactly what I need right now.
This isn’t to say that I don’t hope to one day meet someone who enjoys my company enough to want to share their life with me—being in a happy and healthy relationship would, of course, be lovely at some point. However, for the time being (and potentially for the rest of my life if this never happens) I’m perfectly content being single, getting to know myself, and learning to feel adequate and complete just as I am.
Should you happen to find yourself wondering whether your single friend or family member has found someone yet, it might be worth considering whether this is an important question to ask.
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