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SNEAK PEEK FROM THE UNEXPECTED JOY OF BEING SINGLE

Don’t get us wrong, we’re all for celebrating love and companionship, but Valentine’s Day can get a little tedious. If, like us, you’re feeling weary of the heart-shaped balloons and floral displays, we’ve got just the thing for you.  This week, we’re giving you a sneak peek from bestselling author’s Catherine Gray’s latest book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Single. In this brilliantly relateable and witty book, Catherine reminds us that it’s important (and indeed, possible) to enjoy our own company whilst showing us why we absolutely shouldn’t bow to the pressure of societal expectations on love. 

As an added (non-Valentine’s related, of course) treat we’ve even got an extra snippet read by Catherine Gray herself.

Monomania: Exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm
for or preoccupation with one thing.
(Extracted from the Oxford Dictionary)
Oneomania: Exaggerated or obsessive enthusiasm
with finding The One. (Extracted from my head)

I’m going to level with you. I am still a love addict. I can’t claim to be fixed. Nope. Sorry. That would be a bare-faced lie. Alas, I am still the woman who stares saucer-eyed at her text messages, watching her phone like a TV, breathlessly awaiting a reply when those tantalizing iPhone dots appear. I still have to gently slap myself around the face to stop the Yosemite Wedding fantasy (woodland-themed, if you must know, a little bit Narnian, with harpists and flutists, and I will wear…oh rats, there I go again *gentle slap*). I still crush like a paper bag whenever a man I’ve only had two dates with, and barely know, who I’ve spent a grand total of (drum roll) seven hours with, ghosts me. I’m still that person. I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
However, I have managed to dial my oneomania down from urgent, hysterical, phone-stabbing, triple-messaging (‘Are you OK? Have you had an accident?!’). It helped enormously that I took a whole year off dating, during which I didn’t so much as hold a man’s hand. It helped that I read as much as I could about why love addiction happens, all of which I will impart to you. It helped that I stopped giving people the power to puff or deflate me. When I was chronically love-addicted, I was like an inflatable person; reliant on praise to pump me up and shrinking into a glum little heap when I felt rejected.

A SPINSTER AGED 33

My first love rock bottom came a couple of months before my final alcohol rock bottom. My dad, now sadly departed, started calling me a ‘spinster’ aged 33. And no, he wasn’t yanking my chain. This was no ‘just rattling your cage!’ joke. He was being straight-down-the-line serious that I was a spinster, and what the devil was I gonna do about it. This ‘You’re a spinster’ conversation came about because of a visit we’d just had to my aunt and uncle. During which, the question ‘So, any danger of you getting married, Catherine?’ was asked. I explained that I’d just split up with a guy who hadn’t been treating me well, who I’d lived with for a year, and that I felt good about the decision. My uncle frowned and said ‘Well, you’re not getting any younger,’ which my dad guffawed at. When we left, I turned to my dad, laughed nervously, and said ‘They’ve started treating me like a spinster!’ He said, matter-of-fact, unflinchingly, as was his way: ‘Well, you are a spinster.’ We then had a huge argument in the car, during which I cried, said I wasn’t a spinster, and he shouted at me that I was a spinster. It was bizarre. I was utterly distraught. Later that day, I went for a long run along the River Lagan, sat on a leafy riverbank and full-body-sobbed. Once I’d cried myself out, I tried to figure out why this had wounded me so much. I knew full well, rationally, that this was ridiculous fifties Mad Men-esque misogyny, and yet it had cut me deep. I explored my wound and found a thorn buried deep inside. A thorn of Failure. That was it. Huh. This was what had scored my side so brutally. I felt like I’d failed as a woman, as a person, because I hadn’t found my life partner yet. I felt unchosen, unwanted, left on the shelf. While also knowing, intellectually, that this was nonsense. I knew that I had just finished a toxic relationship and was, at the age of 33, a mere youngster in the grand scheme.

