My contribution to a recent features meeting here at YOU began with a loud harrumph. Having read the weekend papers I was not impressed by some of the headlines. I was, I declared, so tired of single people being portrayed as lonely. ‘Poor, tragic singletons’ is the general riff. A subset of the social stratum that could be titled The Jennifer Anistons – unlucky in love, all by themselves, ‘Why can’t they find someone?’ and ‘Oh my goodness, what about their ovaries?’ because it’s usually single women who get bashed for being single. For the record, I’m #teamjen. Why don’t you write about it, said my editor. So here goes.
Let me up front state the following: we are not all spending evenings weeping into our fishbowls of white wine and bemoaning the lack of our very own Mr Darcy. We’re not waiting around to do things so that we can share them with a man – or someone, anyone. Because we aren’t. Or at least I’m not – and neither is any other single woman I know. We are not sad and lonely, living enfeebled lives. Yet the headlines suggest the contrary. The recent example that got me so het up read: ‘Generation left lonely in middle age as 1 in 8 has never married’. OK, that wasn’t aimed solely at the women and the stats were for the 50- to 65-year-old age bracket (I’m in my 40s), but given that nearly 60 per cent of women in England and Wales are single, divorced or widowed, it feels, as it so often does, that ‘tragic women’ is the subtext. And if we’re single and childless we’re still considered to be, as one character in The Women (the 1939 film based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play) describes it, ‘what nature abhors…a frozen asset’.
I’m not making light of the lonely condition: it’s a sad place to be and small wonder that a minister for loneliness has been appointed. But the assumption that singletons are lonely is just plain cuckoo as far as I’m concerned; some of the loneliest people I know are in relationships.
I have no one cheating on me, I’m never some chap’s golf widow, no one turns their back on me in bed, if there’s silence at home it’s because I simply want some quiet time, and no one nags me about anything! Ah, that last point hit a chord, didn’t it? Single status not looking so bad now, is it? Plus I can starfish across the bed, hog the duvet, get up when I want to, nestle down and watch a chick film DVD and not have anyone ask why I’m ‘watching that rubbish’. I can write my own script and choose who gets the other roles, from co-star to extra.
Of course, the press loves to tell us gals off for being single because the fault must somehow lie with us, right? ‘Career women set bar too high for Mr Right’ ran one recent headline. Yes, received wisdom has it that we’re single because we’re too picky for our own good. Even though later in the very same article it says that ‘the weight of research suggests that, given the choice, most unmarried women choose to remain single’, the newspaper still led with the usual emotive ‘selfish women’ slant.
I can’t actually claim that I’m one of those women actively seeking singleton status. I haven’t set out to be single, I’ve just sort of segued into it. I can say, however, that I’d much rather be alone than with the wrong man. And I can go further: I’m perfectly happy being single. Really. Truly. I have a great job that I love. I have marvellous friends, many of whom are of 20 to 30 years’ standing. They know me inside out. I laugh raucously with them. I’ve cried with many of them. They’ve listened when I’ve been worried. And before you say, ‘No wonder she’s single – it’s all about her’, I should add that I’ve done the same for them. Willingly. Happily. Lovingly. I have my family, all of whom I’d stand in front of a bullet for. I have nieces and nephews who are the world to me, and I consider them to be really good younger friends as well as relations. I have boundless love in my life – it just doesn’t happen to be of the romantic variety. Plus I can assemble flatpack furniture all by myself. What’s to worry about?
That isn’t to say I’ve ruled out meeting a significant other. It doesn’t mean I never date but I’m not a very active player on the dating scene; I can’t get on board with the online shenanigans these days and even though one of my aforementioned nieces and nephews signed me up to Match.com some time ago, I’ve never paid a subscription, have no idea of the password and have never seen any of the messages I’m occasionally emailed to say have been sent. In truth, I’m just not that fussed and I don’t want to treat it like another job. But unlike some singletons I know, I don’t think I’ve passed the point where I couldn’t share my space with someone. Life’s all about rhythms and I’m open to grooving.
