Being single can be a source of anxiety for many. Here, women give their tips on dating, sex and embracing single life to the full, whatever your age.
TIMES have never been better for single women. Long gone are the days when they needed a man to pay the bills and protect them, with a social status dependent on their spouse. Despite the return of Bridget Jones, there are single people of all ages out there going about their business and enjoying themselves, and the word spinster has pretty much been outlawed.
And yet, says Zoe Strimpel, who is organising a discussion on the topic at this year’s Cambridge Festival of Ideas in Cambridge, Britain, being unattached and over 30 remains a source of anxiety for many. Concerns range from mass hysteria over biological clocks through to fear of coping alone in old age, via unhelpful stereotypes of cat ladies and cougars.
“Sometimes it’s hard to know how to be a neutral single woman,” says Strimpel. Joining her in discussion will be relationship counsellor Susan Quilliam, psychologist Cecilia d’Felice, and authority on sexual matters, Rowan Pelling.
Here is a preview of key tips from the event, entitled How To Be A Single Woman In 2013, Whether You’re 25 Or 60, along with some thoughts from happily single women.
Don’t feel obliged to regale your coupled-up friends with wild tales from dating’s front line. There’s an immense pressure to be showily “single and loving it”, says Strimpel, whose book The Man Diet was published last year.
“I have heard some distressing sexual things women have reluctantly done in the name of fun,” she adds, “such as going home with unfriendly randoms only to be secretly appalled by their callous and unattractive behaviour, the porn pop-ups carelessly left flashing on their laptop.”
People expect that their single friends will want to talk about men, whether it’s about sex, or deconstructing their behaviour per se, “but the more you talk about something, the more entrenched in your mind it becomes”, breeding unhealthy obsessions, says Strimpel.
Engage in lofty activities. When you’ve been burning the candle in search of romance, only to find yourself exhausted, try staying in to read War And Peace instead. That’s what Strimpel did, and it helped her gain some perspective. “I felt so smug,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that I had bothered with these losers when I was now too busy contemplating the battle of Borodino in 1812.”
Don’t feel like a failure; seize the opportunity to find yourself instead. “When you’re in a relationship, it’s very hard to see yourself clearly because you’re constantly in response to your partner,” says d’Felice. Whereas when you’re single, you can take stock, learn from your mistakes and work out what you want for the future. “Particularly for women who have been conditioned to be givers rather than takers,” she adds, it’s an opportunity to put ourselves first. “This is not an act of selfishness,” she says, “it’s a very important act of selfhood.”
Contentment is key. Tina Andrews, who has been single for a decade, points out that there are happy and unhappy people in and out of relationships. “For me it’s about being content and, hopefully, that takes you on the right path. I see more pain and misery from women who think they should be in a relationship, who put themselves out there to be knocked back, and lose a sense of themselves. I think: you’ve wasted 10 years trying to find a man while I’ve enjoyed myself.”
Avoid women’s magazines. Patti Burton, a charity manager who has been single for more than 20 years, cites her disinterest in glossy articles “aimed at people who are part of couples”, as one of the reasons she has never felt any stigma about her relationship status.
Don’t be afraid of 40. Andrews felt in the run-up that her options were falling away, but then realised: “I actually don’t care. I don’t have the urge to have a family, and I don’t see 40 as the end of that anyway. As we grow up, our expectations of certain ages change. It’s the Friends generation turning into the Sex And The City generation, moving into The Golden Girls. Life continues at all these ages.”
Give thanks that you’re among the last generation who didn’t learn about sex from Internet porn.
Single mums can have fun, too. “Of my friends who wanted to be older mums,” says Pelling, “more of them had children than not, despite everyone saying their chances were about 2%.” And those who went for it on their own with sperm-donor dads are still dating. “The biggest change is Internet dating, so you don’t have to join the amateur dramatics society and the tennis club any more to meet people.”
Women do not become invisible in middle age. “Some of the most attractive, lusted-after women I know are in their 50s. It’s up to you whether you think it’s time to withdraw,” says Pelling. You do, however, have to be robust in the face of those who want to knock women down. “But it’s not as if we’re dressing to attract people of 28 ... Why should we have to not be a sexual person just because we’re on the wrong side of 45?”
Don’t be hemmed in by cliches. You can’t stop people using labels, such as cougar, says Pelling. “Culturally, we’re much worse than, say, the French about older people having sex. Everyone in France expects glamorous 60-year-olds will be, but we’re sort of still coping with the idea. There are a load of unpleasant terms out there but it’ll get you nowhere having any anxiety about those.”
Don’t take the decreasing numbers of men personally. “Be realistic,” says Quilliam, “and face the fact that there are fewer men than there once were and you’ll probably live longer than most of them.”
Enjoy not having to pick up anyone’s pants any more. When her marriage ended, Burton (now 65) assumed she’d eventually have another live-in relationship but what has largely been on offer is “lonely men who need looking after. I’ve got three children and six grandchildren – I do not need a middle-aged man to look after.”
Be positive, says Quilliam, “if for no other reason than bitterness is not a good look – to attract a partner, for your friends to hang round and, most importantly, for you.” Don’t spend the rest of your life saying “... the bastard’s robbed me”. Do whatever it takes to move on: counselling, talking to friends, rethinking your life.
Be self-determining. It’s easy to be passive, says Quilliam. If you want a partner, try Internet dating, or taking other steps to find one. And if you want to stay single, or have a string of casual affairs, go for it. You now have the freedom.
Connect in a way that’s right for you. Burton gets all the human warmth she needs from her family. Or gather friends around you, says Quilliam: “You can get most of what you want from people other than a partner.”
Finally, Quilliam quotes the words that poet Seamus Heaney texted to his wife last month when he was on the brink of death and she was facing widowhood: “nolle timere” (don’t be afraid). “The key thing about being single is don’t be frightened. In today’s world as a woman, you have huge status, you can manage on your own, you can choose to build your own life.” – Guardian News & Media