Readers' stories of being single

Woman alone

Writer James Friel's story about why couples are so cruel to single people triggered a big response from our readers. Many singletons wrote in to share their stories.

Friel said people asked him rather impolite questions at dinner parties, searching for an explanation for his singledom.

After spending most of my life being married to various people, I find being single like a breath of fresh air. No, actually it is more like being released into Paris in springtime after being chained up in the Bastille for a few hundred years or so. So we are not supposed to be alone, are we, you cosy and smug little lovebirds? Well I pity you, and I am so glad I am not like you. I don't have to be part of a double act all the time. I say what I think instead of the sickening "We like x, don't we Sweetie?'', with the mandatory affirmation. Shudder. I do what I want to do, when I want to do it, and how I want to do it. If I want company, I go out and get it. If I want to slam the door on the outside world, watch any old TV I like, eat pizza, drink beer, and just chill out - hey, what's to stop me? And when I see those poor little men rushing around pandering to their "better halves" and scampering home by curfew, then like James Brown, oooo, I feel goooood! By the way, I can already see you lovely couples reading this. And she says "We wouldn't like to be single again, would we darling?" "Of course not, dear." John Hardy, Brisbane, Australia

Hanna

I currently live in China and the first thing people usually ask me is if I am married. I am not married and already 30 years old - something that is hard to understand in Chinese society. Thus, I agree, whether it is Western or Asian culture, being single is seen as odd and that is totally wrong. But I think the truth is that most single people are not happy about being single. It may sound trivial to say "all you need is love" . It's not to feel complete, not to meet family's expectations, not to kill the loneliness. We human beings need others to be truly happy. Hanna, China

I am a spinster. I earn my living and will live and die as my own mistress. I am not single as single denotes available and seeking someone. I choose to be a spinster- meaning I live alone and I am not seeking a partner. I am not gay. I have had long term heterosexual relationships. I have always wanted to live as my own mistress. I neither desire man, woman nor beast. I came into this world alone and I will depart alone - so why should I be afraid of my own shadow? I have always described myself as a spinster because like those unsung heroines of old women such as myself are derided, ostracised, feared (that you are so desperate you are artfully scheming to snatch their partners from them), pitied and above all have to earn their living. Yes I do need the company of others to evolve but not the singular companionship of a partner. No I am not a misanthrope. I am simply a confirmed spinster. Rosie, London

I'm a single 41-year-old man. I don't think many people "choose" to be single, things just happen. As you get older a broken marriage in your cupboard is seen as evidence you're normal. It reminds me of the applause a recovering addict receives when announcing he's "clean", well where's my applause, I've never been addicted to anything? I've never failed at marriage - I could be brilliant at it. Surely this fact would count as a success story? When you get past your 30s it is usually seen as a fear of commitment. Friends in couples have even started sentences with "you know what your problem is" etc etc. I would never dream of doing this, not to anyone, regardless of their romantic situation. But I could just as easily continue "you never had the guts to continue looking". You could say I have a greater sense of romance because I waited for "the one", she hasn't yet materialised but it still excites me that she might. Mark, London

After failed marriages and some few long-term "romantic" relationships, I have been single for several years now. My friends and family consider it strange at best, and often ask me wonderingly if I don't ever feel lonely and don't I even have any desire for sex or intimacy. They seem unable to accept someone whose life is without a romantic, monogamous relationship with another, unless it is temporary. I have a great respect for people who commit to marriage, but I do not seem to receive the same respect for my life choice to remain single and celibate. Frankly, I love being single, I have a freedom to be myself in a way I never had when in a relationship. When will people learn to simply accept others for who they are without expectation that everyone has the same goals when it comes to love, marriage and sex? Loralee Bernsteen, Minot, US

Arlene

I am 33 years of age, although still young in some people's eyes. I am happily single amongst the majority of my friends, whom if not in a settled relationship already, then the current direction of the relationship they are in is going in that manner. But those who are not in any form of relationship all seem to be chasing this ideal of being part of a couple. But I am sorry, that is not my aim in life. I am perfectly happy to be single. It is uncomplicated. I don't have to appease anyone else other than my dog. I am free to do whatever I want and when I want. I'm responsible for my everyday living, my luxuries in life, my way of living and my own happiness. I think nowadays there is too much expectation on being part of a couple. Why should I chase that? I was born as an individual and encouraged as I grew up to think for myself. So I certainly don't think I am missing out in anything. I say to all my friends, I love being single and can never see a time I will think any different. Arlene McIvor, Glasgow

