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Why being single can be a chance to reconnect with yourself

Research shows that single women are as happy and fulfilled as their married counterparts, but negative stereotypes persist. Ellen Tout, a millennial who is watching her friends settle down, tells it as it is

by Ellen Tout

'I’ve built a fulfulling, exciting life around what matters to me’ says Ellen Tout, 26, Psychologies' editorial assistant...

A year ago, I sat on my friend’s sofa feeling deflated as we watched the fireworks signal the start of a new year. My six-year relationship had recently ended, and the prospect of being single terrified me. I felt lost; blindsided. I could not have imagined then how much would change in a year; how I would love the fun, freedom and opportunities of single life; and what a strong person I would become.

I had been with my ex since the age of 19 and, when you’re in a relationship for most of your adult life, it’s difficult to remember who you are without the other person. The rug had been pulled out from under me.

Tempting as it was initially to look for someone new, I felt it would be a good idea to stay single for a time. And, gradually, I started to notice a few changes. Rather than rushing around trying to please others, I could put myself first, and I did. I had always dreamed of a career in journalism and, when the job at Psychologies came up, I applied. In my old life, I would have looked, thought ‘if only...’ and found an excuse not to try. I had lost my drive. Now, I’m on the career path I had always wanted.

Being single is not always easy, and sometimes I wish I had someone other than my dog to cuddle, but I love the freedom of being able to watch TV uninterrupted, practise yoga or relax in the bath. Building a support network and initiating social events have been important. I’ve rekindled old friendships and, by accepting invitations I may previously have turned down, I’ve met inspiring new people, too.

When my grandad died, my dog became ill and I moved house, all within the space of a week, I felt overwhelmed. How was I supposed to cope with all of it on my own? But I got home from work to find cards from friends: ‘I’m always here, just pick up the phone,’ wrote Julia. I felt lifted and loved. People may perceive singletons as lonely, but I now feel more connected to my friends and family.

I recently met some old school friends. One is engaged, one has bought a house with her boyfriend and another is buying a second flat with her partner. I was surprised, but I didn’t feel envious. I left feeling happy and free. I never expected to be ‘the single one’, but I love the independence; feeling unrestricted. I have found myself again.

Travelling is also an ambition and, this autumn, I went to Iceland as well as Switzerland, plus spent two weeks on a trek along the Great Wall of China. Hiking with 50 strangers was life-changing and a massive confidence boost – and, a year ago, I would never have considered it.

I don’t think I’ll be single forever, but I’m not actively looking for someone. I’m more excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. I’ve learned that being in a relationship isn’t the only way to find happiness and fulfilment. I’ve found these by building my life around the things that matter to me: time in nature, family, a job I enjoy and connecting with friends. When everything I thought I knew fell apart, it was my chance to reconnect with myself.

Photograph: iStock

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