Rewind back to 2016, where I was 31 and going through a divorce, so newly single. I didn’t plan to be single in my 30s of course, but there it was. Singledom. Suddenly feeling so much more permeable than it had in my teens or 20s.
Would I be single forever? Who knew. But what I did learn, is that people don’t understand single at all and there is a hell of a lot of stigma attached to it.
Most conversations seemed to revolve around who I was dating
And where the next relationship was coming from. “You’re in your 30s and still single? What’s wrong with you?.” I heard that a lot. “Get back out there, don’t leave it too late, no-one will want you.” Yep this one too. Or the intro questions, “Are you married? Dating? Oh, just single then.” As if my relationship status was the most interesting thing to ask about me. And it always came with implied disappointment when revealing I was single, and a whole list of solutions and things to consider to solve the singledom.
Everything about my singledom felt a bit shameful
Like being in a relationship would somehow mean I was instantly alright as a person, and being single, meant I was not. I didn’t realize until I was single, that so much stigma exists for it. And it frustrates me that being in a relationship is hailed as such a success in life, so much so that single therefore becomes something so negatively labelled.
It took me a long, long time to say I was single and not feel any kind of shame for it.
And it’s a major reason why I started The Authentic Optimist. Because whether I’m single now, dating, or in a relationship, changing the mindset on single is always going to be something I strive for. Because sure, relationships are nice, I’m not saying they aren’t. But I don’t think we should put someone in a relationship on a pedestal as getting life done right, or view someone single as doing the whole life thing totally wrong.
That relationship with ourselves is one worth cultivating and celebrating too
And getting myself from thinking single equalled survive mode to single thriving, was such a game changer for me personally. Because to keep looking at relationships as the only answer, as the thing to consistently be aiming for, to idealize them in such a way that it creates that feeling that without one, you’re just lost and broken, this viewpoint for me is actually, totally wrong.
In our culture, love is seen as the solution. But it’s all rather idealistic and unrealistic to think that a relationship is going to make everything okay. Lennon might have said, “All we need is love” but after nearly seven years of on/off relationships, this hasn’t been true for me.
Love doesn’t mean someone is a good partner. It doesn’t automatically result in a romantic relationship that’s respectful, compassionate, and has good intentions. A romantic relationship, isn’t always the success it’s hyped up to be. There are many relationships we have in our lives that have the ability to make us feel loved, valued and connected. But for some reason, our culture does view that being in any romantic relationship – whether it’s good or bad – is a satisfying tick box ticked. And this doesn’t help with single stigma.
They also don’t mean you’re ‘worthy’
I think a main pain point for me in that whole being single is the auto viewpoint people have that something must be wrong with you because you’re on your own.
I think this angle is worse for single women, too. “She must be hard work, difficult, too independent,” etc, etc etc. It all boils down to the main thing single is associated with, “no-one will have them”. But as I’ve already said, you can pretty much settle into any relationship with anyone, that doesn’t mean it’s a good one. It doesn’t mean your worthy. It’s just another example of how we associate relationships with positivity, and single with the negative.
It feels a little like I’m relationship bashing here, but I’m not intending to.
It’s just that without being really honest about what relationships are and how we commend them, it’s hard to disassociate the romanticism of the relationship and destigmatize singledom. It’s impossible to get across why asking someone why they are ‘still’ single is classed as single shaming. How the negative bias surrounding single actually for me was the worst thing about single life. That these stereotypes we hold onto, from long standing societal standards that to have a partner equates to an instantly happy life, need re-evaluating. Because they are hurtful and harmful and most importantly, incorrect.
The truth is, single isn’t necessarily forever, and neither are most relationships nowadays
Love is a beautiful thing, but it also isn’t the answer to everything. Just because one life is right for one, doesn’t mean that everyone has to conform to the same ideals. No-one should feel expected to fit into a cultural relationship norm, just to keep their self-image intact and feel that they aren’t getting adulthood all wrong.
I’ll always look at a single phase now as empowering and a chance to reconnect with myself. I refuse to ever let it be something I avoid so much so that it keeps me in a bad relationship. Dating isn’t something I’ll do as a way to feel like I’m ‘on the path to success’, it’ll be for someone I want, not need (and trust me, there’s a difference). And I won’t let our culture of romanticizing relationships and idealising love get in the way of me embracing how valuable a single phase of life is, whether society gets on board with that or not. I’ll no longer allow shame to dull my single experience. And my relationship status, is really not the most interesting thing about me.
What’s your take on single stigma?