On being single by choice

Jane Elinor O Connor 10 February 2018

I am single by choice. This is not out of disdain for romance, in fact, just today at dinner, a friend of mine remarked that I come across as a romantic. Let me then explain the paradox of being single by choice yet believing that one day I will find my soulmate.

Like any ‘normal’ girl, I grew up to believe in knights, and princes, and happy ever-after endings; like any ‘normal’ girl, I grew up to believe in the kind of love which lasts forever. What changed down the line was that I stopped defining myself by a romantic relationship.

College for me was a growing up experience of sorts – in my early 20s I was convinced that I had found the love of my life even though he did not reciprocate my feelings. This started an agonising cycle of self-inflicted misery and a complete loss of mental peace because I had placed the object of my affection at the centre of my universe. Looking back, I feel that I could have done so much more in college if only I had not placed this kind of importance on being in a relationship, or conditioning my self-worth on whether a person desired me romantically.

I realise that I am meant for so much more than being someone’s lover. Of course, I want to experience romantic love someday and I believe that it can make my life very fulfilling. But my problem is with those who think that only romantic love can make life fulfilling. Romantic love is not the single most important thing in my life and I have drawn a lot of contentment in my life from pursuing my passion for writing and swimming, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Pursuing a Master’s degree at Cambridge is a dream which I achieved after working very hard for two years after college. I wonder sometimes whether I would have been driven to work towards my professional goals had I remained single-mindedly focussed on a crush the way I was in college.

I am recently trying to move on from someone I fell for after college – through him, I discovered a love for oceans and I felt a connection I have never felt for anybody else before. Although we were only friends, his thoughts affected me when I first moved to Cambridge and made sense of this sea of change that moving abroad brought. Last year during the Michaelmas break, I realised how unhealthy it was for me to be unhappy just because I was not in a romantic relationship with someone I liked – I realised that I was “throwing away” my Cambridge experience by being unhappy over someone who was a thousand miles away. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming, i.e. someone who failed to appreciate what she had in her life because she was too heart-broken over unrequited love. That’s when I started prioritising the things that should matter in my life – at present that is focussing on my studies in Cambridge and making use of opportunities to develop my personality. This has changed my life for the better and I am overall much happier in Cambridge than I was when I first arrived here.

I don’t blame others like me who are “romantic at heart” and take time to recover from heart-break. I find that we are unconsciously exposed to feeling that romantic love is necessary, take for instance, when a friend you run into after a very long time asks how your love life is. This seemingly innocuous inquiry can make us question whether it is in fact okay to be single.

There’s a lot to be said for loving yourself and your own company first. I used to count on the presence of a significant other in my life to fill an inexplicable “void” in my life, fortunately I am wiser now – your significant other should supplement your happiness but first you must be happy on your own. Love yourself and look pretty for yourself. Ask yourself, “Would I date the person I am?” If your answer is ‘no’, it indicates your dissatisfaction with some aspect of your life, do what you must to change the way you feel about yourself. These are inner conflicts and you cannot count on someone else (i.e. an external source) to resolve them for you.

I no longer actively “look” for romantic love. Whenever I find myself unhappy over my single status, I remind myself that there is much more to life than being someone’s significant other. I am happily single by choice.