I didn’t realize until I halted dating anyone else, how much my being single and dating, had dominated most of my conversations. It was pretty much all I’d spoken about for seven years. That sounds quite self-absorbed. But I wasn’t talking to an unwilling audience.

People – especially the non-single people – were intrigued. “Who are you dating right now?”. They asked. “What’s your latest dating horror story?”. “Are you dating? You should be.” I gladly regaled my dating faux pars, successes and woes, and took on their advice. They, happily listened and requested more details.

Why is any of this an issue?. Well it wasn’t until I went single no mingle, that I realized how much dating had become an important part of my conversations with people. And by making who I was dating a highly discussed topic, I had inadvertently sent the message to myself that nothing else was more conversation worthy than this. And if nothing else was as interesting, then nothing I had to say that wasn’t about when or who the next date was lined up with, mattered much.

I can’t solely blame society, peers, or myself for the fascination we have with a dating tale, as there are so many reasons we want to talk or hear about them. However, I can say from experience, that unless we mix up that conversation a bit, no single person is ever going to feel better about being single. And no person in a relationship, is ever going to discover how amazing a phase of single can be. Unless we talk about something else other than the theoretical, nearly, almost, such a shame, diabolical, thank god that didn’t work out, someone else’s.

Single people are so much more than who they are dating

When you declare, “I’m just doing me right now” to the, Who are you dating? Question, it seems to lose the audiences interest. That’s when you realize that dating chat, dominates conversations in a way that doesn’t result in anything good. That’s when you take a good hard look at your single self and think, ‘Is who I’m dating, really that important?’.

No. Of course not, that was a rhetorical question. Yet societally, it clearly is.

I might have cast a little blame here and there at times – Okay, quite a lot – on other people treating my singledom as a defining feature. Because we do live in this society that romanticizes being coupled up, so much so that when you’re single, it feels like a very definitive choice. But I am not without blame.

I had always looked at single as a defining feature of who I am as a person

If I was single, it was everything. It dictated how I felt about myself and how I lead my life. It affected my thoughts, my actions, and therefore what I spoke about. A lot of it, was subconsciously rooted. However it was always there. That feeling that I was incomplete, and therefore couldn’t be fully happy on my own.

Yet in all honesty, I am so much more than single.

I am so much more than single

Single is just a relationship status. Being single doesn’t define me as a person.

I am someone who loves to run, go on adventures and travel. I started this blog, and I’m writing a book. I’ve had a successful career in the travel industry. I am a daughter, granddaughter, niece, friend and an aunt. I’m obsessed with anything that contains sugar, and carbs are my true soulmate. I enjoy long walks in the countryside with my dogs. Music is good for my soul. I hate heights, yet I still forced myself to climb the O2 and freefall drop from 180ft in a warehouse in Sheffield. I’m direct, to the point, and quite literally unable to hide what I think or feel, especially as my expressive face is a terrible tell.

I am multi-faceted. Relationship or no relationship, I am defined by these aspects, and not my relationship status. Although my singledom did become this one overriding character trait of who I was. The truth is that it was just a status of time. Who I am fundamentally as a person, are the things that matter way more than who I am dating right at that moment in time, whether its myself, or someone else.

This is why, when conversations revolve mostly around who we are dating, it goes against this very fact. It argues that actually, we are not defined by all these other things, we are defined by who we are dating. That, is the most important conversation to have. And that’s exactly why I’m arguing this point that dating, should be downcast in its place of importance.

Why is dating such a big interest, in particular for those coupled?

Perhaps people are being kind, showing an interest. Maybe, for some. I air towards it being because we’re all taught that partnership is something we should be doing, therefore if someone is single, it must be priority 101 to lock down a relationship a.s.a.p. and hence a necessary conversation point to collaborate on what’s happening, and provide some essential peer led advice to help make it so. And who better to give that advice, than your coupled up friends.

