Reader question: I feel like there is so much pressure within society to be in a relationship. You seem like someone who has found confidence in being single, how did you get there? Do you have any tips?
OK, first of all, I completely agree! There is enormous pressure to get into a relationship and hit those milestones on an arbitrary timeline determined by friends, family and romanticised TV shows and movies. We're fed the notion of the 'perfect life' involves meeting 'the one' at 24, getting married at 26, having kids at 28 (so you can be a 'young mum', duh), then living out the rest of your life with the aforementioned 'one'. In reality, these timelines add to the insurmountable pressure to settle down. Throw in the whole 'biological clock' thing and it's hard to just enjoy being alone. To add to this, our society has a tendency to place significance on our relationship status. Unfortunately, this is the perfect cocktail for compromising on your partner, not on your timeline.
All things considered, it's hard to be single and not have a nagging voice in the back of your head reminding you that you're riding solo. You say I seem like someone who is confident being single, and I am, though it has taken a fair amount of work. Here are some tips I have for you . . .
Invest in yourself
This is the biggest 'how to be single' cliché of all time, I know! I'm sure every self-help book/blog/podcast/column has a section about "finding hobbies" and "taking time for you". This is all well and good, of course — if you have a budding passion for rock-climbing or knitting, get stuck into it! However, in my experience, being single doesn't necessarily mean a new passion will emerge spontaneously. Like, "Yeah, Sarah, that's great if crochet gave you purpose after your breakup, but my passions are eating cheese and drinking pinot, so how do I fix myself?"
The most important change of mindset I have had in recent years is the importance of taking time to figure out what I enjoy doing, and why you I doing it. Once you've figured that out, proceed without guilt. Do you like watching Real Housewives while eating Ben and Jerry's once a week with your phone on Airplane mode? AMAZING! That is just as valid as knitting or reading.
There is a huge fallacy that single folk should be constantly improving themselves to be bright and shiny to attract the perfect mate. Yes, it's important to be in good emotional working order to enter into a commitment, but the great part about being single is you can be selfish just for the sake of it! It can be daunting having spare time and energy without anyone to eat it up or to perform for (I am VERY guilty of this), but be your own best friend. Spend as much time figuring yourself out as you would a new partner!
Refocus that emotional energy
When I am in a relationship, I am guilty of putting all of my emotional eggs in one basket. While I wouldn't say my friendships are neglected, I regularly find myself in a relationship bubble that is hard to burst. Any extra time or emotional energy is automatically thrown into the relationship basket, without any extra thought.
Something I have found particularly fulfilling is consistently putting that energy into my friendships. I think about all of the support, joy and laughter my platonic friends bring me on a daily basis, and it is more than I could ever hope for in a romantic relationship.
Plant seeds with your friends and watch those relationships flourish. My friendships are my number one priority and I don't want to lose the momentum that I have going.
I hate to admit it, but there was a time where my friendships felt like an add-on to my life. Not that I didn't love my friends immensely, but they simply weren't the focus of my energy. Since I have made the conscious effort to make my friendships stronger and more multidimensional, I've found myself more content than ever.
Having strong friendships also creates a benchmark for any new relationship to meet. Any new person I am adding into my life, platonic or romantic, now needs to fulfil me as much as my friendships do. Time with my girlfriends is the most important thing for me at this point in life, and if I am taking time away from them, it has to be for someone pretty special.
Scrap the timeline, please!
This timeline thing drives me mad, can you tell? The pressure to settle down by a certain age is toxic for so many reasons. If your goal is just to be in a relationship, any relationship, by say age 28, you can do that. You will find someone who will happily be with you, no matter who you are, I can guarantee that. But what good does that do you? Relationships are hard work — is a mediocre one where you want to focus all your time and energy? Circling back to my last point, when you have fulfilling relationships in other areas of your life, anyone who drains you emotionally or doesn't add value to your life feels like a waste.
If you "settle" for something early on just for the sake of having a companion, it will fail a year, two years, 10 years down the line and then your timeline is truly ruined. There is so much time to be in a relationship and to find someone you truly love (and vice versa), so why grab the first person who comes along?
Settling for any relationship can lead to us accepting toxic situations more willingly. When we take just anyone, we are saying that we don't think we're worthy of something incredible, which is simply LUDICROUS! When we submit to a narrative of 'taking what we can get', we miss red flags and excuse otherwise inexcusable behaviour. What is often the catalyst of this? THE TIMELINE. Don't let a timeline you made up in your head when you were 6 years old push you into a relationship you don't really want to be in.
So, long story short: you are worth taking the time to be single. Relationships are hard work, but they also have the potential to be wonderful, life-altering and fulfilling when they are with the right person at the right time. There is no need to settle when you are really all you need.