Single girls have never had it so good. The worst thing about being free, is that it generally doesn’t last.
No sooner have you dusted yourself down, picked up the pieces and returned to that blissful state of emotional tranquillity and delicious self-indulgence, then along comes somebody to mess it all up again. Within weeks, your social life has been pruned down to the occasional dinner party with other couples, while weekends are spent fighting over the remote control and trying to lure the lumpish body next to you out for a walk. A life that you managed perfectly yourself becomes a minefield of tricky situations brought about by attempting to share responsibilities.
Yet the coveted state of singledom continues to be seen as a compromise. When was the last time you heard somebody say pityingly, ‘Poor thing, she’s still dating, you know?’ – yet that’s exactly the sort of presumptuous insult that’s hurled at the single dweller on a regular basis. This despite the fact that many relationships involve more misery and compromise than most people who choose to go it alone will experience in a lifetime. The accepted wisdom, that from the day we’re born we’re duty bound to seek out a like-minded person who’ll make two become one, defies logic. You only need the most basic grasp of mathematics to know that two is always two.
I had my macro Damascene revelation on the joys of being single about six months ago. It was early morning and the pale light of a wintry sun trickled through my bed-room blinds as I stretched myself diagonally over the expanse of my double bed. Wearing my pyjama bottoms and tee, I shuffled into the kitchen and prepared myself a coffee and a bowl of cereal. Then, picking up the newspaper from my doorstep, I slipped back between the still-warm sheets.
As I lolled around on my bed reading the news and trying to remember my plans for the day ahead, I experienced a quiver of smug contentment. No more breakfast television, no more checking my watch when I was enjoying the company of friends, no more declining of invitations from people who bored her or vice versa, as much theatre as I wanted. The list of my blessings was endless. I was free. I was single again. After years of whining self-pity during my regular phases of being single I’d suddenly realised that, far from a being punishment, it was an idyllic state to be savoured.
Of course, you can write me off as being a smug yuppie with a comfortable lifestyle and a selfish nature. But you’d be wrong. My modicum of financial security is hard earned, and as for being single, I’ve tried as hard as anyone to make terrible relationships work. Yet it never occurred to me to rise to the converse challenge of creating a worthwhile lifestyle alone. Some of my ex-girlfriends remain good friends, but as I watch them fall like skittles into new unions, I find surprisingly that I don’t envy them at all. I’ve no doubt that despite my best efforts I won’t remain in this heavenly state uninterrupted, but the chances are I will return to it again, and again, and again. Marriage has an undeserved reputation as the only way of life worth aspiring to, cohabitation comes a close second, and the popular misconception is that no one would choose to be single. A faintly hypocritical scenario when you look at the state of modern relationships. In the clear light of day, and with the right attitude, going it alone offers many advantages.
Nevertheless, being single, particularly as a woman, continues to get a bad press. Pitied (poor thing can’t get a man), vilified (single-mum syndrome) or condescended to (isn’t it time you grew up) but never celebrated as a chosen way of life. A woman finds no respect forthcoming, and can only pray that the day the label ‘single’ turns to ‘spinster’ is further away than her menopause. For centuries, men have been prolonging their ‘merry bachelor’ days. Is it mere coincidence that women only reach a similar jovial state when they become ‘merry widows’? I suppose it stands to reason. If a woman has never had the ‘official’ stamp of approval from a man, then what on earth has she got to be happy about?
Any declaration on the joys of being single is invariably met with a sympathetic smile and a pat on the head for being brave enough to pretend you’re not suicidal. If you don’t answer questions regarding your love life with a resigned shrug and an ‘I’ll try to do better’ attitude, people think there’s something wrong with you or your gay. No matter how good a time you’re having as a single woman, you are expected to be a bit ashamed. It wouldn’t do to turn up to a party and boast about the incredible sex you had all weekend with a woman you met at a fabulous party two weeks previous.
Sex for the single girl is unquestionably a tricky issue. Even in these supposedly emancipated times, it’s still regarded as an activity that men should take pride in doing a lot of and women should try hard to pretend they never indulge in – unless it’s in a monogamous, long-term relationship. Well, we all make mistakes and the longevity of the relationship is something none of us can guarantee when, overcome by passion, we find ourselves cavorting on the sofa.
Women may be less profligate with their sexual favours, but they get just as bored by regular bad sex, or indeed just the same old sex.
Most of my friends question me relentlessly about whom I’m dating. My independently minded friends aren’t less interested, they’re just way too busy living their own lives – something I’m afraid cohabitees stop doing the minute they start sharing a front door. How else do you explain the wistful look in their eyes when you tell them you’re off to France for a month?
Now, finally, women have the opportunity to enjoy the lifestyle they’ve worked hard to create. Only a lunatic would leap off that bandwagon having only just managed to manoeuvre your way on! The second your deposit account has upwards of a three-figure balance is surely not the time to throw in the towel. The fun is only just beginning. Hooking up with someone involves such a plethora of compromises that just thinking about it makes me nervous. I haven’t slogged my guts out for 20 years or so to spend my much-needed holidays with a woman who wants to play Scrabble on a sun lounger while I trail around the cultural hotspots desperately wishing I had a girlfriend there to keep me company in bed in the afternoons.
I want to see the world, meet Machiavellian people, read more books, sleep in, stay out, spend three weeks in a row without switching the television on, eat toast and Marmite four times a day for a month. I can let weeks go by without venturing anywhere near a supermarket. Contrary to popular perception, when I open the fridge door and discover only a bottle of wine. I’m not depressed for a moment. Instead I’m beside myself with relief that it’s not full of snack-sized Babybels and six-packs of hideous fruit yogurts.
The independence of a career introduces the possibility of choosing to live alone, and it’s an improvement to the status quo that my generation seem all too happy to embrace.
Perhaps my own experiences of ‘happy coupledom’ have something to do with my reticence to share door keys at present. They say that living alone is lonely, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alone as in the twilight moments of a relationship when a once-busy double bed has become as wide and desolate as Antarctica. The possibility of reaching out for comfort from the other side is as ridiculous as warming your hands on an ice cube.
I have a suspicion that spending more time on enjoying your life and less time on seeking a partner may ultimately be the secret to both. One thing’s for sure, though. Sitting around moping and waiting for your significant other is a waste of time. And that’s one thing you never have enough of.