I’ll try carefully to strike a balance here; I don’t want to come across as a bitter old cow or a man-hating, triggered snowflake, but come on. It’s the twenty-first century, and more times than I care to mention now, have I been told that ‘all I need now is a man’.
This phrase comes in all sorts of forms: don’t worry, you’ll find someone; the right one will come along eventually; there’s a decent bloke out there for you, etc, etc, etc. The sentiment is the same, however: you’ve got everything else so all you need is a man to complete the picture.
I’ll try to unpick just how irritating and offensive this all is, in the hope that I don’t offend too many people in return.
Firstly; what do I need a man for, exactly? To take out the bins and change the lightbulbs? To lie next to at night and passive-aggressively take turns stealing the duvet? Since I was around fourteen years old, I have been in relationships with boys and subsequently, men. I lived with a very nice one for eight years and was married to him for two of those. I was in another relationship with the father of my child for four years altogether, who wasn’t very nice in the end. Before either of those, I was in steady relationships in my teens and early twenties. I was a fully paid-up serial monogamist. I was also cheated on, lied to, let down and hurt by men, in different but equally damaging ways. Of course, there were wonderful times too and if I went back to do it all again, I actually wouldn’t change anything.
But here I am now, a single parent and single person and without any shadow of a doubt, happier than I’ve ever been.
Of course, I know what the upsides are to being in a relationship. You have a team mate; someone who is always on your side, to share the load and bear the burden on those days when you don’t feel strong enough. There’s someone to lift you up, that one special person who puts you first and makes you feel like you’re the only one in the world who matters to them. Someone to go on holiday with, watch crap TV with, go out to dinner with and have fun with.
But here’s the secret: I have all of these things. Every single one of them. They’re just not all the same person.
Having been metaphorically burned one time too many in the love game, I’ve realised that putting all my eggs in one basket meant that I was on a hiding to nothing. Instead, I have a wonderful collection of people in my life who fulfill all my needs and requirements as a human being, which is not something that everyone can claim. I have friends I can call on for lunches, holidays, gossip, crying, laughing and eating multi-packs of crisps without judgement. I have a wonderful little girl who gives me a reason to get up in the morning as well as a reason to pull my hair out in frustration. I go on dates and meet lovely people, when I can find the time. I have a fabulous collection of colleagues who make my working day, every day, a genuine source of fun.
I want for nothing, yet somehow, I’m seen as lacking in some way because I don’t ‘have a man.’
Let me say that the people who have said this to me are all very well-meaning. It’s not done in a way to offend or belittle me, but unfortunately that’s exactly what it does. I don’t react, obviously – no one wants to be that furious harpy, bellowing rabid feminist nonsense as shocked onlookers scuttle off in fear (said in jest of course; I am a rabid feminist and very proud of it, too). But each time someone says it to me, however well-meaning, everything I have achieved as a single person seems to amount to nothing due to the fact that I don’t have a partner.
I am raising a child, getting her dressed for school, cooking her dinner, frantically looking for her book bag, washing her hair while she complains endlessly and arguing with her about bedtime, every day, all by myself. I started three businesses in three years and I run them, all by myself. I’m a bloody good person, for God’s sake – I volunteer with a charity and as a school governor in my spare time. Yet, somehow, because you’re standing in front of me with a husband, you’re better than me? You pity me? You think I’m unhappy and unfulfilled because I don’t have a man? Don’t even go there.
It feels like such a sad reflection of society that even now, with all the wonderful progress being made in women’s rights, LGBT+ rights, equality and closing the gender gap, that so many people still hold the notion that being in a partnership is the only way a person can be happy. Of course, millions of people are partnered up, which is great for them. If you’ve chosen that lifestyle then good for you and I’m honestly happy if you’re happy. But the automatic assumption that people who aren’t partnered up must surely want to be is a real shame. It shows an unintentional close-mindedness and projects stereotypical and outdated views that I’d like to see eradicated eventually.
If a woman is single, please don’t automatically assume she must be looking. If a mum is single, please don’t automatically assume she’s looking for a new dad for her kid. If that woman expresses the desire to find a man then that’s fab – but if she doesn’t, it’s because she doesn’t want one. Maybe, like me, she’s wised up to the shittiness that can come with being in a relationship and is taking a break from it for the foreseeable future. Maybe she’s been burned and has no desire to put herself out there again anytime soon. Maybe she’s focusing on a different aspect of her life and doesn’t see getting a man as high on her list of priorities right now. But don’t feel sorry for her; don’t ‘reassure’ her that she’ll find someone; don’t judge her. Instead, show some love and sisterly spirit for the women who are working hard, playing hard and loving life – all without a man.
It can be done, you know.
Image credit: @emmadarvik