On Being Single, Happily

I’ve mentioned in passing many times on APW that I loved being single. I mean, I loved being single. I was completely and avowedly single for more than four years in my early twenties when very few people around me were. And even after David and I coupled up, I rather aggressively continued to live on my own for years. In retrospect, it was one of the most wonderful, healing times in my life. It’s when I learned who I was and how to make myself happy, and it’s when I learned what I wanted out of life. And it was only after I learned all that and was no longer particularly interested in coupling up that I begrudgingly fell for my husband (even if I didn’t give up my own place). Often, when I’ve brought this up on APW, people have accused me of well… lying. Like, someone who writes about being happily married can’t actually deeply believe in the importance of single life. So, I called in the big guns. I asked Elizabeth of Lowe House Events to write about being happily single. And I’m hard pressed to think of a post we’ve run on the site that I agree with more on a deep personal level. So let’s take a time-out from weddings and marriage today to talk about why knowing how to be single is so damn important. (Hint: This post REALLY REALLY applies to those of us that are coupled, too.)

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
―Mary Oliver

I spent the entire first half of my twenties in a serious relationship, a relationship that came thisclose to ending in marriage. He was not a bad guy, he was just a bad guy for me. Somewhere inside, I had known for a very long time that the relationship was wrong for me. When we would talk about planning our wedding, somewhere in my head I was simultaneously thinking about our eventual divorce. (Please note: This is, rather obviously, a terrible sign.) Ending that relationship was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We had been through a lot together—serious illnesses, deaths, births, unemployment, graduations, growing up. Yes, we fought all the time, and yes, much of the time I don’t think we even liked each other that much, but relationships are supposed to be hard, right? And the truth is? I was absolutely terrified of being single. But as utterly awful as being single sounded, when I realized that I would rather be single for the rest of my life than spend another week with him, I knew that it was finally time to end it.

And it was then that I discovered just how awesome being single as an adult can be. For the first time in my life I was making decisions based solely on what I wanted to do, not what someone else wanted. (And for the first year it turned out what I mostly wanted to do was go out and listen to live music and drink whiskey until two in the morning. It was, and will undoubtedly remain, one of the most fun years of my life.)

I was able to work on deepening my friendships, and I learned that it is possible to be held up by a community instead of by one person. I learned to trust myself and to move my life in a direction that felt true to me without concern that the decisions I was making were influenced, at least partially, by someone else. The freedom of having to worry financially only about myself made it possible for me to take huge risks (see: starting a business in the middle of a recession). And I learned that it’s actually ok to sometimes feel lonely, or more importantly, that feeling lonely when you’re actually alone is much, much better than feeling lonely when you’re lying in bed next to someone else.

I also learned how amazingly fun dating can be if it’s not seen as merely the means to an end, or marriage (because that, my friends, can making dating incredibly frustrating). Ladies—dating is a blast. I’ve developed a personal philosophy that there are only three potential outcomes for  a date:

1) The most common—it’s fine. Just fine. You don’t particularly connect, and there probably won’t be a second date, but it’s also not terrible. You get to meet someone new, and in general it ends up being a perfectly acceptable way to spend an evening.

2) The most rare— it’s awesome, you connect, have a blast, and voila, more dating ensues.

3) Almost equally, but not quite, as rare—it’s Godawful. And I mean truly terrible. You get un-ironically taken to Hooters (happened to me!) or accused of being a call girl, because that’s the only obvious explanation for why someone as young, attractive, and smart as you would be interested in him (also happened to me!). These dates become amazing stories that you can tell at cocktail parties for years. Not a loss!

(Side note: Blind dates are my absolute favorite. Please set me up with your friends.)

Of course, there are some downsides to being single. The truth is, not everyone is comfortable with single women. I lost a not-insignificant amount of friends, mostly coupled ones, when I left that relationship. The questions about when I’m going to finally settle down seem to increase with each birthday. My mother regularly makes jokes-that-aren’t-really-jokes about getting older and when she will be getting grandchildren (at which point I remind her that if she wanted to be a young grandmother she should have been a young mother).

I can sometimes literally feel pity emanating towards me when I’m at an event where the company consists mainly of couples. Luckily for me, I have always been exceedingly good at hanging out solo with couples. I’ve also somehow become the person that my married and otherwise-partnered friends ask for relationship advice, which I find slightly hilarious, but suspect is one of those “perspective from the outside” scenarios.

But perhaps the most important thing that being single has done for me is that it has made me into someone who will eventually be a better partner. I now know that I don’t have to rely on someone else to be happy, and it has let me examine what I want and need out of a partner in a way that I could never have done while actually partnered. It has let me look much more objectively at the parts of myself that are the strongest in relationships with others and at the parts of myself that I probably need to work on. Being single has also let me observe other people’s partnerships in a way that I couldn’t when I was partnered, which in turn allows me to take copious mental notes on the types of relationships that I admire and see the common threads that run through the most successful relationships. (Hint: Good communication and similar values and goals appear to be the biggest ones.)

I’ve been able to see that, partnered or not, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. That, yes, other people can contribute to our happiness, and we can contribute to other people’s happiness, but in the end, another person cannot be the sole thing that makes us happy any more than we can be the sole source of another person’s happiness. And thank God, right? Because that would be an incredibly heavy amount of responsibility.

My best friend of fourteen years told me earlier this year that he thinks I’m the only woman our age he knows who could love being a wedding planner so much while being single—that it’s unusual that constantly being around weddings doesn’t make me resent my clients or my newly engaged friends, or make me even a little bit sad that I’m not currently altar-bound. But I really, truly, love my job (in fact, I regularly say that I think I have the best job in the world) and I adore my clients—they continually renew my faith in both marriage and in love. And that’s the thing—I really believe in love, and I really believe in marriage. And most of the time, marriage is something that I think I eventually want for myself. But the difference between me-at-28 and me-at-24 is that it’s not my priority.

Because the truth is, as much as I love my job, and as much as I love helping my clients get married in as hopefully a stress-free way as possible (I cry at a majority of their weddings because I’m just so damn happy for them), I’m not totally positive that marriage is for me. I suspect that it is. I’ve been lucky enough to see, many times over, the ways that good marriages can make the individuals in them stronger. I feel extremely lucky to be surrounded by marriages that I can look at and say, “Yes, I’d like something like that, please.” So, probably marriage is for me. But being open to the fact maybe this is also it, open to knowing that not only will I be ok, but also happy (and often deliriously so) if I stay single? It’s an awesome kind of freedom.

Photo of Elizabeth and Meg from the Yay! New York photobooth by Leah and Mark

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  • KEA1

    Absolutely, positively, overwhelmingly EXACTLY!

    • Class of 1980

      If it were possible, I would “EXACTLY” every sentence of this post.

  • “..he thinks I’m the only woman our age he knows who could love being a wedding planner so much while being single.”

    Isn’t that the strangest thing?

    People would never tell you you could only truly enjoy being a car mechanic if you have at least four “klunkers” at home. Or that you can only genuinely have your heart stolen by teaching if you homeschool your own children (or, well, at least have children).

    We’re still stuck in this narrative where a marriage is an ideal that is so highly valued that not being envious of those who have it is almost unimaginable. *shakes head* That’s too bad. I really wish we would come to a point where being single (as a woman) is no longer treated as an unfortunate accident, or at best maybe a temporary necessary evil, but as a valid, complete way of life that some consciously choose and embrace and others would perhaps like to leave behind.

    I enjoyed your post tremendously. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mollie

      Well, I mean, didn’t you see that Jennifer Lopez movie?!

      • super lol’d.

      • I feel rather awkward now, because I am absolutely clueless about the movie you mention.


        • Mollie

          It’s called The Wedding Planner. You… uh… aren’t missing much :)

  • I absolutely love this. It expresses so much about my life. I’m 31 and single, and honestly, I’m pretty happy about it. I love when my friends get married because I’m so happy for then, but I dread the inevitable “So when’s it your turn?” I don’t know if marriage is for me. I have to find the right person first. So far, I haven’t found him. And thank goodness I didn’t marry any of those guys in my past. Some are great guys, some are losers, but none of them are for me.

    And my life is pretty awesome as it is.

  • as someone who was single (as in, not even having dated in middle school, kissed on the playground, not.a.single.date) until I was 27 1/2 years old, I agree with this most of all:

    “I’ve been able to see that, partnered or not, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. That, yes, other people can contribute to our happiness, and we can contribute to other people’s happiness, but in the end, another person cannot be the sole thing that makes us happy any more than we can be the sole source of another person’s happiness.”

