“If I’m still single, does that mean there’s something wrong with me?” asked a friend, a 25-year-old woman living in Brooklyn, New York. I faked a smile and assured her she would find someone eventually, but inside, I was fuming. How could someone think something so ridiculous? Then I remembered this was not a totally foreign emotion; it was actually a sentiment I have felt many times before. The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was a larger issue with the negative stigma identified with being a single woman, an image which society continues to accept, promote and distribute. Often in today’s world, guys are praised for being single, while single women are outright judged and considered lost or broken souls.
As the product of a conservative Jewish household, I was raised to believe that my future female adulthood meant going to a good school, landing a well-paying job, finding a Jewish husband and starting a family. While I had no idea what career I would ultimately pursue, I believed that my future success would be measured upon those pillars. Not only that, ever since I was of dating age, my relationship status has been a hot topic of debate and discussion at every family function. “Have you met anyone interesting lately?” “Maybe you are being too picky.” “You’ll find someone when the time is right.” “It’ll happen when you least expect it.” My family members would say. It is no wonder that upon graduating college and entering adulthood, I immediately began to measure my life according to those societal expectations.
Now, as I’ve begun my mid-late twenties, I have endured more and more comments surrounding my relationship status by co-workers, friends and strangers alike. “I’m surprised you don’t have a boyfriend,” said an old boss of mine. That was when I was 24. I’m 27 now and as a large number of my Facebook friends continue to get engaged and married, one thing remains a constant: I am still single. And it feels as though the entire world won’t let me forget it.
Until recently, I took these comments as harsh criticisms on my life choices. I saw them as negative commentary on how I choose to spend my free time, and with whom I choose to spend it with. Every time the topic would come up, my heart would race, my stomach would churn, and my day would be ruined. My mind would fill with negative thoughts: Why am I still single? Should I be doing something differently? What’s wrong with me? I would ponder, over and over again. Back then I believed that my singledom meant I was tragically damaged. I saw my single status as a marker that I was doing something wrong and wasn’t where I should be in life. At that time, I was only able to measure my success by that life checklist I let guide me through me adulthood, which made it impossible to feel as if I wasn’t failing miserably.
A terrible, irrational fear of being alone forever thus made it impossible to approach dating as a fun, carefree thing. Moreover, I inflicted a lot of pressure on myself to act a certain way with men and live by a set of expectations I thought would secure me a boyfriend (since the only purpose of dating was ultimately to be in a relationship, and snag my future husband). This meant every date meant nothing unless it turned into something. With every encounter, I felt hopeful that this could be THE guy for me — that if I got a boyfriend, my real, grown-up life would finally start and that I would then be considered a worthy adult.
Even when guys I didn’t really like, or ones who treated me like crap, disappeared, I was totally shattered against my better judgment and intuition. There was the writer who ran away when I finally let myself be physically and emotionally vulnerable. And the filmmaker who only texted two weeks following sex merely to “cuddle.” Then there was the musician, who ignored me and pretended I didn’t exist following what seemed like a great, spontaneous one-night stand. Plus, there have been countless guys who’ve ghosted me, yet continue to haunt me on social media.
Did I do something wrong? Would he have stuck around if I did something differently? I would think until a new prospect appeared. I wanted more than anything for the wrong people to be right because I felt I was nothing if I was alone. This deep seeded belief made it impossible to appreciate the learning and enjoyment in every experience, no matter how brief the encounter or relationship was.
Upon each ending, I was full of regret and had trouble seeing beyond what was an almost relationship, instead of seeing each experience for what it really was. My time felt wasted and my heart felt chained down by the thought of picking myself back up and starting all over again as the still single Sara. I was embarrassed by my singledom and for much too long I allowed my relationship status to define who I was. What was it about being alone that I was so goddamn afraid of?
Recently, I have begun to fill those constant, negative thoughts with some of my own probing questions like, What’s so bad about being single? Are we not allowed to be alone? Why don’t we embrace singledom? While it’s sad to think I didn’t respect or value myself enough to know I deserved better or that I am more than enough alone, now I know better.
It wasn’t until this year, through a newfound passion for writing, that I realized there is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with me. While I once played victim to cultural messages and societal pressures, I have turned a corner and now realize the importance of being independent and absolutely okay as a single lady. I am no longer living by expectations nor waiting for my relationship status to give me that deep sense of fulfillment I was craving for so long; instead, I am now fully committed to my writing, which has helped me accept myself and leave the shame I once associated with being single, behind.
These days, I am approaching dating simply by being unapologetically myself; I am taking risks and being a little more impulsive, reckless and spontaneous. In turn, I am enjoying the process more than ever before merely by allowing myself to go with the flow, be who I am and feel whatever it is I feel. I am no longer putting unnecessary pressure on an ending I cannot always control and I now have a more curious and playful outlook on life as a whole. While the pressures of being a single woman still exist, I realize I have a choice: I am now choosing to value my own worth and celebrate my singlehood. But by no means am I writing men off or closing myself off to the idea of a boyfriend, I am just finally content and confident being in my own company.
Although my future is still totally unclear, one thing is certain, my solo story is still being written and now I truly believe I have the power to compose it. With every piece I write, I feel less anxious, and in turn, happier to be alive and alone. It is with a ballpoint pen and a legal pad of paper that I am now able to write through my thoughts, allowing me to better understand, and more easily work through missed connections, lost lovers, and weighty emotions. I am thus becoming the best subject I know: I am my own muse, my own soulmate, and my own happy ending.
Today, I have surrendered my self-doubt, in order to build an independent life that I am proud and empowered to call my own. Now I only define my success based on my dedication to my passions, not my ability to secure a relationship. Moving forward, my only plan for the future is to have an open heart and mind and see where life takes me. Because no matter what happens I will never lose my sense of self, which I continue to create relentlessly. I am now in a long-term relationship with my writing, and it’s quite possibly the best relationship I have ever had.
This essay is part of a growing anthology called It's Not Personal, which creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences within a positive community and aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram, join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to email@example.com.
The collage art in this essay was created by Allison Stefanoni, a rising senior at the Fashion Institute of Technology who is majoring in International Fashion Business and Management. With an obsession for visual culture and fashion imagery, Allison hopes to pursue a career in trend forecasting. She also manages the It's Not Personal Instagram account, a platform for sharing submissions and a space for examining visual and cultural messages around dating, sex and love. Follow Allison on Instagram.
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Sara Radin is a writer, curator, collaborator and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. Full time, she is an Art + Culture editor for WGSN (a fashion trend forecasting publication). Sara runs two passion projects: Cultureisland (Instagram, Twitter) a platform for interviewing and collaborating with emerging creatives on pop-up events, and It's Not Personal, an anthology inspired by the female dating experience. Her writing has also been published by Huffington Post and Thought Catalog. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.