I’m 27 & I’ve Never Had A Partner At Christmas

Photographed by Anna Jay.
"I worry that I’ll be single forever," says Laura*, bluntly. "I’ve never known what it’s like to see myself long-term with someone. To be like, 'Yes! I want to be with this person and they want to be with me'." 
Laura is 27 and with the exception of a 'fiancé' she had aged 3 – "I proposed to him with a worm, apparently" – she’s never been in an exclusive romantic relationship. "I’ve met many, many men from many, many dating apps but none of them have turned into anything. The entirety of my 27-year-long life, I have been very single." 
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A lot of the time, Laura’s single status doesn’t bother her. "I go through waves of thinking, It’s fine, I’m only 27 and that I don’t really want 'that' person yet because I quite like being on my own schedule," she explains. It’s when she’s catching up with friends who are in steady relationships that her concerns creep in. "Once I’ve asked about their other half, they’re like, 'So, tell me about your dating life!'" she tells me, ruefully. "[And] I feel inferior. Like: they’ve managed to do it. They’ve managed to find someone who wants to be with them – and I’ve never managed to do that. There’ve been multiple times when I’ve wanted to be in a relationship with someone but they’ve not wanted to be in a relationship with me and so I feel like [my friends] have succeeded where I’ve failed."
To reach a certain age without having experienced a romantic relationship comes with a certain inexplicable stigma attached. A possible root of this is the ongoing messaging in popular culture. There’s that episode of Friends, for instance, in which the entire narrative is crafted around the apparent inconceivability of Phoebe never having been in a serious relationship. "I’m in my 30s and I’ve never been in a long-term relationship... What’s wrong with me?!" she wails. 

There've been multiple times when I've wanted to be in a relationship with someone but they've not wanted to be in a relationship with me and so I feel like [my friends] have succeeded where I've failed.

laura
"Nothing!" is the answer to that but when culture as widely beloved as Friends impresses this messaging on us all, it can be hard to ignore. "If somebody asks, 'When was your last serious relationship?' and you say, 'Oh, actually, I haven’t had one' and they go, 'Ohhh, why is that?' – enough of that conversation does make you think, Is it actually me?!" says Hannah*, who is soon to be 27 – an age at which she always thought she'd be in a serious relationship. 
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"As people get older, the pressure to enter into a romantic relationship definitely heightens… [People] regularly asking how your love life is going or if you’ve got a partner yet and not realising how this can slowly chip away at a person’s confidence," explains Dr Katherine Hertlein, couples therapist and lead advisor at sex therapy app Blueheart. "This pressure isn’t the same for everyone, nor is it as all-pervading as it used to be. But the old-fashioned view that 'settling down' is the ultimate end goal is still very much a thing."
Needless to say, COVID-19 has not helped those who were already feeling concerned or insecure about having been single throughout their lives. 
For Josie, the COVID-19 restrictions came at the worst possible time. "I’ve never really managed [dating] very well, and I was just getting to a point this year where I got [my first] job that wasn’t bartending," she explains. "So I have evenings and weekends now – but I can’t do anything with them! Presumably, everybody who has a nine-to-five job meets people somehow but I’d never experienced that before. I haven’t even met the other people [I work with] so not even any opportunities for office romance!"
Then, of course, there’s Christmas – often deemed the most romantic time of the year – under COVID-19 added to the mix.
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari is a senior relationship therapist and the chairperson of Imago UK: an international approach to relationship therapy. "Christmas is associated with cosiness, romance, relationship-orientated films and songs about coming together and making memories," she tells me. "Add to that the associations with winter – nesting, being cosy, snuggling up and drinking hot chocolate under the blanket – it is a time that can be challenging for [single people] when they might feel that they are missing out on this. It can trigger loneliness, which is primarily helped by connecting with other people."
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As people get older, the pressure to enter into a romantic relationship definitely heightens… [People] regularly asking how your love life is going or if you've got a partner yet and not realising how this can slowly chip away at a person's confidence.

Dr Katherine Hertlein
Christmas is another time when popular culture is a key culprit in making people feel insecure about their relationship status, with love-centred films such as Love Actually, The Holiday and Bridget Jones’ Diary placing Christmas in the spotlight. This can add to the pressure particularly if, like so many people, you end up watching one of the above as a single person surrounded by your family. 
Hannah feels that pressure. "Last year, my aunt bought me a mascara and in the card she wrote, 'Flutter those eyelashes, Hannah, and get yourself a boyfriend this year!' F*cking brutal. And all I can think about is that we’re going to get to this Christmas and she’ll probably get me the same mascara, and I still will not have had a boyfriend!"
Laura’s Christmas concerns are more general but no less acute. "I notice being single more in winter because people hunker down more. I feel my singleness around Christmas [because of] the cosy nights in – people-watching Christmas movies with their other half. Because I am literally on the sofa, watching Christmas movies with popcorn, on my own." 
If one thing’s for sure, it’s that not having had a relationship is more common than many people may think. COVID may have complicated the dating landscape and Christmas can be a trigger for loneliness but what social media doesn’t show – amid all the Insta stories of blissfully happy couples decorating their tree together or asking for "boyfriend points, please" because they’ve found the perfect jumper for their other half – is all the people in the exact same position.  
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And if COVID’s taught us anything, it’s that two things are paramount. The first is cherishing the people who are already in our lives – "My friends are always my priority," says Hannah – and the second is living in the present. "What’s meant to be is meant to be," Hannah adds, firmly. "I’m not willing to change who I am as a person in order to date." Amen to that. 
*Names have been changed to protect identities
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