real life

‘I’m 40 and single. Don’t assume I’m lonely and miserable.’

My adult life has been full of wild bucket list moments that would have made 12-year-old me pinch herself. I've met Jason Priestly — twice. I drank mint tea with Nick Cave backstage. But at the age of 40, a few common life experiences have escaped me: I’ve never learned to drive, never watched The Wire and never been in a serious relationship. 

Whenever I reveal that I've been single my whole life, people react as if I've shape-shifted into Danny De Vito. And yet it’s rarely questioned when someone jumps from one relationship to another. An "Instagram official" post of a new couple will receive love heart emojis from friends. No one will comment, "You were only single for two weeks and your partner looks like a donkey’s testicle. Address your issues with emotional dependency." 

I’m not the only one who’s been judged for her single status. Speaking to other long-term singles, it turns out we have a lot in common.

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Single mum Sarah (48) says “single people are perceived as lower forms of human beings. If you’re not coupling and pro-creating, there’s something wrong with you.” 

I’m not anti-romance. The 1995 movie Before Sunrise set the model for my preferred dating style. I could fill a book with stories of my holiday flings with sexy European artists. But singlehood should be considered as valid a lifestyle choice as being in a relationship. Perhaps we’ll get there when we eliminate negative stereotypes. Here’s a short list of the ones I find most annoying:


Singe people are miserable.

Bridget Jones has long been the poster child for singles, perpetuating the image of a sad, lonely woman crying into a tub of ice cream. If you ever see me doing this, it’s because I’m lactose intolerant, not miserable because I don’t have a man. 

My friend Kylie (52) introduces themselves as “happily single” to strangers, to which some will respond, “Don’t worry, you’ll find your soulmate one day.” Kylie’s usual retort: “Yeah, I already have… it’s me.”  

Imagine if we started saying “you’ll remove the shackles eventually” to married people. We’d be cancelled.

Those who pity singles conveniently ignore the fact that you can also be miserable in a relationship. According to a study in the US, single, childless women are the happiest cohort of the population. Plus, sadness is an unavoidable part of the human experience. Being happily single does not immunise me from heartbreak. These dual realities can co-exist. Heartbreak is fleeting, but whether I let my single status weigh me down is a choice. 

Single people are lonely. 

Sarah was called a “lonely heart loser” by the b**chy mum clique at her daughter’s school. This is a wildly offensive and inaccurate description of Sarah, whose vivacity could revive the dead. And like unhappiness, loneliness isn’t a condition that only affects single people. 


Nicole (48) has been single for 10 years but had four serious relationships prior. “The loneliness of being in a relationship is far greater than being on your own. Bouts of loneliness are natural for any human, whether they’re in a relationship or not.” 

Loneliness can hit when your husband becomes a Flat Earther, when you’ve just had a baby, or when your colleagues at your new job don’t share your passion for cake. 

Being single is confronting to some as they are scared to be alone, yet that doesn’t have to be the case. My life is rich with emotional support and activity partners. After I witnessed a traumatic event two years ago, I had different friends over every day for a month to fill my house with love and laughter. On a month-long trip to Italy last July, friends from Europe and Australia accompanied me on various legs. And of course I had a requisite Before Sunrise fling with a French sculptor in Florence. I feel lucky to have the freedom to choose how and with whom I spend my time. 

Single people are defective.

“No wonder they’re single.”

Who has been guilty of saying this to someone behind their back? Heck, even I’ve said it about certain people. Most people manage to have at least one serious relationship by their 30s. Even my colleague — a mid-30s George Costanza type who hoarded most of the chocolate on Easter egg hunt day in the office — found a girlfriend after being single for most of his adult life. 

Some people, such as Neo Nazis, objectively aren’t relationship material. But there are plenty of decent people who just happen to be single. My friend Neville (38) says “If you’re a single guy, you’re seen as creepy or sad. You’re never just a normal guy who doesn’t have a partner at the moment.”


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Leah (48) has stopped telling her friends about her dates because none of them have progressed into a relationship. She’s worried they’ll think poorly of her. Measuring someone’s worth by their ability to find a long-term partner implies that those who can are superior, despite the possible turmoil and compromise. 

According to Asian Aunty law, it’s illegal for a man to date a woman who is less attractive than him. Their relationship will fuel disapproving remarks for eternity: “She has small eyes/ is fat — why did he settle for her?!” These types of comments influenced my attitudes about who was deserving of romantic love. I long believed that I was single because I wasn’t attractive enough. 

It took decades to shed the belief that I had to be “fixed” to be loved romantically. Was it my personality, misaligned chakras or bad karma from a past life? I sought answers from psychologists, psychics, hypnotherapists, spiritualists, dating coaches, friends and randoms at parties. 

But when I finally turned 40, I stopped caring. At my 40th birthday I was surrounded by 80 friends who accepted me for all my imperfections and quirks. I didn’t need fixing. I had all the love I needed. 

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