The number of single women in the UK has double over the last 30 years – but far from being a lonely Bridget Jones generation, we’re a growing group of dynamic, independent women. So, please, don’t feel sorry for us

For the first time in ten years, I’m single. And I absolutely love it. I’m not nursing a broken heart, a victim of circumstance or desperately looking for ‘the one’. On the contrary, I’ve simply made a decision to enjoy life on my own for a bit. And it seems I’m not the only one. New research from the Office of National Statistics shows that almost a third of British households now comprise a single person, compared with just 17% in 1971. But while, back then, solo-dwellers were predominantly elderly, the biggest rise in recent years in among 25 to 45-year-olds – young people, like me, choosing to live alone and marry later, if at all. In fact, more than half of women under 50 in the UK have never been married – double the number 30 years ago.

Description: ‘I’m single, so what?’

‘I’m single, so what?’

And who can blame us? After nine years with a really lovely man I just didn’t want to marry, then a year with another who, well, didn’t even come close, I’d forgotten how wonderful it can feel to live without the pressures of coupledom and compromise. Now I can say yes to any invitation thrown my way without having to check with someone first, I can holiday on a whim, watch anything I want on TV and fill the fridge with whatever I fancy – hell, I can sit in my underwear and eat Fro-Yo out of the tub every evening if I really feel like it.

But despite the big rise in the number of young women – over half a million of us – choosing to live alone, it’s a trend that seems to instigate sympathy rather than celebration. To my increasing frustration, many supposedly forward-thinking women I meet still seem to regard being single as a negative, rather than the empowering, positive and liberating way of life I’ve grown to love over the last eight months. ‘The happy single woman is an evolving phenomenon that simply didn’t exist 30 or so years ago,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny, ‘and it’s taking a while for society to adjust. Many find it hard to accept that some women live alone – not because they’re divorced or widowed and have no choice in the matter, but because they genuinely want to.’

So, why are so many 30-something women like me choosing this way of life, and why now? ‘The biggest factor for change is economics,’ explains relationship psychologist Christine Webber. ‘For most modern women, men no longer fulfill the role of traditional breadwinner, which changes their function in a woman’s life. Plus, in today’s society, we don’t necessarily need a long-term partner to fulfill the bay-making role, either.’ In short, it’s going to take more than a healthy bank balance and a nice smile to bowl us over these days. Knowing that if I tightened my belt, I could just about pay the rent on my own definitely made it easier to follow my heart and end my long-term relationship.

Description: For most modern women, men no longer fulfill the role of traditional breadwinner, which changes their function in a woman’s life

For most modern women, men no longer fulfill the role of traditional breadwinner, which changes their function in a woman’s life

But financial security aside, it still took time to feel enough emotional courage to take the plunge into single life. I couldn’t believe it when, just a fortnight after my relationship ended, someone asked, ‘Have you started dating yet?’, as though the only way I could be happy was to fall straight into another relationship. As it happened, I ended up doing just that – with the wrong person, entirely. But as even the most ardent serial monogamist knows deep down, for all the many benefits of coupledom, the wrong relationship can slowly chip away at your self-esteem, leaving you feeling lonely and insecure. I lost myself for a year in that on-off relationship. But although it destroyed my confidence at the time, that years taught me once and for all that spending your life with someone who neither inspires nor fulfills you is a much scarier prospect than biting the single bullet. It’s a cliché, but you really do need to find yourself before you find someone to share yourself with.

So why don’t other women get it? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the words. ‘How are you single?’ as though there’s something wrong with either me or my status. Yet, so many times I’ve wanted to ask friends and colleagues ‘Why are you still in that rubbish relationship?’, but had to bite my tongue – for some reason, singletons aren’t afforded the same questioning privileges as the couple-up. Surely we’ve got it the wrong way round? With so many acceptable lifestyles to choose from these days, shouldn’t we almost have to justify staying in a relationship, more than leaving one?

Eight months on and I love going on dates, but always make it clear straight away that I’m not looking for anything serious – for now, at least. It’s the best of both worlds. ‘I’m sure our friends often imagine us crying into our wine glasses at home with an oversized bar of chocolate every night,’ agrees my single friend Hannah, ‘as opposed to having luxurious baths, safe in the knowledge that the toilet seat is firmly down and there’s no football on in the front room.’ Plus, what could be more empowering than knowing that the most important person you have to rely on is yourself?

‘I’m sure our friends often imagine us crying into our wine glasses at home with an oversized bar of chocolate every night,’

Yet, despite our cries to the contrary, there remains an enduring stereotype that if you’re single, you can’t be truly fulfilled. Rubbish! The fulfillment we get from relationships doesn’t always come from the intimate ones. My friendship doesn’t always come from the intimate ones. My friendships are so much stronger since I became single – not because I have more time on my hands but because I have more emotional space. Perhaps I’m a truer version of myself, too – for the first time in years, I feel so much more like the real me. I fill my time with friends, family, work and activities, and never, ever miss out because it’s his brother’s birthday or he’s jealous of that guy I once dated. The fact that almost half of all customers booking escorted adventure holidays are single speaks volumes. According to consumer analysts Mintel Oxygen, single adults are more active and adventurous than couples, happy to splash out on once-in-a-lifetime breaks, even if it means exploring alone. It’s true – I’ve had some of my best ever holidays this year. I might not have someone to lug my suitcase through the airport, but I’m having more fun when I get there!

So ladies, please, next time you ask why your friend is single, stop to consider that she may have chosen to be. Maybe, despite your presumptions, she isn’t heartbroken, unfulfilled or lonely – while I know it’s painful to yearn for a parent, not all of us feel something’s missing. Being single has afforded me the time and mental space to focus on my dreams and goals. Who knows what might happen in the future – I’m excited that mine hasn’t been decided yet.

All I know for now is that for the first time in my adult life I feel truly happy. ‘Society becomes what the people within it believe,’ says Emma. ‘A surge of well-adjusted singles, who live life to the full without apology will be enough to eventually put an end to the “Don’t worry, you will meet someone someday” attitude.’ Remember, being single doesn’t make you second best. You are unique and deserving – treat yourself that way.

Should you be flying solo?

Answer honestly; right now, does two really feel better than one?

Description: Should you be flying solo?

Should you be flying solo?

Does your partner still make you laugh and fell special? As a healthy relationship grows, it should feel easy (well, most of the time) fun and more rewarding. It should never be-one-sided – you should both give and take.

Do you compare your relationship with others? If yes, why? Wondering what yours could be like or longing for something else is a sign that changes need to be made – if neither of you want to budge, are you willing to compromise?

Worry that you’d struggle to find another partner? A fear of being alone is no reason to stay together – neither is worrying about any shared responsibility. You both owe it to each other to be honest and live the life you deserve.

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