We live in a world that’s obsessed with coupling up – from matchmaking reality TV shows to dating apps on our phones. But is there actually anything wrong with being single? If you’re sick of the endless couples dinners and ‘are you seeing anyone?’ interrogations, here’s how to get through them.
While we’re assured that “times have changed” and we live in a modern world, the deeply embedded social expectation that we get married, start a family and all live happily ever after remains a tightly held belief for even the most socially liberal people.
But what if your life doesn’t fit this mould and – either intentionally or involuntarily – you remain single? Unfortunately, many single people find themselves on the end of pitying looks from family members or friends, and frustrating questions asking when they’ll finally settle down.
Being single can be especially difficult for women, with the clichés of the lonely woman with only cats for company, or the ‘bitter spinster’ who shakes her walking stick at children in the street clear markers on how our society views single women.
But, regardless of gender, there can be a stigma attached to being single that is difficult to shake.
Wedded bliss: Expectations vs reality
Marriages in Australia have declined slowly over recent decades, especially as de-facto relationships are seen to be a perfectly acceptable alternative – although marriage remains a common goal for both heterosexual and some same sex partners.
We are getting married later – 32.2 years for males and 30.6 years for females – and having children later. The percentage of women having their first child over the age of 30 has more than doubled from 23% in 1991 to 51% in 2019. One in three marriages still end in divorce, with the highest divorce rate for those aged 25-29 years.
This means that, inevitably, people are spending periods unpartnered while in search for, or in recovery from, a relationship. Single-person households are the fastest growing, now making up 25% of Australian homes. Despite these changes, it seems to be taking time for social expectations to catch up.
Is it harder to meet a partner nowadays?
Single people can feel like they have “no excuses” not to re-partner because of the advent of apps to assist, pressured to feel as though this is a fast track to romance, with endless options for potential partners.
While meeting someone online can be successful, anyone searching for a partner finds it takes time, and your morale, patience and trust can go up and down along the way. It’s common to feel burnout when trying to meet a partner, and to take time out to brace yourself before getting back into the fray.
Whether you find yourself single reluctantly or voluntarily, it can take some effort and confidence to stand up to the potential pressure of our couple-focused society.
We share 11 pieces of advice and wisdom for single people looking to survive – and thrive – amidst these social expectations.
1. You don’t have to be in a relationship
Take the pressure off and take time to meet a partner – if that’s what you want. You deserve happiness so always be honest with yourself and never settle for mediocrity. It’s better to be alone than to be in a bad relationship. If your parent longs to be a grandparent, don’t make that your problem. There’s nothing wrong with you if you decide not to have children and it’s becoming more common.
2. Ignore single shamers
Single shaming portrays being single as somehow ‘lesser’ to being in a relationship. Many people find life just as fulfilling without a partner. Being single is far from purgatory and can be full of opportunities and fun.
There is even evidence to suggest that the healthiest and happiest population subgroup are women who have never married or had children, suggesting that the markers we traditionally associate with success may not correlate with happiness.
3. Discover the value and opportunity of being alone
Many people relish the freedom of living alone and value it as an opportunity for personal growth. In fact, we may be more likely to meet someone when we have had time to become more comfortable with ourselves and not desperate to find love. Living alone can be lonely at times and takes astute management, but it’s worth remembering that many people who are in relationships feel lonely too.
4. Come to terms with uncertainty
Much as we would like to, we cannot force a relationship to happen, or know if it ever will happen. Uncertainty and a lack of control over the future can be hard to accept. This explains why astrological or tarot readings can provide comfort in the absence of any answers appearing in real life. All we can do is let life evolve in a natural way and live as fully as possible one day at a time.
5. Remember: everyone else isn’t necessarily happily partnered
If you make yourself sad by thinking everyone else is happily partnered, think again. It’s ironic that while many single people long to be partnered, many married people long to be free.
Many couples still stay together despite being desperately unhappy or challenged by any number of difficulties, and some are too scared to be alone or too comfortable to make a change.
6. Being single doesn’t mean being lonely
Find friends to share good times and interests with, and who care about you and like you for who you are. Give them the same in return. Keep putting yourself out there, be open to new experiences and try not to judge people too quickly. Just as friends cannot take the place of a life partner, a partner cannot replace the powerful and protective value of strong friendships.
7. Pre-empt unwanted questions
“When are you going to get a partner?” “Why aren’t you dating?” Try not to take these questions from well-meaning friends and relatives personally. Have some lines ready that assert your privacy and boundaries so you are not caught short. You might say “I haven’t met the right person yet” or “I’m really enjoying being single”.
8. Tap into any yearnings for intimacy
Don’t be hard on yourself if you yearn for intimacy – emotional and physical. But before you get involved with someone sexually, be sure you are in the right place to handle any outcome. Sex and emotions can become entwined and without awareness can lead us into painful places.
9. Address unfinished business
Do you have attitudes and behaviours that hold you back? Are you comfortable being yourself with others, or do you hide aspects of yourself because you want approval and fear rejection? Perhaps you carry hurt and anger from a previous relationship that might come across as defensive, bitter and cynical, or limit your options by looking for a certain type instead of a decent person.
Reflecting on some of your own self-limiting beliefs could help you to better understand – and take care of – yourself.
10. Avoid the self-loathing, self-pity trap
You don’t need to be thinner, more attractive or more successful to deserve a loving relationship.
You may long for a partner, but they need to be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Bring a full self and full life to the relationship – a partner can’t fill in the gaps.
11. Seek some extra support
If unfinished business or low self-esteem are holding you back, seeking some professional support and a fresh perspective can help, especially if most of your friends are partnered.