There are many benefits to being unattached: nights spent out dancing with the girls, shopping for hours over the weekend, eating ice cream for dinner while binge-watching your fave series, or even just the joy of being able to lie spread-eagled on the bed with the entire duvet to yourself. But there are times when flying solo can lose its lustre.
It can be trying to turn up at endless parties on your own, only to have salt rubbed into the wound when your cousin/ex-colleague starts proffering well-meaning stories about her friend who “married a guy she met on Tinder” and isn’t it time you gave Internet dating a whirl?
The fact is that no matter how happy you are to be single, there are times when “could this be it?” anxiety knocks your contentment sideways. “Even the most liberated among us, at some level, buy into the notion that we need to be part of a couple by a certain age,” says clinical psychologist Dr Sherona Rawat.
And witnessing your friends moving in with their partners and walking down the aisle only feeds the inevitable (if misplaced) insecurity. “The older we get, the more being unattached tends to push our insecurity buttons,” says relationship coach Shelley Lewin. But it’s not just the fear of being on the shelf that knocks our self-esteem; other factors come into play too.
Honey, you shrunk my friends
As BFFs start coupling up, friendships change, and this has a domino affect on the rest of your life. Your social calendar is suddenly filled with baby showers, engagement parties and weddings, and your once trusty wing woman now spends Saturday nights with her partner instead of on the dance floor with you.
“It’s not uncommon for single women to descend in priority among coupled friends,” says Lewin. “Even though we’re still very important to them, the time they have for us is limited and, by default, we’re often excluded from couple experiences, or we’re invited, only to end up feeling like the spare wheel.”
So when do you get to call your friend on choosing her man over you? “Respect, love and concern are non-negotiable when it comes to any relationship. Dropping a friend at the last minute is unacceptable, regardless of the context,” says Rawat, who encourages girlfriends to work at a compromise. “But if you find that your friendship [with a newly-dating friend] is more taxing than pleasing, it might be time to let it go.”
Words to remember: It’s easy to forget what being single is like when you’re loved up, so it’s important to let your friends know that you need them to make more effort. “Sometimes they just need to be reminded about how you feel,” says Rawat.
Expand your girls’ club
Of course, confronting your friends might not mean you’ll be enjoying more girls’ nights out, so it’s also important to engage in activities that don’t necessarily require the company of your close circle, to force you out of your comfort zone. Trying new things also helps build confidence, and if you are looking to meet someone, self-assurance is both something men find attractive and which will also help you sustain healthier long-term relationships.
“To have a healthy interdependent relationship, you need to be happily independent to begin with,” says Lewin. “Being single gives you that opportunity. Taking up a new hobby allows you to learn to enjoy your own company, develop interests and become the person you want to be.”
Words to remember: If venturing out alone doesn’t appeal to you, spend more time with people who are at a similar life stage. “Most women have a wide range of acquaintances and you could invest more energy in those relationships,” suggests Rawat. Occupational therapist Trish Pletzer, 29, has done just that. “My social circle is divided into friends with babies, friends in relationships and single friends,” she says.“And I’ve started to hang out with a lot of younger women, which makes me feel part of something again.”
Adjust your attitude
The need for a sense of belonging can lead single women to feel there’s something wrong with them if they haven’t yet met The One, says Lewin. So before those kind of insecurities get the better of you, rewrite the script that’s playing itself out in your head. “You need to see singledom as an opportunity to indulge yourself and enjoy the freedom that goes with having no one to answer to,” she says.
Also ask yourself what you’re really looking for. Do you want to meet someone because you’re lonely or because you’re actually ready for a long-term commitment? “When we need a partner, we aren’t ready for partnership,” says Lewin. “The relationships that last the longest, that provide the most fulfilment, are those in which the man and woman do not need each other.”
Words to remember: Next time you’re curled up on the couch on a Saturday night watching Mad Men repeats, consider this: too much time alone can actually weaken your immune system; in fact, a US Brigham Young University study showed that lonely people are more susceptible to developing chronic inflammation and, consequently, heart disease and cancer.
Look after your physical and emotional health by using your free time to invest in yourself and do the things you want to do – to become relationship ready, not relationship needy. “This is a time when you can be absolutely spontaneous. So while you’re single, learn to enjoy it,” says Rawat.