    And I firmly…FIRMLY… believe that one can’t truly have the love and respect a relationship requires until they have found the love and respect for themselves, as an individual, to the point that they could be single forever and be truly happy in life.

    There was a point around my 26th birthday that I wanted to start making rules about how women should have to live on their own, supporting themselves, prior to marriage so they know they can do what it takes to survive (happily, as an added bonus)…because it’s a valuable skill and you never know when or why it might come in handy. Obviously this is extreme, but how can you know someone loves you if you haven’t even figured out who you are or what is important to you?

    • KW

      I am finding that having a long distance relationship does this too, to an extent. I am taking care of myself, managing my time, creating my own social life, and pursuing my professional goals on my own. While there are certainly drawbacks to long distance, I have grown to appreciate this opportunity to grow as an individual.

      • Harriet

        Great point. I really don’t think I’d be married right now if my husband and I hadn’t had the long-distance experience. It gave me a confidence that I didn’t even know I needed.

      • DNA

        I couldn’t agree more. Long distance was rough, and I’m very glad that I’m finally living in the same city as my partner. At the same time, while we were long distance, I really liked having my own social life, having lots of alone time, and being able to step back from our relationship often and see if it was something that was right for me.

        • This is so true. Having been single for most of college and my twenties, then having a relationship that turned long distance, has made me more ready for marriage than ever. I’ve had enough time on my own (and on my own with a partner) to truly know myself. I’ve also been on so many mediocre (and a few bad) dates that I knew right away my fiance was special.

    • Amy

      I loved living on my own and being single in my early 20s. It was scary, but also thrilling to know that I was perfectly capable of supporting myself, managing my finances, buying property, and making decisions about my career without needing a partner’s input.
      Not to mention, its very satisfying when my husband and I speak to realtors/mortgage people and he defers to my knowledge (and tells them to do the same) because I’m the one who has bought property before and done the whole financing rigamarole – not him.

      • Exactly. The most empowering thing I did as a singleton was buy my house…now it’s our home, but at the time of purchase I was single. Sure, it was scary, exciting, exhilarating, sometimes almost nauseating to look for a house and then to sign on the dotted line, but it was ballsy and incredible and made me realize that the only life I could control was my own. If I wanted something, I had to go out and get it….not wait around for someone to hand it to me.

        • mimi

          Me too! I bought my house as a single 26 year old. Looking back now it seems kinda nuts that I bought a house by myself that young, but I wouldn’t change it. I think I was too young to be scared. Now I’m 31 and my boyfriend moved in with me last summer. It still seems weird to share the house responsibilities that I had been used to handling on my own, but it’s great to be in a position to share.

  • Janet

    Amen sister! So sharing this with my single friends. I was single for most of my college days and the majority of my 20’s with two long distance relationships (which are as good as being single, except for the weekends where you get to see each other a few times a year) mixed in there. There were certainly times I wanted nothing more then to meet the man of my dreams and get married and have babies, etc. etc. etc. just like all my friends were. But now as I am quickly approaching my 30th birthday and have found the man I’m going to marry, I couldn’t be more thankful and happy with all those single girl years in my 20’s!

    I often tell people I had more fun in my mid to late 20’s as a single girl then I ever did while I was in college and in a relationship. I meet so many people, made some amazing friends, did some utterly crazy things, and just lived the hell out of life. I don’t think I would have been ready for my life now and the love my relationship has brought to my life if I hadn’t know who I was and what I wanted and DESERVED out of life first.

    For all you single girls out there…follow Elizabeth’s and my advice and any other loved/loving single life gal out there and just live the hell out of what single life has to offer you!

    • Emily

      Being single in my 20s was WAY more fun than college! In college you have to go to class, live in a dorm, etc, and it’s sort of a pressure cooker of 20 year olds that make you feel like if you’re single you’re doing it wrong. On your own in your 20s you can find excuses (I mean job/research opportunities *cough*) to travel and do what you want, especially without someone waiting at home.

      Life has odd rhythms. I wasn’t quite expecting the world-travel-single-freedom phase of mine to end as quickly as it did, but I also look forward this temporary “finishing school, settling down, only traveling if it’s somebody’s wedding and JetBlue flies there cheap” phase to transition into something exciting as well. Fingers crossed…you never know what is coming next.

      I love this post, and I completely agree that it is better to be single and take care of yourself than to be in a relationship that just isn’t working, and I don’t really *get* why some people don’t get that. A lack of experience being single and fear maybe?

  • Karen

    This post was very well written and the addition of the Mary Oliver poem was quite appropriate. Thank you for the reminder that we are all in charge of our own happiness, whether partnered or not.

    • I love this poem too!

      It’s funny, Oprah Magazine had an interview with Mary Oliver last year in which she talked about being single from the other side — her partner of 40 years had recently died. http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Maria-Shriver-Interviews-Poet-Mary-Oliver/1 And Mary Oliver talked about being able to fulfill certain dreams and goals now that she was single again. Even though she was lonely and missed that companionship, there were unexpected benefits from living alone. That really resonated with me.

      • Jess

        Thank you so much for sharing this interview! I’ve recently discovered Mary Oliver & nearly everything she’s said that I’ve come across has rung so, so true for me.

  • Bravo! Just when I think APW’s content can’t get any better, you come up with stuff like this. I love this site. (and I love love loved being single too!).

  • Izzy

    Great post! I was single for 7 years before I got together with my now fiance, and was often the only singleton among my friends. Although I wouldn’t have minded a few more dates during that time, I definitely see it as an important period in my life, where I learnt to be happy with myself and not rely on others for fulfilment. I have always been very independent and was never one of those serial relationship people (I know a of people who’d rather be with somebody/anybody than nobody at all), and having seen several friends marry and divorce, am glad I was content to live my life to the full by myself before the “right” guy came along. A relationship for me had to make my life better than it already was, that was the condition. And my fiance certainly does make my life better. And crucially, I never expected to be getting married, so I absolutely don’t take any of it for granted.

    • Class of 1980

      IZZY WROTE: “A relationship for me had to make my life better than it already was, that was the condition.”

      I could have written this and I could have written the original post. The only difference is that I’m doing it backwards. I had a lifetime of relationships that started in my teens! Until my divorce at 43, I’d rarely been alone and found it a relief in many ways. When a male friend told me to make sure I got remarried while still in my forties, I told him I wasn’t about to live my life based on fear.

      I know someone who says “Being with her husband is easier than breathing.” Unless and until until I stumble upon a man I feel that way about, I will remain happily and comfortably single.

      And if I do meet this rare man, I would be pissed off if I hadn’t taken the opportunity to live the hell out of single life.

      • mimi

        “Being with her husband is easier than breathing.”

        I love this. Sometimes I wonder if things are “too good” or “too easy” with my guy (who I’ve been with for a year and half after 8 years of being single), but this is exactly how I feel. Thanks :)

        • Class of 1980

          It means ur doing it right. ;)

    • Maggie

      “A relationship for me had to make my life better than it already was, that was the condition”

      That was my condition, too. I even mentioned it in my wedding vows. ;)

  • R

    I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve given friends who are dating this exact same advice about dating outcomes. Terrible dates do generate the best stories! And dating for the sake of dating is so much more fun- because your only expectations are to meet new people and gather new stories.

    Of course, the third guy I dated after college is the one I kept, so it’s not like I spent a lot of time dating…but I sure did have a good time!

  • This is so great – I have been hoping there would be a post like this for a while. I *loved* being single before I met my husband. (I loved it so much, that when things started getting serious with my husband – then boyfriend – I realized that I might very well marry this man, and may have panicked and broken up with him for two days, because I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to let go of my single life.) It was was one of the happiest times in my life, and I am so grateful for that period because it made me who I am – and it definitely made me a better partner in the long term.

    • Me too! We called it the reflex break up, haha.

      • Marina

        Yeah, I did that twice. Oops.

  • “the most important thing that being single has done for me is that it has made me into someone who will eventually be a better partner.”

    YES. THIS. And also, I credit the learning I did about myself during my single years (which weren’t as much fun for me as Elizabeth’s, but looking back I see how important they were) for helping me to be so solidly, assuredly, SURE that the man who I eventually found and decided to marry was The Right Person for me (and that the Me he was marrying was the Real Me, not some other version of me I might be trying to be to be so I’d be the Right Person for him).

