I have a friend, let’s call her A, who has a fabulous life. Fabulous in that anything-could-happen sense that only the life of someone with no ties-no partner, no children-can be. Filled with friendship, travel and opportunity. A glance at her Instagram feed shows seemingly random jaunts abroad, wonderful food and friends from all corners of the globe, and her incredibly warm and generous personality bursting from every shot.
She posted a picture the other day and captioned it to explain that although her life was wonderful, it was not devoid of disappointment or loneliness.
I knew what she meant. Everyone who has taken even the slightest peek at Instagram would recognise that it is perhaps the most highly curated and self-censored of all the social media networks. We show our best selves to the world, what we think the world wants to see. The abs we got from working out every day for six months, not our exhausted selves, red-faced and out of breath, indulging in medieval torture devices at the gym. The angelic faces of our children, not the screaming contortions of a toddler mid-meltdown. Everyone knows that there are some things you just don’t show. It’s the unspoken rule of Instagram. But what made my friend’s post different and, perhaps, necessary, was that when she talked of disappointment she was, I believe, referring to her single and child-free status.
I now reside quite happily in a world of mummy bloggers. Most are married or coupled, some are not, but all of them, by definition, have children. My own desire for a child was so strong that I turned convention on its head and turned instead to science to help me achieve my goal. I am lucky to live in a time and place where I was able to do this, but the pervasive narrative in our society still holds the nuclear family as the ideal to which we should all aspire. We are still somehow lacking if we don’t “achieve” the ideal of a husband and children.
But is it an “achievement”?
Throughout my many, many years of being single I have considered many reasons why that might be the case. People have told me I am too intelligent, too picky, too quirky. And I believed them. I believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that I was broken, that I needed fixing-but not by someone else; instead, I was encouraged, as single women so often are, to work on the project that is myself. Us single girls need to follow The Rules, to be prim and demure, to be intelligent but not intimidatingly so, to be sexy but not too sexy, to love ourselves before we can expect someone else to love us, right?
Wrong. Now I’m going to admit I have no scientific data here. As far as I know no reliable studies have been done which have scientifically worked out that single people are any more or less flawed or neurotic than those in relationships. However, anecdotally, I know many married people, and many single people, and there seems to be absolutely no correlation between marital status and how you dress, how intelligent you are, how much you love and appreciate yourself, or whether or not you play by The Rules. In fact, it seems blindingly obvious to me that the only thing that separates the married people from the single ones is that they got married.
So how did they do it, these married people? What is the secret of their “success”? The supposed success that us single people are all supposed to emulate. Did they treat the search for a mate like a business deal, as some dubious self-help books suggest? Did they play by The Rules and ensure that they were never available to return their suitor’s calls? Did they walk around in full make up all the time just in case they bumped into The One?
No, they just met someone they wanted to marry, and the single ones did not. Not because they were too picky, or because they were too quirky or-Heaven forbid!-too intelligent. It was all down to chance. Sheer, blind luck. Just like some people get ill and others don’t, and some people have supportive families and others, through no fault of their own, don’t. Like everybody else, I am, at least to a certain extent, a hostage to fortune. My life is a collection of a lot of good things and one or two that I would like to be better, but isn’t everyone’s?
I don’t need fixing, and for any of my fellow singletons who may be reading this, neither do you.