Your twenties are often sold as the time to find yourself and be free. But since when did that become synonymous with being single?
‘God you’re such an old married couple’, my friend told me over coffee the other day as we sat in our favourite greasy breakfast cafe discussing our weekends. For context, I had just finished briefly explaining how my boyfriend and I had stayed in, cooked pesto pasta (best comfort food) and binge-watched season 3 of Narcos the previous Saturday night.
But for some reason, it feels as though it’s become blasphemous for women in their early twenties to be in happily committed relationships. Preferring to, or even revelling in, spending some of their time holed up with their partners and a good Netflix box set rather than in a grimy club in Brixton, navigating through a crowd of sweaty millennials has become close to sin. If this seems like an overstatement, then head to Google right now and type in three words: ‘why being single’. Here are the first ten suggested predictions: ‘is better, is good, is good for your health, sucks, is awesome, in your 20s is awesome, is the best, is bad, is important, is good for you’. I am sure that the list goes on. Only two out of ten of those are negative. It speaks multitudes that the first search suggestion is ‘why being single is better’. Since when did we stop appreciating the relative pros and cons of both, weighing them up as equal opportunities for happiness?
Why is it better? We are constantly being told that our twenties are a time for travel, for adventure, for partying, for making mistakes and – hopefully – learning from them. They’re for one-night-stands that become funny anecdotes. Your twenties are all about focusing on you. An endless, ever-growing list. One year into my first serious relationship, and I have noticed such sentiments crop up in conversations with single friends again and again. It’s tiring constantly being berated or judged for wanting to spend a significant amount of your time with your significant other and choosing to stay in with them on some nights as opposed to wing-womaning your best friend who is currently living her best life. Living your best life has never been about a one-way path to happiness; the operative word being ‘yours’. It feels at times like a double standard; I’m constantly listening to my friends tell me about their wild nights, about their troubles and personal issues yet I seem to hesitate when it comes to talking about a particularly wonderful occurrence in my own relationship, or sharing too much of my happiness. I’d rather share any relationship anecdotes with other friends in relationships rather than with my single friends – it feels more comfortable, less intrusive. Am I alone in this?
The process of falling in love is a beautiful and fulfilling one, in such a different way to the process of knowing how to be on your own or the typical cliche of ‘finding yourself’; the two do not need to be mutually exclusive. The stereotype of two people madly in love is that they’re joint at the hip, unable to exist separately. The reality, personally, is that I actually need a great deal of alone time in order to recharge my mental batteries; to read, to write and to simply just be by myself. At times, I can’t help but think my single friends are overlooking the fact that we in relationships are very content with being alone and doing our own thing. I choose to spend a considerable amount of my time with my partners simply because they are one of my favourite people. It’s okay if you don’t have that person, but it doesn’t limit my own self-growth and understanding.
Does it have to do with the feeling of being replaced? But the truth is that the two are so different from one another that the friendship aspect of both relationships is incomparable. I couldn’t bear the thought of fighting with my significant other, only to have no respite from my friends – and vice versa. I don’t want to find myself holding back on sharing anecdotes with some of my best friends simply because I fear coming across as condescending or smug. Even worse, I don’t want to find myself noticing that my friends only want to talk about my relationship when it is going badly. Part of me wonders if it’s a reaction to the past – a desire to get as far away as possible from the fifties notion that a woman has to be married and pregnant before she’s twenty five, or she might go ‘out of date’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Miranda’s iconic, sassy Sex and the City scene where she tells the other three that their lives do not revolve around their relationships: ‘How does it happen that four such smart women have nothing to talk about but boyfriends? It’s like seventh grade with bank accounts!’ Truer words have never been spoken. There is a time for everything: a time to talk about certain things, to spend with certain people, to do mundane tasks etc. An awareness of where the focus of any conversation lies is a basic social skill. I’m sure that there are people who go around shamelessly promoting their relationships to anyone and everyone who will listen, just as there are undoubtedly single friends who wholeheartedly love hearing about their best friends’ newfound love and contentment but on the flip side there still seems to exist a certain air of contempt and disapproval towards those in committed relationship in their twenties, as if there are better things to do and people to see. The two are not mutually exclusive. Why this pressure to bow down to the ‘fun and free’ single woman of our time? Naturally, many of the ‘Why Being Single in Your Twenties Is The Best’ compilations are a type of validation for those who are single in their twenties. But why do you need validation? The bottom line is that being single is different to being in a relationship. Not better. Not worse. Just different.
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