    (got that? : P )

  • Yes! Standing ovation here! Being single and happily so is very important, and it will prove even more important once you are in a relationship again. Knowing yourself and liking yourself are also, IMHO, vital to finding the right person and being happy as a couple.
    I REALLY enjoyed my singledom, and then at 29, I met my husband, when I was ready.

  • Amanda M.

    I stopped reading at:
    “that feeling lonely when you’re actually alone is much, much better than feeling lonely when you’re lying in bed next to someone else.”

    I enjoyed being single, and mostly by reminding myself of the above at my lowest times.

    Now I’m 36, planning my wedding to an amazing man, and I am SO thankful for everything I learned about myself during those single years.

    • Vee

      There is a Modest Mouse song lyric that goes, “I’m lonesome when you’re around. I’m never lonesome when I’m by myself.” And YES. You learn how to be alone, but you never get used to the feeling of loneliness that someone else imposes on you.

      • Class of 1980

        My God. I know that feeling. That is the most brilliant thing I’ve heard today.

  • Kess

    You know, this is pretty much the ONE THING that has me a bit worried about marrying my BF eventually – I’ve never actually been single! My BF is my one and only.

    Ok, so technically I was single from whenever it was appropriate to start dating until 18, but that doesn’t really count. 3 weeks into my freshman year at college, my BF and I started dating and 3.5 years later, here we are, talking about marriage when our ducks aren’t quite as wiley.

    Granted, we’ve been long distance half of our relationship, and come May we’ll be long distance again. I really do believe that having that long distance experience has been crucial because I’ve never been single. It allowed me to figure out how I wanted to live, and how I didn’t.

    It also allowed me to be the center of interaction with people. I’m pretty introverted and don’t have many friends, my BF is less introverted and so I’m often “his girlfriend”. I don’t really mind as I’m perfectly fine not being the center of attention, but it was important for me to learn how to go to a social situation by myself.

    I think the biggest thing is that I know that if my BF and I were to break up, it would go something like this:
    I’d cry for a while, be depressed for a bit, and then I’d just deal with it, move on and be happy. I feel that I know I can, even though I have never really been single, and I’ve never had a relationship end. I feel like I am independent. And at least for now, that has to be enough!

    • jessie

      I wouldn’t be worried (assuming that the theory of never having been single means you might not be able to know whether you should marry a person is actually your only worry). What I take from this post is that we all need to live our lives as is best for us, and not put ourselves into relationships for the sake of the identity of ‘being coupled’. Likewise, it would be silly for anyone to suggest that you end a relationship for the sake of ‘being single’ for awhile, like both experiences are uniform in nature. I can’t tell you the number of people who say “aren’t you sad you never got to be single?” In other words… people judge everyone, and being an independent adult is what matters most.

    • Kat

      Totally agree with Jessie, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. I started dating my now husband 2 months after I turned 18, during our first year of uni. After we’d been together several years some people suggested to me that I had missed out on the great dating opportunities of your 20’s. I always pointed out it was ridiculous to break up just to be single, especially since there were no guarantees I’d end up back with this man I was probably going to marry.
      Having said that I agree with the post, but could make the slight tweak from ‘single’ to ‘independent’. Although I was in a relationship I was a lot more independent than some of my single friends who had parents paying their insurance, or helping them buy their first home in their early 20s.
      Now we’ve been together 9 years, married 2 and I have no regrets I missed out on the “single lifestyle” and I didn’t read that as the main point of the post – it sounds like you’ve got the knowing yourself and being independent bit sorted out!

    • Caroline

      I feel that the importance of a period of being single in your 20s is overstressed in our culture. Yes, it shouldn’t, perhaps be dreaded but enjoyed if it is where you are at, but I’ve always found the advice people used to give that it was important that I eventually not be with my partner so that I could experience being single to be downright bad advice and annoying. Certainly it’s better to embrace singledom and enjoy the good aspects of being where you are than desperately seeking a relationship, but if, as I did, you stumble into a strong, healthy relationship that makes your life so much better at a young age, the chance to be single isn’t a reason to dump them. Getting a chance to learn who you are as an individual is important, but in a healthy relationship, you can do that. If you have time together and time apart, if they challenge you, then you can grow in who you are as a person because of then, not in spite of them.
      I’m hoping this summer to go travel in Israel by myself for a few weeks. It’s something i’ve always wanted to do, and being in my wonderful relationship doesn’t mean we can’t each explore the world separately as well as together, it just means we have someone to come home, someone to tellour stories to.

      I don’t think that you need to worry about not having had a single period, if you truely feel that being with your partner is right for you. If the worries are maybe a symptom of up wanting to be single, it’s worth paying attention to. If it just feeling like others are telling you your relationship can’t succeed unless you have been single, then I think they are wrong and you hve nothing to worry about. The idea of having a decade of life not living with family, not partnered, is an extremely newfangled thing, and I don’t think our grandparents or great-grandparents marriages suffered for it.

      • I agree that not everyone needs to be single – my parents have been together since they were (young) teenagers, and almost 40 years later have a great marriage and are generally pretty well rounded people. But speaking purely for myself (which is all that we can ever do, right?) I am someone who really needed to be single as an adult. There is simply no way that I could be the person I am today without having spent the last several years being unpartnered. Is it possible to learn independence while in a relationship? Sure, and I have definitely seen it happen. It just wasn’t possible for me.

      • Class of 1980

        Also agree that not everyone needs to be single. We really do forget sometimes how individual our paths and needs are.

        My grandparents met in high school and their marriage is still my best model of what a marriage should be.

        • Caroline

          Oh I absolutely agree that some people do need that single period. But I was trying to point out to Kess that she needn’t feel that her relationship can’t be healthy if she didn’t go through a single period. For many people perhaps they need that, but it isn’t the only option to developing self-reliance and independence.

  • Ms. Whatsit

    I didn’t date at all in high school, and only had a few very short “relationships” with friends or friends of friends in college. Then, at 22, I got involved in a 6 year relationship. And like Elizabeth said above, the relationship was not good, even though he was a good person. I’m so thankful to him now for ending it, because I wouldn’t have. I would have held on forever because I just didn’t know any better.

    So, at the age of 29, I finally got to experience the dating world. And it’s just as you’ve described. There were some painful times, but overall it was good for me. It was a real boost to my self-esteem to know that I could attract so many men. I had always thought of myself as the dowdy friend of the prettier girls, and it was good to put an end to that story. It was also fun to meet different kinds of people. Most importantly, I learned that I can exercise some control over my romantic life. I don’t have to just take any guy who expresses interest and immediately be “in a relationship” with him. I can try things out, pass on some people, or decide not to date at all if I want. And when I finally met my true love, I knew it was really true, because I had experienced a wider range of possibilities. I didn’t just fall into a relationship with him, I chose him.

    • Jen

      I totally relate to you. At 19, I got in a 5 1/2 year relationship and I thought I wanted to get married, but I didn’t know enough about relationships to know he wasn’t treating me well. He said I would never break up with him like he deserved. I just tried so hard to make it work…I hope if we’d stayed together, someday I would have wised up and left him, but I don’t know.

      • Ms. Whatsit

        Either way, I’m glad you’ve found your freedom! :)

  • I feel like I could have written this about my own single days. Loving your single life is just the way to live life, whether marriage is the end result or not.

    Also, married ladies — can we stop shaming single ladies? I see the pity and hear the questions asked of my single friends all the time. I see friendships fade because one lady is married and the other is single. Enough!

  • jessie

    I haven’t been single since I was 19, when I met my fiance (we’re 28). Despite not having been single for the last 9 years, I relate very strongly to this post. Although it’s meant having to endure years of ‘clearly you aren’t really committed or you would have gotten married already’ judgements about my relationship, I am proud of the fact that we didn’t live together right away (in fact, we’d been together almost 4 years when we first signed a lease together). It wasn’t lack of commitment, but it WAS a desire to live with friends, travel, spend money how we wanted to, work internationally, and practice being self-sufficient adults in a way that’s hard to do once you fully integrate yourself into someone else’s day-to-day. I like to think that it had made me more aware of myself and my needs, and less afraid to advocate for those needs in the context of a relationship. It also has given me the confidence to know that this relationship is never going to be ‘trap’. It may be hard some times, and that’s okay, but ultimately I know how to be in my own company and trust myself, and that confidence makes me a better partner. I did that exploration within a relationship, but I think the core approach is the same. Thanks for such a lovely, thoughtful post.

