Happily Single?

Emma Watson recently shared that she’s “very happy being single”. She call it “being self-partnered”. Her interview inspired the ‘Thought of the Day’ on Radio Four this morning, where Canon Angela Tilby talked about the myth of being ‘left on the shelf’ and asserted that “singleness need not be loneliness, but a rich and enriching way of solitude”. Amen to that!

I’ve been single for most of my life. I’ve had several short-term relationships, but concluded that, on balance, I’m happier single than partnered. This status has occasionally prompted comments from well-meaning friends: “There’s someone out there for you!” They’d comfortingly say. Another response is a mystified ‘Why?”, which sometimes seems to imply “What’s wrong with you, you weirdo!?”

To be honest, I sometimes used to wonder that myself. Maybe I had some deep seated Mother complex, was commitment phobic or fearful of intimacy? I explored my feelings in therapy, went to Tantra workshops and talked to friends and ex-lovers about it. I learnt, eventually, that there wasn’t anything wrong with me at all; this is just how I am.

A single set of footprints on a beach

The final light-bulb moment came a few years ago when I read research by the psychologist Bella DePaulo. DePaulo claimed that some people are ‘single at heart’, which meant that they are quite capable of being happy in the right relationship, but were equally happy staying permanently single. I was curious, so did her online self-test questionnaire. The result suggested that I was pretty much a definitive case of a ‘single at heart’ person. This was a very significant moment for me; at last this huge part of my life made sense. My half-hearted attempts at dating and the way I’d almost always find a good reason why someone just wasn’t for me. As important was the realisation that I could really own this now; this is how I choose to live.

Part of the reason I struggled with this for so long is that our culture places high value on romantic relationships, so inevitably those who aren’t in one stand out. But the times are changing, and I’m grateful to Emma Watson for telling it like it is. Whether we call it self-partnered, single at heart or just intentionally single, this is a heartfelt and healthy choice about how to live a life.

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