Female (Malaysia) - - FEMALE NOVEMBER 2018 -

Ever won­dered what would hap­pen if you never end up find­ing your bet­ter half ? Clara How shares her take on the mat­ter and how girls can still be happy even with­out a life part­ner.

I’m 29 years old, and all things con­sid­ered, the world is my oyster. I have ful­fill­ing hob­bies. I have a wide so­cial cir­cle. I en­joy my ca­reer as a writer. And (be­cause I refuse to say “but”) I am sin­gle – and have been for the last four years.

Just shy of 30, I know that I’m on the younger spec­trum of adult­hood. With six wed­dings and two baby show­ers to at­tend this year, at one point I started to feel rat­tled. Why did ev­ery­one seem to be mov­ing on with their lives? Was I be­ing left be­hind? And then I got frus­trated with my­self for feel­ing this way.

I re­call a speech that ac­tress and Golden Globe win­ner Tracee El­lis Ross made at Glam­our mag­a­zine’s Women of the Year sum­mit last year that res­onated with me. Tracee, 45, is the queen we all aspire to be – she’s got a great ca­reer, she’s con­fi­dent and fun, she’s woke and speaks up for women and peo­ple of colour, and she’s got what looks (on In­sta­gram) like loads of fun hob­bies. She has, as she aptly puts it, built an “in­cred­i­ble life” for her­self, and is a woman she’s proud of. Oh, and she’s sin­gle. Yet, for a woman who seems to have it all go­ing for her, she is also sub­ject to com­ments that im­ply her life would be way more mean­ing­ful with a hus­band and kids. “My worth gets di­min­ished as I am re­minded that I have ‘failed’ on the mar­riage and car­riage counts,” she ex­claims in­dig­nantly in the video. “Me! This bold, lib­er­ated, in­de­pen­dent woman.”

Girl, I feel you. When­ever I catch up with an old friend, the ques­tion “So, are you see­ing any­one?” al­ways comes up. My feel­ings to­wards that are com­plex. On one hand, I’m ir­ri­tated that my well-be­ing is tied to whether my love life is thriv­ing. On the other, I would be ly­ing if I said the ab­sence of a part­ner is some­thing I’m com­pletely down with. At a time when a woman can be any­thing and do what­ever she wants, why do I sub­scribe to ar­chaic sen­si­bil­i­ties of still want­ing a man?

I guess I’ve al­ways en­joyed hav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant other. And I’m pretty sure I want a wed­ding and, of course, chil­dren. The prob­lem is, I’m un­cer­tain whether it’s ever go­ing to hap­pen for me. It also doesn’t help that be­ing on the dat­ing scene can get pretty dis­heart­en­ing. Now that I’m older and my so­cial cir­cle is more in­ti­mate, it just seems harder to meet men. The ones that I do meet (usu­ally via dat­ing apps) – turn out to be

sin­gle for a rea­son. It seems the dat­ing gods have deigned to be­stow on me only com­mit­ment-phobes and lemons.

But right now, I don’t feel my life is in­com­plete be­cause I don’t have a man. I can en­joy my own com­pany while still cov­et­ing that big white dress, be­cause there is no shame in want­ing to find love. As a younger per­son, that pos­si­bil­ity re­mains very real. The more im­por­tant ques­tion is: Would I still feel this way if I was sin­gle at 39, 49 or even 59? I wanted to know, and so I asked.

Sin­gle peo­ple are not un­happy. Yes, re­ally.

You could say Sally* has some idea of what Tracee goes through. At 48, Sally has never had a boyfriend.

Dur­ing our con­ver­sa­tion, she makes an ob­ser­va­tion that sticks. Given that her job re­quires her to be su­per so­cial, she’s not short of op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet men. “Guys think that I’m taken be­cause I look so happy and con­tented,” she says. “Peo­ple tell me that they never re­alised I’m still sin­gle.” It made her won­der why there is an au­to­matic as­sump­tion that if you’re a joy­ful and con­fi­dent per­son, you must be hap­pily mar­ried?

