Single and happy?

Research shows that single women are as happy and fulfilled as their married counterparts, but negative stereotypes persist. A mother in her 40s tells it like it really is


Single and happy?

‘When I tell people I’m happy on my own, they give me a look of disbelief ‘ – Annabelle Dixon, 48, journalist and entrepreneur.

‘This is going to be your year,’ a friend declared to me at a party recently. ‘You’re going to meet the love of your life!’ ‘You think so?’ I said. A few years ago, her words would have delighted me, but now they leave me feeling… nothing much. I realised that I’d been having plenty of ideas of what I wanted to do in 2017, and none of them involved meeting a man. So, I told her, ‘I’m really happy on my own, you know.’ And she gave me a look of utter disbelief.

I get that reaction a lot, and I’m not the only one, confirms Bella DePaulo, psychologist and author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, And Ignored, And Still Live Happily Ever After (Griffin, £9.99). The word ‘single’ comes with lots of baggage, she says. Many people assume that singletons are unhappy, lonely and selfish, but research defies those stereotypes.

‘Studies that follow the same people over a period of time find that those who get married end up no happier than they were when they were single. In fact, single people are more connected to others than those in couples; more likely to live by their values, for instance, choosing lower-paid work that is more fulfilling. They are less likely to be neurotic and especially inclined to be open-minded.’

Five years divorced, after 16 years of marriage, I have settled into being single in a way that I never expected. Post-divorce dating was thrilling, fun and disappointing, in equal measures. Maybe it’s an age thing, too. At 48, there is no biological clock ticking. I feel I’ve truly and completely loved someone in my life – my ex-husband – so I don’t feel as if I have missed out on anything.

My life feels full. Full of friends – male and female – who I eat with, walk and talk with; with a job I love, alongside lively, inspiring colleagues; with a business on the side; and a daughter and cat to nurture, I feel fulfilled emotionally and creatively. If anything, life’s too busy. I relish time alone and look forward with glee to the simple pleasures of a free evening; clean sheets, a good book and an early night. For the first time, I don’t feel an emotional, or physical, emptiness that needs to be filled. I’ve become better at nurturing myself and my needs.

Do I miss sex? Not really. I recently attended a conference in a posh hotel and felt only relief when I could retire to my room and have a glass of wine and snacks from the minibar in bed, without anyone moaning or expecting me to skip the light fandango around the four-poster bed.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides. It’s expensive fielding all the bills alone. I was ill recently and it would have been good to have someone rub my back and tell me that I was going to be OK. I would love it if someone else put out the bins once in a while.

I’m not closed to meeting someone and falling in love but, what’s taken me by surprise, is the realisation that, in a world that celebrates couples, you really can be single and happy. ‘Taking single life seriously means acknowledging, without reservation, that many single people fully embrace single life, just as many married
people fully embrace married life. That doesn’t mean there are no downsides to either. It means that people look at the full expanse of what their life choice means for them, and embrace it joyfully and unapologetically,’ says DePaulo.

So, I’d like to raise a toast to all those happily single ladies (and men) out there. Happy 2017 to us all.

Photograph: iStock