I'm gay and in my 20s, the vast majority of my friends are straight and in long term stable relationships. It has not gone un-noticed that I am the only one out of all of my friends that has never been in a relationship. All of this does not mean that I have never loved, I have fallen in love twice... it's just they didn't love me back. I don't see being single as a bad thing in my life, it has allowed me to be more independently minded, a clearer and more reasoned thinker and I do not feel in any way that my destiny is by any means restricted. People might think, this guy's cold and doesn't feel love or compassion. Au contraire, I feel a deep sense of love and compassion for those around me and enjoy close meaningful relationships of another kind with friends and family. What's more I feel I have more of a love for and sense of a wider humanity than most do but I look at things in that more pragmatic manner. That said being eternally single isn't all that easy, you have to be your own counsel as there isn't always someone to help pick up the pieces, you have to learn to be much stronger than someone with a soulmate. Nick, Sheffield

David Stephens

It's been quite a few years since I've had a long-term relationship and have yet to find the promised "woman of my dreams". I find it difficult to be part of the dating game now, and have pretty much accepted that I will probably be single for the foreseeable future. All of my close friends are happily married, and you often feel like the odd one out, particularly at parties and gatherings. You are often quizzed as to the exact reason you are single, as if it is an abhorrent state and you must be depressed or suicidal. Life works out that way sometimes. Please accept it. I don't see why a mature individual cannot make that life-choice and not be victimised for it. David Stephens, Grays, Essex

I've been without a "partner" for many years and don't feel in the slightest bit left out. You get the invites with "+1" on them. You get the "are you seeing anyone we need to invite" when socialising. Your friends in couples are making an effort, just in case you HAVE found someone since they last saw you. But my friends simply don't care whether I've got someone or not. Yes, I'm (mostly) single. I'm happy that way. My friends include me, and don't ask or nag about it. It's me, and it works fine. For me, the far more difficult question, as someone in their late middle-age is "why no children?" That one is far more difficult than "why single?" Alice Brough, Northampton

Lorraine

It's my birthday in four weeks' time, I asked my three girlfriends to join me for dinner and birthday drinks. One has asked for her husband to join us, but she is pregnant and will be two weeks from her due date on my birthday so that's perfectly reasonable. The other two didn't ask, just assumed and now I'm celebrating my 43rd birthday with three couples. I want to kill myself! (Well not really, but come on.) Lorraine, London

I am a single man of late years who due to nature's whims was never able to have children. I live daily with the knowledge that to most everyone else, even my own family, I am strange and somehow different. Gay? Selfish? What kind of person lives alone? In all kindness to nature, man, and God, I understand that the world was set up for marriage. It's a convention that serves to structure people's lives and communities, our cultures, and of course love. I choose now to remain single because it appears being married does not suit me. I long ago gave up fighting the fact that wherever I go, there will be some suspicion. I would only ask that you would tread gently on me. Mark, Firdrest, Washington, US

I think we need to distinguish between being in love and being in a relationship. Some people have both, but I suspect that a lot of people are in a relationship without being truly in love, whether they know it or not. People who have previously been in love are generally happy to shun a new relationship where they don't find true love, comfortable to find happiness in their singledom with the possibility of finding love again. As for my experience, I actually find that my friends are explicitly jealous - they claim that they miss the fun that I seem to have as a singleton. However, I hear a sense of superiority: to say that you are jealous of a single friend whilst maintaining a relationship implicitly implies that you prefer the coupling. I find that the first thing that friends and family want to ask is "so, are you seeing someone?" In many cases, I feel that the initiation of this topic by someone who is in a relationship is driven by a desire to confirm that their single friends are less happy than they are in their relationships. Why? Because they subscribe to the common view that being in a relationship is natural and therefore overrides the possibility that they aren't actually very happy in the relationship. Dan, London

Singletons - in my thirtysomething single female experience - are inundated with two scenarios. In the first, we are subjected to the scrutiny of the non-single world - the perceived lack in our lives is met with endless questions as to why we are single, or an air of superiority. There can be judgment as well. If you're still single, maybe there's something wrong with you. In my case, I'm single, at least to some extent, by choice, and to some extent by circumstance - a choice not to be in a relationship without love, respect, and physical attraction, and circumstances where I have not met many potential mates with whom those three criteria have been met. In the second scenario, we are subjected to the mantra of single happiness. I fully agree that happiness is not given to one person by another person - leading a fulfilling and happy life makes us more open to love as well as to meeting new and interesting people. However, while not all of us are the same, I don't think humans, as biological beings, are necessarily solitary creatures, and I tire of the notion that I need to be perfectly and thoroughly content as a single woman. The idea that single life is completely fulfilling and is not lonely dismisses the reality of existence for many who find themselves single. Living life without intimacy is a lack, and without it, I do think that there is something missing. Liz, New Orleans, US