My great per­son­al­ity ex­ists, full stop. With or with­out a man. So rather than think “One day, a guy’s go­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate me for the great qual­i­ties I have”, I’ve de­cided that it’s more im­por­tant to fo­cus on how my loved ones al­ready ap­pre­ci­ate how awe­some I am, and that I don’t need to be in a re­la­tion­ship for this to be val­i­dated.

Not play­ing by other peo­ple’s rules

That said, my not-so-sub­tle mother of­ten tells me that I “need to give more men a chance”. But it’s not about giv­ing chances; why should I feel hur­ried into find­ing a part­ner just be­cause I’m ap­proach­ing my 30s? A cou­ple of months ago, I caught up with my ex-boyfriend’s sis­ter, whom I’ve al­ways been friendly with. When it came to the in­evitable ques­tion of whether I have met any­one, I told her that af­ter years of as­sum­ing that mar­riage was a given for me, I was start­ing to con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that it might not hap­pen. It’s a re­al­i­sa­tion that’s only oc­curred to me in the past year. The ques­tion is, would I be okay with that? It’s still a work in progress, but I think I would be. And it helps that I’ve got to know other women who are liv­ing their best lives – with­out a hus­band and kids.

Eve*, for ex­am­ple, has al­ways been cer­tain that mar­riage is not for her. The 37 year old has, for years, been bat­tling the tired gen­der stereo­type that for women, the path of life must lead to the al­tar. “Mar­riage is just not some­thing that’s ex­cit­ing for me,” she says. “I think your 30s are so im­por­tant be­cause that’s when you grow into your­self. There’s just so much life to live and there are so many things that I want to do.” Eve prefers to be in the driver’s seat, and doesn’t want her as­pi­ra­tions to take a back seat or be pinned down by a part­ner’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

But don’t as­sume that Eve is cyn­i­cal about love. She’s been in long-term re­la­tion­ships, the most re­cent last­ing five years. “End­ing my last re­la­tion­ship was the best de­ci­sion for me, be­cause even when I ini­ti­ated the break-up, my ex wrote to me say­ing that he would do this and that, so we could get mar­ried,” she ex­plained. “And I re­alised that he didn’t get me at all.” De­spite years of be­ing to­gether and Eve be­ing clear about what she wanted, her ex still be­lieved that un­der­neath it all, she wanted a ring on her fin­ger.

It’s a scary thought: that some­one as vo­cal about her be­liefs as Eve could be so mis­un­der­stood. And more im­por­tantly, what if I end up set­tling and mar­ry­ing some­one who just doesn’t get me? Mar­riage is a huge step that shouldn’t be taken un­less I’m ab­so­lutely cer­tain, but could the weight of so­ci­ety’s (and my own) ex­pec­ta­tions blind me?

It’s some­thing that Charleen* knows well. At 38, she had been see­ing the same

Sin­gle­hood is now a word with power. It means we make a choice and em­brace ev­ery­thing about it.

guy for five years and caved when her par­ents told her that it was time they set­tled down. “I didn’t think he was the one,” she said. “I could also tell that he wasn’t keen on mar­riage.” But they went ahead with it, be­liev­ing it was the “right” thing to do. Af­ter a cou­ple of years, the mar­riage un­rav­elled.

“It was like liv­ing with a flat­mate,” she re­called. “We would watch TV in dif­fer­ent rooms. We barely spoke, and we didn’t plan hol­i­days to­gether.” When the cou­ple fought, he would be cut­ting, say­ing, “We got mar­ried be­cause it’s what your mum wanted.” One week­end when he was away, Charleen packed up and moved out. Di­vorce pa­pers fol­lowed.

Hav­ing been there and done that, Charleen, now 48, says mar­riage is com­pletely off the cards. “I’m happy to be alone for the rest of my life,” she said. “I can sup­port my­self fi­nan­cially, I’m busy with the things that I like to do and I don’t see my­self ac­com­mo­dat­ing an­other per­son again.” Her mother has also changed her tune. “She just wants me to be happy now. She doesn’t ask me if I’m see­ing any­one.”

Know that you are enough

For Eve, what re­ally riles her up is the age-old de­bate that women are “giv­ing some­thing up” when they choose to walk away from mar­riage and kids. “Sin­gle­hood is never a topic men have to deal with,” she points out. “They don’t talk about giv­ing things up. There are so many in­stances of women be­ing cel­e­brated be­cause they ‘have it all’ –a ca­reer and a fam­ily life, and that’s an ar­chaic con­cept to me.” If men don’t mea­sure their suc­cess by this yard­stick, why should we?