I’m not saying it’s all a bed of roses. As my mother has always said, no matter how it looks from the outside nobody’s life is solved. I’ve had what I call my Bewailing Years, when I’ve watched friends settle down, seen many of them pop out kids and wondered, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ But I’ve long since got over that. It just hasn’t worked out the way I thought it would when I was 21. But if anyone had told me when I was that age that I’d be YOU’s beauty director, I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s all swings and roundabouts. It’s also about timing.
And some things are definitely trickier on your own. Applying sunscreen to your back, for instance. Applying aloe vera gel to your sunburnt back because you were so rubbish at applying your sunscreen. Buying a home. Not that it’s impossible on your own if you earn enough money, but I’ve never managed it on my earnings. Rental deposits: that’s a big chunk of money to find on your ownsome. Moving heavy furniture. Taking on the big companies – for example, when I had to argue with my internet provider that I wasn’t getting the wifi speed that I pay for (I waited until my brother came round one evening
as moral support; even just an occasional sympathetic eye-roll across the room made it all feel less of an uphill struggle). Grocery shopping. So much prepackaged food comes in duos.
The trickiest thing I’ve found about being on your own is holidaying. For starters it’s usually more expensive – all those hotel single supplements, which I think shouldn’t be allowed (discrimination, surely?!). And every taxi, every outing only impacts on your ever-decreasing solo wallet. But according to Singles travel company, women are going it alone more than men: last year 42,000 women booked a holiday on their own compared to 23,000 men. Still, if I ever do feel lonely as a singleton it’s at vacation time. It’s often hard to pin down a fellow solo flyer who wants to go to the same place at the same time and on the same budget. So I have holidayed alone – I enjoyed a very relaxing time in Patmos a few years ago. I loved it but in all honestly I know I’d have made more of the island if I’d had someone to explore with. But that’s just me. Some things I really do want company for. Of course, other times I simply wallow on my sofa (bought myself), put on one of my favourite old movies and just enjoy hanging out in my fabulous flat (for which I pay the rent all by myself) and think: ‘Ah, this is the life.’
Eating out on my own was a milestone it took longer to get over. All those sympathetic glances, the looks that say, ‘Ooh, what’s gone wrong there?’, the waiting staff who aren’t sure how to ask if someone else is joining you (I now tell them as I sit down that they can clear the other setting). Usually I take a book with me for company, or often a copy of The Economist, just in case I feel awkward or conscious that I don’t want to look like a saddo. But sometimes – and increasingly – I decide I’m just going to sit and eat and enjoy my meal while I ponder and people watch. And do you know what? It’s fine. In fact, it’s all just dandy.
Things not to say to a single woman
So you’re single? Are you a lesbian, then? Just because I’m single doesn’t make me a lesbian. Being a lesbian makes someone a lesbian. And lesbians can be single, too.
Would you like the mobile number of a guy I met on Tinder but didn’t like? You’re not really selling him to me. So that’ll be a ‘no, thanks’.
What on earth do you do at the weekends if you’re all alone? How about absolutely anything I want to?
We’ve put you in the single bed – that OK? I’m alone – I’m not a six-year old.
Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll find him. I’m not actually looking, so no need to try to locate grid coordinates for me just yet.
He’ll come along when you’re least expecting it. Honestly, I haven’t been expecting it for quite some time.
Are you sure you shouldn’t try online dating? Can’t you hear your biological clock ticking? If it were ticking that loudly I could have gone off and had a baby on my own. It is 2018. And not every woman’s life is dictated by her womb.
I suppose work is all you have in your life since you’re single and have no kids. Not the greatest pep talk. And why should footloose and childfree equate to an empty life anyway?
Sometimes I really miss my single life, when I could just be selfish. Selfish isn’t actually every singleton’s middle name. We don’t sit around thinking about ourselves all the time – other people do enter our psyches and our hearts.
Feature by Edwina Ings-Chambers