“I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying: be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” — Maya Angelou
I always swore I’d never get married. I wanted to keep evolving. Just as two intertwined vines are individual, it’s tough for one to wander too far without dragging the other. Fear of jeopardising a relationship, as I saw it, caused stagnation, a dulling of the senses, a quiet resignation.
Then, somewhat to my own surprise, I did get married. It happened organically. I loved him, but to be honest, I truly loved his family. They were like something out of an Enid Blyton book – English, lots of siblings, all close to each other, and an affectionate, lively, quirky bunch. I was incredibly fond of his mother (no mother-/daughter-in-law problems there); I adored his father and grandparents. He had many younger brothers who would come stay with us. We spent our holidays together and travelled together.
Then the marriage ended. We had a messy divorce. I was broken from losing my father around the same time, and I felt acutely alone in the world. It wasn’t a good or bad thing, but I was never not aware of it. I went from being a part of something bigger to being just me.
I feel as if I’ve run the gamut. I’ve been single and wished I was coupled. I’ve been married and wished I was single. Now I’m single and content with my status.
When we’re single, we decide what we like and dislike. There’s nobody else around to sway our judgement. We get to really know ourselves.
We learn to rely on our own company. I’ve sometimes felt alone at parties, but never when I’m by myself.
When travelling solo, we’re open to connecting to our surroundings and making new friends, which doesn’t happen as easily when we have someone by our side at all times.
We can arrange our home as we like it. And when we get back after a long weary day, we don’t have to battle with piles of mess, the volume up on the sports channel, or eau de sweat.
We figure things out. Without someone around to help, we make a decision and go ahead with it, learning along the way.
We can sprawl any which way on the bed, with the temperature to our liking, and no snoring to keep us awake.
We can focus on what we like – watch our kind of films, spend an afternoon in the park with a book, window shop for the perfect pair of shoes, learn karate, go on a cooking holiday, spend time with people we choose.
We really invest in our friendships and community.
When we’re single, we make our own plans and weave our own dreams. We can keep growing.
On the negative side
Single hotel rooms cost more than doubles. There’s even an unfair penalty called a single supplement.
We eat alone a lot. If cooking is as traumatic for you as it for me, then this means subsisting on rubbish takeaways or spooning sweet corn out of a can and calling it dinner.
Creepy men act as if it’s our lucky day when they hit on us.
We have to get used to answering people’s questions about our status and watch them get all tragic about how we haven’t Married Like Proper Sensible Adults.
All the single ladies (and gents)
I feel confident declaring: if we’re not happy in ourselves, we won’t be happy in a relationship.
It may work as a temporary balm that distracts us from ourselves for a while, but after the initial high wears off (and it will), then we’re left facing all that we hoped would go away when we found someone, including loneliness.
The way I see the universe (in a Universe sort of way): when there’s a void in our life, then the people we find compelling at that moment will also have a void. Everyone we meet is our mirror. And soon enough, the qualities that annoy us about them are the bits that annoy us about ourselves (even when we think the opposite is true). And we get all busy trying to “fix” them, instead of fixing ourselves.
When we’re unhappy, we put the onus onto others to assure us we’re lovable. In the process, we give our power away. The slightest withdrawal on their part makes us panic. In our insecurity, we forgive crappy behaviour and, with it, lose our dignity and sense of self. This brings out our least attractive qualities, which drives people further away.
It’s more rewarding to choose people not for what they’re giving us, but what we can share together. If we expect someone to complete us (oh, Cameron Crowe, warper of expectations!) then we’ll feel bereft. When we see ourselves as whole, there’s little need to seek validation from outside.
When we feel positive and healthy, we attract positive, healthy people. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Keeping it solo
This is not to say I won’t get married again. To someone who “how every time I ever put my arms around you I felt that I was home,” as Ernest Hemingway wrote to Marlene Dietrich.*
The older I get, though, the more I’m aware of how much additional effort is required now to adapt to a relationship. My mother was like cookie dough when she married at 20, and grew into herself over the years. I come fully baked. As will a potential mate. I’d better love him as he is, because he won’t change. If anything, he’ll probably become more of whatever he is (and that includes indecisive, uncommunicative, curmudgeonly).
Still, I believe sharing a life to be a choice we consciously make, because we don’t want to be without this person, rather than settling because we feel we should.
Single people are the largest demographic in the world, and our numbers are growing. Even though I fall into this group, this is not a healthy sign. We’re a social race. Our lives are harmonious when we feel interconnected.
Sometimes I see people who’ve been single for a long time as a cautionary tale. They become self-centred, unwilling to accommodate anyone else, unable to bend. That doesn’t seem fun at all.
Yet I refuse to believe that being single makes us objects of pity and bad luck. Or that we’re incapable of experiencing joy, sharing or love. Or that meaningful relationships require romantic love. I’m not saying that’s not delicious – it is – but if we don’t have it, it doesn’t mean we’re deficient.
I would rather be single instead of being resigned to a dead marriage.
I would rather be single than be in the wrong relationship.
I would rather be single than be with someone for the sake of ticking some box or pleasing society.
Single supplements notwithstanding.
*Hemingway and Dietrich had a 30-year relationship until his suicide. It was unconsummated due to “unsynchronised passion” according to him; when one was available, the other was married.
Then what have I got
Why am I alive anyway?
Yeah, what have I got
Nobody can take away
Got my hair, got my head
Got my brains, got my ears
Got my eyes, got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile
I got my tongue, got my chin
Got my neck, got my boobs
Got my heart, got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex
I got my arms, got my hands
Got my fingers, got my legs
Got my feet, got my toes
Got my liver, got my blood
I’ve got life
I’ve got my freedom
I’ve got life
— Nina Simone, Ain’t Got No/I Got Life. Songwriters: Galt Mac Dermot, James Rado, Gerome Ragni
Helen Fielding captures late 20th-century singleton life with hilarity in Bridget Jones’s Diary, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. There’s a fun film adaptation too, with Renée Zellweger and clever casting with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, who played the perfect Mr Darcy in the BBC/A&E Austen version.
Marriage is a legal institution that affects inheritance and custody of children. For this and many other reasons, I wholly support same-sex marriage. Watch The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko, and starring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as parents of teenagers.
“One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.” Ho ho! If you decide you would like to be in a relationship, then this article, How We End Up Marrying The Wrong People, in The Philosophers’ Mail is worth a read.