If you’ve ever spent any time during adulthood as a single woman, you will be familiar with this scenario: you bump into a married friend you haven’t seen for a while and she asks you whether ‘you’re seeing anyone yet’.
You bite back a facetious remark along the lines of “I’m seeing people all the time, I’m not a hermit”.
But you know what she is really asking. “Do you have a boyfriend? A man, a spouse, an other half, a better half, a fiancé, a partner, you know – ‘the one’?”
You reply that no, you’re single, somehow feeling obliged to add “and happily so”. She makes that face. You know the one. The little pout, a moue that indicates ‘aw, you poor thing’. You will go on to discuss other things; whether you’re signed up for online dating, her husband, perhaps, or her children or a mutual friend who has recently got married or started dating (probably via the Internet) after being single for ages.
You will part company wondering how, as a fully functioning, well adjusted, successful, happy and usually confident women, you were, well, somehow pitied in that exchange.
Searching for ‘The One’
Why do single women still feel the need to apologise or justify their status? Why is ‘single’ seen as something temporary, something to be survived until ‘The One’ comes along? Why is it that if you swear black and blue that you really aren’t looking for someone to complete you, that you feel quite complete within yourself, people assume you are actually bitter, defensive, in avoidance or just plain lying – to yourself and everyone else.
Similarly, if you do have a man, or men, in your life, that somehow you have to label them, put them in a box, define them as a boyfriend (oh, please, I’m 47, I stopped having boyfriends at about 19!) or your partner or something. What about a case for “we’re people who thoroughly love each other’s company, sometimes we make love, sometimes we sleep over, sometimes we choose to socialise together. We talk, we laugh, we cry, we eat food and drink wine, we share some interests”? What, even more shockingly, if you could say that about a number of people in your life at any one time?
We are surrounded with normalcy being ‘coupledom’ and if we’re single, we’re supposed to be dating madly trying to find someone. If we’re neither of those things we must be, it follows, sad, lonely and sitting on the sofa eating ice cream (Bridget Jones: our role model). If we’ve been married previously or in a long-term de facto relationship, the only other answer has to be bitterness and not being over our ex.
The singular woman
But what about that rarely discussed (or portrayed in the media) phenomenon: the perfectly content single (or I prefer singular) mid-life woman? We are neither bitter nor looking; we certainly don’t have to be sex-starved; we have a wide variety of deep, intimate relationships with men and women. It’s just that we just don’t want to be defined as half of a couple. We want to be defined as ourselves.
I’m interested in the women who CHOOSE to be single, those who aren’t looking for a partner to complete them. We are fulfilled through a whole range of aspects in our lives – our family, friends, communities, creative endeavours, careers, spiritual journeys, lovers, pets, hobbies and passions.
I am currently writing a book about women who make the choice to be singular (single, unique, exceptionally good, great, remarkable) as opposed to single (unwed, unmarried, companionless) in mid-life. Semi-autobiographical, I am also interviewing other sovereign women about their experiences of having chosen to remain single in mid-life, probably after the end of a marriage or long-term relationship. I am also writing a blog about the process of writing the book, so you are welcome to visit www.itshelsbel.wordpress.com, to find out more about the project and me. If you would like to contribute, I’d love to hear from you – firstname.lastname@example.org.