  • “I’ve been able to see that, partnered or not, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. That, yes, other people can contribute to our happiness, and we can contribute to other people’s happiness, but in the end, another person cannot be the sole thing that makes us happy any more than we can be the sole source of another person’s happiness. And thank God, right? Because that would be an incredibly heavy amount of responsibility.”

    So incredibly true! I too cherished my single years because I learned the importance of making myself happy… incredibly, deliriously happy in my independence and my POWER as an enthusiastically single woman. I believe that experience makes me a better partner.

  • Lovely post. :) Also, I have a single brother who is very intelligent and funny….. however, we live in Nebraska, so possibly not the best setup option. ALAS.

  • So glad to see this post here!

  • PA

    “And I learned that … feeling lonely when you’re actually alone is much, much better than feeling lonely when you’re lying in bed next to someone else.”

    This. So much.

    I think that the ability to be single happily, and to feel complete as a person (and have a full life) while single is a great strengthener of relationships! It helps you know that you are there for the right reasons, not instead because of fear.

    • There aren’t that many feelings worse than the loneliness on terrifyingly long nights of lying in bed next to someone as the Grand Canyon spreads between you.

    • Yes.

      I started reading APW in 2008 (!) when I was engaged to a guy. It didn’t work out for various reasons, and we broke up, and it was really hard for a while there, but ultimately I’m so happy that I ended that relationship because he simply wasn’t the right one for me.

      The past few years of being single have been a valuable time for me to focus on myself, my interests, friendships, values and health. Not that that can’t happen in a good relationship, but I have so much more time now to take care of myself than before. And ironically, this experience is allowing me to become the stronger, more independent and self-aware person I want to be when I do decide to get into a relationship again.

      On a related note: I know so many APW readers are also NPR listeners, and today the Diane Rehm show talked about how so many people are living alone nowadays: http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-02-06/eric-klinenberg-going-solo-extraordinary-rise-and-surprising-appeal-living-alone There was some interesting discussion about how the rise of single living is related to women’s empowerment and financial independence, and how living alone can actually be helpful for women since we are so often the caretakers of others. Food for thought!

  • Marguerite

    Great post! More please!

  • this is soooo great!!! thanks for this lovely post

  • I love this so much. I was a 21-year-old college senior when I met my husband. I was living with my very best friends in a place that I loved and having the time of my life. I know for certain that the pure joy that I exuded in every moment I was awake was why he fell in love with me. I was the happiest girl in the world. Ten months after we met, he proposed and we were married shortly after I turned 24.

    But the thing is, I graduated college three months after we met and have been dealing the the post-grad let down ever since. I’ve fallen into a deep and painful depression that I can’t seem to escape. Planning the wedding was a suitable distraction for awhile, but since then things have been pretty rough. I still have a lot of good days. And our relationship makes me incredibly happy. But I’m not happy as an individual and that is putting a serious strain on our marriage.

    I know and understand all of this; so does he, and that helps. But I still have to find a way to get back to happy without going back to being a single girl who could pursue her happiness at all costs. I have to find a balance between the kind of selfish joy I had at 21, the heavy depression I feel at 25, and the amazing man who has been stable and strong through both.

    This isn’t easy and I wish I’d had the chance to find happiness for myself in a less-than-perfect situation before meeting my husband. I mean, of course I was happy at 21. What was there to be unhappy about? I knew within days of meeting Bill that he was it for me and I knew that I wasn’t entirely ready for him. I’d never planned on falling in love and getting married so young, but he showed up. And I loved him in a way that I’d never loved anybody before. And he loved me too. So of course we got engaged and then married.

    I knew that this was inconvenient, but I thought we could just push through. I didn’t see the depression coming and I thought that anything I could work out on my own would only be easier having a partner. But I didn’t think about the strain he would go through having me as his partner.

    Anyways, that’s my long-winded way of saying that sometimes you get to learn to be happy as an individual before entering into a committed relationship. And I think that although you might not be able to see that time as something you want, it’s probably the best route. Having to back-track to create that happiness for yourself while also juggling a relationship and building a collective happiness can be a much rougher tide.

    • Granola

      I also experienced a bit of post-college letdown. I was so good at school and it was predictable environment. Graduating and then struggling to find a job and feeling like a “failure” was really rough and my now-fiance didn’t always understand how hard it was. He’s more laid back in general and six years older, so he’d sort of muddled his way through it already.

      I’ve worried too that I should have found some way to be “on my own” for awhile, before getting married, but as you pointed out, it wasn’t convenient. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to throw away what we have to prove a point. Anyways, at the risk of going long, I just wanted to tell you that I know how you feel and if you ever want someone else to talk to who’s been there in some measure, please email me. alexandrahazlett [at] gmail.com

    • Ohhhh this. This feeling.

  • Paige

    I could have written the entire first paragraph, but especially this: “Somewhere inside, I had known for a very long time that the relationship was wrong for me. When we would talk about planning our wedding, somewhere in my head I was simultaneously thinking about our eventual divorce.”

    This post resonated with me SO much. I ended my 6 year long distance relationship (well the last 1.5 years of it was spent in the same city) when the phrase “well divorce is always an option” would pop into my head. Yeah, like Elizabeth said, not a good sign. I spent the next 6-7 months being single (until a guy I had a crush on since I was like 17 accidentally became my boyfriend, but that’s another story). That time was so important to me, not because I needed to learn what I wanted to do and be, but because it allowed me to learn what I COULD do and COULD be.

    The best part of that time was when I took my first trip overseas and did it all by myself! When I landed in Paris and got into an argument about Moroccan politics with a cab driver (in French), I felt invincible. And that feeling has carried over to all parts of my life. Without that time, I wouldn’t have had the courage to move halfway across the country to pursue my passion (to the chagrin of most of my family — I imagine being pressured to get married is a lot like choosing not to practice law after you’ve graduated law school — When are you taking the bar? You’re not? Well I’m sure the right time will come along soon, don’t worry. Are you sure you don’t want to practice law now? My friend Mildred’s son just graduated from Loyola Law. You two could study together! Blargh)

  • Amy March

    what about being unhappily single? Because I love my family and friends and job and apartment and life generally, but I do not love being single. I want someone to talk to after the party leaves, someone to dream of a shared future with, and kids. And frankly hearing from people who are happily coupled about how much they loved being single doesn’t help. Like reminiscing fondly about your free time off work to an unemployed friend, the heart is in a good place, and I can intellectually acknowledge that you may have experienced this time differently or I may someday look back with rose tinted glasses. But it feels smug and hurtful, and I appreciate Meg’s acknowledgement that a happily married person may not be the best to write on this subject. (and to be clear, I don’t doubt that many people are/were happy singles).

    Unhappy singles are often caricatured as desperate women, unable to be complete without a man, and I think this is a disservice to the cause of feminism. In the same way that not having a man doesn’t make me worthless, not being happily single doesn’t make me a traitor to the cause.

    • jessie

      Fair point. I too am not a fan of pretending like there’s ever a phase of life that’s perfect. It never is. There was a time when I was single and miserably sure that no one would ever love me, and as someone who’s been coupled for awhile, I will tell you that there are times when I’ve been so unhappily coupled it hurt. I imagine that if you meet someone and become coupled, there will be times when you’ll be as unhappy in that relationship too as you may be unhappy now.

      It’s more than okay to want a partner in life, just as it’s more than okay to long for days when you answered to absolutely no one but yourself. The thing is though, as you no doubt know: marriage isn’t a guarantee of togetherness foreverness. People die, they get sick, they divorce you even if you don’t want them to, you divorce them, you stay together even though it’s not your first choice, you both have different plans and live a completely unexpected life, and any other host of combinations. The only constant in your life, as Oliver’s poem points out, is you. Life surprises us, and if we aren’t prepared to go through it alone, and find happiness there, then we’re going to have a hard time of things, because ourselves alone is all we can be sure of.

    • k

      I don’t know if this will help, but I think if you’re happily single for any significant period of time, you will also spend some of that time being unhappily single. No matter what your situation, you can’t maintain unmitigated happiness for years on end with no down times. I am now “happily married” (six months today!) but that doesn’t mean I’m blissfully happy every single day — by characterizing my marriage as happy, I’m taking it as a whole. Same for my single life.

      Unlike most of the people who have posted here so far, I was completely single for ten years, in my 30s, after two long (and mostly miserable) relationships that took up my 20s. I did absolutely love it overall, and I had a great time in my 30s — dating, quitting my job for travel, learning new things, never asking anyone’s permission to do anything — BUT when you spend your entire 30s never stringing together more than three dates with the same guy, you have to acknowledge that you may well never get married. I certainly got depressed about my failure to find love from time to time.

