Woman painting a red heart

Dating: why wanting to be in a relationship isn’t a weakness

One writer, who has been single for the last five years, explains the importance of balancing strength and vulnerability in the quest for new love.

I want to be in a relationship. It’s taken a lot for me to get here and type those words, but there they are in black and white. 

I’ve only been in two relationships, the longest of which spanned just eight months, and I have been single for the last five years. I’ve always been happy on my own – I’d much rather be single than settle for someone who I didn’t fall head over heels for (perhaps that’s part of the problem). But, thanks to all this new thinking time and an unexpected dating boom in the pandemic, I quietly decided I was ready for a new relationship towards the end of last year. 

If I’m completely honest, I think I’ve known this for a while – I just didn’t want to admit it to myself or anyone else. But why? 

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I sometimes feel like I wear my single status like a badge of honour. I get so annoyed with the unfairness of couple-privilege that I feel compelled to constantly speak up against society’s treatment of single people. I like to think, in my own delusional way, that I am the invisible fourth dancer in Beyonce’s Single Ladies video. 

Because, going solo really has been great – I’ve made exciting and huge life decisions without having to think of another person, I can eat, watch and sing whatever I want in the evenings, and I have fun on weird and wonderful dates. 

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However, while I know I don’t need a partner, the fact is that I’m at a point where I want one. So why does this feel like some sort of weakness? It’s partly down to the “strong, independent woman” rhetoric that’s force-fed down single women’s throats as a weird act of making us “feel better”. And, at the other end of the scale, the “sad, lonely spinster with a cat” picture that is so often painted of us, only serves to convince us that we’re desperate rather than ready.

We just can’t win. 

“I actually don’t usually feel particularly happy or sad about being single – it’s just something that I am,” says Chloe, 24, who I’ve exchanged voice notes with about dating during the pandemic. “But lockdown has made me think about relationships more, especially the physical element. Romantic touch is something we all need and, unfortunately, our flatmates just can’t do that for us.

“I think for most of us, it’s also because having a partner (so long as they’re the right partner) is traditionally seen as comfortable, supportive and grounding. When I do have my ‘WHY DOES NO ONE LOVE ME?!’ days, what I’m really missing is the reassurance that there is one person who wants to, and can, truly put me first.”

I love Chloe’s honesty here. It’s only human to crave physical touch and intimacy and, even though she’s not in a place where that has become a top priority, she gives in to those vulnerable moments. 

Meeka, also 24, has a similar outlook: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting a relationship. I mean, at the moment, I’m not actively searching for one but I’m open to one if the right person comes my way. I think the most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. But I do also think love and companionship can be important elements that can help you live a happy and healthy life.”

Meeka also pointed me in the direction of an eye-opening interview with singer Eartha Kitt.

“A man comes into my life and you think I’m going to compromise?” she repeats while laughing. “A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned, not to compromise for.” Kitt changes tone and continues to explain that she loves relationships and finds them beautiful: “Falling in love for the right reasons, falling in love for the right purpose […] Yes, I’ve fallen in love with myself and I want someone to share it with.”

Within seconds, Kitt goes from a woman drunk on independence to a softened soul looking for a love worth waiting for. But, here’s the thing: a single woman can be strong and vulnerable. The real key here, I think, is that we follow Kitt’s lesson in loving ourselves and being patient enough to find the right person. 

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Believe me when I say that I understand that can be undeniably frustrating. Just because I’ve decided I’m ready to go out with someone great doesn’t mean that person is on my doorstep. 

So, how the hell does one continue juggling that vulnerability and strength while facing romantic disappointments, rejections and confusion in a quest to find someone worth falling for? What about the times when I do doubt my own self-worth (which, I admit, can be quite a lot when you choose to “put yourself out there”)? How do I continue to know I’m enough when I also very clearly want more?

I recently put this to renowned Untamed author Glennon Doyle (who counts Adele as one of her many fans), who shared the lesson she tells her daughter about self-love, waiting for the right relationship and never settling. 

“What I really want to promise her every night is that you’re never going to lose,” Doyle says. “I want her to be a girl and a young woman and an older woman who isn’t constantly looking for her worth and joy in another relationship because she has vowed to be her own worth. To never abandon herself. Now that’s something that’s fresh and new. 

“I only want my children to ever be in relationships that don’t require them to abandon themselves. I did that in my first marriage, and there’s nothing more lonely than being in the wrong relationship. I think young women are starting to get that: If I’m gonna say ‘I love you’ I need to know what the ‘I’ is. Fewer and fewer women are settling. We’re going to find a lot of women unpartnered and being happy as hell.”

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Doyle’s words remind me that I’ve enjoyed my single status for half a decade because I learned who I am, what I want and what’s worth my time. That’s happened through years of making bad decisions, wine-fuelled discussions late into the night with friends and long solo walks that reward me with time to process and think. 

Wanting to be in a relationship does not mean abandoning myself. In fact, I finally believe in and trust myself to attract the right person for the first time. I still would prefer to be single than with the wrong guy – that’s not changed. I’m actually stronger than ever before.

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