I’m 29 years old, and all things considered, the world is my oyster. I have fulfilling hobbies. I have a wide social circle. I enjoy my career as a writer. And (because I refuse to say “but”) I am single, and have been for the last four years.
Just shy of 30, I know that I’m on the younger spectrum of adulthood. In 2016, the average age for Singapore women to get married was 28, according to the Singapore Department of Statistics, so I shouldn’t be fussed. But with six weddings and two baby showers to attend this year, at one point I started to feel rattled. Why did everyone seem to be moving on with their lives? Was I being left behind? And then I got frustrated with myself for feeling this way.
I recall a speech that actress and Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross made at Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year summit last year that resonated with me. Tracee, 45, is the queen we all aspire to be - she’s got a great career, she’s confident and fun, she’s woke and speaks up for women and people of colour, and she’s got what looks (on Instagram) like loads of fun hobbies. She has, as she aptly puts it, built an “incredible life” for herself, and is a woman she’s proud of. Oh, and she’s single. Yet, for a woman who seems to have it all going for her, she too is subject to comments that imply her life would be way more meaningful with a husband and kids. “My worth gets diminished, as I am reminded that I have ‘failed’ on the marriage and carriage counts,” she exclaims indignantly in the video. “Me! This bold, liberated, independent woman.”
Girl, I feel you. Whenever I catch up with an old friend, the question “So, are you seeing anyone?” always comes up. My feelings towards this are complex. On the one hand, I’m irritated that my well-being is tied to whether my love life was thriving. On the other hand, I would be lying if I said the absence of a partner is something I’m completely down with. In a time when a woman can be anything and do everything she wants, why do I subscribe to archaic sensibilities of still wanting a man?
I guess I’ve always enjoyed having a significant other. And I”m pretty sure I want a wedding and, of course, children. The problem is, I’m uncertain whether it’s ever going to happen for me. It also doesn’t help that being on the dating scene can get pretty disheartening. Now that I’m older and my social circle is more intimate, it just seems harder to meet men. The ones that I do meet (usually via dating apps) - well, it turns out they’re single for a reason.
But right now, I don’t feel my life is incomplete because I don’t have a man. I can enjoy my own company while still coveting that big white dress, because there is no shame in wanting to find love. As a younger person, that possibility remains very real. The more important question is: Would I still feel this way if I was single at 39, 49, or even 59? I wanted to know, and so I asked.
Single people are not unhappy. Yes, really.
You could say Sally* has some idea of what Tracee Ellis Ross goes through. At 48, Sally has never had a boyfriend.
During our conversation, she makes an observation that sticks. Given that her job requires her to be super social, she’s not short of opportunities to meet men. “Guys thing that I’m taken because I look so happy and contented,” she says. “People tell me that they never realised I’m still single.” It made her wonder why there is an automatic assumption that if a you’re joyful and confident person, you must be happily married?
My friends have often told me I would make a great girlfriend because I’m a naturally empathetic, happy person. They’ve even said: “I can’t believe you’ve been single for years.” But you know what? My great personality exists, full stop. With or without a man. So rather than think “One day, a guy’s going to appreciate me for the great qualities I have”, I’ve decided it’s more important to focus on how my loved ones already appreciate how awesome I am, and that I don’t need to be in a relationship for this to be validated.
Not playing by other people’s rules
That said, my not-so-subtle mother often tells me that I “need to give more men a chance”. But it’s not about giving chances - why should I feel hurried into finding a partner just because I’m approaching my 30's?
A couple of months ago, I caught up with my ex-boyfriend’s sister, whom I’ve always been friendly with. When it came to the inevitable question of whether I have met anyone, I told her that after years of assuming that marriage was a given for me, I was starting to consider the possibility that it might not happen. It’s a realisation that’s only occurred to me in the past year. The question is, would I be okay with that? It’s still a work in progress, but I think I would be. And it helps that I’ve got to know other women who are living their best lives - without a husband and kids.
Eve*, for example has always been certain that marriage is not for her. The 37-year-old has, for years, been battling the tired gender stereotype that for women, the path of life must lead to the altar. “Marriage is just not something that’s exciting for me,” she says. I think your 30s are so important because that’s when you grow into yourself. There’s just so much life to live and there are so many things I want to do.” Eve prefers to in the driver’s seat and doesn’t want her aspirations to take a back seat or be pinned down by a partner’s expectations.
But don’t assume that eve is cynical about love. She’s been in long-term relationships, the most recent lasting five years. “Ending my last relationship was the best decision for me, because even when I initiated the break-up, my ex wrote to me saying that he would do this and that, so we would get married,” she explained. “And I realised that he didn’t get me at all.” Despite years of being together and Eve being clear about what she wanted, her ex still believed that underneath it all, she wanted a ring on her finger.
