I am 26 years old and I’ve been single my entire life. I’ve had crushes and I’ve been on dates, but I’ve never reached that point where I officially called a guy my boyfriend. Most people are shocked when I tell them this, but honestly, at this point in my life, I’m happy to be single. Yes, I’d still like to meet someone and get married someday. But I’ve come to a point where I’ve embraced my singleness without feeling like something (or someone, rather) is “missing.”
For the longest while, I was conditioned to think that my happiness and self-worth were contingent upon my relationship status. I’d read enough romance novels, flipped through enough magazines and seen enough fictional couples to buy into this toxic belief that I needed a guy to “complete” me. So whenever I saw my friends get paired up with their significant others, I saw them as two pieces of a puzzle that fit just right. It was so great to see their chemistry and how they made each other happy, but at the end of the day, I felt fragmented.
It certainly didn’t help that most people reacted with pity or shock when I shared my relationship status. Although a few of my friends were encouraging, others would say things like: “How are you still single?!” “Have you considered online dating?” Or my personal favorite: “Well, you’re not getting any younger…”
I understood that most people were only trying to help, but those comments backfired because I ended up internalizing them. Before I knew it, I was starting to convince myself that my time was “running out.” I even started to feel guilty because I was focusing too much on my career and not enough on finding someone. How messed up is that?! But then I saw this powerful speech by Tracee Ellis Ross and it began to shift my entire outlook on being single. For Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit in 2017, the accomplished 42-year-old actress not only stated that she is single and proud, but she also explained how our society has gotten to a point where we equate womanhood with being married and having a family.
Tracee said: “I look back and think about all the ways we’re told that those two goals: being chosen and having kids, are what makes you worthy. I mean, Nursery rhymes, fairy tales, books, movies. Sixteen Candles, every love song, and even black-ish — all reiterating this narrow story of ‘husband plus child equals woman.’”
That alone put so many things into perspective for me, because by society’s standards, you’re only seen as a successful and happy woman if you’re “chosen.” This has been ingrained in us since childhood (anyone else remember that popular sing-along about two people sitting in a tree?)! And so when we grow up, most of us start to feel like we can’t thrive without having someone by our sides.
After Tracee’s speech, I started turning my attention to the lesser-told narratives of single people. The ones that show that it’s okay to be single and content. The ones that show that it’s possible to live a meaningful life and be happy without a significant other. And the ones like that of Bella DePaulo, a 63-year-old author and scholar who has been single for her entire life.
In her 2017 TED Talk, What no one ever told you about people who are single, she said: “I think the stories we are getting told over and over again by everyone… are distracting us from other, more revealing stories. The stories no one has ever told us about people who are single… Remember that Supreme Court Justice who said: ‘Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out and find no one there?’ Well, my fear is that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and find someone else is there… hogging the blankets, snoring, and farting.”
If we had more of these untold stories, most of us wouldn’t feel as inclined to settle on someone before our “time runs out.” And to take this a step further, if being with someone wasn’t so glamorized, we’d probably quit treating relationships like they’re the magical cure for unhappiness. It’s so easy to forget this, but the reality is: relationships can be hard. We tend to get caught up with the illusion of how perfect and romantic a relationship can be, but we never really stop to think about all the hard work and effort it takes to commit to that relationship. Yes, it feels amazing to find a caring partner who connects with you and challenges you to be better. But we rarely ever think about the sacrifices that come with being with that person (like how their baggage eventually becomes our baggage and vice versa).
Now to be clear, I’m not saying that people should abandon the idea of finding true love (because there’s nothing wrong with wanting a relationship). But it’s important also to understand that there’s nothing wrong with being single either, whether it’s by choice or not. I mean, could you imagine how different our mindset would be if we heard more stories like Bella’s from day one? Or if we weren’t constantly bombarded with images of happy couples and lonely people who are desperate for love? Single people wouldn’t feel as pressured to get paired up and we wouldn’t feel like singleness is something to be ashamed of.
Most of us have made a habit of confusing “single” with “alone” because we feel like not having a significant other is like having no one at all. But for a lot of people, having a support system with friends and family can be just as satisfying as having that one romantic partner by your side. When we conflate singleness with loneliness, we contribute to a system where partnerships are seen as a missing ingredient to a happy life and adding to a stigma that comes with being older and single.
Yeah, Tom Cruise, not so much. For most of my life, I’ve been taught to feel ashamed and unwanted because of my relationship status, and so I spent years of my life secretly worrying that my perfect guy would never come. But now, I’m glad to say that my outlook has completely changed. I’ve learned that being single can be a blessing because, in that time, I get to develop my passion and find my purpose. I have the freedom to do so many things, like practice more self-care, go on spontaneous trips, focus on my non-romantic relationships, and pursue other career opportunities.
In her TED Talk, Relationship Expert Hayley Quinn said: “When you stop waiting for your prince or your princess to come crashing through the door and save you and solve your life, you start living in the here and now more. And when you live in the here and now, you become more grounded, you become more confident; you become stronger. You also become more self-aware. And when you’re aware, you become more aware of the people around you.”
She makes a solid point. Experiencing life as a single person can be just as thrilling and exciting as any romance. And if you’re a single person who still wants to find that special someone, know that it’s not the end of the world, either. This is your opportunity to grow, explore, and enjoy your freedom while you still can. And I’d say that’s something worth embracing.