Some of us are single by intention. We thrive on our own and with friends. Some defaulted to it through circumstances. And lots of us wouldn't have it any other way, writes High50's Xenia Taliotis
Goodness me, it's not easy finding a positive representation of single people in movies and literature. The message seems to be that being single will eventually turn you mad, from psychopaths such as Norman Bates and Hedra Carlson (Psycho and Single White Female) via lovelorn Bridget Jones to an assortment of fragile minds splintered by loneliness, despair and/or sexual frustration (Rachel Waring in Stephen Benatar's lacerating Wish Her Safe at Home; Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire and Ignatius J Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces).
Thankfully, those fractured souls are nothing like my gregarious, attractive, single friends, some of whom have never had a relationship. Nor are their lives anything like the single life I've led for nearly a decade.
Either through choice or circumstance many of us are alone -- and we're part of a growing demographic. Though it's impossible to know how many unattached people there are globally, the number of single-person households is growing. Market research company Euromonitor forecasts that these will rise to 331 million by 2020, up from 277 million in 2011.
Why Online Dating Was Not For Me
I became single when my partner died nine years ago. His death threw me into a well of grief so deep and dark and devoid of footholes that I thought I would never find my way out.
When I did eventually surface from that oceanic sadness, I was in my mid-40s, freelance, and in a much-decreased social circle. There were no work dos, no introductions to eligible men, no way of meeting anyone new that wasn't virtual.
I did briefly window shop online but I felt as if I had fallen asleep in Harrods and woken up in a jumble sale. I am sure there were gems to be found in there somewhere, but I didn't have the energy to rummage through the crumbled and the rumpled, the torn, worn and downright good for nothing.
Why I Stayed Single
And so I have remained single; partly because my reluctance to look is greater than my need to find, and partly because I can't imagine finding anyone who would make me feel as much everything -- love, desire, anger, even -- as my partner did.
I do many things alone; go to the cinema, the theatre, even travel -- not because I don't have friends (I do, and plenty of them) -- but because I have learnt to enjoy the spontaneity that being single affords me.
I would probably describe myself as single by default, but I have friends who come closer to being single at heart, a term coined by social scientist Dr Bella DePaulo, author of Psychology Today blog Living Single and numerous books on the subject, including Single With Attitude and The Best Of Single Life.
We Are Not All Better Off In A Couple
DePaulo says it's pure hokum that we're all better off in couples: "People who are single at heart lead their best, most authentic lives on their own. It's ridiculous to assume that everyone who is alone is lonely.
"It's just as ridiculous to claim that single people are less connected than those who are in relationships. Studies show that the opposite is true. Once people partner up they become less connected to friends and family because they build a life around their partner.
"All cultures stigmatise singletons to such an extent that there's almost no voice for those who are fine on their own. My research shows that being single can be an immensely satisfying way of living."
Happy Alone And Self-Contained
My friend Fran would probably agree with DePaulo. Gorgeous, clever, personable Fran, now 50, has never had a long-term relationship: "There were times when it did cross my mind that I might be missing out," she says, "but they were so fleeting that they were easy to ignore.
"I've always been happy in my own company and I suppose now that I'm older, that self-containment may have crossed the line into being set in my ways.
"I know I would struggle to be with someone on any level now, and would probably find it impossible to live with someone. I like coming home to my own quiet space and not having to talk, or to discuss what to watch or what to eat with anyone.
"It's not a question of being selfish. It's more that being responsible only for my own decisions is what makes me content."
Being Single As We Get Older
What does concern her is the future. "I do worry about what will happen once I've retired and once my friends have moved away. I wonder if I'll find being single in my 60s and 70s more difficult, but I guess one way around that would be to have loads of interests.
"I hope I'll still able to travel. It's one of my passions, and luckily I've always had a friend to go with, because I don't much like going abroad on my own."
Like Fran, my friend Philip, 58, has been single for a very long time - since his last relationship ended 27 years ago. Philip's singledom crept up on him: "I didn't expect my dating days to end when I was 31," he says, "but the years passed by and I think the longer one remains on one's own, the more difficult it is to find another relationship.
"Having said that, I am a dreadful romantic, so if some gorgeous man were to come along and sweep my off my feet, I'd probably jump right in."
Our Relationships With Our Friends
Philip thinks that life for single people is gradually getting easier and that hoteliers and restaurateurs are now much better at treating singletons like normal people. Having travelled extensively on his own when he was young, he now prefers to go with friends, but has no qualms about setting off on his own if no one's available.
This is rarely the case because he has a huge circle of close friends who are delighted to have dinner or go away with him. "That's the thing about us single people -- we're not in one relationship, we're in several -- with our friends. There's always someone there when I need company.
"I think you have to try quite hard to be lonely these days, when there are so many ways to stay in touch with your friends, and so many ways to pass the time enjoyable. I suppose the thing about me is that I really love pottering and one of the main advantages of being single is the fact that I have the freedom to do nothing."
Despite what dating companies would have you believe, not everyone needs another half -- some of us are already complete.