Last year I tapped my network to ask about the modern state of being single, and what I learned is that it’s both less and more complicated than stereotypes might dictate. Whether you’re single yourself, don’t care to be defined by your relationship status, or are curious about the many forms (in)dependency can take in the current era, the story below, republished from January 2018, might give you something to chew on. -Haley
When I tapped my Instagram network to explore how people feel about being single in 2018, I used what I later learned was somewhat of a blunt instrument: “Do you hate being single, love being single? Neither? Both? Tell me about that,” I proposed.
As I read through the hundreds of responses, I realized how much I’d oversimplified and underestimated the depth of the topic. This was no multiple-choice question, this was a goddamn town hall meeting, and I was just grateful to be there.
“At the moment I love being single,” former MR intern Emma Hager wrote me in response. “This does not, however, mean that I feel ‘empowered’ by being single; I think administering/categorizing singledom as either empowering or disenfranchising in a feminist sense is not only lazy but also wildly old-fashioned, as discourse surrounding coupling and romantic interaction have obviously changed!”
She’s absolutely right. Every wave of feminism has fought hard for women to no longer be emotionally, practically and financially defined by men and the pursuit of marriage, so then why ask them to ruminate on their relationship status? Why the focus? Through this lens, my original phrasing takes on a regressive air, like that of a relative who only asks about your love life, and never your internal, professional or creative one.
Still, love is part of the human experience, mating is a biological imperative, and we’re still a largely monogamy-based society. In that vein, the responses weren’t few, they weren’t simple. No doubt because our modern age has ushered in some complications of its own: online dating, for an obvious one, and an individualistic society that places undue pressure on relationships instead of communities, for a bigger one.
All these little threads tie into the complex topic of what it feels like to be a single woman in 2018, whatever such a designation means to her. It’s something I want to keep exploring on Man Repeller in all its varying shades. Below, to get us started, are 14 responses that I felt best illustrated the emotions I saw over and over while reading through the bevy of answers. (In fact, that’s why I didn’t include age: each quote summed up the voice of at least 10 women who said something similar.)
They run a gamut of perspectives and I present them here without judgment or, frankly, narrative. And I do so with the hope that they spark more discussions about romantic love with the view that it’s one component of modern life, rather than some grand inevitability, prerequisite or endpoint.
“Being single is incredibly practical for me. I’m young, I’m eyeballs-deep in the monomania of academia and, for now, I like it that way. I like being able to pour over books and my academic essays until the wee hours; being with someone in a committed way would complicate this. There would be the constant pressure to have to accommodate them or be mindful. And that is not bad! I think the willful compromise that comes about from relationships is tender and necessary. I just don’t feel the need to engage with that now.”
“I’ve been single for seven years and I hate it. Being single is okay/fun for a while, but eventually (especially once all your friends are paired up) it’s just very lonely. There’s a lot of things you can do on your own but you can’t cuddle or hug yourself; the lack of intimate (not sexual) touch is really hard. Nobody really talks about that. Also, dating takes up a lot of time/money/energy I’d rather spend on my career.”
“I have been single my whole life. Oftentimes I felt like my comfort with being single was ‘to my own detriment,’ as other people put it, because I was so comfortable being alone that it meant I didn’t have someone/wouldn’t find someone because I was too independent. But I think that notion comes from antiquated ideas of gender norms based on the idea that women need men for economic, emotional, and physical support. My greatest discomfort with being single has definitely stemmed from outside pressures that stipulate what it means to be ‘normal’… It took me a while to eschew these ideologies and realize that not having a significant other at any point didn’t make me weird, and that there really can’t be a standard of ‘normal’ that you compare yourself to when it comes to relationships.”
“Being single is enjoyable for the typical reasons, like freedom and independence, but I find it’s kind of… relieving? I get more time and space to be with my unadulterated self without feeling like I have to ‘show up’ for another person (even with authentic connections — I’m inherently introverted, so I feel a difference). It sounds selfish, but I feel like I have a tendency to bear that responsibility of another person’s feelings quite heavily, which just makes me end up feeling exhausted.”
