Women

No publisher? No husband? No business partner? No problem! Meet the women who are going travelling, setting up in business and having babies on their own – and on their own terms

You walk into a smart restaurant and across the room sits a beautiful, solo woman at a table for one, tucking into a steak. What do you think when you spot her? What a poor, sad, lovely woman? Or do you just think: mmm, I think I’ll have the steak, too. It’s probably the latter, isn’t it? Because, in this modern, enlightened age, a woman dining alone is, thankfully, no longer considered in the least bit odd. These days, few of us would flinch at the thought of grabbing a bite by ourselves. But how far would you go it alone in other areas of your life?

“When it’s just you, you have to teach yourself the confidence to make your own decisions. I learned quickly.”

For more and more women, it would seem, the sky’s the limit. From taking off on backpacking holidays or launching a business to actively choosing to raise a child without the support of am man, there is a woman showing that solitary ventures are possible in almost every area of life. “I find nothing sad or regretful about going on holiday on my own,” says Lindsey McWhinnie, a journalist of 43. “It’s not like I tragically ask around and no one wants to come with me. I actively choose to go alone, and love every minute.”

So what, in society, has changed? For a start, simply being single is not a taboo any more. Singledom is increasingly a chosen way of life – a happy, positive place to be. The so-called ‘freemales’ – successful, spirited, man-less, grown-up women who are happy to remain on – are growing in number (and with celebrity ambassadors such as Charlize Theron and Sandra Bullock, their image is more glamorous than ever). Some may not have chosen to be alone – but they are proving that relying only on yourself doesn’t have to be a negative. If they haven’t found their life partner, it doesn’t mean their life is any less fulfilled.

We are the generation used to having choices. Deciding not to wait for a leg-up – accepting that if we want things, we must go and get them ourselves – is a natural extension of that. In turn, society’s perception of independent women has shifted from pity (“poor her, all alone”) to pride (“good on her”). As Professor Karen J Pine, co-author of Flex: Do Something Different, puts it, “There is little stigma these days for women to go out and do things on their own.”

As our perceptions have become more accepting, our own ideas about what we can achieve have broadened. Now that we are no longer economically dependent on men, a whole spectrum of possibilities has opened up. And society has become more nurturing of women who are embarking on things on their own.

Description: Single women are now able to foster and adopt children alone

Single women are now able to foster and adopt children alone

Single women are now able to foster and adopt children alone – and are even actively encouraged to do so; banks are more likely to lend to lone women setting up a business than lone men; and there has been an increase in opportunities for women to generate their own big breaks, from self-publishing novels to launching blogging careers. These days, we live in a culture that actively backs the solo woman.

But it is all empowerment and success stories? And there drawbacks to embarking on huge new chapters in life unaided? “Of course there are challenges to raising a child completely alone,” says Karen McKellar, 39, who, five years ago, decided to tackle single motherhood. “Growing up watching my mum struggle to raise three kids on her own after my father left made me keen to take the traditional route,” she continues.

But following two miscarriages during her four-year marriage and a subsequent ectopic pregnancy in a failed long-term relationship she decided, in 2007, to adopt daughter Grace. “I really wanted kids and thought, ‘Why should I have to miss out on being a mum just because I haven’t found the right guy?’ I know that whoever I end up with has to love ma and my little girl.” But, Karen admits, it can be tough. “Sometimes I do worry about looking after Grace on my own – what would happen if I got sick or when I go into work exhausted after she has been up ill all night? I’ve given up a lot to become a single mum, such as my career, but Grace brings me such joy.”

Description: When it’s just you, you have to teach yourself the confidence to make your own decisions

When it’s just you, you have to teach yourself the confidence to make your own decisions

When you are on your own, there’s no buffer between you and the harsh realities of life. “I have moments of insecurity every day,” says Lauren Luke, 30, who launched a successful career on her own five years ago by posting You Tube videos of her make-up tips – they’ve now clocked up more than 120 million views. She went on to be courted by big beauty brands and has since launched her own range of make-up brushes. This has allowed her to buy a house and provide the kind of life she always dreamed of for her 13-year-old son Jordan. “When it’s just you, you have to teach yourself the confidence to make your own decisions,” she says. “Starting out, I really didn’t have a clue about business, but I learned quickly.” Lauren thinks women are often scared of setting up business on their own because we are led to believe it takes millions of pounds, training and expertise to succeed. “I started off with a faulty video camera that cut off during my recordings,” says Lauren. “All you need is your own talent and self-belief – the rest is just excuses. I love being my own boss.