A friend once informed me that my photo albums resembled an egofluffing trophy room. The sort of room somebody despicable has hidden away, replete with stag antlers, rhino horns and stuffed leopards. I recently looked back over said photo album, with a discerning eye. She was right. It was basically a Rolodex of my exes, with the odd mate thrown in. It was a display cabinet. Of men who had found me to be worthwhile. Now that I look at this album, it’s highly creepy. My catalogue of kills. I really did define myself by the men I’d slept with. But, d’you know what? I completely understand why I was the way I was. I don’t judge my twentysomething self. I’d been taught that romantic relationships are the most important thing, over and over, through subliminal (or blatant) societal messaging. As have you.

SETTLE DOWN, QUICK!

Here’s the thing. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that a happyever- after always involves finding a partner. The person. Our lobster. Our other half. How is it that, in the 21st century, getting married is still seen as a woman’s greatest accomplishment? Is it my imagination, or is that undercurrent really there? (I think it’s really there.) And, it’s not just women who feel this intense pressure. Men feel it too. Yet, despite this proposal press-gang, millions of us are increasingly choosing to stay single. The single population is growing at ten times the rate of the population in general. A typical British millennial is expected to live alone, without a partner, for an average of 15 years. The most recent data, collated by Mintel in their Single Lifestyles 2017 report, found that 51 per cent of Brits aged 25–44 are now single (including divorcees). Back in 2016, the Office for National Statistics reported that the single/divorced slice of the population was 35 per cent. Could that seriously be a jump of 16 per cent in one little year? We’re leaving marriage later and later. The Office for National Statistics released a report in 2018 that said, ‘For marriages of opposite-sex couples, the average (mean) age for men marrying in 2015 was 37.5 years, while for women it was 35.1 years.’ In other words, the average bride was 35 years old, while the average groom was circa 38. This revelation triggered a slew of press headlines, such as ‘Rise of the Older Bride: average age for women to walk down the aisle is now over 35.’ Out of these 2015 marriages, 75 per cent of the men and 76 per cent of the women were marrying for the first time.* Six in ten brides were over 30. In 1970, average marriage ages were 27 for men and 25 for women. So, compared to 1970, men are getting married 11 years later, while women are getting married 10 years later. Astounding, huh? What’s more, 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Meaning that almost half of those who walk hopefully and beaming down the aisle, wind up suddenly single later in life.

SINGLE IS NOW THE NORM

Before I dug up this data showing that singles have now tipped over into becoming the majority, I wrote reams of cool stuff about normsubverting, which then had to hit the cutting room floor, once I found out that we are now the norm. I didn’t know that. Did you? However, even though it is that way, it doesn’t feel that way. It still feels rebellious, like trend-bucking, to be single later in life. Why? Because we are still living in the shadow of the nuclear-shaped family and groaning under the weight of our parents’ expectations. We’ll talk more about this later, but during the raising and adulting of the Baby Boomer generation, there was an almighty marriage spike, which is likely why our parents are so perplexed that we’re not married like they were by our age. (If you’re aged 25–50, you’re most likely the offspring of Baby Boomers.) Our parents and the media have taught us to fear being single. I know this fear, intimately. It’s why I was never single in my twenties, and instead swung from boyfriend to boyfriend. I thought any relationship, no matter how toxic, was better than none. When I wasn’t with someone I felt flat and dark, like a pitch-black room that waits for someone to come along, flick on the light, and animate it once more. And ironically, given the paramount importance I awarded the preservation of relationships, I was a human wrecking ball. I snooped, cheated, started arguments, all that fun stuff. I would break up with people to push a lever for more attention. In recent years, I’ve managed to stop all of that. I don’t stay in unhealthy relationships, I’m no longer frightened of being single, I can date without losing my marbles, and I’ve now learned to luxuriate in my singleness, rather than look longingly at couples thinking, ‘I want that. Why don’t I have that?’ As I say, I’m not cured of love addiction. It’s still running around inside me, growling for sustenance. But I’ve learned how to live with it. How to tame it, leash it, re-train it, even stroke it. And I’m now genuinely happy as a single.

Working on my love addiction has led to me now feeling free of the need to be coupled. In my twenties I was single for a grand total of six months (which were basically spent interviewing potential new boyfriends) and in the past five years I’ve been single for three-and-ahalf years. That’s a rise from 5 per cent singleness in my twenties, to 70 per cent in the past five years.

More on the joys of singledom in Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Single.