I had a nice Valentine’s day this year, the prototypes for my postcard designs arrived (after being deemed lost), I do believe I did not require an umbrella on my way to work for once and I think maybe even the sun came out too. Nothing remarkable and nothing even remotely related to love or relationships happened, and to be honest, it was just kind of a relief.
We treat ‘single’ and ‘in a relationship’ as if they are two polarising ends of a happiness spectrum, and from your late twenties or early thirties onwards, if you’re single, it can be all too easy to feel like its now a 'problem' that needs to be fixed. Another thing on the to-do list. Oh crap - you didn’t catch a spouse when we were all still getting drunk and falling on each other so clearly now you spend all you evenings with your vibrator, crying, and watching re-runs of Greys Anatomy (technically this is incorrect – I prefer One Tree Hill..) but ANYWAY.
Everyone and their dog wants to set you up; ‘I know a friend…he looks like a Goblin and has a history of kleptomania – but hey he’s single!’ Honestly. Can you not.. The main message we get is that being single is a problem. Rarely do we immediately take into consideration that it may be enjoyable, necessary - or just exactly where that person is at right now in their lives.
I’ll be honest, I definitely used to be a little afraid of being single, especially the idea of being single at 30 (God forbid..), but the longer I’m uninvolved, the more balanced a view I find myself taking on relationships in general – which I don’t think is such a bad thing.
What I have noticed is that we have a real tendency to exclusively celebrate being coupled up; If you’re in a relationship its all ‘that’s great!’ ‘amazing!’ ‘lucky you!’ ‘How cute..’ ‘You two should get a dog!’ Yet in the same way being single isn’t always a daily slog of meals-for-one and weird dates, being in a relationship isn’t exactly one big long orgasm either.
I have married friends and single friends and I myself have had periods of being very much in a relationship, and then very single. Both experiences have included moments of amazing happiness with flashes of intense unhappiness and this I think the view needs to be given more airtime.
The problem is, just to head back to Valentines Day for a second, as much as I agree there are amazing things about being single that 22 year-old-me would be shocked to learn, I think there are fair too many emerging blog posts, adverts, articles etc, promoting how wonderful it is. This was all I saw on Valentines day. Rather than highlighting that its actually just really important; For your mental health, for getting to know who you are, for understanding why your other relationships didn’t work out, and for having the time to carve out a life that makes you happy and ready to invite someone in, the narrative just seemed to focus on 'celebrating' it.
As someone who is single..and kind of ok with it right now, I find this annoying. What about it being important? Yeh sure, sometimes it can be really great - Im totally free, I can and have moved to other parts of the world, theres' zero drama, and I have a very wide social circle and very little obligations. But yeh its also a bit crap. Cooking for one? Difficult – and expensive. Watching Facebook turn into a live ticker feed of engagement rings and tropical weddings? Nauseating. Having people automatically say things like ‘well Meghan Markle was 35 when she met Prince Harry!’ - annoying. Of course there are downsides and of course there are upsides - but what about a more level view and the other things that happen when you're totally single?
And although happy couples abound, lets’ not also pretend that everyone in a relationship is skipping happily through golden fields of wheat everyday - because that’s not true either.
The dots that are not often connected in our collective view on love is that being in a relationship and being single are variable experiences. They won’t immunise you from lifes' difficulties or from your emotions. Being in love doesn’t prevent you from feeling doubt, loneliness and emotional discomfort. It can help and it can heal, and my god it’s a lovely distraction, but those feelings cannot be eased by anyone else but you.
And what we so often forget, is that relationships come with their own fair share of worries and questions too. Being single you may get the fear you’ll never meet anyone, but relationships bring along; ‘Am I with the right person?’ ‘God, I wish I’d travelled more...’
The reality is that both loved up and flying solo come equipped with their own measures of joy and sadness and for every person who worries they’ll never meet anyone, there is someone in a marriage who quietly wonders if they really did find the one. Its incorrect to assume that everyone single is unhappy and everyone who is in a relationship is happy - so why do we used loved-up and single as personal barometers for our life happiness?
