Hi diddly dee – a single life for me

15 May

Hi diddly dee – a single life for me

Catherine Gray – on the unexpected joys of being single!

This one had me at the strapline. I’ll expand. Following a longish (16 yrs) marriage, a follow-on semi-detached relationship of a similar length and a small number of dalliances, I’m now contentedly single and absolutely not looking. But it’s taken me time to get to this stage. When my marriage ended, I so wanted to be a couple again. Then I slowly realised that I didn’t want marriage/co-habitation so much as a person. And now? I have no real interest in any of it. That said, were a gentleman caller with a healthy bank balance, a generous nature and a weak heart to rock up … that might be a nice thing. But it really doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. I’ve got Netflix! It’s a lot less bother I can tell you.

So! I related to much of what self-confessed love addict Catherine said in conversation with her interviewer on stage at the Swindon Arts Centre. Having already given up the demon drink and written about it in the Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, she decided to tackle her addiction to the love drug and set out to stay single for a year. The notes she made during her non-dating sojourn formed the basis of the new book.

Catherine Grey (right) photo © Fernando BaguéUp until that point, Catherine said, she’d bought into the idea that coupledom is a cure for loneliness. So entrenched was this in her that, when at college and having a bad hair day, she’d be absent from lectures. Firm was her belief that being single meant she was broken and worthless.

She talked about so many things that get my pip. There’s the ‘Oh I’m sorry’ response when you tell someone you’re single. Please don’t be – I’m not. Aside from the fact that moving heavy things is problematic and I can’t quite get to the middle of my back with the body lotion – it’s fine! Yes – really.

Speaking of Netflix – why, as Catherine talked about, do so many films promulgate the ‘wanting-to-be-swept-off-our-feet’ idea? This is not a new thing of course – but why is it so rife now, still, in the twenty-first century? Women in particular suffer from a socially constructed fear of being single – and it still goes on.

Then there’s the language around single status. Why do forms ask me if I’m married, single or divorced? What relevance does the latter have? I’m divorced and not in a relationship so I’m single. Yes? So why the need for the separation, the degrading grade of singleness?

Which brings us to other discourse around the single state. It took until 2005 for the terms spinster and bachelor to lose their status as the terms of choice for officialdom in describing single people. About time too. It’ll be no surprise to anyone that bachelor is a term with positive and attractive connotations while spinster has the opposite. Think grey-haired, bespectacled, slightly mad cat woman compared to eligible bachelor – someone who can choose to marry – or not. A spinster of the parish, an old maid, is anything but eligible and doesn’t have the choice. She is someone well past being marriable. Nice huh?

What joys has Catherine found then, from her singledom stopover?

  • The joy of the lack of dating admin – by which she means the prep. The make-up, the hair, the nails, the defuzzing, the fake tan – and so on and so forth.
  • No longer tailoring her interests to mirror those of the boyfriend of the day.
  • Learning to look after things for herself – like money – that she’d previously sought from her relationships.

I’d echo all of those – and add in big knickers. Oh the joy, the comfort of big knickers. Don’t underestimate it – or them.

She learned not to view dates as the potential one and instead see them as future friends.

This is wise. It’s not better to be in a lousy relationship than be single. And anyway, I’m inclined to think that a man can smell a woman’s partnership need and ‘hear’ all that ‘oh, will this be the one’ internal and infernal dialogue. And run for the hills!

Catherine is also trying to give her niece different messages. When she’s reading to her she weaves in positive stories of independence. I like that. Because it’s in childhood that all this stuff starts.

May her niece and our daughters and granddaughters grow up to understand the joy of being single before they embark on relationships. Rather than having a struggle to find it – like Catherine. Like me. And like many, many more.

And, more to the point, let such joys not be unexpected – but absolutely understood and expected as their right. May our society see singledom as one way of being – not an inferior way of being.

Catherine Gray appeared with her book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, at Swindon Arts Centre, as part of Swindon Spring Festival, on 13th May 2019.

Words by Angela Atkinson. Photos © Fernando Bagué

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