*For Clarity, any italicized text is Emily speaking and any text not italicised is Ruby.
Hello, my name is Ruby and I am very, very single. And that’s okay, most of the time. And I’m Emily, and I am also very single. And I’m trying to learn that that’s okay after time in a relationship.
Emily and I met in our first week at uni. Now, two years, two months and two weeks later, we are sitting in her living room, drinking a cheap bottle of wine (Emily is drinking hers from a mug whilst the singular glass has been reserved for me). It seems wine-induced writing is the way forward. It’s the only way forward.
She was my first friend that I made outside of my flat and over the course of three years, her friendship has come as a breath of fresh air. I also think it’s safe to say that over the course of the years, one of the primary things we have bonded over is our shared experiences of being the single friend in a group.
When I first started uni, I was very glad to be single. I didn’t want to be tied to anyone and I was proud that I was able to go through my first year knowing that, yeah, I did that on my own. Being single has never been a source of worry for me. I like being independent. I like being able to sleep in the middle of the bed, hog the duvet, set ten alarms and know that the only person it’s going to annoy is me. Being single is great. Until it’s not.
Sometimes, being single is being singled out, especially when everyone in your friendship group appears assured in Christmas market dates. Sometimes single appears synonymous with feeling lonely and insecure, especially when one of the definitions on offer is “unmarried or not involved in a stable sexual relationship.” Ouch.
Being single is especially hard after a relationship, after momentary success in leaving the single life you are uprooted and planted straight back. You are expected to adapt and move on as if you were never part of a two rather than always a one.
Before coming to uni, I didn’t realise that being single could be lonely. Crushingly so. I had always had incredible friends who I loved, we had fun, we had crushes and we gossiped about them and I never felt that I was lacking. When I arrived at uni, I made fast friends with the girls I shared my flat with and I felt good. Two of my flatmates had boyfriends at home but that was fine. I loved them just as much as my friends at home. After the Easter break, I came back to Exeter the only single girl. The remaining single friends I had were suddenly in love and I faded into the background.
Now, I feel that I have to add a disclaimer here. I absolutely adore the girls I’ve shared the last two and a half years with. They are kind and passionate, they make me laugh until I cry. I have a lot of love for them and I wouldn’t change them for the world. But I can’t change the fact that in those weeks at the end of my first year, I felt like they had abandoned me in favour of a boy and I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. I was no longer that strong, independent, fiercely single girl – I felt like I was lacking something. And it was hard. Every time I walked into the kitchen, and saw my friends sitting with their partner, I would be reminded of everything I didn’t have. All of a sudden, I didn’t know how to remind myself that being single was something that I enjoyed. I didn’t feel empowered by my independence and going to bed alone no longer seemed so easy. Especially when I could hear my friends laughing with their partners across the hall.
I feel that. I’ve also felt a sense of weakened independence and disempowerment, but mine came all too suddenly after I realised I was single again. Even though I was single before my relationship, I feel I need to learn how to be on my own all over again.
And learning to be on your own is even harder when all you see around you is your friends blissfully lucky in love.
After my relationship, becoming newly single did not produce the sensation of newfound freedom that I expected it to. Frequently, the primary advice I was given was “you need to get over someone by getting under someone” – eloquently expressed.
In truth, I did pursue the rebound route in order to embrace my comeback to single life, but the only thing I could rebound from successfully was falling down TP stairs, rather than my ex. There is a sense of vulnerability when you are unexpectedly situated back in the single role, there is no script to follow or rules to abide by. I took to being single as being alone. Suddenly, being single means there is no singular option when it comes to how you spend your time. I can see anything, I can do anything, be with anyone.
Sometimes, when you are single after a relationship the urge is to fill the void they left behind, but to be single is to recognise there is no void. Instead of pursuing a replacement, I pursued new hobbies, new interests, I spent more time with my friends and had more time to invest in myself. Being single is being happy with yourself. The only person I need to rebound with is the girl who looks back at me in the mirror. Being single is not being unloved, rather its learning to love yourself. I had to learn to embrace the alternative definition to single: “only one; not one of several.”
At this point, I want to interject and let everyone know that Emily has just refilled her mug of wine. Needs must.
I got used to being the single girl surrounded by love, and I was happy. I regained that love for being single. While you may love to be single, being single is being the single focus of your friends, their project being to eradicate your single status and find someone like they all have.
There is a certain pressure that comes with being the only single girl in a group of friends. Let me paint you a picture. It’s Friday night, around 11 o’clock and you’re dancing in top top. You make eye contact with someone and start dancing with them. All of a sudden, you’re aware that every single one of your friends is watching you dance and the pressure for something to happen is all you can think about. Your night out has now become defined by whether you meet someone, whether you take someone home rather than whether you take yourself to the chip shop.
Sometimes, when you’re on a night out, all you want is to have fun with your friends, without the pressure.
The thing is, I am still not completely happy being single. Part of being single is wanting to no longer be single, its inherent and expected. There is a sense of anticipating the next relationship, the life after being single. The first few nights out acknowledging I was single meant acknowledging the existence of all the insecurities and pressures I possessed before my relationship. It’s easy to see a pull in a club as a profound statement of validation, as something which indicates its possible for someone to find me attractive other than my ex. One of the reasons why I found it hard to move on was because being single was intimidating for me, the prospect of having to learn to be happy with my own company, the prospect of having to go through a series of dates and getting to know someone all over again only sounds tedious. Being single after being with someone is a slow introduction back into a past life, it’s a difficult process but it’s important to remember that and not expect it to be easy. There is no single way to being single.
For me, the sadness I feel in being single isn’t the result of a desperate need to be with someone. I am happy on my own, I’m happy with my own company (a lot of the time, I love nothing more than turning up the music in my room and dancing, knowing that no one is watching). Being single isn’t intimidating for me in the same way it is for Emily. Instead, it’s the comfort zone that I hold myself in. For me, being single is easy. For what it’s worth, I think I’m pretty good at it. I’m good at being on my own, at blocking out the isolation that I sometimes feel when surrounded by my friends in love. It’s fine. I’m happy. I don’t need to be with anyone. The thing that I’m trying to learn, however, is that sometimes it’s okay to want to be with someone. That want doesn’t make me any less powerful, or any less secure in myself. And I think I need to start believing it. Me too.
In answer to how to be single, there is no answer. Being single, while there is no single way, it remains a single, unique experience for everyone and everyone lives a single life differently. To be single is not wishing for someone to make you happy but rather to be happy. Preach it, sister.
– Ruby Jackson and Emily Coleman