The reason I wanted to write about this was because at 29 being single, and not avidly scouring dating apps or being out every evening, to some people, seems akin to slowly walking into work with an expensive latte when you’re already late. (What are you doing!? Why are you not running!?? You’re already behind?!. Are you not worried you’re going to miss out?!!) Well sometimes, of course, but the longer I’m single, the happier I have become and when the right person turns up, I’ll make some room. As shocking a revelation this may be, being single doesn’t exactly do you any harm.
So when magazine articles have headlines like 'So you're single what's next?' and 'how to catch a man in 5 simple steps' (I'm face-palming so hard here at that one...) or you have that family friend that always asks 'So has Sophie not met anyone yet?' (subtext; 'she better get on with it..'), what kind of message is that sending out? That your worth, impact and happiness is only valid as long as you're sharing a bed with someone?
Whats' not mentioned is that most of the time its’ important for your own sake to be single, nevermind solo travel or ‘Galentines’ or turning yourself into a CEO or whatever; to know you can exist by yourself, build a happy life, and be ok with it is a power worth cultivating. Its’ knowing on a deeper level there is no real need to allow anyone into your life unless they’re right for you – and you for them.
And what about knowing yourself in a relationship? I mean, do you think you would make a good partner? Can you love someone? Are you willing to compromise and be vulnerable? I know I’ve spoken a lot about singledom helping you protect yourself from bad relationships, but what about getting honest about what you can give? Because that’s what relationships are ultimately about, giving.
Finding a happiness by yourself will enable you to love someone properly. Not in the fearful ‘please-don’t-leave-me-text-me-1000-times-a-day-or-I’ll-freak-out’ way, but in the real way where there’s trust (..and maybe you drunk facetime each other when you’re mid-kebab on nights out.. etc etc). So many of us dive head first into serious unions when we don't even know how to be gentle with ourselves, let alone anyone else.
And this is the downside of dating apps. Instead of remaining another avenue of meeting someone, they have become a way of temporarily ‘solving’ a problem - the problem of loneliness. Making it so easy for us to avoid being alone and therefore dealing with our own shit. If you ever watch an episode of Friends or just anything from the 90s, being alone and dealing with it was part of pretty much every characters emotional process between relationships. It was just seen as the normal, healthy part of the whole break-up thing that it is.
I have seen people literally create a Tinder profile in the same hour they dumped their girlfriend of 5 years..and then have a date lined up for the following evening. Healthy? I think not.
More or less anyone, provided they know how to use an Instagram filter and can throw out a few choice lines, can now order human affection the same way you can order a pizza. 10 years ago, unless you were a highly skilled lothario, looked like a movie star – or just had no standards, learning to deal with your own company was largely unavoidable, normal and healthy.
Time alone, although not always fun, will change you for the better and help you figure out what a good relationship really looks like for you; not what the media says it should look like, not what your experience has been, not what Instagram says or what your friends relationships are like - but what you need, what you can give and what matters to you and what really doesn’t. (Plus you’ll probably get great abs and go on some good holidays with all the money you save from not staying in bed eating take-aways!).
Anyway, just to clarify; I don’t mean alone-but-sleeping-with-someone, or alone-but-texting-five-guys, or alone-but-flirting-with-an-ex, or alone-but-hooking-up-with-strangers-on-nights-out, I mean alone alone. Healthy friendships only. A sexual and emotional desert. Yes, ok, its a bit boring, but I promise you it definitely won’t feel like you’re living half a life simply because you don’t have someone to spoon at night.
Believe me, you will cope , and what I wish was promoted more - is that being single is neither a wholly amazing experience, or a wholly terrible one, it’s just a life like any other and not something to be judged or feared.
Somewhat ironically, not having a relationship has taught me exactly what I do want from one and
the way I see it, is if I can be this happy by myself then why would I ever ruin that just for the sake of not being?
And on that note…I have an episode of One Tree Hill to catch…