“My feelings on being single vacillate wildly — it’s like a secondary mood. I’ll be totally obsessed with being single. I’ll feel empowered and secure in my independence and then in a second can feel incredibly vulnerable and unhappy about it. Usually, this happens when I begin to think about the future and the questions start to take over my brain — Will I get married? Will I have kids? Is this just it!!?? Some days those questions just don’t weigh on me and some days they’re all I think about.”
“I used to be someone who hated being single. I had a pattern of staying too long in relationships that weren’t right for fear of being alone. My most recent breakup has absolutely changed that. After I ended my last relationship, my friends and family said I had a ‘post-breakup glow’ and I could absolutely feel it. Newly single, my life is once again full of experiences and people that feed the glow. It took ending my unhealthy romantic relationship for me to realize how much I’m loved and how much I have to offer. Single feels bright, joyful and full right now.”
“I love [being single] because of the freedom and personal growth it offers. With men, I tend to always try to make things work, even if that means sacrificing what I want more than he ends up sacrificing. I also can be completely me all the time. I hate it because I get lonely and miss having a companion. One to share activities I love with and laugh and cry with. And of course, human contact. Just being touched can have such a positive impact on mood.”
“Most recently, I’ve recognized that I like being single and will be until someone can complement my speed. I got tired of telling men what they needed to be and trying to be the right woman for the wrong man. Ultimately, you don’t want those conversations to be the bread of your relationship.”
“While I continually would like to meet someone, being single is one of the greatest things that I’ve done. It makes me more driven at work and happier with my own agency. I have the ability to do whatever I want — and that is beautiful. I set my own routines, eat really well, do a ton of yoga, and have built a sweet Saturday morning routine independent of anyone else. It is freedom to the utmost extent.”
“I once loved it (and maybe pretend I still do) but I’m starting to feel I am permanently alone whilst people move in and out of relationships constantly. It makes me feel hideously abnormal and that something must be gravely wrong. In the words of Morrissey, ‘because tonight is just like any other night, that’s why you’re on your own tonight.’ I feel that.”
“For most of my twenties, I really hated [being single], and around age 25, when all the weddings were happening, I felt behind… Like all my friends were moving into different chapters and I was still in the same one, alone. I felt I would never find it, and I needed to just accept it. Currently, I’m at a different point. I’m so happy I’ve had these years alone to learn about myself and what I like and who the fuck I am. I would have been a monster if I was in a relationship at 25. I also feel grateful, as of late, for my freedom and independence. Some days of course I want a boyfriend, but most days I’m so happy I get to do whatever I want. I still think I’m learning and I still think, for me, it’s best to focus on myself and my own insecurities before burdening someone else.”
“I just don’t want to be pressured! I don’t like people nagging about how you can only be truly happy when you have a partner. And I think I hate the opposite even more — those super happy women shouting how happy they are being single and constantly repeating it… Right. How I really feel? Sometimes I’m feeling very fulfilled and okay with it, sometimes I’m very lonely and sad and that’s also okay. I definitely don’t want to beat myself up for anything.”
“I go along with the ‘single person who loves it’ category I think, but also it’s more along the lines of I don’t really revel in it — I just don’t think or care about relationships. For example, my friends are in relationships and that’s all fun and I like to meet their significant others, but when they ask me if I’ve found someone, my brain thinks, ‘What? Oh right. I’m single and people think I shouldn’t be.’ I’m not sure if that makes much sense. To add to that, I would say I have been in relationships, but the longer they go on the more I resent the person I’m dating. And when we finally break up, all I feel is relieved.”
“‘Being single’ is terminology that feels isolating. I’m not an Other when I am not in a romantic relationship; I do not change when I am in one. I am connected to hearts around me, weaved in a world of love. When I find someone with which to share my most intimate parts, these things won’t change. Being single forces me into intentionality in my friendships, and I like that. My loneliness is also a place of great depth and inspiration. I embrace it knowing that it is part of me, just as love is. I think we would all feel more fulfilled and whole if we embraced the loneliness that comes when we’re single; when we accept that no one could ever truly give us everything we need; that sadness and misunderstanding and disappointment are vessels that take us to lands of strength. I think it’s a process of discovering that is necessary, a process I enjoy.”
Feature collage by Madeline Montoya; Painting from Fine Art Photographic via Getty Images.