I asked her what she would do if she did meet a man un­der­stand­ing enough so that she did not have to com­pro­mise on what she wanted. It’s pos­si­ble, she agreed, but “he would need to in­spire me and have his own life. A lot of guys I’ve met have in­ter­est­ing ca­reers and lives, but they still have a tra­di­tional way of think­ing”. In other words, Eve wants a man who will see her and treat her as an equal.

And let’s be real. It’s not like be­ing a wife and mum au­to­mat­i­cally means you’re liv­ing your best life. A close friend with a two year old once told me that moth­ers give up so much of who they are, and that she’s lucky that her hus­band has a flex­i­ble work­ing sched­ule, which gives her some time to pur­sue her in­ter­ests. Oth­ers might not be as for­tu­nate. So, re­ally, you might say mar­riage and moth­er­hood are sac­ri­fices too.

Find your own brand of hap­pi­ness

Of course, even if you con­vince peo­ple that you’re okay with not hav­ing a hus­band, they’re sure to point out: “But what about kids?” What if you lose out on that ex­pe­ri­ence?

In Sally’s case, she tells me that she’s not fussed about her bi­o­log­i­cal clock. While she would like to get mar­ried, she’s al­ready chan­nelled her ma­ter­nal in­stincts to her nieces and neph­ews. “I’ve watched them grow and have been there for them, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out in any way,” she says.

In Eve’s case, she knows that fam­ily life is not for her: “I see how my friends have changed. It’s be­come all about their fam­ily. It’s great that they are so happy, and I’m not say­ing that their hap­pi­ness is in­fe­rior to mine, but my in­de­pen­dence is not some­thing I want to give up.”

It also helps that Eve has a fast-paced job in a cre­ative in­dus­try that in­volves meet­ing dif­fer­ent types of peo­ple. On top of that, she has a com­mit­ted yoga prac­tice, trav­els fre­quently and has other in­ter­ests like fash­ion – not dis­sim­i­lar to the cur­rent state of my own life. “When it comes down to pri­or­i­ties, it’s about per­sonal de­vel­op­ment for me,” she says. “It’s about feel­ing em­pow­ered in your daily life and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.” Preach, sis­ter!

Own your choice

More re­cently, I think the word “sin­gle­hood” has taken on new mean­ing. No longer does it con­note lone­li­ness, bit­ter­ness or, God for­bid, the stereo­typ­i­cal crotch­ety spin­ster. It’s now a word with power. It means that we can (and have) made a choice, and are em­brac­ing ev­ery­thing that comes with it.

His­tor­i­cally, sin­gle women have al­ways been pitied. Think of the fa­mous Jane Austen clas­sic Pride and Prej­u­dice, which opens with Mrs Ben­net try­ing to marry her daugh­ters off. Then came the inim­itable Car­rie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, who said: “Be­ing sin­gle used to mean that no one wanted you. Now it means you’re tak­ing your time de­cid­ing how you want your life to be and who you want to spend it with.” That has never rung truer than to­day, when sin­gle women and celebri­ties like Mindy Kal­ing and Char­l­ize Theron wear their in­de­pen­dence with pride. As a woman, it’s in­cred­i­bly heart­en­ing to know that I’m in good com­pany. I rel­ish the fact that I’m liv­ing in a time when I can make my own choices about what to do with my life and my body.

I know for sure that I don’t need to be re­luc­tantly sin­gle. I can take own­er­ship of it. Just be­cause I haven’t met the right per­son (yet) doesn’t mean I can’t or that I’m not liv­ing my best life. If these three women I’ve spo­ken to have taught me any­thing, it’s that be­ing sin­gle gives me the ad­van­tage of do­ing things en­tirely on my own terms. And hav­ing that free­dom is an ex­cit­ing place to be.

*Names have been changed to pro­tect pri­vacy.

It’s fun to go out at night and not know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. I’m ad­dicted to and am ob­sessed with my free­dom in that sense. – Elis­a­beth Moss

Find your own hap­pi­ness!

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