Bella Mackie was 30, single, and happier than she had been in the previous decade of her life. Now, the author tells The High Low why she thinks every woman should stay single in their 20s.
Despite the fact that single childfree women are actually the happiest, it’s difficult not to feel pressured to settle down by your 30s, thanks to the barrage of subliminal messaging convincing us that we run the risk of being left on the proverbial shelf, or the last one standing in a game of musical chairs.
In her words, the journalist and Jog On author was in such a rush to settle down in her 20s that she ended up “spectacularly tanking” her first marriage and suddenly found herself in the very situation she had dreaded: single at 30.
While she met and married BBC Radio 1 host Greg James last year, those years she spent single in between marriages in her 30s were happier than any in her 20s, she revealed on The High Low podcast.
So much so that Mackie is now a staunch believer in staying single for the entirety of your 20s. “If someone tells me they’re settling down before 30, I cannot hide my rage and anger,” she tells co-hosts Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes.
“I’m like, ‘You don’t know who you are in your 20s, your 20s are a time of experimentation and you should have fun with it and don’t waste it. So basically, you should just have constant sex until you’re 30 and then you’re allowed to go and meet people.”
When asked how she picked herself up after her divorce, Mackie says discovering a love of running helped her to rebuild her confidence.
“I felt like I was doing something independent and I think, for women, it’s so important to do things that make you feel independent, whatever that is, you know, it could be physical, it could be something else. I think it’s so important for us to find those things that make us feel so capable… I just felt like I had a reset,” she says.
She also decided to not rush into another relationship again. “I was like: do you know what? I can’t do that again. I can’t settle for someone that isn’t right and I can’t fuck it up like that again, so I might as well see what is out there and enjoy myself.”
However, Mackie admits there were still some points when she felt “very cynical” about finding love again, including right before she started dating her now-husband.
“I really got to the point where I thought this isn’t going to work; as in, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve had fun, I’ve waited it out, I’ve been independent and this guy has just done the exact classic thing that guys in my early 20s did. Then I met [James]. I assumed he would also be a huge disappointment and then it turned out he was just nice, all the time.”
“[James] just kept hitting all these bars and kept not being a dick and not leaving and not disappointing me in any way – and still doesn’t – and because he was very nice, I was able to lean into it, like Sheryl Sandberg says, but not in that way,” she says.
With women now marrying later than ever, there is a reason Mackie’s words resonate with so many, being carefully passed around like a reassuring pep talk when needed.
Women want to believe in the modern day fairy tale: 30, single and unreservedly happy.
Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.