Welcome to the latest dispatch from my ever-perplexed, mid-life cosmos. I’ve not dissected it for a while as I’ve been in a work whirlwind of late; often glued to my laptop all day and not wanting near it in the evenings. Instead, I’ve read compulsively or binged on TV and Twitter arguments. I’m not sure which of the latter is the worse for my health, but neither is as good as getting my shit out on the page, so here we are again.
Over the last couple of weeks my interest has been piqued by a few articles about the concept of being ‘self-partnered’, mainly following a recent Vogue interview with the delightful Emma Watson, who used the term as her relationship status instead of saying that she is single. Of course, in real life, nobody would use the term. And by real life, I mean my life. You might get away with that sort of thing in celeb circles, but in Scotland, such fancy notions are frowned upon. At best, it would cause stifled smiles, or under-the-breath mutterings of ‘wanker’.
So, what does it mean? Essentially, single and quite happy. Feeling complete on your own, not looking for anyone etc. Not to be confused with celibate, which I think implies a more permanent, possibly pious reason for abstaining from relationships. There’s so much to be applauded about this, like many of the other social media focused movements, such as body positivity. It’s a great thing that younger folk are casting off the aspersions that many of my generation grew up with and are refusing to let themselves be shamed.
It’s not as though I’ve spent my whole life single, because I haven’t. But like most of us, I’ve had those experiences of being one of the few single people in the room. Going to a party and realising that everyone else is in a couple. Being in an Italian campsite a couple of summers ago with my son, and realising as a single parent, I was a rare species. For a night it doesn’t bother me, but for a whole week, I stood out, or at least I felt like I did.
Of course, like everything else in life, there is a clear gender bias here. Language plays a part. Picture the spinster of popular imagination: a meek, bespectacled, virginal creature who just couldn’t get a man. Smells like tweed, lavender, cats and desperation. In the other corner, we have the dashing bachelor. No woman has been able to pin him down; he is charming, stylish and elegant and drives a convertible sports car with a rakish carelessness. It’s possible that I’m channelling the 1950’s a bit too much here, but you catch my drift. Single man = normal, single woman = misfit or closet lesbian.
Perceptions have changed now, thank fuck. People, including women, are regularly sighted out and about alone: eating, going to the cinema and even going on holiday. It’s still harder for women. It may be slightly easier to go to bars when travelling, but I’ll wager very few women go down to their local pub alone on a regular basis. I have done it, aware of people watching with curiosity and it’s not always fun. And in some bars it would be a no-no if you wanted to feel safe, or avoid bad chat ups, from worse men.
If you have never been on holiday alone, I do recommend it, even just for a few days. It’s a luxury for many of us to be able to spend our time exactly as we please for longer than a few hours snatched here and there. And it’s good for our resilience to be able to rely solely on our own company for a while. A good book will see you through any awkward social moments and is easier to use as a shield than a phone, should the need arise.
Would it make a difference for me to call myself self-partnered rather than single? I don’t think that it would. I do wonder if I am becoming terminally single. Apart from an interlude this last year, I’ve not had a relationship for five years. Break-ups don’t get any easier as you get older and I’m not sure if I can imagine having to share a bed every night, ever again. It’s great to have my legs as hairy as I want, and aside from matters concerning my son and the usual life commitments, I can do whatever the hell I want. I am the mistress of my domain and it’s a good feeling.
So far, so self-partnered. However, life is never so simple; there are grey areas. When travelling, I haven’t always felt like an empowered woman. On occasions I’ve missed having someone to talk to, to laugh at the daft things that happen on trips, or to marvel at the amazing things you see. And yes, a friend can provide that, but there’s more. Sometimes, the thought that I might grow old and die without having another relationship feels overwhelmingly sad.
There is a chance that one day, after I quit the nine to five and move to a place by the sea populated by quirky and amusing characters, I will indulge in a ‘will they/won’t they?’ romance scenario with one of the locals, ending with true love, just like a cosy, Sunday evening BBC dramady. Or there is every chance that I won’t.
It’s safe to say that being in a bad relationship is worse than being alone. But is a good relationship better than being single? I don’t know the answer to that; it depends on the individual. Some people can’t imagine the idea of sharing a life that way, others are miserable without it and others just want to have it all, with open relationships. More people are living alone now than in recent times, so maybe the stats speak for themselves.
I’m somewhere in the middle. There are things I miss about being in a relationship, although it feels like a sign of weakness to admit that. We modern, independent women don’t need a man. And it’s true that we don’t. But there’s an intimacy you can have with a lover that is very different to your friendships. It would be nice to have one, some of the time. One that was self-contained, skilled in making love to a woman, able to do his own washing and cook a nice meal now and then. Oh, and not an emotional fuckwit. It doesn’t seem too much to ask, yet a brief perusal of dating options for the over 40s will show you it’s like asking for the moon on a stick. Perhaps in my fantasy seaside town scenario, he will be a fisherman, with the added value of bringing me some nice seafood…
Maybe the hardest thing of all is to admit that we get lonely sometimes. Loneliness is a killer disease that we might think only happens to old or housebound people. The truth is it happens to all of us, at all ages. It happens to people that are in unhappy relationships or busy with children around them, not just those who live alone. We’re all so busy being fabulous in our online lives, we don’t want to admit that some days we cry if we don’t get enough of the human connections we need. Because we do need them. Even if some days that’s not much more than company for a shared meal and watching shite telly.
Maybe I’ll just say that some days it’s bloody brilliant to be single and to have time living alone. Other days it’s not so great, but I bumble along amiably most of the time. Love comes in so many forms. Maybe in my seaside town I won’t have a romantic interest. I might have a dog, and maybe some friends to blether and bicker with, family to see. Whatever happens, I will never be completely self-reliant. Even a Queen relies on her bonds with other humans.
Until next time,