Do you remember those phrases coined about the various household types?
‘Dinks’ were the couples who were Double Income No Kids. ‘Skiers’ were the older ones that were Spending the Kids Inheritance.
Alongside the Dinks were the Sinks – Single Income No Kids. That’s the group of us who tread the path by choice or otherwise, of a single life. This provokes various questions and assumptions as we mingle with our coupled friends, family and workmates.
Firstly – can we ever be really happy? Can a life be content without a significant other? Next, we are top of the list to work the unsociable shift, with no partner/kids to get back for. Also, that sneaking suspicion that we are living the best life, free of commitments – an endless round of carefree days and crazy nights.
To state the blooming obvious – we are not all the same. Some suffer whilst others thrive. Some are permanently on the lookout for a potential partner; others are comfortable with their own company. And some of us can’t quite make our minds up. Do we want to be in a relationship or not?
I’ve known some of the benefits of the single life. This has included dropping out of the mainstream for years at a time, living, working and travelling across the world. Hopping between rented flat & house shares with a myriad of housemates over the years. It’s also meant no fights for the remote control, no compromise on meal choices, holiday destinations or wallpaper dilemmas.
I’ve never had the full-time responsibility for the welfare of a child. I’ve enjoyed being ‘Uncle Mark’ and never regretted not being ‘Dad’. That happy state has the twin effect of prolonging your adolescence (I think I’m on my 4th now) and maintaining that twinkle in the eye that enables a connexion with other generations.
Spiritual ones will recognise the progress of the soul across the astral plane, with individuals from different generations finding empathy. I’ve often felt my mental age to be anywhere between 10 – 70 at any one time. Older bones, young outlook.
My time in Thailand introduced me to their charming philosophy that the middle-aged ones are the learners. Specifically, there are lessons to be learned from the elders’ experience and lessons also (perhaps re-learned) from the young.
Being single does provide opportunities for exploration on your own terms if that’s your thing. You can pursue passions without seeking permission or validation from anyone else. Your time, money and focused energy are all yours to spend as you wish.
There does come a time however when all this freedom can lose its flavour. Whether wholesome or hedonistic, the best of life’s pleasures are usually those shared. Children want their parents to see and applaud their achievements. Some never grow out of that need for parental approval.
Team victories are all the sweeter when the cup is lifted as a group, with hugs and high-fives in celebration. Even the solo athlete or solitary artist enjoys sharing their moment of triumph with those nearest.
But even then – when the music stops, the lights go out and everyone heads for the door, the singleton is going home alone. It’s here where the divide within the group becomes apparent. Some feel relief to get back to their solitude, others wish the evening could go on a little longer and some feel the crushing loneliness enveloping them again.
I’ve felt all of those. Whilst I relish the time alone and the sense of derring-do when travelling solo, there are always those moments. There have been so many times when I’ve been far, far away in some foreign land and turned a corner to see a breath-taking desert, mountain, forest, lake, cityscape, ocean view – and I’ve had nobody to turn to and say, ‘Look at that’. And when a hard day of walking is over, nobody there to share the triumph*
In everyday life – a simple thing makes you laugh – but nobody to laugh with. Listening to a song, watching a movie, eating a meal. All very do-able and enjoyable solo. But when those songs, movies and meals stack up in their thousands alone, they too can lose their flavour.
There is a resilience, built up over the years. And for me, an ebullient will to remain forward looking and optimistic. It doesn’t mean I’m insufferably cheerful or in any way sunny to a fault. Far from it.
I have known the lowest of days and nights. When these dark corners of the mind are familiar to you, it is perhaps part of your destiny to go there again from time to time.
It is ultimately a choice. We may bemoan the fates for conspiring against us, circumstances for wrong-footing us or play the ‘blame game’ on others. A whole chorus of ‘if onlys’ to accompany the sad symphony. But it’s only our own selves that can live our lives. Walking through that door. Making that phone call. Sending that message. Reaching out. It’s hard. It’s risky. And it makes you vulnerable, with no guarantees.
So it’s Valentine’s Day again. I wish joy and happiness to all couples celebrating. Plus a special wish for all my fellow singletons to find happiness, whatever that means to you.
* My recent foreign travels were shared with a friend. From this I can confirm some adventures are indeed better shared (see http://www.MarkandLucas.com)
[A version of this post appeared previously]