If you’re single, this year was a breakthrough for you (or us). Earlier this month, Armistice Day was usurped in the Western world by an interloper, who gangled in and hijacked the significance of the ‘day of ones’ – 11/11 – with something terribly 21st century: International Singles’ Day.
Prior to the appendage of ‘international’, this bizarre celebration – that’s what it is, rather than a lamentation, but perhaps the former is an ironic inversion of the latter – was confined to China, where its genesis was a sort of ‘anti-Valentine’s Day’ marked by students at Nanjing University in the nineties. Today, due to China’s historical one-child policy and entrenched misogyny that spares no country, it is also known as ‘Bachelors’ Day’, as there are more men than women.
However, a bit like Christmas, its original meaning has now been smothered by opportunistic consumerism. Chinese retail behemoth Ali Baba is responsible for turning this into possibly the biggest shopping fest of the year. ‘Singles’ Day’ is now a 24-hour shopping extravaganza which extends beyond marking singledom to buying nice things at discounted prices. It resoundingly dwarfs Black Friday in terms of sales: last year, Singles’ Day generated £30bn of sales, compared to $6.2bn on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Back to the main point. The offence is not so much the commercialisation of the day – in fact, I think it’s quite a fitting appropriation for such an inane celebration. It’s the name. It’s the idea that being ‘single’ is a) marginalised enough to merit the conferral of a ‘national day’ designation (organised patronisation if you ask me), and b) that being unattached or ‘not a couple’ is sufficiently captured by the word ‘single’.
Single is not a status. It is a digit. It is an inferred judgement in a world which is meant for two or more. It is anti-social and unconnected: you don’t say ‘double’ for a couple, or ‘four’ for a family; it is the only social term which does not indicate some form of meaningful community. It is lonely. It is slightly pathetic. It is a superficial designation which makes people feel sheepish when they book a hotel room over the phone, or tell the tax authorities or that annoying telemarketing cold caller what their relationship status is. It reduces a person to ‘1’. One step away from ‘0’. I am technically single, but I feel as far removed from a ridiculous one-day fake-celebration-excuse-for-shopping as I do from being married with three sprogs in tow.
Being solo, on the other hand, is a completely different affair, and could equally apply to every person who has been tagged with the ignominious assignation ‘single’.
I have been solo for almost ten years now, and I am so in love with it that it will take an incredible man to convince me to give it up. It is part of the core of my identity and my life philosophy.
What is ‘solo’?
Solo is not a status. It is a spirit. It is a way of life, beyond the confines of a digit. It has at its heart freedom, power, and peace. I came out of a long-term relationship and found myself single. From that I evolved into being solo, and once I reached this space there was no desire to go back.
Being solo is being confident and content in your own company. It is knowing and embracing that you are responsible for your own happiness, and going out and not wasting a moment in fulfilling that responsibility. It is owning your choice to go where you like, when you like, with whom you like, and exercising it to the full.
Being solo is relying on yourself alone for validation, affirmation, and definition of your worth – and there is no better place to learn that as you go from single to solo. It is complete and utter independence.
It is slipping from peaceful solitude to raucous good times with friends or a romantic date in one breath, and being equally comfortable with any of these – because you know that you don’t depend on the latter for joy and company.
It is learning to get comfortable with the only person you can trust with your innermost sense of self, the part which you might have spent years wondering whether you could entrust to others but found it a struggle because it’s not meant to happen – yourself.
It is flying with the freedom of knowing that you can slip in almost anywhere, and it is almost always going to be easier than being encumbered with ‘plus ones’. Whether it’s booking a table at a restaurant – or just turning up, because queues magically shorten when you rock up toute seûle – or making plans to travel and grabbing that last plane seat on a date which works for you, or walking down the street as fast or slow as you like, or nipping in and out of crowds because you can be like a sylph when you don’t have to hold anybody’s hand…life is just easier, faster, and more convenient.
It is certainly not a box to be ticked on a form. Solo defies reduction; instead, it is expansive. It screams freedom. Independence, power. Being unfettered and unshackled and able to do whatever I like, whenever I like, however I like.
Being solo in a relationship…
If you’re wondering if it is possible to be solo in a romantic relationship, I would reply that it is not only possible, it is necessary. Being solo and part of a ‘couple’ means remaining in full possession of myself, and it’s the only way I can function in life, whether I am with someone or not. That means being responsible for my own happiness, for my own peace of mind, and loving being in a relationship but not needing it.
For me personally, meeting that incredible man who might persuade me to give up my solo life would be fun, but I’m not waiting for him. When I’ve dated before, I have often asked myself, ‘am I happier in this set-up or alone?’ Until now, it’s always been alone; being solo is my yardstick for happiness in any kind of relationship.
Being single vs solo
Single is being nervous about dining alone, unless that means eating a sandwich at Pret or grabbing a coffee. It is feeling despondent when that supper club will only take bookings for pairs. It is feeling self-conscious about travelling alone or going to parties alone. It is declining that wedding invitation because you don’t want to be the only one there without a ‘plus one’. It is living shyly.
Solo is travelling anywhere you like, whenever you like. It is sleeping in the middle of the king-size bed in your hotel room. It is taking your custom elsewhere when some regressive restaurants will only book for pairs or more (I’ve done this). It’s eating out with aplomb, alone, any time of day – afternoon tea is a personal favourite. It is having an evening with yourself as if you were on a date: booking a table at a nice restaurant, taking your time, enjoying your food without having to talk (read here about my evening out for inspiration). It is deciding whether you have dessert there or take a crazy trip a few mile away to get ice cream from that place you love (funny, I did that yesterday). It’s gleefully going to parties and weddings alone, because you have the luxurious choice of talking to others, or just people-watching; of dancing alone or flitting in and out of groups (read here for my own experience of being a solo wedding guest). It is treating your own company as sacred.
It is also being straight with yourself. It’s a place to get your own shit sorted out, because when you’re solo you can’t hide from yourself. A singleton might be terrified by that prospect, and throw themselves into company – or, worse still, an average relationship – to avoid dealing with themselves. A soloton (trying to find a better word, but for now…) may be daunted but will take up the challenge, recognising that there is no safer nor clearer space for dealing with your demons and fears and limiting behaviours than by yourself.
A single person may take whatever company is going, just so that they have someone to travel with, go to parties with, dine out. A soloton carefully curates their company, and is comfortable knowing that the people they spend time with are those they want to be with, not have to be with. They are also not afraid of letting people go who don’t bring good energy into their environment; I have done this myself in the last few years, and it makes space for new, wonderful people to step in and get my time and energy (and lucky me, I get theirs too).
So for anybody who find themselves single and feeling pretty crap about it, I don’t blame you. You’ve been dealt a dud term and a short hand. The good part is that you don’t have to accept it. Don’t be confined to a stupid day which is really an excuse to shop. Give yourself a life of being joyously you. Ditch single and upgrade yourself to solo living – and I promise you, great things will follow.