      Two things helped me: most importantly, I very consciously tried to cultivate a habit of gratitude — noticing and giving thanks for the many good things in my (single) life; both because it made me happier, and because it made me a more pleasant person to be around. The other was based on something I read once that was actually kind of a joke: “Get off your ass and you’ll feel better.” For me this has became a mantra meaning both don’t forget to exercise, and remember to be involved in my community and do some volunteering, which usually also reminds me that I have it pretty good.

    • mimi

      Oh Amy, I completely understand. I was single (excluding some casual dating) from age 22 to just before turning 30. When I got into my late 20’s and my younger siblings and friends started getting married and having kids, I really had a hard time dealing with it. They were all getting what I wanted, and while I was happy for them, I was also envious and depressed and frustrated. I started seeing a therapist to help me deal with those feelings and also to help me develop some strategies to meet my goal of not being single any more. (I’m an introvert, so the biggest thing we worked on was initiating conversations and getting more comfortable talking to new people). A month before my 30th birthday, my best friend and her husband set me up with one of his friends. They knew what they were doing, as he and I are living together a year and a half later.

      Before I read this post, I thought of myself as having been unhappily single. I did have a great time partying in my 20’s and spent lots of time being happy with friends or with family or just being on my own, but I often wished for someone to share that with. After reading this post, I realized that I did learn so much from being single for so many years, and while I wish it would have been shorter and more happy overall, I ended up in the right place. I can only wish the same for you.

    • I think that there can be both feelings: feeling like you’d like to have a partner and also feeling like you get along well in the world flying solo.

      I remember when I was single saying aloud, “I feel like I should be totally happy by myself.” I said this in earshot of an attachment researcher and she responded, “Why? We’re biologically made to be attached to people.” And it was then that I let myself be OK with actually wanting a partner. Oddly, once I did that, I also became more OK with not having a partner.

      I don’t look back on my single days as blissfully happy. I look back on them as a time where I had a lot of fun, during which I realized what I wanted in a partner, and like the post said, I realized how to make ME happy. Blissfully happy? Nah, but accepting of where I was at the time? Yes (mostly :)).

    • Though I did love my twenties, which were spent almost entirely single (aside from a 9-month long-distance boyfriend in my late twenties and some dates here and there over the years), I had a harder time being single during my last couple of years of my twenties and very early thirties. Most of my friends had married (and had had kids) *YEARS* before (like early twenties), so it can get hard after a while when you are in the minority in your community.

      I do feel like getting married a little later gave me plenty of time to develop a pretty solid vision for what I wanted in life and in a marriage. (Like Izzy said above- “A relationship for me had to make my life better than it already was, that was the condition.”) And I wondered if I would ever find someone that I would actually want to spend my life with. But I had an amazing community of friends (married and single, with and without kids) that supported me (I lived far from family), and I am thankful for those years and experiences because I feel like I discovered so much about myself through it all. For me, those single years were a gift. But not an easy gift…more like a hard-earned one.

  • I’ve never been single, really single. There was a time right after college when I wasn’t technically dating anyone, but I was pining so hard after my best friend that it wasn’t really like being single. My mom used to call me a “roller.” I’d roll from one relationship to the next. That says things, I think. Things I rarely want to admit or deal with. So now I’m engaged to a woman I adore and am so excited to spend the rest of my life with. But she’s someone who spent many years being single and loved it. And I wish that I had a bit. So now, I love posts like this because they remind me that I have a little bit of extra work to do for myself – the work of digging into that independence and that sense of self while loving and being in a relationship with another person. It’s a different kind of work, but I think it’s necessary when you realize that you’ve never had those single experiences of personal growth but you don’t want to just drop what you’re doing and go paint the town red – by yourself.

  • Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I nodded with almost every line of this post. And oh my goodness, yes, being wonderfully single as a fully-grown adult was the best possible lead up to getting married that I could have ever had. This post is just such wisdom. I want to email it to all my single and unhappy about being single friends.

  • Katie

    I share your personal philosophy about dating, and preach those three date outcomes to my single friends all the time. I had about 4 years of awesome single-ness, half in Boston and half in NYC, in my late 20’s/early 30’s where I dated heavily and loved every second of it.

    When I met my now-fiance, I was finally ready for him. I tell him all the time that if he had met me two or three years prior, we would have never worked. I wasn’t done with the exploring, the growing, and the online dating! (Now I offer my online dating coach services to friends, as I firmly believe they are MISSING OUT by not using this medium.)

    • Ay-men Sista! I was going to leave a comment, and realized this was exactly what I was going to say.

      Being single in my 20s ROCKED. I was surrounded by friends, got to try all of the experiences that I could heap on my plate (Yoga? Sure! A singer for a big band? Why not!), and felt that every day was a little drop of plant food for my soul. I’m a more whole and grateful person for that time.

      And when I got lonely? I started online dating. Not only was it fun to have all the possibilities at my disposal, it was a way of being “proactive” without having people automatically label me the “desperate singleton.” I absolutely believe there needs to be coaching/a set of guidelines for online dating. We should probably write them. ;)

  • One of the things I mourned the most severely when I decided to marry young was the loss of those years of singleness I’d always assumed I would have. Don’t get me wrong, I came around to love the young marriage situation (duh, I did it); but I still grieve the adventures and lessons I would have been having on my own. I think it’s appropriate to consider marriage as, in some ways, a loss – rather than the cultural notion of marriage as gain and singleness as emptiness. I have little spurts of envy for you, Elizabeth, and my other single friends rocking it out through their twenties. Excellent post.

  • ambi

    I absolutely love this post. I really really did – so please don’t take what I am about to say as any indication that I didn’t think your post was incredibly wise and well-written.

    However . . . I struggle a little bit with accepting that this was your experience, and Meg’s, and probably many other reader’s, but that mean it is a universal truth. Being single can be great for some people, can help them grow and evolve and become more confident. But for others, it just really sucks. And that doesn’t mean those people have yet to grow or evolve into the type of confident singleton that they should be.

    I have also been single as an adult, and while it did teach me that I am capable of doing things on my own and being pretty self-reliant, it also taught me how much I miss and need companionship and that I am less happy on my own than when I share my life with someone I care about. I am not saying that any relationship, even a bad one, trumps being single – I am just saying that my single self learned that while I can do it, I really don’t like it.

    Although I am in a very serious relationship now, we’ve had our ups and downs and we’ve recently been dealing with some heavy stuff that has caused me to think about what my life would be like if I were single again. I know without a doubt that the world wouldn’t end, that I’d be able to settle into a comfortable routine, and I would enjoy some of the freedoms discussed in the post. In fact, I know that a part of me would be proud of my self-reliance again. But at the same time, the prospect of being single again is insanely scary for me, and probably for many readers. And our feelings are legitimate – as a woman in her thirties, I know that being single at this stage in my life, when I am much more interested in having children than going out to listen to music or drink whiskey, will be difficult. Unlike my younger self, being single now comes with the threat of having to make huge life decisions about whether to have a baby or try to adopt, etc., and those are not things I would want to have to do on my own.

    And honestly, I guess I am just not made of the same stuff the author is made of, because those looks of pity and the awkward gatherings and loosing a lot of your coupled-up girlfriends, that stuff really really gets to me.

    So, I know it isn’t a popular or probably a very feminist perspective, but I think at some point we have to talk about the fact that for a whole lot of women singledom is less than ideal, and even causes a lot of sadness and distress. And that is, honestly, something I and many other people weigh when making big relationship decisions. Being single is great for some people, but for those of us who really hate it, we need to acknowledge those feelings and realize that avoidance of singlehood is playing into our decisions. That may be bad, it may be just fine. I don’t know. But it is real and deserves to be recognized as just as valid a perspective as the narrative celebrating the strong single girl enjoying her freedom.

    • ambi

      Man I wish there was an “edit” button . . . so many typos , they’re burning my eyes!

    • Ashley

      Exactly! I totally agree with everything you’ve written here, I basically could have written about 90% of it. And while I’m now in an extremely happy place in my relationship, we have navigated some really tricky waters to get here and there were definitely times where I was afraid I was going to end up alone again. In those times I absolutely felt shame that I didn’t want to be alone. I thought I was pathetic, that I wasn’t strong enough to be alone. I knew on a cerebral level that I could be alone that I would be just fine and like you said might even enjoy some of the upsides of it but ultimately emotionally I didn’t want to do it. All that to say, I so so get you.