My keen sense of realism also thinks it’s likely related to providing reassurance to those in relationships. “See, single is so much worse guys. Your partner isn’t perfect but you’re good where you are. At least you’re not single and facing these dating scene dramas on a daily basis.” Personally, I think the real reason people ask about those dating experiences, is to have their say. People love to help. And the conundrum of ‘How and Why are you still single?’ is a mystery people love to try and solve.

Nothing said this to me more than in the case of this example.

In my group of friends, two of us were single. Me, female, and he a male

To our collective group, this made no sense at all. It was but a match made in heaven, a single man and single woman who were friendly with one another. As a bandit made up of couples and two singletons, surely, the two singles would end up together, right?

How is it ever this simple?

For one, if relationships were that easy to put together, the dating industry wouldn’t be the billion pound industry that it is today. It’s difficult to find someone that’s truly right for us. We know this. Yet there was still an assumption amongst our friends, that two people who are friends and not in relationships, should one day be together. There was also the underlying subconscious need to fix us. We were the two single (broken) peeps in a group of ones who were doing things better, in the right way.

I know my friend meant no harm in his suggestions. It came from a good place. But again, just because the intentions are good, doesn’t mean what it implies, isn’t bad.

Why are relationships such a key part of the single conversation?

Because we make it so.

Whilst relationships are so highly valued, single is forever going to be regarded in society as a problem, and your peeps are ready and eager to offer solutions. Just because their intentions come from a good place, doesn’t mean that those intentions aren’t feeding the negative narrative surrounding singledom any less.

The fact people almost instantly lead with, “Dating anyone?”, in a conversation with a single person, projects the message that if we aren’t, we should be. If we are, and we are still single, what is it that’s wrong with us and how can they help fix it (you)?. It highlights how much we view partnership as an important milestone to have achieved, therefore making any other accomplishments, feel worthless without a relationship to present in tandem. So this whole conversation for me now, is a big, No.

The privacy imbalance

Also, there is a severe lack of boundaries within conversations with single people.

Single people are expected to relay their dating tales with zero held back. For singles, all sense of entitlement to privacy is removed. Exciting hey. Well, at least for those listening. It’s a no details left to spare situation, and if you do try and keep something for yourself, those listening will just dig deeper.

Apparently it’s totally okay for people to ask about their single friends latest crappy date, or delve fully into the intricate personal details of their love life. And they’ll use those stories as bemusing entertainment to relay to others, “You’ll never guess what happened to Carla.”

Yet I wonder if a single person asked a married couple when they last had sex, whether one of them did something crazy mid-way through, or whether their husband was well endowed or not, I wonder, whether that conversation would be received as politely as a single person takes on these invasive questions which appear to have no limits?.

Why oh why, do single people oblige?

Well, I have a theory on this. Here it is. For women, marriage and babies are still highly regarded as the way to go. Therefore, for a single woman, their achievements are devalued if they are achieved without marriage or children. Whether they are working hard at their career, personal growth, lifetime aspirations, travelling the world or curing cancer. No milestone is hailed quite so much, as meeting Mr Right and making fourteen beautiful children with him.

Single people feel the weight of this. I know, because I felt it. A sort of shame that I wasn’t doing life in the way in which women are expected too. Accompanied by a desire to make up for that unacceptable status. Some act to elicit acceptance. And so I obliged with indulging an audience with the most intimate of details shared. Because it was a weird kind of acceptance I got from it. In providing juicy details on what it was like to be dating, the funny – and sometimes downright depressing – stories about my dating experiences, seemed to distract and make up for, the fact I was single. I suppose I entertained them, in a way. And in doing so, created a sense of worth to my singleness.

It might be that on occasion, the individual didn’t feel that way about my singleness. But no-one can argue that collectively, society does. However, not creating boundaries around my privacy came at the expense of devaluing my even further. Everyone is entitled to their privacy. If a person isn’t wiling to share in the same way, they shouldn’t be asking someone for anything different.

