How being single by choice may be the key to loving yourself in the world of modern dating
What it’s like navigating the world of love and lust, without the pressures of finding a long term partner
Between sobbing on her couch and blasting out Céline Dion’s All by Myselfin an iconic moment of despair, Bridget Jones made one thing clear: being single past a certain age is bad.
In 1996, when the book was published, women in the UK were getting married at an average of 24 years old while for men it was around 27. It’s easy to see why generations before us felt the pressures of coupling off early. These numbers have now evolved to 31.5 for women and 33.4 for men, showing the single lifestyle is more commonly accepted until a later age.
Gen Z is still a few years away from the average age of marriage. They can still shrug their shoulders at the odd couple among their friends getting married early. However, many millennials, between the age of 25 and 35, are already facing the pressure to settle down. Whether it’s because of picture-perfect social media posts with the caption “#couplegoals” or because they’re seeing all of their friends getting married and having kids (ew). Many have reached the age their parents were when they got married, and realise they are nowhere near ready to do the same.
Does it mean they are unhappy? Not necessarily. Contrary to what Bridget Jones thought, being single doesn’t necessarily amount to accepting a permanent state of spinsterhood. More and more people are actively choosing to be single, and thrive with their decision.
To better understand those who choose the single version of happy ever after, we interviewed Matt, Elly, and Steph on the different reasons that push them to be single.
Elly is full to the brim with platonic love
“When boys come up to me in a bar, I find it weird!” says Elly Savva, a 23-year-old student from Bradford on Avon. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy dating; it’s just she finds she is fulfilled enough in her platonic friendships and doesn’t need a man to feel valid.
If she’s lonely, she has different friends she can call on for a sleepover or a cinema trip (in normal times, obviously). Elly feels lucky enough to have people in her life who support her without the need for a relationship.
She states, “I don’t want to settle down until I’m at least 30, so it’s not something I feel I need.”
Elly’s mindset stems from having happily single parents, who split when she was young. When her mum got married, it was because she thought she had to, but she wasn’t happy. They see being single as a form of liberation. Having such major figures in her life, who are single by choice, has changed her priorities. It was drilled into Elly’s mind from a young age not to settle down unless it felt right. It made her realise there are many other goals in life, other than being in a relationship, that would fulfill her more on her journey to happiness. (Avoiding men in bars is one of them.) Elly isn’t looking to get married until she is at least 30.
I want all kinds of experiences with all kinds of people
In terms of children, she isn’t sure she wants any. “I’m really terrified of being pregnant and the physical effect on my body,” Elly confessed. “I want children to have some part in my life, but I’m not necessarily convinced I’d want to have biological children.” She jokes about getting a house with a friend in the future and platonically raising their non-biological kids together. Her hesitancy about wanting biological children is a definite factor in not looking for a partner any time soon.
Dating isn’t off the cards, however. “I want all kinds of experiences with all kinds of people. That’s more of a goal than finding one person.” Having a high body count isn’t an issue to Elly like it is to others. Her friends actively encourage her to stay single and explore her options, although she does note that if her friends began settling down, she might start losing that platonic fulfilment. At that point, she may start to feel more pressure to find someone, although she hopes she’ll keep her mum’s advice in mind.
However, for now, Elly says, “I genuinely feel like I’d be happy being single forever.”
Steph is asexual and doesn’t picture growing old next to anyone else
“When I picture myself older, I don’t picture anyone beside me,” Steph explains.
Steph is a 21-year-old student from Harpenden who identifies as asexual and aromantic. Asexuality is when someone has little to no sexual attraction to other humans, and someone who is aromantic also has no desire for a romantic relationship. These are umbrella terms that differ for individuals, and for Steph, it simply comes in the form of lack of interest.
People identifying as asexual make up around one percent of the world’s population, according to The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Due to the lack of information available about asexuality, self-discovery can often come later on in life.
For Steph, it wasn’t until the end of her first year at Cardiff University when she realised she was asexual.
“I didn’t get why people wanted to be in relationships or why people wanted lots of sex. I came to uni and thought, I don’t really get this,” she says. It was a gradual thing which unfurled from a realisation that her needs were not the same as many of her friends.
Steph explained that for a long time, the only alternative sexuality that she was aware of was identifying as gay. However, because she wasn’t attracted to girls, it didn’t cross her mind that she might not be straight.
