The stigma of being single…

Somehow everything’s gonna fall right into place
If we only had a way to make it all fall faster everyday
If only time flew like a dove
Well God, make it fly faster than I’m falling in love

– Hallelujah, Paramore

‘Are you married?’

‘Um…no.’

‘Oh, do you have a boyfriend then?’

‘No…’

‘Oh…right…ahh…OK’

…and I’m ashamed to say that I just let the awkward silence grow and grow. With hindsight, it was quite mean as that wasn’t a clumsy pass by someone who cared about the answer, but rather an attempt at small talk that just served to remind me how easily being single can create a socially awkward situation!

Unless I choose to be self-depreciating in a typically British fashion, revealing my single status leaves the conversation with nowhere to go. There’s an uncomfortable silence, like the questioner is embarrassed to have exposed something shameful. They often dig themselves in even deeper by assuming that I must have a boyfriend, further emphasising that just being single is somehow not allowable. Or they make excuses for me, sympathising with how busy I must be, or manage to make it just so much worst by pitying me! Like ex-smokers and reformed alcoholics, people in couples who have been lucky enough to beat the odds and have found someone to love and who want to love them back seem to forget how hard it is on the other side. An old friend faced my wrath recently when, on hearing that I was still single, gave me a big pity hug and essentially wailed ‘Oh Livvy, don’t worry! It’ll be OK, you’ll find someone!’ Conversation stalled…bad mood guaranteed…time to start again…

Quite apart from being a little sad that my age now means that ‘wife’ is the more acceptable first choice than ‘girlfriend,’ l hate to be asked because it reveals quite how conflicted I feel about still being single. I have drafted and redrafted this post as I haven’t been able to settle on what tone I was aiming for, and I think that kind of sums up my opinion! Is it a guilty pleasure to prolong these awkward interactions, or am I actually cruelly deflecting the discomfort back at the questioner in order to hide how much it has nettled me?

There is no doubt that there is a stigma attached to being single. It’s still viewed as the limbo before finding what I actually want rather than being a conscious choice or a preference, and I seem to be constantly pushed to find The One as if there’s no other way to be happy. My mother has actually given me a deadline for when she thinks I ‘really ought to be married,’ and seems a bit nonplussed that I make so little effort to achieve this. (Although this is partly…mostly…because I keep a hell of a lot secret from her…!)

I am conflicted because, until asked, I really am OK with being single. It has taken me some time to reach this position of clarity, if that’s the best way of describing it, but I know myself now and I know that previous failed relationships or missed opportunities were not because I wasn’t pretty enough or funny enough or smart enough. I’m far from perfect but I do know that I have a lot to give to someone else, should the chance present itself. Bizarrely, I have actually been told a few times that I would make a ‘fine wife’…although I’m not certain that the reasons that prompted these outbursts are that worthy of praise: choosing to carry my Christmas tree half a mile home rather than wait for a lift, being able to tie a bow tie, and…most disturbingly of all…after a rectal examination of a drunk man with a massive bleed in his gut (Oh, I’m a doctor by the way, I don’t just randomly probe sick people…definitely top 5 career low though…!)

It’s just that being in a relationship remains such a cultural norm that having to justify why I haven’t been able to achieve this life goal feels like being asked to justify all of my failings. The answer sits right at the heart of everything that is personal and secret. I could be single because I’ve had my heart broken too many times and feel too vulnerable to risk myself again. I could be single because I’m a truly unpleasant person and can’t find anyone willing to put up with me. I could be single because I am cripplingly shy and can’t approach anyone. I could be single simply because I’ve not found anyone I wanted to commit to…there are thousands of reasons.

Maybe it is proof that I am more bothered than I’d care to admit about still being single that the question does irritate me. It implies deficiency, suggesting that I’m not enough on my own, or that I’m kidding myself to think that I’m OK. The surprise at my not being married or in a committed relationship is flattering, but doesn’t exactly make me feel better about it. Few believe me when I say that I could be happy on my own. They tell me I’ll change my mind when I meet the Right Man, and I’m only saying that to justify being alone. They might be right…but equally, they don’t seem to realise that sometimes a constant level of contentment is enough. Of course, the comfort and security of being loved is an incredible high, but it is accompanied by hurt and pain that just doesn’t happen when you’re alone. I don’t know…I might be becoming too cynical…

Would I like to fall head over heels in love with someone who will still want to hold me when I’m 80? Definitely! But do I feel incomplete without them? Do I feel that it reflects badly on me that I haven’t found them yet? Absolutely not! And I can’t think of anything worse than needing to be in a relationship so much that I settle for something that is less than everything.

So I guess I do know how I feel about being single – I love it, I love the excitement of dating and the potential of each new encounter, I love being in charge of my own happiness and well-being, and I can wait for whatever the future might bring…just don’t ask me to explain or justify, and don’t pity me. I’m better than OK!

2 thoughts on “The stigma of being single…

  1. This is so, so, so, so good! The paragraph about liking someone to cuddle when you’re 80 but not needing a man to complete you was perfect! I feel this way exactly and am always a bit bemused when people say “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone.” When finally, after many years of being worried about it, I’m NOT actually worried, I may or may not end up with someone, but I’m good. I think you achieved the perfect tone with this post.

    As for the “Do you have a boyfriend?” question, I find it usually works to say “No one in particular”, or “no one specific” sometimes emphasizing the “one” just a bit so it implies I might have lots of boyfriends and isn’t the questioner jealous now šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

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