Wellness

Single and owning it

Say goodbye to the stigma of being sans partner – these three empowered single women show us how. Prepare to broaden your ideas about what ‘happily every after’ means…
Photography: Victoria Adamson. Hair and make-up: Lindsey Pool and Caroline Piasecki

Once upon a time, if you pictured a single woman of a certain age, she’d be sitting alone, surrounded by cats. Pretty outdated, right? Especially as over half of the UK’s 25-34-year-olds are single, while globally one in five will never marry. Yet, there’s a lingering attitude that if you don’t have a partner, you’ve failed.

Marriage and children are not bad things, of course, but why are we clinging to the idea that it’s the only way to live ‘happily ever after’? Promisingly, there’s been a raft of empowering books recently, including The Unexpected Joy Of Being Single (Aster) by Catherine Gray; How To Be Alone (Atria Books) by Lane Moore; and What A Time To Be Alone (Quadrille), by 24-year-old women’s rights activist Chidera Eggerue. In a Ted Talk, Chidera advises: ‘Time spent with yourself is never time wasted.’ A good lesson, whether single or not. Leading expert Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School Of Economics, cites research in his book (Happy Ever After: Escaping The Myths Of A Perfect Life, Penguin Random House) that unmarried women are happier and healthier than those who are married. (Though, of course, there are plenty of happily married couples, too.) So maybe it’s time to reclaim the word spinsterhood and celebrate the perks of spinstergood. Here’s how our three readers embrace it…

NAME: JOYCE | AGE: 55

YEARS SINGLE: 10

Make-up artist Joyce Connor has been single for nearly a decade, and it has enabled her to see the world – and live on her own terms.

‘I’ve been to Istanbul, Greece and New York, and I’ve booked an amazing two-week tour of Japan. Being single has allowed me to travel the world without having to think about anyone else’s interests. It doesn’t mean you have to spend your time away alone, though. I always make friends. People are very welcoming of solo female travellers, and you don’t stick out like a sore thumb as you would have years ago.

I love being able to do what I want, when I want. My last relationship was from 2008 to 2010. When it ended, it was hard at first, and it took about a year to stop getting in touch with him. But now I’m happy being on my own.

Freedom to travel isn’t the only plus – I feel happier with my own body, too. When I was in a relationship, I’d think to myself, “Don’t eat that, you might put on weight.” And I always felt as though I had to make an effort for my partner – now, if I dress up, I do it for me. I feel more empowered, too. I’ve built furniture and plumbed-in my washing machine – all those things you’re told you need a man to help with. I’ve even laid laminate flooring in my flat, and there’s nothing to say that a man would have done it better!

I’ve tried dating apps, but  I think when you get older, men are just looking for someone to take care of them. I’m not against relationships but, personally, I don’t think they’re necessary. If you’re happy in your own skin, you don’t need anyone else.’

NAME: AMY | AGE: 29

YEARS SINGLE: 1

Amy Nickell has a four-year-old son, Freddie, and is author of Confessions Of A Single Mum (Headline).

‘As a culture, we put a lot of emphasis on romantic attachments when, actually, there are so many other types of relationship that can be just as fulfilling.

I never gave myself a chance to discover that before. The first few years after I had Freddie, I was dating lots of people, because I felt humiliated by his dad not being around, and I wanted to prove I was still desirable. I felt as though I’d failed by not having a boyfriend.

But I’ve worked really hard to get over that feeling, because, in the year I’ve been single, I’ve realised that what’s important to me are my friendships and my son, rather than endless dates. Freddie is only going to be little for a short much time nurturing him and being the best mum I can. I’m also putting a lot more energy into my friendships and showing people I care. Instead of going on dates, I now prioritise spending time with my friends – I can’t do both, because of the issue of finding and paying for childcare.

I also make more time to be thoughtful. For example, when a good mate got a new job recently, I sent her a card and flowers. Or, if I’ve been to a party, I’ll take the time to post a personal thank-you note after. When I was in a relationship I was the type to always think, “Oh, they don’t matter as much, because I’ve got him now.”

People still judge me, or try to “fix” me. Not long ago, a guy at work found out I wasn’t dating anyone and tried to set me up with his mate. I’m not against relationships, but being single is a choice I’ve made for myself right now and it’s improved my confidence hugely.’

NAME: MADDY | AGE: 31

YEARS SINGLE: 1.5

Comedian @maddy_anholt was a serial ‘relationshipper’, until one too many bad dates made her realise it was time to focus on herself.

‘This is the longest period of time I’ve been single. In my late teens and twenties, I had only 10 days when I was on my own between relationships. But then, just two months before my 30th birthday, my partner broke up with me and I was terrified.

But after eight months of trying to find the next long-term relationship – cue around 20 bad dates – I realised I needed time to learn to love myself. Before, in a relationship, I’d put a partner’s happiness above mine, often without thinking. Then I’d feel walked all over, even though I’d shaped the relationship to be like that in the first place! Being single has taught me that while I like to look after people in shouldn’t mean putting my needs behind theirs. There should be a balance.

At first, I found time on my own hard, but then a friend suggested taking myself on a “date”. So I booked a lovely restaurant, and went solo shopping, too. Another time I went to Columbia Road Flower Market, in London, and let myself get lost. It was so freeing! I’m planning my first holiday alone soon, too.

Plus, now I have the time to focus on my career. In previous relationships, I nurtured someone else’s aspirations and not mine. At the moment, I’m working on two TV scripts, I’ve just finished a BBC sitcom and I’m getting back into live comedy. One of my goals is to have a series commissioned for TV.

I’m more positive than I’ve been in a long time. I’m not ruling relationships out, but if nobody comes along that adds value to my life, I now know I’ll be happy on my own. And that has taken away a lot of fear.’