“Charlotte, we’re Jewish.” - Cher as Rachel Flax, Mermaids, 1990
The best thing about heroes is that they’re extremely personal. I don’t have to justify my heroes to you, you don’t have to justify yours to me. What’s important is that they exist, we identify with them, and we look up to them. I think it’s important to have people in your sphere that lift you up, and remind you to keep aspiring forward. Over my single years, I’ve collected heroes like gemstones in my pocket, and certainly on my Instagram feed, reminding me of how amazing life can be when you’re unpartnered. All of my heroes are single, famous, and entirely unaware of what they mean to me — which is fine.
These women aren’t my heroes because they’re single, some have been partnered before, or for all I know, are partnered now. They’re my heroes because of the way they live (and lived) their lives. The societal phrase that holds the most bullshit for me is, “this would mean nothing without someone to share it with.” All of these women embody the antithesis of that, and I’m immensely grateful to them.
“Next time you see a single woman, instead of asking her where her boyfriend, husband, or eunuch is, congratulate her on her accomplished sense of self and for reaching the solitary mountaintop by herself without a ring on her finger weighing her down like a male paperweight.” - Chelsea Handler
I started loving Chelsea Handler on an airplane. I bought her book My Horizontal Life, and read it on the way to or from somewhere less memorable than her outstanding work. It was the first time I can remember realizing that writing can be laugh-out-loud funny, which is a very big deal to someone who wants to be a funny writer. Chelsea inspires me because she’s crafted a life that looks completely tailored to her, and a career that explores whatever project she’s drawn to. Partnership or its absence from her life is literally never on the table as a hindrance. That, reader, is living. Earlier this year, when I opened up her most recent book, Life Will Be The Death Of Me, I took a photo of the first page that listed out all six (now seven) of her bestselling books, and texted it to my best friend with the caption, “This. I’m going to do this.” She agreed.
Partnership or its absence from her life is literally never on the table as a hindrance. That, reader, is living.
“Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He is very dreamy,” she says. “But he is not the sun. You are.” ― Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person
The first 10 minutes of Grey’s Anatomy were the most inspiring television I’d ever seen. I think I watched them standing up. I didn’t understand what I was witnessing. She writes like people talk. But smarter. But wittier. She doesn’t slow down or simplify, she tells stories for people like me — those who’d rather heave their television out a fifth story window than suffer through reality TV roses. She is where smart people who make out in elevators are born, and I adore her. Shonda Rhimes has long been an inspiration of mine due to her sheer force of genius. I’m in awe of her talent, she is writing royalty, and for me she’s a reminder that our accomplishments can be fully celebrated, solo. Shonda’s brilliance shines through her work completely, and I mean completely in every sense of the word.
Cher’s is the attitude I want to hang onto throughout my life, single or otherwise. It’s what I mean when I talk about loving my single life, while at the same time being open to and desirous of partnership. It’s about want, not need, and for a long time it was the other way around. I love Cher for about 57 very specific reasons, least of which is that she stars in Moonstruck, my favorite movie of all time. Hers is a go-to energy. I don’t hate men, I don’t want to live a life with that heaviness. I want to love them and want them, while at the same time being very clear that ensnaring one of them isn’t on my list of to-dos. I think if you need help adjusting your mindset around dating and being single, Cher is a great place to start.
Where to begin? Her wardrobe, probably. Can a person be your hero simply because they’re cool? I fucking hope so. Diane Keaton is someone I look up to because her life lived without a partner is very clearly lacking nothing. I think that’s what soaks so deeply into singlehood and makes it hard to live with — the notion that you, being alone, are missing something really important. Better go find it. Not Diane. There’s nothing missing, and instead there’s a life lived joyously and outwardly that inspires others to do the same and to wear more fabulous jackets.
Before I became a freelance writer, while I was still grinding away at KPIs and promotions and other entirely unauthentic endeavors, I feared the longevity of my career. I couldn’t see where it was going, or how long it would last. Diana Athill is the hero that reminds me that I can work forever if I want to. She wrote at least 13 books over the course of her career, the last of which was published when she was 99 years of age. She’s a reminder to me that I never have to stop, that I can live and work on my terms, and that age and work have far less to do with each other than we’re led to believe.
“And then someone tells me about their friend who adopted a child at 52 and how 'it’s never too late for your life to have meaning,' and my worth gets diminished as I am reminded that I have 'failed' on the marriage and carriage counts. Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman.” - Tracee Ellis Ross
Of course. Of course, Tracee Ellis Ross. Every time I see a photo of her she’s in some unfathomably beautiful gown or outfit, colorful as a candy jar, but you barely notice because her smile beams so brightly it outshines everything else. Tracee Ellis Ross is an energy. A life-loving, creative, glowing energy that doesn’t allow for outdated attitudes about accomplishments and their diminishment due to singlehood and child-free choices. She gives the singleness inside of me more confidence and validation with everything she does. As if by being herself, she’s cheering us on. We’re lucky to live in the time of Tracee.
I see in these women an absence of the sadness that singlehood has previously been painted with. There’s no gloom, no lack, no waiting for completion. The presumed negativity of an unpartnered life isn’t there. In its place are joy and work and friendship and lives full of layers that no one can dull. I’ll keep collecting them, the women who expand my mind and show me what’s possible. For the record, all the women on this list, and many many others, show me that what’s possible is everything.