When your life doesn’t follow the expected norm or the route everyone takes, people often look at you as if you have three heads from another planet or with pity. All of the pity. In my year 11 leavers book someone wrote; “I hope you have a lush life, with a lush husband and lush kids.” At the age of 33 I have none of that. When you tell people you’re single, it’s often assumed that you’re either heartbroken, searching for the right person or have issues. It’s rarely accepted that being single is a decision anyone could actively make. And as I’ve got older, I’ve realised more so than before how different I am from most of my friends. Getting older also invites more intrusive questions than I endured in my 20’s. In your 20’s it’s recognised that you have all of the time in the world. “Go out and have fun,” they say! But in your 30’s you’re asked “So when are you having children?” “Is there someone we haven’t met?” “You must be seeing someone?” No, I’m really really not. And I’m very much aware of my clock ticking thank you very much.
Up until now I’ve been quite content with being me, and busking life as well as I can. It’s only recently when more friends are getting married or having children or buying houses, I’ve considered being left behind as everyone moves on without me and what this really means. A few years ago I came to terms with feeling comfortable that being single was a decision I’ve essentially made. As it is also Pride month I’m now starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably not completely straight too, which adds another complication, and with not actively looking for a partner for a while its never been a conversation to have but thats a different blog post entirely. There are some single people who have not made this ‘choice’, they are looking for a relationship but for whatever reason are unable to find a partner, I do not fit into that category, I just don’t want one. There are very few people who understand this train of thought or can even empathise.The last place you’d find me is on a dating website. I know people who have met their partners online or even through Twitter and that’s great for them, but it’s really not for me.The world is built for couples; from mortgages to railcards to holidays. Single people are often disadvantaged both financially and emotionally. I want to buy a house, but my options so far are to find a friend who I like a lot to buy a house with me or chancing it with a lodger.
There have been times when I’ve been excluded from events because they’re for couples or I’ve felt awkward going along because I don’t have an immediate plus one. There have been times when calls or socialising with friends is specifically organised around their partners diary. On other occasions i’ve been told that I have to see friends with their partner now, and the time one to one with my female partnered up friends is long gone. Sometimes i’ve felt out of place and like a spare part. Recently I lost two grandparents within a week of each other and both sides of the family are at opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side I have a huge family, there are loads of cousins and I have four uncles who shared the load when grandad was ill. There was always someone to visit him, or do his shopping and go with him to appointments. When he got sicker family were always with him, and questioning his level of care. He was not alone when he died. My grandma in comparison was very isolated and had a very different experience of the last few weeks of life to my grandad. Coming from a big family I do often wonder who will hold my hand when I die?, will my mum always be my next of kin? and who will look out for me when I am no longer able to advocate for myself? It is scary. And also a reason why maintaining strong and healthy friendships is so important to me because no one really knows what the future holds. It’s comforting to think your friends will stand by you.
Recently on twitter I read a tweet about embracing isolation and aloneness, and finding peace with solitude and going it alone. Whatever going it alone means. I pondered what being alone means to me, and how I can shape my experience into something a little bit more positive than the think pieces that dominate the internet leading you to believe single people are ‘lonely’ or ‘hopeless in love’ or ‘just not looking in the right places’. Or expecting single people, overwhelmingly women, and often women who are seen as “different” in other ways too, to justify themselves. I hate having to explain myself or answer the ‘why are you single?” question, but I wanted to write about this because that twitter thread prompted me to realise this is evidently on lots of other people’s minds too. Of course there is sometimes a degree of loneliness involved. but that loneliness is often as a result of society dictating that we must conform to a specific expected standard. And that anything outside of that norm is a failure and needs to be fixed. We also need to rethink how we approach the topic of relationships in small talk, work meetings and social events, I’ve lost count of the times when I first meet someone and I’m asked “So do you have a partner then?” I was once asked this by a taxi driver, that isn’t just inappropriate but verges on creepy too. People’s relationships or lack of relationship status shouldn’t be number one on the list of small talk topics. You can get to know someone without asking if they come in a pair.
Being single to me means that I’ve been able to form more meaningful, deeper friendships than I might have done if I had a partner. I also really value the friendships I do have. I’ve been able to give time to my friends and make plans without the complication of having another person to consider. It’s also meant I’ve been able to work on myself and get to a place where wellbeing is my ultimate priority. I’ve been able to work through the trauma I’ve experienced over the years and do things at my pace. Staying away from problematic men has been largely helpful for my mental health, and I feel privileged to have been able to do that as I know other women, especially neurodivergent women, fall into relationships that negatively affect their mental health. I’m fortunate for that to never have happened to me, people have been inconsiderate, taken advantage at times or even wanted to use me as a project to ‘fix me’, but I have never experienced abuse. And for that I am incredibly grateful to be in this position.
Social expectations interest me. They interest me because for much of my teenage years, I didn’t understand them. I’ve spent years perfecting my understanding of what a “good friend” looks like, and how to be liked by other people. When I was a teenager, any suggestion of a relationship seemed a) impossible and b) something that would confuse an already complicated situation when I didn’t really understand my identity. Hello ADHD diagnosis decades later. Figuring yourself out first before figuring out other people helps. There was also a sense of embarrassment to talk about this when I was younger because I didn’t fit in with what I should be doing socially. I’ve moved on from this embarrassment now, as I’ve realised many more people have lived equally embarrassed and quiet lives in their late teens, 20’s and 30’s because no one talks about it. I’m more of a heart on my sleeve kind of person now after having the time to process this stuff and piece together what it might mean to me. Some questions are of course still off limits, unless you know me really well and you know delving into whatever issue is going to be helpful for both of us.
I’m still working out what aloneness, isolation and solitude truly means, and I’d love to hear from anyone with similar experiences. I do know they aren’t all negative. Yes, at times I feel intensely lonely, but my loneliness isn’t a direct result of my choice to be single. The last two years have also given us all a different perspective on isolation, and identified that most of us, although at different levels, need some form of social interaction. I wonder if the pandemic has created a greater pressure to be social and to find companionship, after we’ve spent a great deal of time unable to visit those we care about the most. What makes us truly happy? Not having our loved ones threatened by a deadly virus for a start, but beyond that, I don’t think a relationship can ever create true happiness. Fairy tales from when we’re a kid, and societal expectations make us believe this, but if you constantly go from one to relationship to another, with barely time to focus on yourself, how do you know that’s what will make you happy? The processing time I’ve had has given me a unique perspective on where I might want to be in the future; a future that wouldn’t have been possible without this time. The concept of time is a bit terrifying when you’ve been through so much grief. I know time isn’t endless. There isn’t a bottomless pit of time. I will never know if I have all the time in the world to work things out but I do know that being single shouldn’t be an awkward topic of conversation. And I’d love for more people to recognise that some people have different priorities to the majority of society, and the wee map we’re sold when we’re still running around playing make believe weddings at lunchtime. It would be hard not to find someone who didn’t marry their neighbour with a Haribo ring. In writing this and reflecting a lot on my own single status, that whether happily single or unhappily single, many of us still have mixed feelings about it all. The point of this post is that I’d like to see less of the treating single people in their 30’s like we have three heads from another planet. The assumption that our circumstances of not bringing up a family means that we have somehow failed as a woman. I hope that with more people speaking, writing and researching being single and solitude, there will be more understanding, or at least listening to understand the path we’ve chosen to follow. Less intrusive or insensitive questions would help so many people trying to figure all of this out.
Give us space in a world or even a seat at the same table that is very much built for couples. Not too much to ask, right?