In the established cultural imagination, the single woman is still kind of a tragic figure. Her mother worries about her; her smug friends are always threatening to set her up with their boring colleagues, who are always called “David”. She could be the most accomplished, charming individual you’d ever hope to meet, and yet people would still have a prevailing sense about her – one that suggests that because she doesn’t have a romantic partner, this means she is unfulfilled, as if having nobody to answer to but yourself is somehow an undesirable way to live.
It’s not really surprising that these perceptions persist considering that the traditional family is still the cornerstone of how society is organised. But there is, obviously, a huge amount that these received ideas get wrong. I have been single for almost a year now, and — contrary to the trope of the lonely and stunted “singleton” (jail for whoever invented that word) — it has been one of the most emotionally expansive periods of my life so far. I have never felt more alive to possibility — especially in my friendships — and I’ve never been more invested in my own interests either. Granted, my main interests are a) that guy on TikTok who ate the £10,000 crisp and b) internet shopping, but I’m enjoying myself.
I think that if the person I was during my last break-up could see me now, she would be surprised but also pleased. When you are in a relationship, particularly a long-term one, it’s easy to find yourself folding into the other person — “me” becomes “us” — and, as such, closing off a little to everyone who isn’t your partner. But when that comfort is pulled away, you are forced to seek connection in other places. And when you do, unexpected things can happen.
I’ve seen it in my own life. These days, I find myself saying “yes and” all the time, approaching my own existence like a particularly annoying improv performer. And as a result, I have so many more friends than I used to and have discovered so many new types of closeness. A person I once considered a slightly intimidating acquaintance has become a daily confidante. Someone else who I’d have sworn blind didn’t even like me a year ago is now one of the people who I think understands me best in the world. And all I had to do was be available to the possibility — to get chatting at a party or send a meme or whatever. I really think that when you move around the world with openness, others read it on your face, in your body, your laugh. And it comes back to you, too: you become someone that people want to connect with.
I’ve observed that this willingness to cultivate new relationships has also manifested in other areas as a more general curiosity. I don’t want to give you any YouTube yoga affirmations about how The Most Important Person In Your Life Is You, but I have noticed that the self-confidence that has come with making new friends or bonding more with old ones has gone hand-in-hand with the self-possession I’ve found through indulging my interests as much as possible. I live alone, and so much of my time is spent by myself. That time is filled with doing exactly what I want: watching all of Daisy Jones and the Six in one go even though I am perfectly aware it is quite bad, using every utensil in the kitchen to make tacos just for myself, playing “When The Going Gets Tough” over and over again because sometimes I just wake up with a Billy Ocean-related brain disease.
I’ve also been quite a lot more open to new experiences in general, and while sometimes this willingness to jump in two-footed has mired me in various types of chaos — like the time I found myself in an orthopaedic boot at a karaoke bar dancing to “Sex on Fire” as women’s wrestling played on the big screen — I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. As pleasurable as genuine contentment is, there are other types of fulfilment too. There’s only so much life you can wring out of the sofa, an Adam Curtis documentary and fancy but ultimately ready-made lasagna for two.
That’s not to say I have been unhappy in my relationships, however, or that I am disdainful of them, or I would even refuse a new one if it came my way. But I have changed so much since last summer, in ways that I like — in ways that make me feel like I have genuinely grown into myself — and I hope that these changes stick around. Of course I want to love and to be loved, to look at someone and feel the warm glow of a future reflected back at me — but the most valuable thing I have learned is that a romantic partner is far from the only conduit for such comfort.