Until a few years ago, I thought I wanted a boyfriend. I’d never been in a relationship, so the idea was an abstract fantasy. If I had a boyfriend, I’d always have someone to take to weddings or brunch. If I had a boyfriend, my rent and grocery bills would be cut in half. Mostly, I figured, if I had a boyfriend, I could tell people I had a boyfriend. Rather than a flesh-and-bone human being, I envisioned a sparkly status symbol: proof to the world—and to myself—that I was desirable and valuable.
Now that I’m a wise and wizened 28, I’ve realized that while the hazy promise of a permanent brunch date is still a tantalizing prospect, a boyfriend is the last thing I want. I’m a full-time magazine editor and a freelance writer, which means I work 70-hour weeks. With my little spare time, I see friends for drinks and dinner. Add to that a gruelling TV schedule, and I honestly don’t know when I’d entertain a boyfriend.
Nor do I have the constitution for coupledom. Most people crave, and even need, sexual intimacy, but I rarely have that itch. I don’t want kids, so there’s no biological incentive. And as for comfort and companionship, I get plenty from my friends and family. I’m also an introvert. A perfect weekend for me is spent screening my calls and listening to podcasts. A boyfriend would be a constant presence, crowding my personal space, disrupting my schedule, buzzing around me like a gnat. In exchange for the perks of a relationship—intimacy, romance, bragging rights—I’d have to compromise a lifestyle that’s already rich and rewarding.
Women have been conditioned to see coupledom as a universal goal. I got the message when I was a toddler, watching Disney movies (though the latest princess, Frozen’s Elsa, is delightfully single). I knew at age 10 that a woman’s biological clock starts ticking at 36, as decreed by Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally …. Later, I watched Ally McBeal—a lawyer, for god’s sake—turn to goo over her smarmy ex. Even now, feminist teen characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen are swept up in angsty romances. In pop culture, singlehood is a transitory state, a pre-marriage purgatory that everyone is trying to escape. When I tell people I’m not interested in dating, the reactions range from disbelief to condescension. “Oh, you just haven’t met the right person yet,” they coo knowingly. We’re still stoking Bridget Jones’s old anxieties: I know women not yet 30 who are afraid their child-bearing days are over, that all the men are taken, that they’ll end up in cat-lady territory.
In 2014, that fear of loneliness drives everything we do. We tweet every thought and emotion, gush over every Facebook post, clutch our phones tightly like security blankets. The entire Internet is fuelled by that desire for connection. I’m not exempt from loneliness. I feel flutters of gloom. I crave attention. But that’s not a single thing—it’s a human thing. A deeper fear is that I’ll be left behind, that as my friends continue to pair off, I’ll be the only single one left, like a lone sock in the dryer.
Yet in Canada, there’s a movement afoot. The most recent census revealed that, for the first time, unmarried people in Canada outnumber couples with children. And for women, singlehood is easier to pull off—on average, we’re earning 20 percent more than we were 35 years ago, and women make up more than half the workforce. We can afford to live on our own: in the Greater Toronto Area, single women make up the largest-growing real estate demographic, accounting for a third of condo buyers.
The question that looms on magazine covers and feminist websites is whether women can have it all. What they never ask is whether we want it all. I certainly don’t. Instead, I want the travel, the social life, the naps, the books, the career opportunities, the freedom—and I want it on my own. Sometimes I hear couples bickering about their in-laws, herding their kids, coordinating their schedules, and I secretly feel a jolt of smug superiority. They don’t know what they’re missing.