When Emma Watson talked to Vogue earlier this month about being contentedly ‘self-partnered’ at the age of 30, the critics were quick to jump in. From Piers Morgan telling her to admit she ‘just can’t get a bloke,’ to predictable masturbation jokes, the judgement that rained down showed how much society continues to misunderstand and even vilify people – and women in particular – who dare to admit to being happy without a romantic partner.
As someone whose road to contented singledom has been peppered with raised eyebrows, sympathetic pats on the arm, inappropriate comments about my love life, and my own questionable dating choices made in response to what I thought were other people’s expectations of me, I have a lot to say about this.
And I can see three main reasons why we really need to get over the idea that ending up ‘coupled up’ is the only way to finding happiness.
Society needs single people
The first reason, is that society literally needs single people to function. It turns out that – in cities at least – we spend more of our disposable cash than married people. We spend it on going out and socialising – in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, at the cinema and theatre, we also spend it on gym memberships, and on holidays – in other words, in propping up local economies. Imagine if we all suddenly coupled up, spending our weekends making homemade brunches and lazing under the duvet rather than bracing the cold and heading out in search of entertainment, adventure and exercise. Recession would clearly be imminent.
Research has also shown that single people are more sociable and better connected than married people (really!), more likely to volunteer, and we’re a vital part of the parental support network too. Jiggling little ones on our hips, watching back-to-back Peppa Pig episodes, singing the theme song from Frozen by heart, and having emotional meltdowns when our friends’ children hug us and tell us we’re their ‘best big friends’ (it was adorable) – with only ourselves to organise, there’s no doubt that, for those of us who want to play this kind of role, singledom makes it easier to bring our time and attention when a helping hand is needed.
Our mental health is being damaged
The second reason – and this is serious – is that unrealistic expectations and the pressure to find a partner are causing deep, lasting and unnecessary damage on people who don’t deserve it. It’s not okay that my beautiful, funny, articulate, wildly successful friend cries herself to sleep every night because she feels like she has failed as an adult for not being successfully coupled up in her 30s. It’s not okay that another friend feels suicidal and is in therapy for the same reason, or that another stays in a soulless, loveless, bordering-on-abusive relationship because he believes his life will be one of desperate loneliness and stigma if he leaves.
None of this is okay – and my friends’ experiences aren’t just coincidences. When we have public figures single-shaming beautiful, successful celebrities like Emma Watson; when we have companies like Revolut and Spotify doing the same through to all of us through targeted ad campaigns; or when the shows we grew up with which glamorised single life ended with all the main characters married or in relationships, there is no escaping the barrage of subliminal messaging which says that coupledom is something you must ultimately be aspiring to, and must be desolate without. My own experience is of only ever feeling able to live fully and authentically outside of relationships – yet it’s only very recently that I’ve felt able to admit that, or to talk about it.
We’ve moved on, but not far enough yet – and that’s a huge problem.
Being alone is actually good for you
The final reason is that more and more research is showing that being alone might actually be good for you. Counterintuitive, isn’t it?
Did you know that people who are single and have never married exercise more than any other group, and also have lower BMIs than those who are married? Or that people who are single are also more likely to experience personal growth? Several studies have also linked solitude to benefits such as an increased sense of freedom and higher levels of creativity – probably because as a single, you can invest your time exactly as you want to, in the things which make you feel most fulfilled.
So it’s clear that being single might actually have some positive benefits, as well as leading to a healthier and more self-aware population – and who doesn’t want that?
Singledom is a global phenomenon that’s already here, and is only going to grow. People who pass judgement on those who admit to being happily single are missing the point – the research suggests that as more people than ever before spend more of their lives uncoupled, the people who experience it may benefit, and so should society. The sooner we can accept what’s already in front of us and stop the name calling, the sooner we can move on to talking about issues (global politics! Climate change! Poverty!) which are – frankly – far more important than whether or not someone is in a relationship.