She says: “If there was more awareness and acknowledgement of asexuality, then I might have realised earlier.” As it stands there is little representation of asexuality in today’s culture and the fact it took Steph so long to learn about her identity is proof of that. Now, there is more representation on social media which is contributing to the growing conversation around alternative sexual identities, but work still needs to be done.
If there was more awareness and acknowledgement of asexuality, then I might have realised earlier
Her mum’s ideas about the pinnacle of life stray far from Steph’s. Her mum thinks marrying and having kids is the goal for a woman, whereas Steph wants the complete opposite. Her parents met at university so there is that added pressure to follow in their footsteps. It’s not that her mum doesn’t have her best interests at heart, she just thinks it would play a major part in her happiness, like it did for her.
As for Steph, what would bring her happiness? Growing old in a house with her cats. “I am the stereotype,” she jokes.
Note there are no children in that picture. Steph has had jobs where she’s worked with them in that past, and she can just about cope with it when she’s being paid. She says, “I’ve got nothing against kids but I don’t want any and I don’t want to give birth. It sounds painful!”
Many of Steph’s close family members who are around the same age, like her brother and cousins, are still single which plays a part in the lack of pressure she feels. Her only cousin in a long term relationship is actually married. She says, “That marriage will keep Granny happy for a few years!”
Matt is taking time to recover from abuse in previous relationships
Establishing himself straightaway as a f*cking hopeless romantic, Matt now chooses to remain single after a few years of jumping from relationship to relationship since being 16. Matt is a 22-year-old magazine journalism Master’s student at Cardiff University.
His last relationship ended badly: after months of being gaslighted by his ex-partner, he finally broke free and decided it was time to take a break from the dating scene. Despite not realising immediately that he had suffered from abuse, he knew he needed time to heal and figure himself out.
I apparently choose to date women who don’t treat me right
“I know it sounds pretentious like ‘Oh I need time to figure myself out’”, he jokes when asked if he has any goals while staying single. But he also knows that it’s a necessary recovery phase for him. So far, he has been single for a year and a half, which is the longest time he’s been out of a relationship since he was 16. “I never really took a break, which ended up kinda biting me in the a**” he confesses.
Just like our other interviewees, Matt took the time to seriously reconsider his previous dating experiences, even identifying common traits between them. “My pattern is that I apparently choose to date women who don’t treat me right”, he says, laughing wryly.
Choosing to be single, in his case, was an act of self-care.
However, he sees it as more a temporary step towards hopefully more fulfilling relationships, rather than a lifelong choice. Eventually, Matt does see himself settling down, having a family, “a house, and a dog, and all that stuff”, but he doesn’t want to force it, nor knows when it’ll happen. He knows it’s not an exact process: “It’s not like: right. Now I fixed myself. I can go get a girlfriend! That’s not how it happens!” He’s also aware that sometimes, he thinks he is ready to date again, and something happens that makes him realise he’s not.
All he really knows so far is that choosing singleness for a while helped him understand more about his previous relationships and identify red flags better, so he’ll know to avoid them. “If I see the signs again, I’m out!” he says with force.
Overall, Matt has never felt pressured by his peers to be in a relationship, outside of the occasional longing when he sees his friends being in a happy couple. He’s conscious that society has evolved a lot regarding these matters, and things are different from the time people used to meet their spouse in their mid-twenties, so he feels no rush.
There’s this ridiculous idea that men can’t be abused, because you know, we’re men
In the meantime, he is enjoying his freedom as a single man by doing things he wasn’t allowed to do in his previous relationship. Simple things like spending time with his friends (when covid-19 measures allow it) and connecting with his support network which his ex-partner isolated him from. He does what he wants, whenever he wants. These seemingly innocent acts that he once was blamed for also helped him come to terms with the fact he was abused.
“There’s this ridiculous idea that men can’t be abused, because you know, we’re men, we’re supposed to be strong and, like, bring home the money and the food and all this bullsh*t.” Indeed there’s a huge stigma around men and abuse. Matt notes he is lucky in that everyone he confided in about his experience validated and believed it.
Nowadays, he finds a lot of fulfilment through his friendships and doesn’t particularly miss being in a relationship. He says, “The relationships I enjoy most are purely platonic ones. I love my closest friends, I absolutely adore them, but that’s completely aromantic and that’s okay.”