THE SMART SINGLE
Why happy singles who know what they want end up in happy relationships
I'm getting ready to go out. The hit-mix is pumping out of the stereo, I'm in the bathroom plucking, shaving, dyeing, exfoliating, fake tanning, moisturising, blending, hiding and highlighting. I'm also getting drunk - the bottle of white is disappearing fast but I can't help it. I'm over-excited and can't wait to get out there. Deep in my bones (and other places), I've got the feeling tonight is IT. THE NIGHT I am going to meet a guy who's gorgeous, interesting, funny, intelligent, ambitious and all-round wonderful. Never mind I've spent the last week moaning to my girlfriends about how there aren't any single men out there. How I feel fat/old/ugly/depressed. Tonight, I'm on a chardonnay-inspired optimistic high. This guy's going to knock my socks off. All my problems will magically disappear. My mother will never again have to give me ridiculously expensive Christmas gifts because 'You've got no-one darling and the other kids do'. I'm off to a huge party: wall-to-wall men and the hostess has promised to lay on at least a dozen single ones along with the tzatziki dip. Brilliant! I jump in the cab, smile beatifically at the cab driver and think, 'I'm not desperate, just hopeful.'
When you're single, you drive yourself more. You force yourself to go out when you'd really rather chill in front of the television. There's always this feat that if you don't make the effort, you'll have missed the one opportunity you had of meeting Mr. Wonderful.
Charlotte, 25, student
Around 3am, I'm in another cab, cursing the inconsiderate bastard who appears to have moved my flat. 'Thancshhh,' I say to the cab driver (when I finally find it) and walk sideways up the drive. Alone. Somehow I manage to find the front door. Even more miraculously, I coordinate keys and keyhole so it opens. I head straight for the fridge, search for the highest fat-content food I can find, make tea with three sugars (what's the point of being slim, doesn't get you anywhere), take everything to bed, defiantly attempt to read a book, then give up and cry. What's wrong with me? Why can't I find someone to love? Why is everyone attached? I should never have got rid of Brad. He wasn't that bad. Why am I too fussy? I wonder why I feel sick -I've only eaten one packet of Chocolate Scotch Finger biscuits. Oh God, my arse will be huge tomorrow. Do I intimidate men? How about that bitch that muscled in on the guy I know liked me! Why do I get little lumps on my bikini line after I shave? I wonder why the sky's blue and the grass is green? Should I have fruit salad and muesli for breakfast or bacon and eggs? It's around then I fall asleep.
This is what usually happens to me when I'm in one of those down and depressed single phases and get asked somewhere which sounds full of promise. The reason for revealing straight up how pathetic I can be is twofold. Number one: you, like me, will never meet anyone when you're desperate to meet someone. Number two: before I launch into telling you how fabulous singledom can be, I want to acknowledge that I know its sometimes a very lonely place.
While this chapter is all about enjoying being single (and I have to admit it, I'm happy 90 per cent of the time when I am), let's be realistic here. Everyone feels down in the dumps sometimes because they're alone. It's normal. We've all done our fair share of pillow drenching after a night out where we'd hoped to meet someone special and didn't. And when you've lost your job, your dad's seriously ill, you've fought with your best friend or just feel blah, being single sucks.
But let's look at things from a different perspective. Let's balance it up a little. One thing that never fails to jolt me back to reality when I'm in the midst of single blues is to recall the other pillow-drenching sessions of my life: when I've been in a relationship but was desperately unhappy. That felt just as bad - if not worse. When you're down and single, being part of a couple seems soooo appealing. When you're attached and miserable, being single seems soooo appealing. There are pluses and minuses to both.
Smiles, the most recognizable signal of happiness in the world, are so important we can see them far more clearly than any other expression: from the length of a football field.
For instance, there's one thing no-one can deny singles have all over couples: freedom and variety. While a couple are flopped in front of a video, their single friends are more likely to be popping off to Bali with a group of friends or taking up rock climbing or discovering some fab new restaurant that does amazing things with rock-salted snails, balsamic pesto and aged snowpea sprouts. You can't blame married friends for being envious when the most excitement they've had is hanging nappies on the line. Being single is fun if you let yourself enjoy it.
The happier you are single, the more chance you have of finding the relationship of your dreams. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it? But who do you think would be more interesting to go out with? The girl who does nothing much except wait around for a man to fill the big, empty hole that is her life - or the girl who's so busy getting on with it, she only dates really special guys because she's got far better things to do than hang out with losers? This applies to both sexes. Energy, enthusiasm, sheer love of life: that's what people find attractive. It's got little to do with looks, money, what car you drive or how big your boobs are. What it has got a lot to do with is how much you like yourself. If you look in the mirror and see a nice, attractive person with lots to offer the world, people will see you that way too. If you don't like yourself, no-one else will.
And there's another reason why moping around won't get you anywhere: people who think their life will truly start when they find a mate are usually the ones most disappointed by love. Because even the best relationship won't get you out of a rut, solve your career problems or make your relationship with your mother any better. It won't stop the cat scratching your brand new sofa, make you lose ten kilos or suddenly decide lettuce is as delicious as chocolate. The same old problems you've always had will still be there.
Yet another good reason not to base your happiness entirely on a relationship: love doesn't come with a guarantee. Saying, 'I love you,' doesn't mean your partner will love you for life; saying 'I do,' doesn't mean either of you will later. Children don't necessarily ensure you're bonded forever, neither does a mortgage taken out in both names or co-owned share portfolios. It really doesn't matter whether you've pledged lifelong commitment in front of a minister, your mother or while diving out of a plane, hooked up to a parachute and a Buddhist monk. Sometimes, relationships break up. Even a death threat won't stop someone leaving if they're totally and utterly miserable. Cement boots and a trip to the bottom of the harbour can seem pretty appealing compared to spending the rest of your life with someone who gives you heartburn just by looking at them. No I'm not having a bad hair day, I'm simply telling you the facts for a reason. It's dangerous to base your entire happiness on a relationship with a partner.
Having said that, sharing your life with someone you love is a pretty wonderful experience - and there are ways to minimise the chances of it all ending in disaster. Like, knowing what you want. Before you can find Mr or Ms Right, you need to know (at least on paper) who they are.
Imagine you're out shopping for something to wear to a party that night. A sales assistant asks, 'What did you have in mind?'
'I don't really know,' you answer vaguely. 'I'm just sort of waiting for something fabulous to grab my eye. I'll know it when I see it.'
Five hours later, you're in a complete frenzy because you've got to buy something and suddenly that tartan-print plastic jumpsuit seems like the best option. So you grab it and the minute you get it home, you think, What the hell was I thinking? Shopping and dating aren't dissimilar. Go out looking for a smart but sexy suit and chances are that's what you'll come home with: what you wanted. Go out looking for your perfect match, without a clue of what or who that might be, and you'll come home with the human equivalent of the tartan jumpsuit. Hideous.
It's simple really: happy singles are people who feel good about themselves, who don't see a relationship as the source of all happiness, and are clear on what they want from one and what kind of person they'd like to have one with. And happy singles are the people who get dates!