    • MDBethann

      I relate both to Elizabeth’s main post and to Ambi’s comment. I found joy in being single, but there were also times when I was lonely and wished I had someone to share my life with. In my late twenties, after I dated guys but hadn’t had any actual relationships in awhile, I realized several things about myself:

      -I don’t like to party, but I do like to try new things and be adventurous (wine tastings, road trips, volunteering, traveling overseas)
      -I can survive on my own & take care of myself (buying property, calling a handyman, car maintenance, traveling, etc).
      -While I am capable on my own and don’t mind my own company, I’m an extrovert, and I get energy from being around others. But that other person could be my sister (who lived with me for 2 years), or it could be a friend, or it could be a boyfriend. I just like having companionship.
      -I hope I meet the right guy for me, but if I don’t, I won’t settle. Instead, I can still have a family of my own, I will just have to create it by giving a home to a child or two who don’t have one. (And that was okay for me, though it might not be for everyone, and it took some time for me to reach that place. And I still plan to do this, just with my FH instead of by myself.)

      3 years ago, I met a wonderful man, got to know him as a friend, then dated him for 1 1/2 years before getting engaged. Our wedding is in May and I am incredibly happy to share my life with him. But I think I appreciate him and our life together more than I otherwise might because I know that sharing my life with him is something I want because I prefer it for me, not because it is expected for me. I also feel like our relationship is a partnership – each dependent on the other for some things, not because we have to, but because we WANT to and it works for us. I think there is a difference.

      The biggest takeaway I got from Elizabeth’s piece is that we need to know WHO we are as an individual, and obviously it can be easier to do this when you’re single and only have your own needs to meet. However, that doesn’t mean that a “coupled” person can’t figure out who they are and what they want, but then they need to keep the communication lines open with their partner so they don’t grow apart (seen that happen too) and both are aware of one another’s changing needs.

      And that also means there is nothing wrong or unfeminist with wanting to share your life with someone. As another poster pointed out, a prof pointed out to her that humans are supposed to be together and have attachments. I think it just can become unhealthy when we lose ourselves and our identities in those attachments – they should become part of who we are, just not all of who we are.

      • ambi

        I completely agree with what you are saying. I just meant that I sometimes feel like I am not living up to the “strong happy independant single woman” narrative that has been so celebrated recently. As someone who definitely self-identifies as a feminist, I am so proud that that narritive is become more socially accepted – the message to young girls that you don’t need a man to be happy is great! However, like everything else in life, this issue is more complex than it first appears because even a strong capable single woman may honestly hate being single and wish that she had the companionship and love that she sees in her friends’ marriages. I just wish that there was some way to talk about hating being single, wanting to be coupled up, wanting to be married (even if you don’t have that special person yet), that didn’t play into the stereotypes of pathetic single girls all obsessed with finding a husband. How do we, as a culture, recognize that women may not fall into either camp – they may not actually be happily single, but that doesn’t make them a Cathy cartoon. I just feel like we need more voices expressing the hard complex truth that many women really hate being single, dread it in fact, but are still capable of knowing exactly who they are and making smart relationship choices.

        I guess I am just saying that, for someone who loathes the idea of being single again, I kind of feel like my particular culture of feminist blogs is trying to tell me that, if I was strong enough and independant enough, I would actually like it. Being single makes me really sad, and those feelings are as valid as anyone else’s love of single life.

  • Lisa

    Holy crap, I feel like this could have been written by me. That first paragraph described me and my ex almost perfectly. It drives me nuts when I hear people complain about being single. I was single for 3 years in between the last boyfriend and my now husband and while yes, there are ups and downs, it can be wonderful. I just want to yell at them, enjoy your life!

    And this line, “And I learned that it’s actually ok to sometimes feel lonely, or more importantly, that feeling lonely when you’re actually alone is much, much better than feeling lonely when you’re lying in bed next to someone else.” YES.

    • Amy March

      Gee thanks! Enjoying life is not incompatible with being unhappy you are single.

    • Ashley

      I don’t think it’s fair that you’re making the assumption that just because someone isn’t happy being single means they aren’t enjoying their life. I can say that I was definitely unhappy being single for a while but I was simultaneously enjoying my life.

      • k

        See, now this is very interesting to me, because when I am unhappy, man, I am not enjoying *anything*!

        I think this sort of shows why it can be so hard to talk about these things, especially online. There is such a range of things one can mean by the phrase “unhappily single” — from “I’m fundamentally miserable but I think if I found a partner, then I would be happy” to “I’m fundamentally happy but I sure would like to share my life with someone.” And there is a huuuge grey area between those two statements.

        Because of what *I* mean when I use the word “unhappy,” I tend to hear the former, but that’s clearly not what you mean when you use the same word. It sounds like you use it to mean the same thing I would mean by “occasionally dissatisfied.” Now, if I were having a face to face talk with someone, I would then ask a bunch of questions to determine where on that spectrum they really fall, but online it’s harder to tease out the nuances from a few sentences.

        • Ashley

          I see what you’re saying here and you’re right. I guess it makes sense since the idea of being happy or unhappy is obviously pretty personal. There’s a good possibility that a lot of the people who are unhappiily single really are unhappy with their life in the way that you mean but I think there is a group of people out there that like me, although fundamentally happy with their lives would be hesitant to decribe themselves as “happily single”. In that they don’t want to remain single but in the meantime aren’t miserable in their lives. Does that make sense? If I was a better writer I would totally write a post on this subject because I lived in that space for quite a while and am now happily not single but still aware of the amount that I learned about myself and untimately relationships during that time.

          • k

            That absolutely makes sense — I can see how someone could feel saying “I’m happily single” implies they’re all “HOORAY!! I’m SINGLE!” while in reality they’re fine, but not all that enthused about remaining single forever.

  • Stephanie

    Best post of the year! I love this post so much. I got married last year, after years of dating and being in and out of not-the-right-fit relationships. This post so exemplifies the most important time of my adulthood life. If I wasn’t single and didn’t learn about who I was as a person, I could never have been so downright honest about myself to my current husband. Thank you for such a strong and beautiful post. This is why I’m still reading APW.

  • Absolutely, I loved my life as a single lady. I learned so much about myself, took myself out on dates, had lots of girl time… etc. So when I met my friend/husband, I was ready. Thanks for sharing this post!

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  • kate

    as a single fan of APW i’ve often thought about how much i agree with the APW approach to weddings and relationships but i have yet to find that person to spend the rest of my life with and sometimes it’s downright depressing to be looking at your life and having nothing on the horizon that makes you think it will ever be your turn to write a graduate post.

    as others have said it’s not that I’m not happy being single – i have a life full of family, friends, laughter and love – and i am fully capable of being alone all my life, but I don’t want to be, i want to be able to share it with someone.

    i would love to see a post that builds off of this – a post about looking for the relationship that leads to love, engagements and marriage and if anyone else out there ever wondered if they’d ever find the right person to make a life with and what advice they have to those of us that aren’t even at the relationship stage yet. i don’t doubt that I’ll find it someday, but sometimes it helps to have a boost of faith and to know you’re not alone.

    • I was alone, not even dating, for 5 years before meeting my husband and, before that, I only had a long-distance relationship that lasted 8 months. So I know what it is to be alone and to wonder whether the right person will come along, whether one will get to spend one’s life with someone
      During all that time I was alone, my friends started relationships, got married (many very young), had babies and, at some point, I became the “spinster”friend ;) I come from a city where most people marry young, generally the person they start dating in high school , so not having had any of that transformed me into a third wheel at times. At first my friends would try to set me up with someone on blind dates but I never clicked with those guys and at some point I just didn’t feel like dating anymore. I made a conscious decision not to date unless I was truly interested in meeting a specific person..and I was not interested in anyone for 5 long years. But what scared me more that loneliness was the thought of spending my life with someone I knew wasn’t right because of fear.
      By the time I met husband I was 29 years old and he was 38 and also single. I had left my country and was working in peacekeeping, following my dreams. I had reached a point where I was happy with who I was and where I knew that I could have an interesting and fulfilling life on my own. I knew I would rather spend it with someone I loved, but if that person didn’t appear, so be it, I was planning to travel the world, learn to speak 11 languages, meditate in an ashram, see the sunrise on the Chinese wall, walk around the lavender fields in Provence and climb Macchu Picchu…at least ;)
      Being single gave me the time to focus on myself and to know what I wanted for my life, what were the essential qualities of a future Mr. Right and what I was not going to accept.
      Then I met my husband and everything clicked. As cheesy as it sounds, the minute I met him I felt we were made for each other. We married 5 months after we met, 6 years ago, and we have 3 1/2 year old twins.