For women like Lauren, working independently can be a way of placing yourself firmly in the driving seat. For writer Sibel Hodge, 41, it was when she had had 200 rejection letters from publishers that she decided to take her career into her own hands. “It made me realise I had two choices: either I could give up or I could do it without anyone else’s help,” she explains. The latter became an opportunity in 2010, when Amazon opened its doors to self-publishing for non-US authors. Sibel uploaded her debut novel, Fourteen Days Later, and then a second title, The Fashion Police, onto its Kindle store. “When I hit the site’s ‘publish’ button, it was nerve-wracking. But I didn’t see it as a gamble – I had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” adds Sibel. The first month saw just 34 copies of her debut novel bought, but sales soon picked up and she has since published a further eight novels. Sibel expects her books to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 copies this year; she reject all offers from publishers now she has proven to herself she doesn’t need them. It has turned out to be quite an earner, with Sibel making 65 to 75 percent royalties from each book, compared with just ten or 15 percent for authors who follow the traditional publishing route. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and patience, as I’ve had to build up my brand alone,” Sibel explains. “When it’s just you, you have to learn to sell yourself.”

Description: “It made me realise I had two choices: either I could give up or I could do it without anyone else’s help,”

“It made me realise I had two choices: either I could give up or I could do it without anyone else’s help,”

Sibel’s success story started at her kitchen table, but for others there can be more at stake. For Vicci Moyles, 40, backpacking around the world alone meant giving up a ten-year career as a PR manager and leaving a close network of friends. “When I hit 30, I found myself increasingly restless for adventure. Most of my friends were married or had kids so either I could stay at home or go on my own,” explains Vicci. Since then, she has funded her solo globetrotting with stints of freelance work in the UK. Her experiences include living with a hill tribe in Tanzania, chaperoning teenagers to India, eating yak intestines in China and travelling across Sri Lanka by bus. “I do have to take precautions to stay safe, but travelling solo allows you to discover new sides to yourself. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times when I wished I could click my heels and magic my way back home – or have a friend by my side – but, honestly, these moments have been few and far between. Travelling alone forces you to become sociable. I never would have met half the people I’ve met had I been with someone else. Initially, friends were concerned about me going alone, but they’ve seen the positive impact it has had on my life and are now nothing but supportive.”

Description: For Vicci Moyles, 40, backpacking around the world alone meant giving up a ten-year career as a PR manager and leaving a close network of friends.

For Vicci Moyles, 40, backpacking around the world alone meant giving up a ten-year career as a PR manager and leaving a close network of friends.

Support is key making a solo venture successful. Freemales might be doing it for themselves, but everyone needs back-up. The boom in internet forums has provided a place for encouragement and experience-sharing for single mothers. Sites such as lone-parents.org.uk and gingerbread.org.uk provide practical support and encouragement for mothers raising children without parents – ensuring that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. For women travelling alone, there is a new slew of websites, such as inviteforabite.com, which specialize in setting up wanderlusty women who are travelling alone but fancy having dinner with someone. For businesswomen keen to launch an idea without a team behind them, there is kickstarter.com (a forum to find investors), women-unlimited.co.uk, bawe-uk.org and everywoman.com – all of which offer support and networking opportunities for women on their way to the top.

The Going Solo generation is not doing it alone because they have something to prove. They simply draw immense satisfaction from knowing they are in control of their lives by daring to live it on their terms. As Karen McKellar puts it, “Modern women are more independent than ever. We’re finally realizing we don’t need leg-ups to achieve things. Sometimes to get the life you want, you have to find the courage to do it alone.”  

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