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Words by Marie-Claire Chappet
You know when Beyoncé sings Single Ladies and all the single ladies go wild and (obediently) put their hands up? Yeah? I do it too. Except I shouldn’t, not anymore, because for over a year now I’ve been in a relationship. A Single Lady no more.
So why do I still stand up to be recognised in Queen Bey’s census of unattached females? Because not doing so is still alien to me.
I’m 28 on the home stretch to 30 and my boyfriend of the last year is, realistically, my first in over a decade. Up till him, I had been the resolutely single girl friend, the one with all the flings, the one night stands and the all-nighters. This was the version of myself I had committed to, and the version my friends had grown accustomed to.
Among my Noah’s Ark of coupled-up friends, I was the light entertainment. I was the one who would get drunk, go home with the guy she met at the bar and then divert them the next morning with all the details. I was also the one who would have horrible dating disasters, fall for someone too quickly, get dumped or ghosted and make them all feel better about pairing off. One missive from me and they’d parrot Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally: ‘promise me I never have to be out there again.’
But my single girlfriends were in the trenches with me night after night. We’d share horror stories, screenshot Tinder profiles or bad WhatsApp chats from boys we had met and, when things got bad, we would rally. We’d console one another with takeaway and tequila. Not only had I committed to this me, this single teary, jubilant, adventurous me, I had committed to these girls. I was one of them.
Which is why, now that I’m in a relationship, I find myself constantly apologising for it.
‘How’s it going with the boy?’ people ask.
I squirm, pull a face and make some self-deprecating joke at his (and our) expense. I make sarcastic remarks about how nice our dates are. On our first Valentine Day together this year, I made snide comments about it on Instagram rather than admitting that I was having a great time.
I feel guilty, like I somehow let my single girls down and became the enemy.
When they talk about guys they’re dating and I hear them making the same mistakes that I used to make, I want to give advice. Then I want to slap myself. It’s exactly what girls with boyfriends used to do to single me, dole out soundbites of how ‘none of that matters with the right guy’ or ‘it was just so easy with me and X’.
My natural reaction to this was always to suppress the urge to vomit and/or inflict bodily harm.
But now I hear myself thinking it and, worse, agreeing with it. I feel like I’ve been body snatched.
What I’m struggling to do is reconcile the two different parts of me: the girl I knew and the girl I have to realise I’m becoming: a girlfriend. Can I commit to either without losing the other?
I’m thankful every day for my boyfriend but I’m also thankful I met him when I did. I’m thankful for my years in the wilderness, making beautiful, messy mistakes with my beautiful messy friends. And I never want to forget that. I never want to become complacent in an ivory tower of a safe and happy relationship. I never want to lose myself to another person and disregard the strength I had when it was just me looking after me.
Being single is an education in yourself that shouldn’t be tossed aside just because you graduate into a relationship. Maybe I should stop apologising for mine, and admit to being genuinely happy, but I never want to not put my hands up in Single Ladies. Because single me got me through a lot, and I don’t want to let her down.