  • I am nearly 27 years old, having never been kissed or taken out beyond a first date, and I can say, I am ok with that. Have I, at times, craved intimacy and good communication and just someone to talk to? YES! My friends have a hard time understanding where I am coming from and they have an even harder time understanding why I am still a virgin.

    I am happy being single though. A lot of my friends are couples and they’ve never made me feel left out. Of course, I tend to pick friends whose spouses understand the need for a girls night out and I pick friends whose spouses don’t mind when I come over to hang out. I love not having to ask someone when I want to do something…I just do it! And no one ever questions why I do something!

    And I LOVE being a wedding photographer!!! :) I often get asked if it’s weird for me but it isn’t. I absolutely LOVE watching people in love and I like to understand HOW they love. Being a wedding photographer and capturing these moments restores my faith in human connection and the love between two people. Now how much better can that get?!

    Thank you for writing this and articulating every good point about being single! I know a few people I will probably forward this to.

    • I applaud your married friends! The community aspect is so important here – there’s a huge difference between being single amongst married friends who invite you into their lives and marriages and being single amongst married people who shut you out. A great reminder for the coupled up amongst us to hold the hearts of others gently!

      • It is huge for me to be able to have married friends that don’t shut me out or treat as a wheel when we go out! Yes, married people, single people need friends who are in relationships…for advice and for examples of how relationships are suppose to work (or not work).

        Most of my life has consisted of people just dropping me as a friend the moment they get married (or have a baby). It hurts but it is a huge reminder for me for whenever I get married or have a life change.

  • Fabulous post, Elizabeth! I know this isn’t everyone’s truth, but for me, loving and living the sh*t out of my singlehood was a really important part of my life. There was something really empowering about being able to enter marriage with those years in my back pocket, like a trump card of knowing how to be contentedly alone.

  • Kristin

    Love this. I had been single for over 5 years when I met my husband. And while I wouldn’t say that I *loved* it, I do appreciate how important it was in cultivating self-reliance and and a strong sense of who I am. By the time I met my husband, I knew enough about myself to know that it was right.

    Also, I think it’s just as important *after* coupling up to make space for the individual exploration and growth of each partner.

  • Lea

    I was in a long-distance relationship for three years, and I feel like it made me more conscious of diving my timr between ‘me’ time, time spent with friends, and couple time. It’s important to hold onto that thoughtfulness in order to maintain other relationships and your community. I’ve never really been single, but (echoing other comments) I like to think that my time living alone will help me rely on myself if I am single in the future.

  • “I learned that it is possible to be held up by a community instead of by one person.”

    This, so, so much. Life got so much more *sane* when there was a network to live in rather than feeling like one end of a balancing barbell.

    • Caroline

      I’ve not been a single adult, and yes so much exactly! Only in my relationship with my partner did I learn to create a whole community of support, which I lacked much of my life. As a teen, it felt like poorly balanced family triad (mom, sis and me), but now, I have a whole web of suport, from my partner, and several groups of friends, with several very close friends, and mentors and teachers. You don’t have to be single to find a network of support, but being supported by more than one person is so important.

  • I love everything about this post. I, too, am super-happily married, but seeing as I never wanted to get married until, well, I did, I rocked the single life! I feel like I know myself better because of it, because I wasn’t always looking for a partner to fulfill me. I know a lit of girls who needed someone to feel whole, and they don’t know how to be alone when their marriage doesn’t live up to their expectations. I still carry much of that independent spirit with me, which takes the pressure off of my man to be everything to me. Well done, single ladies, well done.

  • To those who have had a different experience and are wishing for a post on how being single is hard… write one! The strength of the APW community is that there are so many different voices and truths, and those contributions make the site what it is. Elizabeth wrote beautifully about what has been true for her, and it resonated with many. If it didn’t resonate with you and left you wishing for another topic that hasn’t been addressed yet, please write something and submit it. A woman can only write about her own experience- it doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s.

  • CW

    Thank you thank you for this post! I was one of the DC book tour stop people who raised their hand to single. It’s kind of awkward to to admit that in a place where most are married, engaged or pre-engaged. So much of the post and comments resonate- I was lonely for a bit and still am once or twice a year. But much of the past 4 years of singleness has been great! I’ve found community, been able to invest in other people, gone back to grad school while working full time, taken up new hobbies, done things spur of the moment. Life is full and rich. I’m thankful for the fact that most of my life has been single, with windows into others’ families. I know who I am better for these experiances. I’ll just keep on being super happy for all my married/engaged/in-relationship friends!

  • I know this is totally *not* the point of this post


    “My mother regularly makes jokes-that-aren’t-really-jokes about getting older and when she will be getting grandchildren (at which point I remind her that if she wanted to be a young grandmother she should have been a young mother).”

    is going into my backpocket. My now-husband’s mom starting talking to me about grandbabies *4 months* after we started dating. I was sooo unprepared for that conversation! She still bugs us, and I’ll definitely give this a whirl next time it comes up. thanks :)

    • please use it! It’s the perfect not-mean rebuttle that can’t be rebutted (well, unless you’re my mother, who will sometimes say that she wishes she had been a younger mother. sigh.)

  • This post really resonates with me, because the first two paragraphs could very easily have been written by me, though somewhat in reverse. I spent the first half of my college career embroiled in serial monogamy (some relationships better than others), and the second half (and, especially, my senior year) single. I say “and especially,” as it was much more conscious and determined senior year as opposed to junior year (with a couple of somewhat notable exceptions, I barely even DATED senior year). I met my “bad for me” ex the winter following my graduation (so … 6 months?), and I thought it was perfect. I was just starting my career, he was finishing grad school, and we both had been single for some time and were fiercely independent, but we liked each other and we were ready to settle down. We moved in together after 6 months, I plotted grad school for myself, and I was on the marriage fast-track. It seemed logical. It seemed like a good match.

    Until I started to miss being single.

    It was probably, in part, a maturity thing, but it was also that we wanted totally different things. For example, “if I was single,” yes it was socially acceptable for me to flirt with Mr. X (maturity). But, more importantly, “if I was single” I could live in Neighborhood Y in Cityville, as opposed to Cul-de-Sac Z in Suburbia (something else). “If I was single,” I could get a dog and not listen to his litany of excuses as to why he didn’t want to get one. Etc. These weren’t the most marked of the differences in our values, just the most sanitized.

    I knew I wasn’t afraid to be single. I found myself fantasizing about moving out, and even scoured Craigslist for new apartments, but I didn’t seem to put together that, for me, it was a Red Flag. At least, not right away. I did know, that if I actually pulled the trigger on moving out, our relationship would be over, but it’s only in hindsight that was just the end result. I needed to come there on my own time.

    However, fortunately, I already knew what it was like to be single, and I knew it was a lot of fun. I also knew that there were certain things I wanted out of life – and out of a partner – that I was unwilling to compromise on, and I was perfectly happy to remain single until I found someone who met those criteria. I spent some time drinking a lot of margaritas, playing a lot of bar trivia, singing a lot of bad karaoke, and doing some shameless flirting with a lot of Mr. X’s. (*ahem*) I had a blast.

    And, then, I decided to hit the dating scene again. I soon met my husband. I wasn’t looking for a husband – I wasn’t even necessarily looking for a boyfriend – but there it was. And I wasn’t too afraid of NOT being single to know that it was RIGHT.

  • clampers

    I loved my single years! LOVED them!!!

  • Just stumbled upon your blog, and absolutely LOVE your view on life (probably because its very similar to mine!) Thanks for making me feel better about choosing to be the “single 28 year old” in a sea of married and coupled up couples :)

  • My husband and I started dating at 19, so I’ve never been single as an adult. Plus, I’m a twin, so I’ve never really had to be without another person who is very close to me. Sometimes this scares me, and I worry that I’m not my own person, or that I haven’t gotten the chance to really be myself. I don’t really think this is true, but it is scary to think about.

    Also, I’m so glad that you said that you enjoy hanging out with couples. I always figure that single people wouldn’t want to hang out with us; we’re homebodies and we’re pretty laid back, so I assume they would find us boring (and I’m sure some would).

    • oh, do not think this about single people! I have many married/coupled friends who I *love* to spend time with by having dinner at their houses with both them and their partners. (I also find that some of the best advice I ever get about dating/guys comes from my girlfriends’ husbands – having access to this advice is one of my favorite things about having lots of married friends.)

