There’s a scene in Sex and the City where Charlotte says, “I’ve been dating since I was 15. I’m exhausted. Where is he?” And it’s like, “Honey, where are you?”
We’re still very much in the social and cultural impotence where there’s an underlying belief that women’s lives will be improved through partnership. We are taught that we have a finite period of value that exists somewhere between the ages of 20 and 34, and once you surpass that you become desperate if you haven’t found a life partner.
However, statistical data on happiness reveals that women are much happier when they’re not married. When women cohabitate with a man, their domestic labour increases, they’re more financially disadvantaged and their life expectancy decreases.
But there’s an underlying fear that if you leave a relationship you will be alone. And we’re taught that the worst thing in the world is a woman who is alone. We need to reimagine what happiness for a woman looks like because women will then feel a lot less frightened of leaving relationships that aren’t serving them.
For me, having a child solidified that I was better off single. Like many women, having a baby exposed a lot of cracks in my relationship, and added more domestic labour to the mix. I realised I didn’t want to do it anymore. After I left, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me. But I was fortunate that, unlike many, I have class privilege, white privilege and the privilege of an inner-city community.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that everyone gets lonely, but don’t be in a relationship with someone just because it’s better than being alone. Female friendships have been my greatest love affairs. Deep and constantly evolving, they also ask nothing of me, except to treat them with respect.
We need to encourage more women to believe that they can have a life by themselves that is happy. They can do all the things that men have always done, like travel, have lovers and read books on Saturday mornings.
It’s not about embracing singlehood, it’s about structurally changing society. There’s a matriarchal village in China where women are not only treated equally but they can have as many sexual partners as they like, and extended families bring up the children and care for the elderly.
It’s also important to be aware that you don’t have to marry someone just because you want a child or children.
A better option is to choose someone you think will be a good partner and co-parent, and have a conversation with them before about what parenting together would be like if you break up.
Living a fulfilled life isn’t about accepting being single but embracing the joy in being alone: the joy of having time to yourself, of not having to tell anyone where you are, or negotiate if you want to get a haircut or new shoes. Being single is a chance to establish life on your own terms, and a chance for women to be seen and see themselves.
Dear Clementine is streaming now on Nova Podcasts.