When Paula’s nine-year relationship ended, she believed she would have to put her happiness and enjoyment of life on hold until she met a new partner.
‘For the first six months, I threw myself into a frenzy of searching for Mr Right. I signed up for three online dating sites, joined everything from car maintenance classes to salsa dancing, and asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone suitable for me,’ she says. After a non-stop whirlwind of first and second dates, Paula, a 41-year-old graphic designer, was exhausted and dispirited. ‘To be honest, I hadn’t felt such extreme pressure and expectation from my family and friends since I graduated and was desperately looking for my first job,’ she admits. ‘Every phone call began with the same enquiry: “Any news?” And there was really only one piece of news they were interested in – whether I had met anyone. And by “anyone” they meant anyone who had a good job, their own home, no baggage and a pressing desire to pop the question.
The message came over loud and clear – being single was a state that I needed to escape from, and fast. No wonder I felt awful. No one bothered to ask me what I wanted – and that even included me.’ Once Paula realised that it was time to start thinking about herself, life quickly became a lot more fun. ‘I dumped the mental checklist of qualities a potential husband needed to have, and began dating men who I was simply attracted to, or who seemed like fun, interesting, intriguing individuals,’ she says. ‘I stopped viewing every encounter as a potential husband interview, and I began to form platonic friendships with men – something I’d never been able to do with my jealous ex-partner. I am still single, but I’m comfortable with that now because I am enjoying life more than I ever did before.’
‘The fact that we are living longer, allied to the fact that relationships can be fragile, means that these days everyone has experienced, or will experience at some point, being single,’ points out Marie-France Hirigoyen, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. That, for a start, should make us feel less alone when we find ourselves single. But obviously our attitude towards being single will be coloured by whether we chose the status or had it thrust upon us by circumstances.
But regardless of whether you’re happily embarking on a solo life adventure, or mourning a lost love, a period of being single can be a chance to get to know yourself better, to make peace with solitude, to decide what you want out of life and how to get it, and even lead you towards a new, more satisfying relationship.
Read The call of silence by Mark Vernon on LifeLabs