As Valentine's Day approaches, Jenny Stallard reflects on what she's learned from being single...
Ah, V-day. What was yours like last year? Romantic? Disappointing? Did you wait in vain for flowers, or wake up with a hangover after a fun single’s night out last night? Aside from Christmas, this has to be the day most weighted with promise and, often, let downs. And as this arguably most romantic of days approaches, I’m reflecting on another year as a single woman.
There’s a vast range of emotions associated with Valentine’s when you’re single. For me, V-day is a mixture of work (we journalists get press releases dotted in red hearts pretty much as soon as the new year chimes in) and reminding myself being single might not be forever. The day, if nothing else, has become one of hope. And as I’ve got older, one of smiles. This year, I’ll be a the birthday lunch for a friend’s four year old. Romantic, eh? Well, she does tell me she loves me, unconditionally too I reckon, on a regular basis.
I’ve been single for the best part of ten years. Save for a five-month relationship, so there’s been plenty of time to learn about where I find myself in life. Plenty of moments, happy and sad, on this journey of ‘just me’. Being single is a life choice for some. But not for me. I’ve searched for Mr Right, met Mr ‘Right Now’, endured the ups and downs of dating all these years.
Five years ago, I met someone that I thought might be ‘the one’. I look back now and know we weren’t a good match, I’ve made peace with it. But back then, I placed all my emotional eggs in the V-day basket. I was off, triumphant, to spend the day with this man and embrace all things Valentine’s. and I can’t lie that I was let down with how, well, ordinary the day felt, really. In more recent years, someone I was seeing on and off but never in an official couple with, gave me the dubious honour of a V-day text. True love… it does not happen like in the movies, people.
While friends settled down, I took myself off travelling to South America and to the French Alps to waitress in a ski resort. Being single can be liberating – if you let it. You have the space to take chances, to please yourself. I’ve felt the highs and lows of single life, and I feel like it’s been a rite of passage. I’m ready now, to settle down, but I won’t ‘settle’ for anyone.
But it’s only been in the past year that I’ve learned the most about being single.
I’m happy to admit that I went to see a therapist, because I was so unhappy about being on my own as I approached 38. I was angry, confused, and blamed myself for the fact I wasn’t settled down and starting a family like so many of my friends.
I’ve spent so many years searching for someone, someone to spend the 14th of Feb – and the rest of the year – with, but I went into 2016 ‘dating app free’. I wanted to try and embrace being single. Not saying I wouldn’t go on any dates, but trying to avoid the trap of waiting to be picked rather than getting on with my life and seeing who comes along.
You might have been to dating events; or just heard of them and winced. I’ve been on blind dates (why do friends set you up with someone they’d never consider themselves?) speed dating (sometimes painful. Sometimes fun) even to an event where you sniffed each other’s t-shirts to see if you liked the smell (yes, really). There was the time I had too many gins then decided it would be a good idea to tell a colleague I fancied him (his response – while reaching for the door – was, ‘how much have you drunk?!’)
There’ve been the Tinder dates – and the man who who turned out to reveal he was married. The holiday romances (sex in a bunk bed in a hostel up a mountain at the age of 34 during a ski season… Well you only live once, eh?) The blind date who changed his mind when he found out I wrote about dating.
As a singleton, you need to be self-sufficient socially. Friends with partners will, quite rightly, often and especially on weekends like this one, be off doing their thing. We singles need to try and embrace the flexibility in life being single brings us. I book weekends away. I go to gym classes after work where mum friends have to go home and get the tea on.
Of course, it’s not always jolly. I spend many a Sunday night watching TV with a roast dinner prepared – just for me. I’ve cried to friends about feeling lonely. But the flipside of that is learning that being in a bad relationship is worse than being single.
I often used to compare myself and my life to those I know with husbands and families. To try and make my life more grand, my possessions newer. After years of exhausting myself with this game, I’ve come to realise that were all doing that a little. Oh that grass. Isn’t it always so much greener?
And there is, of course, the sweeping success that being single can catapult into your life. Last year I wrote a column for a national newspaper, where I work on the features team, and then secured a book deal. They’re arguably events that might have happened anyway, but I’d argue that the theme at least is thanks to my long-term single status.
There’s something about the thrill of a first kiss, a number swap and a text. The anticipation of getting ready for a date. While I long for the moment I meet the man who is my last first kiss, I can’t deny that those months on the ski slopes were so liberating – impossible if I’d been settled down already
When you’re single in your 30s, you might lose some mates to the new life of marriage and babies, but there’s also the joy of new friendships with other single girls. There’s been time to work out who I am and what makes me tick, too.
And I’ve realised, after years of trying, that it’s the one thing you can’t change. Finding love isn’t an exact science. Far from it – despite the algorithms that control online dating, love’s an art. You don’t know how it’ll play out when the moment – or what you think is the moment – strikes. And the last thing you want to do is look back and realise you spent your single days wishing life were different.
So while this Valentine’s Day I will put my heart on the line and say I’m still a hopeful (not a hopeless) romantic, I’ll also say that being single is about learning to love the skin you’re in. That way, when you do meet someone, you won’t need them to validate you with cards and flowers from the petrol station anyway.
Jenny’s novel Boyfriend by Christmas is out now. @SaintAllard