Being a single woman in our society today is tough. We live in a culture that still sees ‘happily ever after’ as being in a couple. Being single isn’t just stigmatized, it is often seen as a failure. As a result, it seems that whether single women are actively dating or not, we are vulnerable to losing our enjoyment of being single and feeling unable to change our circumstances. These feelings can start a vicious cycle which makes us less likely to form a healthy relationship.
To understand the experience of single women today you have to understand the context they are living in and the social pressure they face. Being single is viewed in our society much like unemployment: at best unfortunate, and at worst socially unacceptable. Women are bombarded with advice on how to meet Mr Right, or understand him better, in the hopes that their sorry single state can be relieved.
There is a long history to the stigmatization of single women. A woman’s worth has been tied to her marriageability for centuries, and across cultures. As early as the 5th century BC we see references in Homer’s Iliad, one of the earliest written works of Western literature, to a daughter being given in marriage to Achilles in order to secure an alliance. He could choose for himself twenty Trojan women, the most beautiful after Helen. The commodofication of women as transactable marriage partners (and the less suitable ones for slaves and sex) seems to have occurred from the earliest times in civilisation.
Jane Austen writes about romantic love at the end of the 18th century. Yet, as with Shakespeare’s work, her novels still suggest women were a commodity that could be comparatively valued, and to marry for love was “a fool’s choice.” A man would only court a wife who was attractive, accomplished, and preferable came with a large fortune. Although the Bennet heroines eventually married for love, as fortuneless women, their happy endings still all came about solely through marriage. It wasn’t just their survival; the esteem of others, their social standing and their worth as a person were all solidified if they were chosen by men to be their wives.
Nowadays, when a great many more women are able to financially support themselves, it seems we still see partner selection in terms of a “market place.” This may be due to the very nature of monogamy where only being able to choose one sexual partner begets a challenge or competition to secure the “best” partner we can get.
However, many great women who have achieved amazing things in their lifetime have been single – perhaps because their time wasn’t tied up in the responsibilities of a relationship and children. These include authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and Harper Lee, actresses such as Mae West, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn and Diane Keaton, medical visionaries such as Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton and politicians such as Dr Condolezza Rice.
With these amazing role models, no longer should singleness be viewed as a sign of ‘less’, or a single woman viewed as ‘unworthy’. As a happily single woman myself I believe that it is entirely attainable for a single woman to love herself, to feel fulfilled and enjoy her single life, and, if she wants a partner, to be in a position to find one who is right for her.
My latest book, Doing Single Well was inspired by the many stories that my clients in my work as a Clinical Psychologist, friends and the women who participated in my research have shared, as well as my own personal experience of being single. From all this collective wisdom I have summarised some of the best tips for your single women patients below:
Eight Tips for Single Women:
Create a meaningful life: Stay in touch with your values and create purpose.
Make your dreams come true. Don’t put anything on hold. Make your dreams a priority now.
Set healthy boundaries on dates. Know who you are and give yourself permission to speak your truth, don’t compromise your truth for the sake of pleasing others.
Take an attitude of gratitude towards yourself and your life. Focus on things you enjoy. Stay active and curious when dating and in life generally.
Meet your own needs as you are your first priority. Take time to pay attention to your feelings and care for yourself through any negative emotions.
Act with compassion and kindness towards yourself. Embrace your imperfections. Act like your own “best friend.”
Know yourself: be aware of self-criticism (gremlins) and unhelpful thinking and dating patters.
Happiness has nothing to do with being part of a couple, or being single, and much more to do with investing effort into being self-aware, self-fulfilled, accepting of yourself, and acting with love and kindness in all things.