It’s a scary thought: that someone as vocal about her beliefs as Eve could be so misunderstood. And more importantly, what if I end up settling and marrying someone who just doesn’t get me? Marriage is a huge step that shouldn’t be taken unless I’m absolutely certain, but could the weight of society’s (and my own) expectations blind me?
It’s something that Charleen* knows well. At 38, she had been seeing the same guy for five years and caved when her parents told her it was time they settled down. “I didn’t think he was the one,” she said. “I could also tell that he wasn’t keen on marriage.” But they went ahead with it, believing it was the “right” thing to do. After a couple of years, the marriage unraveled.
“It was like living with a flatmate,” she recalled. “We would watch TV in different rooms. We barely spoke, and we didn’t plan holidays together.” When the couple fought, he would be cutting, saying: “We got married because it’s what your mum wanted.” One weekend when he was away, Charleen packed up and moved out. Divorce papers followed.
Having been there, done that, Charleen, now 48, says marriage is completely off the cards. “I’m happy to be alone for the rest of my life,” she said. “I can support myself financially, I’m busy with the things that I like to do, and I don’t see myself accommodating another person again.” Her mother has also changed her tune. “She just wants me to be happy now. She doesn’t ask me if I’m seeing anyone.”
Know that you are enough
For Eve, what really riles her up is the age-old debate that women are “giving something up” when they choose to walk away from marriage and kids. “Singlehood is never a topic men have to deal with,” she points out. “They don’t talk about giving things up. There are so many instances of women being celebrated because they “‘have it all’ by having both a career and a family life, and that’s an archaic concept to me.” If men don’t measure their success by this yardstick, why should we?
I asked her what she would do if she did meet a man understanding enough so that she did not have to compromise on what she wanted. It’s possible, she agreed, but “he would need to inspire me and have his own life. A lot of guys I’ve met have interesting careers and lives, but they still have a traditional way of thinking.” In other words, Eve wants a man who will see her and treat her as an equal.
And let’s be real. It’s not like being a wife and mum automatically means you’re living your best life. A close friend with a two-year-old once told me that mothers give up so much of who they are, and that she’s lucky her husband has a flexible working schedule, which gives her some time to pursue her interests. Others might not be as fortunate. So, really, you might say marriage and motherhood are sacrifices too.
Find your own brand of happiness
Of course, even if you convince people you’re okay with not having a husband, they’re sure to point out: “But what about kids?” What if you lose out on that experience?
In Sally’s case, she tells me she’s not fussed about her biological clock. While she would like to get married, she’s already channeled her maternal instincts to her nieces and nephews. “I’ve watched them grow and have been there for them, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out in any way,” she says.
In Eve’s case, she knows family life is not for her: “I see how my friends have changed. It’s become all about their family. It’s great that they are so happy, and I’m not saying that their happiness is inferior to mine, but my independence is not something I want to give up.”
It also helps that Eve has a fast-paced job in a creative industry that involves meeting different types of people. On top of that, she has a committed yoga practice, travels frequently and has other interests like fashion - not dissimilar to the current state of my own life. “When it comes down the priorities, it’s about personal development for me,” she says. “It’s about feeling empowered in your daily life and making a difference.” Preach.
Own your choice
More recently, I think the word “singlehood” has taken on new meaning. No longer does it connote loneliness, bitterness or, God forbid, the stereotypical crotchety spinster. It’s now a word with power. It means that we can (and have) made a choice, and are embracing everything that comes with it.
Historically, single women have always been pitied. Think of the famous Austen classic Pride and Prejudice, which opens with Mrs Bennet trying to marry her daughters off. Then came the inimitable Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, who said: “Being single used to mean that no one wanted you. Now it means you’re taking your time deciding how you want your life to be and who you want to spend it with.” That has never rung truer than today, when single women and celebrities like Mindy Kaling and Charlize Theron wear their independence with pride. As a woman, it’s incredibly heartening to know that I’m in good company. I relish the fact that I’m living in a time when I can make my own choices about what to do with my life and my body.
I know for sure that I don’t need to be reluctantly single. I can take ownership of it. Just because I haven’t met the right person (yet) doesn’t mean I can’t or that I’m not living my best life. If these three women I’ve spoken to have taught me anything, it’s that being single gives me the advantage of doing things entirely on my own terms. And having that freedom is an exciting place to be.
*Names have been changed.
This story was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Her World.