Party Of One: “I Have A Life Full To The Brim With Love – Just Not The Romantic Kind”
As gaslighting insults go, a few years ago I found myself on the receiving end of a blinder. An editor at the magazine I was writing for told me that as I wasn’t married and had no children, nothing in my life mattered. Nothing, except for my job. The editor, by the way, was a fellow woman.
She was belittling. She was prejudiced. And she was wrong. But why are people (often the ‘smug marrieds’, as ultimate single gal Bridget Jones called them) so quick to dismiss the lone rangers? Especially when a look at the stats shows what appears to be an undeniable truth: the single population globally is growing, and it’s a force to be reckoned with.
In Japan, for instance, half of the adult population is single, and it’s predicted that 25% will remain so long-term. In South Korea, it’s expected that singles will make up 40% of society by 2050 – a trend that’s fuelling the rise of sologamy weddings, where singles marry and commit to themselves. The number of single adult households in Europe rose by 30.7% to 71.9m between 2009-2022. Meanwhile, the UK’s 2021 census revealed that 37.9% of the population is single (compared to 26.3% in 1991). They aren’t all just unlucky-in-love, non-procreating losers, but rather a significant portion of the population.
Unsurprisingly, many are pushing to challenge preconceptions around singledom.
Author and academic Daniel Schreiber was inspired to write his bestselling book Alone, a reflection on solitary living, when he found himself single and “realised this might not change for the foreseeable future”. He believes it’s time to have a proper discourse about singlehood. “Culturally, we are experiencing a long overdue redefinition of romantic love, family and singleness. The life choices of many of us reflect that. But our narrative capabilities of this redefinition are lagging behind.”
Things are changing, though, with singles being better catered to in all kinds of ways. There’s been a rise of apps designed to meet friends, rather than romantic dates, such as Bumble BFF, LMK and Wink. Simon Lynch from luxury travel operator Scott Dunn reports a “30% increase in solo bookings in 2023 compared with 2022. These guests were heading on soul-searching journeys to far-flung destinations, with 60% of inquiries comprising female travellers.” To aid them there’s also Hannah Ireland’s book, How to Holiday Alone Like a Boss.
London’s ES Magazine features a regular ‘Table For One’ restaurant review. “It came about because I found myself having mixed experiences dining out alone and thought it would be a good opportunity to explore what makes for a great solo dining experience,” explains food critic Joanna Taylor, who wants to “empower other women” to go out to eat by themselves. “In a world built around couples, it can be difficult to find the courage to do something alone that is so heavily romanticised.”
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Of course, thanks to the patriarchy, inequalities and judgement around single life still exist. “This judgment is deeply woven into our culture and has informed how we speak about our life choices (the contrast between the connotations of ‘bachelor’ and ‘spinster’, for instance, is very telling),” says Schreiber.
These inequalities inspired Lucy Meggeson’s podcast Spinsterhood Reimagined, which has listeners in 124 countries and features one-to-one conversations around the solo experience as well as advice and insights about the power of one. She also offers coaching to singles to help them to reframe their experience. “I started it because it felt weird to me that the world saw my situation in life as ‘less than’ – lonely and sad – when I felt none of those things,” she explains. “In my experience of talking to and hearing from single women, one of the biggest challenges we face is being made to feel ashamed about being single – as if there’s something wrong with us.”
But, she says, there’s plenty to be happy about – and she has the proof: “The main thing I’ve learned in research is that unmarried and childless women are the happiest population subgroup,” she declares, adding that unmarried women are likely happier than their married counterparts, and not having children appears to have a positive impact on women’s wellbeing. “Another study of 10,000 women in their seventies showed those who were single and never married were the healthiest, the least stressed, and the most optimistic.”
The truth, of course, is that as with any life status, there are ups and downs. Yes, I shoulder all of life’s responsibilities by myself – which some days can feel like a lot. But I also have a lot more freedom than most coupled-up people I know. I also have a life full to the brim with love of all varieties – just not the romantic kind. And what has or hasn’t happened in my womb is frankly nobody else’s business.
I don’t advocate for singledom as a superior choice, but I do advocate for it to be an equal choice, one that is treated fairly, taken into proper consideration and not up for derision or discrimination. I also don’t discount the possibility (however unlikely) that I may one day couple up, but that notion doesn’t direct my life choices. I am a proud singleton. I live a very lovely, very singular – but not remotely lonely – life, by myself, alone.
Edwina Ings-Chambers is a London-based lifestyle journalist and editor