Losing my single identity is harder than I could have imagined
This article was originally posted in my newsletter - the Tiff Weekly.
Loss so often hits us when we least expect it. It can come without warning and leave us with no choice but to grieve what’s no longer with us. As I started a new romantic relationship, the loss I didn’t expect to feel was the loss of my single identity.
I’ve been experiencing this sense of loss for a while and I’ve been thinking about it week after week, but I’ve been putting off writing on the topic as I’m still struggling to let go of my single self. But here it goes…
I had no idea that being single was so core to my identity and sense of self until I found myself facing losing it a couple of months ago. I had no idea I’d find it so hard and I’m confused as to who I am without it. The single identity is also tied up in my work: writing about the single experience is one of my favourite things to write about and I feel like one of my most compelling content pillars has been snatched away from me.
I don’t fear losing my single lifestyle or independence, my life doesn’t feel that different in that way, it’s about fearing something much deeper – my sense of self. Being single is part of how I understand who I am and my place in the world. I enjoyed seeing myself as a modern and independent woman in her thirties who was going against the grain of societal expectations. I also enjoyed being in the pursuit of romantic love and not quite finding it, but getting closer to the truth of the human condition during that journey. And I know that I’ll learn new truths in my new situation, but I don’t feel the certainty of that fully.
As a single person, I also felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I felt part of a single community of like-minded and spirited individuals. We have our own language, empathy and shared experiences and I don’t want to say goodbye to that. My friend, Nicola Slawson, who’s the founder of The Single Supplement, plays a mega role in fostering the single community and it was interesting that when I met up with her for the first time since the pandemic began, that I didn’t say to her that I was starting a new relationship, instead I said, ‘I’m leaving the single community.’ My words sounded more like the confession of a loss rather than the excitement that I was gaining something.
I’ve loved building single friendships with people who are in the same boat as me and I’m terrified of losing them. At first, I thought me leaving singlehood meant that I felt like I was betraying them. However, having spoken to them, including Nicola, I realised that it was me who needed the reassurance, not them. I felt so much relief when a single friend told me that she wasn’t worried that I was going to disappear off now I was in a relationship. I felt deeply comforted. I don’t want to be kicked out of the singles club.
However, I also must accept that it’s not the same now. Am I still allowed to ask single people about their dating lives? Can I keep speaking the language of a single person, even though that’s no longer me? Probably not and that makes me sad because I treasured those moments of connection that can happen between two single people.
I’m also terrified I’ll forget what it’s like to be single and that I’ll forget that the best thing I can often do is to keep my mouth shut and resist the temptation to offer unsolicited advice, which single people so often have to suffer. I don’t want to start being one of those people who says stupid things to single people! I don’t want to become an even number. I like being an odd one.
I don’t want to lose the single person that was me. I liked her. She went off to stuff on her own and could talk to people as an independent individual. She didn’t do that cringe thing couples do when they bicker in front of you and think it’s interesting.
Then there’s the elephant in the room. I spent so long building and creating an identity and way of being that I love that I’m struggling to deconstruct it when I don’t know if or when I’ll need it back. My new relationship still feels so fragile and there’s a part of me that fears that once I fully embrace it and tear myself away from my single identity that the relationship will end and then me and my identity will be left adrift. There’s a part of me that wants to keep a connection to the safe place: the place where I know what will happen next because it’s just me.
One of the greatest pains of loss is the loss of an imagined future. The brain has to go through a horrible re-wiring process of managing dreams and expectations born out of your previous situation. Now that I’m no longer single, my future is looking a little more blurry as someone else has entered the picture. In single-land, there’s a mix of certainty and total fantasy in my imagined future that I have complete ownership of. Us single people don’t allow compromises and other people’s needs and desires to enter our daydreaming.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever fully let go of my single identity and while it’s time to create a new identity for myself, I’ll need one that allows me bits of the past identity to stay alive. My single friends keep reassuring me that it’s going to be ok and I hope they’re right. I’m so grateful for my single experience and I wouldn’t change that time for anything in the world and as I face this change in my life, I’ll try my best to not become annoying, I promise.