Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. Here, Stylist’s editorial assistant Moya Lothian-Mclean explains why she’s decided to be actively single in 2018.
Jennifer Lawrence made a joke on Monday that appeared to soar over many people’s heads.
“I am in the single mode where I am like, ‘Cool, I can do whatever I want and I can be alone and watch terrible TV’,” she told The Mirror, in a red carpet interview at the premiere of her new film, Red Sparrow. “And then, of course, in a few months I will be devastatingly lonely and feel like I’m on some long waiting list. But I am not there yet.”
It seemed obvious to me that Lawrence was being blithe. Self-deprecating humour has long been her trademark: indeed, she was forced to explain that a quip she made to Joanna Lumley at last weekend’s BAFTAs was an “inside joke”, after social media branded her “stuck up” for the comments. But others took her remarks on singledom at face value.
“Jennifer Lawrence reveals why she’ll be ‘devastatingly lonely’ in a few months,” screamed headlines across the board. One publication claimed the actress had “opened up about the pros and cons of being single”, whilst another dubbed her aside as a “confession” after observing her “very tactile [red carpet] exchange” with Red Sparrow co-star Joel Edgerton.
The insinuations were clear: Jennifer Lawrence is single and lonely and desperate for a man – even a married one.
Reading Lawrence’s words, I had a different interpretation. “I can do whatever I want,” she had asserted. And even if she meant her flippant follow-up about encroaching loneliness sincerely, she had explicitly stated that she “wasn’t there yet”.
In other words: Jennifer Lawrence is single and free and loving the agency it gives her. But media outlets across the world automatically understood her joke as a candid admission because, unlike men, women are not supposed to enjoy being alone. A single heterosexual woman is a woman waiting to be picked; she is unattached, passively and unhappily so. Woman, we are told, do not choose to be single. It is something unfortunate that happens to them, like food poisoning or dropping their phone down the loo.
Except women do choose to be single. And I have. At the start of the year I made a pledge to give up dating and be actively single for a whole 365 days. And I’ve never been so happy.
I’m not the only one: a 2017 study by Mintel found that 61% of heterosexual women are perfectly content flying solo, compared to just 49% of men. And 75% of those single ladies said they hadn’t actively looked for a relationship in the last year, whereas only 65% of their male peers weren’t determinedly seeking their next Netflix partner. But despite these numbers, the overriding message conveyed through film, TV, magazines and pretty much all media, still seems to be that being single as a young woman is a burden to be overcome, rather than an opportunity to be relished.
My own check-in to Hotel Bacheloress (side note: why do women get saddled with ‘spinster’ when the male version of singledom evokes visions of sleek studio flats and rumpled sheets?) was prompted by the breakdown of a long-term relationship. Or rather, what followed the breakdown. Splitting up with my boyfriend was bloodless – it was my re-entry into the dating scene a few months later when things began to nosedive.
Dating, it transpired, was stressful. After my break-up I’d been euphoric, cruel as it sounds. Suddenly the only person that mattered to me was me, and I had all the time in the world to pursue the things that made me happy. I reconnected with friends who’d fallen by the wayside, blasted the pop power ballads my ex had hated so much and spent my weekends indulging in solo explorations of the city.
But once I started swiping again, my post-break up joy quickly evaporated. It wasn’t the fault of the men I was encountering – although app-based dating, my primary method of meeting people, only results in a real-life rendezvous roughly every one-in-3,000 swipes. Instead, it was the entire structure of heterosexual dating, which seemed geared to erase the gleeful autonomy I’d discovered at the end of my relationship.
Firstly, there was the formulaic opening salvo of messages that made me tired just to look at them (men and women alike: do better than ‘Hi’). If a conversation did graduate to first, WhatsApp, and then – shock – an actual date, it became a Groundhog Day situation. I would dress up and repeat my answers to the same old questions (22, grew up in the countryside, half-Jamaican), sometimes with a carefully selected story thrown into the mix to demonstrate individuality to the man sitting across the table. When I met someone I liked, I became constantly alert, waiting for a text and anticipating the day the replies would slow and I could starting sending my friends all-caps screeds about being ghosted ‘AGAIN’.
If this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it was. I felt helpless and trapped in the dating machine; I could see that the mechanisms were making me stressed and dependent on external validation, but I couldn’t help myself. As a woman, I was supposed to wait for a man to recognise my worth, to pluck me from the crowd and say “I choose you, Pikachu”. I missed that brief period after my break-up where men had just been men: lumps of flesh who didn’t hold my self-esteem in the palms of their hands.
It all came to a head when I was on a November weekend break with one of my best friends. We went to Kraków and, for the first time in two months, I recaptured the happiness I’d felt when properly single. Trotting around the Jewish Quarter I tapped out a text ending a what-even-is-this situation with a man I’d briefly been seeing. The moment it was sent, a weight lifted. I realised I’d been fighting against the notion that I could be happy alone because society had always hammered the opposite message home. Even fearsomely independent women need partners, we’re told – just listen to any Beyoncé song.
After cutting that final chord, I swore to take 2018 off. I deleted all my dating apps . But I also ceased scouring crowds for men when I went out, or asking my friends if the person they were bringing to Friday drinks was ‘my type’. My dating lenses came off; I stopped evaluating myself through the eyes of prospective partners (Was my hair too frizzy? My skin too sallow?) and extended the same courtesy to the men I met. And I focused on myself once again.
A recent Refinery29 article on advice for enjoying singledom opens with the instruction to “Be selfish”. That’s become my mantra. Since becoming actively single, I’ve found far more confidence to be bold in the way I move through the world, because it doesn’t matter whether someone else finds that - or me - attractive or not. I’ve pushed to forge new friendships and spend time doing only the things that make me feel good; dancing, pottering around the city, taking impulsive day trips. I’ve become the friend who discovers yoga and can’t stop raving about it – except in this case, yoga is giving up spending £80 on cocktails with a man who asks you where you’re ‘from’ three times in a row.
Being actively single isn’t meant to detract from those who are finding fulfillment in relationships. Rather, it’s a way of reframing narratives of heterosexual dating as a woman. Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. It also doesn’t mean being celibate, if that’s not your bag - feel free to go out and have those one-nighters. But so far, my collection of five vibrators (one for each day of the working week!) has proven a much more consistent sexual partner than any man I’ve encountered.
Yesterday my sister asked me a question: “Would you rather have unlimited money or find your ultimate soulmate?” she quizzed me. Unlimited money, of course, I replied. She was shocked and – it seemed to me at least – slightly disappointed. “Don’t you want to be happy?” she said. I’m my own soulmate, I told her. I make myself happy. Now, give me the money.
Image: Rex Features