Singles chatting with singles

I look back and wonder why my own conversations within the single friends crowd always came back to who we were dating. Likely, a hint of PTSD and a need to offload in a safe place around people who got it. Maybe a little to do with the fact that all of us wanted a relationship, it’s why we were dating after all. And whilst that was perfectly okay, it still seems weird to me how much affect the belief we have that seeking one, should be the most important thing we do with our single time, and therefore a top priority on the list of conversation topics.

Was it all we had to talk about? Fuck, no. Was it mostly what we discussed? Hell, yes. But why?

Personally, for me as a single person, it came down to feeling that that was all I had to offer. My dating life, was my life. Nothing else was more conversation worthy than this very topic. And as I had put finding a relationship at the centre of my world, I’d made it my everything. My top ‘to do’ on the list of to do’s. Maybe for all of us in those conversations, we were in the same boat. Rowing madly towards the perfect person and hoping they would save us from our wretched singleness. Single and must find, so single and searching.

Of course for the singleton chats, it was also a safe space to air all the exasperation and frustrations

Anyone who has been single in the past decade, knows the standardized way to do it nowadays via online dating is hard AF. You can really only share this without judgment with your single buddies. You know they aren’t secretly thinking, “Thank god I met, Ted.” Or going to hit you with some, “But have you tried doing this to your profile?”, “Are you being too picky / difficult / setting too many standards?”. None of that trash talk in the single circles. They listen, they get it, they understand. I’m all for these conversations. Where there is a balance of intimate things being shared equally. They are cathartic and good for the soul.

So for me, single chats don’t need to become devoid of all dating chat, just offset with a good balance. Otherwise, we end up convincing each other that it’s the only conversation to be had.

Towards the end of my ‘Single Survive’ phase especially I was feeling really good about myself and realizing that I had so much more to talk about than who I was dating

I was putting self-care at the top of my agenda. Reigniting my passions for old things I had once loved, and discovering joy in new hobbies. I put a lot of time and energy into writing, and launched this blog. Travelled with friends and by myself. Became a somewhat confident – yet very much still amateur – DIYer, whilst fixing up an old cottage. Started running, slowly and not for very far at first, but three years later and I’ve run my first marathon!

I always had these things going on whilst I was dating, but because dating had been put on such a fantastically high pedestal, nothing else had ever had a chance to reach the conversational top. Only when I stopped dating other people, and therefore couldn’t actually participate in a discussion about my dating life – as it no longer existed. Only then, did I see how much else there was to talk about. And in seeing it, I found the confidence to start speaking about something else in more detail. And realize how important it was to talk about these things that actually defined me as a person.

You are so much more than who you are dating, so change the conversation

I stopped talking about dating. And I stopped asking my single friends about their dating lives. I stopped asking who they were dating or how it was going. Of course if they brought up the conversation naturally, I’d talk. But I wouldn’t encourage it, I’d steer to other things going on.

It stopped keeping me in a place of feeling a need to explain or work towards resolving my singleness as if it was a cursed fate. No more, ‘I’m trying Susan, I really am!’ style explanations. No more earnest attempts to show my full commitment to the cause of rectifying my single status. I could just be single and not searching. Or single and not talking about who I was dating. Single, and it be an entirely unimportant factor of what else was going on with me.

Dating had taken up far too much of my time and attention

Thinking about who I was dating, where it was going, whether it was going well, and whether it should continue, became almost a full time job in itself. Hence why I gladly sought the opinions of others, allowed dating chat to over-ride everything else, and accepted the intrusive questions, happily obliging with tales.

Despite believing that I’d have nothing much else to talk about when I stopped dating other people, it was actually liberating to move away from the dating chat and have zero tales to tell or gossip to relay. I realized how much I had talked about it all, and in doing so, how much it had devalued me as a person.

Ditching the typical single dating style conversations, helped me discover how important I am. Who I was dating, was not more important than what else I was doing with my life in that moment. It was not more conversation worthy than achieving an aspiration, trying a new hobby, doing something that brought me joy, or tackling a different situation. Dating wasn’t ever the only thing going on in my life, but I had made it such a priority, that it used to be the main thing I spoke about. And in realigning my focuses, I reminded myself how much I had going for me.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.

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