Paul Harman

From a Darwinian natural selection point of view, there are only two successes in life: (1) Reaching sexual maturity. (2) Reproducing and, thus, passing your genes to offspring. The notion of being in a relationship as a measure of success and the smugness with which some couples view singles is absurd. I am in my 50s. I was married for 14 years and I have two daughters who are both on the verge of adulthood. I am now divorced and I am happier and more content than I ever was in the "emotional prison" that my marriage became. I come and go as I please, I have lots of warm friendships with people from different walks of life and I have a diverse (heterosexual), safe sex life with a wide variety of partners or sex friends - some on-going, some casual. So I have been successful in life from a Darwinian view and I am lucky in that I am emotionally successful from a "living reality" perspective. Paul Harman, Colchester, Essex

I am a 50-year-old, childless spinster. I nearly married a couple of times and fell deeply in love with a third, but it wasn't to be. The gift of personal freedom is a rare and beautiful thing, we just don't know how to use it. Once you do it really changes the way people look at you- they don't feel sorry for you because you are spending Christmas on your own, because you're not, you're spending it in Bali on a spa retreat and come back in the New Year lithe and rested. Secondly, never look at a couple and assume they are having a better time than you. Don't be jealous of someone else's life - you don't know they may be having lousy time behind closed doors. You can be isolated and lonely in a relationship - at least if you wake up on your own you are free to do something about it. No one is more surprised than me that not only after a few years I began to find the single life seductive. It is possible to be single and have a really nice life. Sarah, Perth, Australia

Sylvia Saunders

Whilst my life has included being one in a marriage as well as being one of a non-married couple, I can vouch for singledom. Only in certain instances is having a male at one's side a distinct advantage, like for security reasons, to convey the erroneous impression that I am better protected by being with a man. Or to assuage the concerns of married women that I am definitely not interested in pursuing an affair with their husband. The essence of my objection to marriage is that I hold no interest in effectively adopting an adult male in order to play the mother role, which defines what many men expect from a marriage. If a man were to - without coaching - bring a coffee and croissant to me in bed on a Sunday morning, I might consider giving up my independence but no luck so far. Sylvia Saunders, Ottawa, Canada

Being single is the best thing in the world because one is not in any way tied to any socio-marital contracts for conjugal happiness. Being single offers an opportunity for one to excel as an individual and live life as one wills. Marriage in such continents as Africa is a social hell-run and not something one can admire. Men control the underwear of their spouses and women are encouraged to just be homemakers, which retards their development and participation in socio-economic activities. Milimo Mweetwa, Lusaka, Zambia

Last year, my partner of 10 years ended our relationship and for the first time since I was 18 I found myself single. Intentionally or not, society is not kind to people on their own and I have found adjusting to singledom incredibly hard. Everything is geared to life as a pair - from food shopping to holidays and the cost of running a home - and if you are not part of a couple, you can easily end up feeling like a social "anomaly" and I would even go so far as to say "penalised" for your situation. In a supermarket recently buying a piece of fish, the assistant asked me "aren't you going to buy one for your husband?" I appreciate he was probably making conversation but I was quite mortified by the question and it served to illustrate the assumption that a woman of my age (early thirties) should be paired off. Louisa Jones, Chirk, UK

Indran Sivarajah

Today, although there are beautiful women around me that are potentially suitable for a relationship, I still believe I have the "option" to not pursue a relationship with one of them. It has nothing to do with fear or rejection or anything else you may think that is wrong to be single. Being single is an option in life especially when you are just content with what you have. The first rule to my happiness is being content with what I have. Everything else including relationships is just a bonus in life. Often people get into relationships to fulfil emptiness and then forget how to be happy by just being on their own. The second rule to my happiness is to live my life with service first to others. Whether we like it or not, we all leave this world alone when we die. Often when it comes to women, I am always friendship first before relationship. If I can continue to do this till I die, I would leave this world a single but happy man. Indran Sivarajah, Orpington

From the age of 16 to 28 I was in a long term relationship. The last few years with him were my loneliest even though everyone had us pegged as a happy and dynamic couple. I've now been single for 10 years, which sometimes surprises me as I never expected that to happen, but the truth is I like myself, I like my own company, being single gave me the chance to get to know myself whereas before I was too busy trying to make "us" happy and I didn't like myself as a person, or maybe I didn't like the unhappy person that I was. Emma, Durham

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.