“I just want you to be happy.”
That’s the line I keep hearing, with increasing frequency as I—and my ovaries—age. And it’s one that directly follows questions about my relationship status, or rather, lack thereof.
I am single and I have been for a long time. Predictably, this has become a great source of concern from aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, frenemies, acquaintances and occasionally, Uber drivers. After someone asks me how I’m doing and how work is going, the third question inevitably is about whether or not I’ve kicked my single status. It doesn’t matter that I really love my new apartment and cannot believe how lucky I am to get paid to watch Netflix and rant about The Bachelor; the third answer—which is always some variation of “No, I’m not seeing anyone right now”—often elicits sympathy, regardless of how I phrase it.
My years of on-and-off dating and stretches of singledom have taught me this: people equate being single with being sad. But to me, that just doesn’t add up.
“Sometimes [responses like that] come from a place where they don’t think you’re happy, but often, it will come before they even know whether you’re happy,” says Toronto-based life coach Caird Urquhart. According to Urquhart and Carrie Jenkins, a philosophy professor at University of British Columbia, part of the reason people think of the single life with sympathy is because it goes against society’s expectations of progression.
“There is a deeply ingrained cultural idea in North America that a romantic relationship is the ideal situation for everyone,” says Jenkins, author of What Love Is And What It Could Be. “Assumptions about what it takes to have a ‘good’ life have been closely tied to the idea of a ‘happy ever after,’ which—in everything from fairy tales to great literature to the latest romcom—is constantly being represented as a matter of finding and settling down with ‘the one.’ It’s very hard to shift this kind of cultural baseline. It’s become like societal wallpaper: so omnipresent that most people never see it.”
Despite the fact that nearly as many Canadians identify as single (14.3 million) as those that are married (14 million), when I tell people that I’m not currently dating anyone I get furrowed brows and tilted heads that say, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone!” Cool, wasn’t worried, but thanks. We seem to look at landing a dude like it’s the same as landing that dream job or buying an apartment—something we’ve got to achieve or else we aren’t #winning at life.
This all-or-nothing way of thinking also contributes to a sort of romantic ideology, says Jenkins. “Having a ‘normal’ romantic relationship has become one of the standards against which, intentionally or otherwise, people measure the value and success of other people’s lives (and, of course, their own).”
“Married with me”
Supermodel Adriana Lima recently flipped the conventional script, embracing her single lady status by “marrying” herself. “I am committed to myself and my own happiness, ” Lima wrote on IG. “I am married with me.”
Lima isn’t the only one taking a close look at what she truly prioritizes versus what society wants to prioritize for her. In a recent episode of Chelsea, comedian Chelsea Handler recalled the time a friend told her she was being too picky after she rejected a prospective date because she didn’t like the man’s nose. Handler’s response? “Yeah, because I’m perfectly happy doing my own thing, I can be picky.”
Handler’s motto is one Urquhart wishes we’d adopt more. She says being single is about actively picking and choosing how to fill your life, and what is important to you. “Being single doesn’t make you a victim,” she says. “It’s a choice—and it’s not a second choice.”
That choice, however, is not always easy for the world at large to swallow. In 2016, Toronto’s Lilly Singh—better known as YouTube sensation Superwoman—outlined all the reasons she’s not in a relationship, and why she’s happy about it, in a video. The vid, which received more than three million views, was not nearly as popular as her others and prompted a slew sexist comments, including questions about her sexual identity.
“Why #GirlLove is so important: I make a video about boyfriends, crushes and flirting and it’s a hit,” she wrote. “A single brown-skinned 27-year-old female makes a video stating why she, personally, does not want a relationship and people get bent.”
While attitudes around the single life are changing in some circles, Jenkins says things aren’t changing enough—or quickly enough. She notes that books like Live Alone and Like It, which was first written and published by Vogue editor
I’m not speaking for all single women
Before you @ me to inform me how off-base my outlook is, let me be clear. This is my personal opinion and I am by no means trying to speak for all single women. Here at FLARE, we’ve talked about how being single can definitely suck, particularly as it translates to serious loneliness. And in another piece, we detailed an emerging stay-at-home club mentality because f-ckboys are the worst. Don’t get me wrong, being single can be tough, but so can some relationships.
I’m not saying that people in relationships are not happy, nor am I saying that all single women are content being single. There have definitely been times where being solo has stung a bit—whether it’s after yet another disappointing online dating experience or just everyday stuff, like when I want someone who will listen to me debrief about work and then help me make dinner. I’m also not so adamantly single to the point that I would turn down a relationship if it felt right.
That said, people are quick to assume that I’m unhappy as a single woman, and reticent to accept the opposite. Right now, I am truly enjoying my life, and I wish I could tell people that in a way that doesn’t elicit pity or skeptical looks. Instead, like Singh, I find myself often giving reasons for why I’m not in a relationship rather than, as Urquhart suggests, just stating it as a choice that I’ve made. In fact, the only time I think I’m missing something is when other people make me feel that way.
“In many ways, we still find ourselves trying to understand singleness as anything other than second-rate, or a failure condition,” says Jenkins. “That assumption is not just wrong in the sense of being inaccurate, it’s also morally wrong: for example, it can easily pressure people into starting, or not leaving unhealthy relationships. And of course it shames people who deserve no such treatment.”
Urquhart, who says she was single for most of her adult life, echoes this sentiment. “It’s about getting rid of this idea that being single makes you less than—100 percent it doesn’t, because when you’re single, the opportunities are anywhere you want them to be.”
So—radical idea here—maybe if you truly want single ladies to be happy, just let them be.