  • rachel

    I want to like this essay, but like several other commenters, I don’t think single life is all that easy or happy when one wants to be partnered. Four years of being single? Try never having a relationship longer than 5 months. And not because I don’t want it or can’t commit, but because I have yet to find a guy who is as interested in me as I am in him. I’ve had periods of more intentional dating, online and otherwise, and periods of not-much dating — mostly because the periods of unsuccessful dating are tiring (those really common “just fine” dates that go nowhere get really annoying after a long while…). I firmly believe in independence and have never been scared of being single. But sometimes I just long for a partner, for someone to come home to, for someone to plan a future with. I very much appreciate that an essay about being single appeared here, but I’d like to hear from someone who has been single a long time (sorry, but 4 years seems really short to me, especially when someone has had a long-term relationship before it). Perhaps it’s time to ask Sara Eckel to contribute something? She’s the person I’ve found most clearly articulates the challenge of being really single for a really long time while still wanting to be partnered.

  • I saw this post today on Feministing.com and though it dovetailed nicely with what Elizabeth had to share: http://feministing.com/2012/02/06/monday-morning-awesome-relationship-advice-from-a-feministing-reader/

    Great post!

  • Not Sarah

    “I’ve been able to see that, partnered or not, we’re all ultimately responsible for our own happiness. That, yes, other people can contribute to our happiness, and we can contribute to other people’s happiness, but in the end, another person cannot be the sole thing that makes us happy any more than we can be the sole source of another person’s happiness.”

    This. After college, I got an apartment by myself and living alone has really helped me to come out of my shell. I can be myself while hanging out with other people and be as social as I want, but then come back to my own space that is all *me*. That is so amazing.

    I spent most of college in and out of relationships, some long distance, some local, and I vowed to myself that I would spend my first 12 months of Real Life not in a relationship. I did go on the occasional date (I’m still not good at distinguishing between dates and friendship hanging out) and I did start dating someone near the very end of that 12 month period.

    After that first post-college relationship, I told myself that every day with the person I need to actively choose to be with that person instead of being by myself. I absolutely love being by myself, so if I would rather be by myself than be with the person, something isn’t working in the relationship. My second post-college relationship was definitely better than that first one, but I fell in love with him and he didn’t think he could ever love me. Rationally, I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t think he can ever love me, regardless of how I feel and I love being by myself, so being out of that relationship is for the best.

    I love your way of looking at dating! I definitely need to get better at looking at it that way. One thing I try to do is to decide by the end of the date if I want to see the guy again and then re-evaluate that again in the morning since my opinion might have changed after the alcohol (if we drank) wore off or just after some more time reflecting. But often, those first date reactions are so important.

    • k

      “I’m still not good at distinguishing between dates and friendship hanging out.”

      When I was single I called those “mystery dates,” because it was a mystery as to whether it was a date or not. I knew I was having fun, I just wasn’t sure what kind of fun I was having.

      • Not Sarah

        Mystery dates! I love that term – thanks :) I think I’m actually pretty lucky in that I’ve mostly only had good/fun dates, even if I didn’t connect with the person.

  • Certainly one thing that made me think twice about getting married young was THIS. I totally missed out on this. I am so happy for you. Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m sure someone’s already said this but I can’t read through all the comments right now. So thank you for this:

    (at which point I remind her that if she wanted to be a young grandmother she should have been a young mother)

    I love you.

    This whole post is awesome, in all the ways. I hope you inspire some people to be okay with singlehood (esp those that maybe should get out of a bad relationship.) Thank you so much for sharing. This is why I keep coming back to APW, even though I’m not engaged/married.

  • kate

    i do feel heartened that there are posters here who were single for long periods of time before finding the relationship that lead to marriage. i’ve been single for going on 7 years and there are definitely times when i feel like i’ve forgotten how to be in a relationship and that it’s just been too long for me to every be able to do it again.

    i feel a little more optimistic that there have been people in those 7 years that i’ve connected with and feel like i could have a future with but it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another. knowing that they’re out there helps me feel like one day it will come.

    other than that there isn’t really much to do but to keep on trying, saying yes to things (best advice your mother ever gave you – go! you might meet somebody) and being open to love whenever and wherever it might come from. i know those are hard to swallow sometimes, but as a lot of other posters have attested, there’s something pretty great and worthwhile about spending some time one on one with yourself and it’s worth appreciating even when we’re wishing we could share it with someone else. keep the faith and hope for the best and know you’re not alone. :)

  • Thank you for writing this and putting this out into the world! I wholly agree that everyone should spend time being single. It is only then that you do learn more about who you are and what you want out of life. It is a breath of fresh air to hear these words that I can relate too, as I was also thisclose to being married three years ago and although breaking it off was sad, it was the best thing for both of us.

  • Just yesterday I had the opportunity to tell the teenage young women at church about how my plan to get married at 23 and have a kid by 24 didn’t work out and I’m so much the better for it and happier than I ever could’ve been if my plan had been allowed to work. And that if I hadn’t been happy with who I was when my husband came around, if I’d been moping around and woe is me-ing that I was single, there never would’ve been a second email (we met online) and we never would’ve been us. It was my happiness with the opportunity I was given to grow and struggle and learn on my own that led to the happiness I have with the opportunity to grow and struggle and learn with him right now.

  • Diane

    Re the three possible date outcomes, so true! The way I used to put it was that the average guy (and, I’d assume, the average girl) is, in fact, average. I also had some TERRIBLE first dates that I’m grateful for because I can still laugh over them, including the guy who basically gave me a 45 minute monologue, then paused, and without a touch of irony said, “I’ve been talking a lot about myself. What do you want to know about me?” Or the worst date ever, with a guy who spent the first ten minutes telling racist jokes. I’m ashamed to say that I was so thoroughly shocked that I was actually hearing that in circa 2003 that I didn’t throw my drink in his face or storm out, though the date was brief and not repeated. I think, though, that those relationships that are really good but just missing something are the toughest. I dated a kind, caring man for 15 months and the best reason I could give him for ending it was that I just couldn’t imagine sitting around having breakfast with our kids someday. It takes more courage to end a relationship that is basically good but just not quite right than it does to be quiet and go on so for you women who are right in the thick of it, I’m sending up the very warmest of thoughts. May your bravery be rewarded, after a time of sadness, with a greater depth of happiness than you knew possible.

  • Alyssa

    Oh Elizabeth,

    This post is perfection. I am bookmarking it so that I can come back and read it as often as necessary while on this strange and wonderful journey as a 20-something single girl. And, let’s be honest, I may have to reread it many times!

    I am the girl who is happy single, who is pursuing dreams, who has awesome single and married friends… I am happily single, but also happily daydreaming of finding mr. right. Because for me, I can’t imagine not sharing this crazy beautiful life with someone.

    Thanks for writing this,

  • Moz

    As a single wedding vendor in her late twenties who also reads APW – I am with you on every bit on this. Thanks so much.

  • Suzanne

    Thank you for this post! I am 24 and just broke up with my boyfriend of 4 years, so I could really relate to what you were talking about being “this close” to marriage. And yes, it’s a bummer that the ring never came, but at least now I know and can move on. I feel reassured by your words that things will get better, and in fact, being single will be fabulous!

    PS Meg – I saw you in New York and you were wonderful! I’m glad I got to hear you speak and see that you are just as cool in person as you are online.

  • Kelsi

    Wonderful post! I’ve been reading the site because I have a friend who’s getting married, and because I’m a big proponent of marriage equality, but this post really speaks to what’s going on in my life. I recently got out of a five-year relationship, and I’m amazed at how much I am enjoying being single. Not because I don’t believe in love, or marriage, or because I don’t think those things are for me–but because I’m remembering how to love myself, and how to rely on myself, and it makes me so much happier than I’ve been for the last five years. I like to think that someday, when I meet a person I’m meant for, I will be a much better partner for them because of this time I’m enjoying as a single woman.

  • Amber

    As someone who’s thinking of leaving a two and a half year relationship because I feel my boyfriend is not ultimately the right person for me, I really appreciate that the writer of this article has at some point been single for a long period of time in her life. Nothing is more irritating than the increasingly pushy advice I’m receiving from some friends to “just let him go and be single, it’ll be good for you” when they have been serial monogamists since high school and never taken their own advice. Thanks for this post!

  • Greetings! Very useful advice within this article!
    It is the little changes that produce the largest changes.

    Thanks for sharing!