As squads go, mine is a pretty vibrant and eclectic bunch of ladies. Not only are they spread around the country with varied careers – teaching, politics, charity work, writers, project managers, makers of tiny perfect human beings – but their relationship status is as varied as a box of Woolworths pick-a-mix.
I met these women at various stages in my life and have seen some of them through relationships and singledom. Others, like my lovely friend Sarah, have been attached during the entirety of our friendship (her marriage to husband Terry is actually my relationship goal). It’s never really changed my friendships with these women in any truly notable, life-altering way. Naturally, I probably spend a little more of my spare time – such as evenings and weekends – with single friends, but this is more to do with both location (I live with one of my single best friends) and availability, rather than relationship status.
In all honesty, my friend’s relationships aren’t really something I obsess over. I am so very happy for the ones who have found love (most recently my friends, Nichelle and Jade, got engaged to their partners which means celebrations, champagne and dressing up – what’s not to love!?)
Having said that, I do feel the enormous pressure of being single in my thirties. It’s not a pressure from my friendship group, however, it’s more of an internal feeling of restlessness, and an odd sense of mixed-messages from a society and media that can’t quite make its mind up how we should be living our lives.
Both pressures irritate me. I hate that single people – women in particular – have a Bridget Jones, wine swilling, cat hoarding image stuck to them. Or are vilified for having sex lives. I hate that my recent illness, which has left me with a swollen, painful red and peeling pout, has made me feel very unattractive and self conscious (at its peak, I wouldn’t leave the house) and I can’t help wonder that if I had the attention of a dutiful boyfriend, I might feel a bit differently about the situation. A little stronger. A little more worthy. A little less frightened or judged. A little less sad.
I hate myself for admitting that.
But what irks me the most is the constant desire of various media outlets in pitting women against one another. We are divided into camps. Singles vs Attached. Mothers vs Childless (even that word, childless, makes it seem like something is lacking).
Without these constructed ideals of femininity, womanhood and how we should live our lives in general, we wouldn’t judge each other because we wouldn’t feel attacked, wouldn’t feel the need to defend our camp.
I came across an article in the Daily Mail (I know, I know, alarm bells should have been ringing from the start) entitled ‘The Sunny Side of Single Life.’ Well, as titles go. That’s not so bad. Usually it’s ‘Single People More Likely to Die Young’ or ‘Single People Most Miserable in UK.’ I decided to read on with a little hope in my heart. Maybe this would perk me up? Maybe it’s not all doom and gloom?
“It turns out we shouldn’t have felt sorry for Bridget Jones…” the article begins and I already want to rip out my eyeballs. “For singletons have richer social lives, are more resilient, and more positive than married couples, psychologists have found.”
Huge, fed up sigh. Ding ding ding. Single vs Marrieds. Round 1,000,000.
Here’s the article in its entirety.
“They said unattached people were more likely to value meaningful work and were more connected to their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues – unlike ‘insular’ married couples. Bella DePaulo, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, analysed 814 studies on married and single people carried out over the past 30 years.
The studies showed singletons had a heightened sense of self-determination and were more likely to experience ‘a sense of continued growth and development as a person’.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are now more singletons than married people in England and Wales.
Dr DePaulo’s research was presented yesterday at the American Psychological Association’s Annual Convention in Denver, Colorado.
But despite the advantages of staying single, she did not claim it was better than marriage.
‘There is no one blueprint for the good life,’ she added.”
In typical thirty something girl fashion, I took it to my female friends and asked what they thought.
Sarah (Married. Mum to beautiful baby William. Got a first at university. Best hair in the world. I don’t understand her job which means she is super smart) “Is that implying that single folks have nothing to fill their lives with so have better relationships with their friends/families.”
Nichelle (Newly engaged. Met her fiancé on a holiday in Ibiza. Knows everything there is to know about clothes. Fan of punk music. Teaching Assistant. Makes great cakes) “I’m still growing and developing as a person and I’m not single.”
Jess (Single. Bought a house with her ex where I now reside as her housemate. Head of Geography. Funniest person I know) “The idea that marriage can’t make you grow is rubbish – ‘experience a sense of continued growth’ – I can imagine that Sarah, as a mum, has grown more as a person than any of us and the determination needed to be a parent must be astonishing.”
Me (single for almost six years) “I feel like I am being reduced, yet again, to a status. I am “single” and I am being pitted against my female counterparts.”
Jess: “Its devaluing what my friends are currently striving towards. It’s all about who see what as valuable. Who’s to say that raising a family – being a parent and having a relationship is hard work and people should be commended for it. I feel like as a single woman its saying “Don’t worry, there there – its ok to be single because who wants to be boring and married. I’m very mad about this. I am proud of all my friends achievements regardless of their marital status.”
“The article is saying single people are better off though,” says Nichelle.
In typical newspaper fashion it does do that. It has to sensationalise the topic or no-one would be interested in reading it. If it was an article entitled “Single and Married People Are Completely the Same” I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t amass much attention.
“It’s putting people in boxes and you can’t do that,” Nichelle adds. “People are people and everyone is wonderful and different.”
The whole conversation got me thinking – am I any less fulfilled because I am not attached or I don’t have (or even want) children?
Personally, I think I am more fulfilled and have grown way more in the last six years while I have been single and have not been in a partnership.
But does this have anything to do with my singledom?
In my personal situation – yes, it probably has played a big part.
I have learned to take a step back and look at myself outside the confines of a relationship because I was engaging in bad ones, or one sided ones. Or dating people for the wrong reasons. Even now – well not right now because I can’t even think about a relationship until I am better. All I care about is getting my career back on track and getting healthy. I don’t have room for anything else – not getting a text back from a potential beau can make me feel a little low.
If I had been in a loving, solid, stable and nurturing relationship – as many of my friend have been – it may have been a different story.
“I do feel that I have grown as a single person,” agrees Jess. “But I think that’s because I was in an unhealthy relationship. Dating has given me something that a relationship never has but I think the right relationship would do.”
My thoughts exactly. A healthy relationship doesn’t limit personal growth or happiness, rather it should support and nurture all these changes. My friends are shining examples of this.
However, I do think society has a skewed vision os single life. The very fact that this was even news worthy is laughable.
My childhood friend Katy (Single. Friend of 15 years. Londoner. Office Manager for a charity. Staunch Feminist. Excellent Travel Buddy) says “Why are people getting mad at one article that says being single makes you resilient when society favours couples and generally looks down on single women all the time?’
She has a point there. Single people – mostly women – are often ridiculed in the media. Take the allusion to Bridget Jones. We’re often the butt of jokes and, as a long standing singleton, I have been subject to more than my fair share. But that’s a different story. A post for another time.
But I am going to put my personal growth down to simply that. Growth. Getting older. My last long-term relationship ended in 2011, when I was 26, and there is a huge difference between mid-twenties and early thirties.
My goals are different now. My needs are more evident because I understand them – I know who I am and what I want – because I am no longer involved in a relationship that made me feel like I could not be myself or constantly felt the need to put the other person’s happiness before my own. That’s just being in an incompatible relationship.
One friend even went so far as to say being in a relationship helps personal growth because she is no longer ‘preoccupied with searching for someone.’
Personally, I don’t agree with this statement but everyone is different. If marriage and children are truly what you desire from your time on this planet – and you don’t think you can ever be happy without them – I’d presume that this preoccupation would take up a lot of your free time and thought process.
Me? If I’m honest, I’ve still got a lot to do in terms of self-esteem, health and career aspirations, before I can even think about a relationship.
Would I like one? Of course. Who doesn’t want be in love!?
Do I need one? No-one needs a relationship.