Culturally, we’re fed the idea that our lives should follow a certain path; that as the years ahead of us unfold, they will take a certain shape. After finishing with education, so this cookie-cutter schedule goes, we’ll get a job and spend a couple of years sowing our wild oats. We’ll fall in love with ‘The One’ in our mid-to-late twenties or early thirties (because if we leave it any later, our chance of having children may be reduced – and we’ll definitely want children, of course). We’ll get married, buy a house and have those aforementioned kids. And that marriage will last until we slip this mortal coil at the end of a long and happy life.
Of course, we also know that this is nonsense. Increasing numbers of couples in modern Britain are choosing not to marry at all, while the idea of actually buying a home looks ever more out of reach for a generation of young adults. There remains a persistent lack of understanding of women who don’t want to have children – but generally speaking, if you want to stay single and child-free, you can do so with relative impunity.
But what happens if your romantic life does seem to be heading down a traditional path – if you’re in a serious, long-term relationship that looks set to go the distance – and then it suddenly… ends?
People who became unexpectedly single in their thirties and forties have been discussing this very subject on Reddit, and their answers are far more life-affirming than you might expect.
From the woman who found a whole new set of life ambitions after getting divorced, to those who rebuilt their battered self-esteem and the Redditor who rediscovered her love of dance, their stories provide an uplifting glimpse at what life alone can be. Here are some of the best…
“My worth. You see, my soon-to-be ex-husband had me convinced that I was worth nothing. That I was overweight, ugly, incompetent and just a terrible person. I was told I was boring, old and nobody wanted to be around me. In reality, I'm none of those things. The only terrible person was the one who was systematically stripping away every bit of confidence from me.
Throughout this divorce process, I have grown to love myself again.”
“I've learned that I am much more beautiful, fun, and desirable than my ex let me believe. I don't think he did it on purpose. But I think he liked the control he had over me. He made me feel like I was undesirable and that he was so much more attractive.
How to be alone
“The biggest thing I learned was how to ‘want’ to be in a relationship instead of ‘need’ to be in a relationship. The whole ‘no one can love you until you love yourself’ sounds silly, but it's true.
Once I learned how to be alone and be okay with it I didn't feel the need to jump from relationship to relationship just to be with someone, which allowed me to be a little more discerning.”
“I hate that society makes us feel like single people are incomplete and are objects of pity. I was so terrified of becoming a crazy cat lady after my divorce that I started dating again far too soon and put up with shit that I never thought I would.
It's been over two years since I've dated, and I've discovered that I love being single. I don't know if I'll ever get into a relationship again, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I just wish the ‘oh poor you, don't worry you'll find a man again someday’ comments would f*** right off.”
An important relationship
“I'd say that I rediscovered my friendship with my ex-husband. I now consider him one of my closest friends. He and my new husband are good friends, too.
Sometimes people are just better suited to be friends that life partners, and that is OK.”
“I learned that I'm way more capable than I thought. It was a really, really bad relationship that I was in for a long time. He had me convinced that I am useless and helpless without him. It's been just a little over a year, [and] this entire process has been nuts. A lot of things have happened, life is not easy, but I take care of everything that I need to.
I'm not where I want to be, but it's easier to get there without a human dementor following me around.”
A release from anxiety
“I learned that a great deal of my anxiety came from my ex’s behaviour (lies, deception, gaslighting) and that I'm actually a fairly easy-going person!
I also learned that I can be entirely happy on my own, and that was the very best place to meet someone from once I was healed.”
“[I learned] that my subtly controlling, jealous ex had made me socially anxious, by getting angry/disappointed/embarrassed by how he thought I acted around people. I never really understood what exactly I did wrong, as his reasons kept changing, it's really difficult to explain, but I became really timid and anxious.
After him, I slowly started to realise that there was nothing wrong with me, and actually enjoy being around people. I am so much braver than I thought.
Also, that oral sex can be awesome, and not degrading.”
New interests and goals
“Waking up on a weekend morning and being able to do whatever the hell I wanted without checking in with a partner was incredibly freeing. I've never dated anyone that demanded a checking-in, but just knowing that I was free to do anything without considering someone else's schedule was great.”
”[I learned] how important it is to spend time and energy taking care of yourself. It takes so much effort to truly care for others and while I am glad I was able to, I never realized how spending so much energy on friends, family, and the day-to-day, was also enabling me to justify neglecting my own needs.
I finally had the freedom to just be my extroverted, spontaneous self, and it did wonders for my mood. [If] I feel like going out to the bars with friends, I don’t have to check in with anyone. I just go. We have a blast. I make new friends. I watch sports, have fascinating conversations, get some exercise or dance my ass off. I am about to turn 38 and I am learning to break dance. I take evenings at home to cook a new dish or read science articles or watch mindless TV shows.
It all adds up to an overall happiness and energy I thought I had lost long ago.”
Images: Rex Features