by Andrea M. Darcy
Being single is one of the biggest demographic changes of recent years. The consensus by the Office for National Statistics shows that 35% of the UK population of over 16s are now single, while the percentage of those who are married has been on a steady decline for over a decade.
In America, almost half the population is now unmarried, with almost a third of households (28.1 per cent) made up of people living alone, according to the Census Bureau.
A recent German study reports that modern day singles are happier with their lives than their historical counterparts — and getting happier as they age.
But the ‘single stigma’ still thrives. Advertisements are made up of happy families, and films still push out the fantasy of an ideal partner being the road to happiness.
It’s all designed to make someone who is single feel somehow lacking or like they are being overlooked.
Being single and feeling Good – how to keep it sane
How to navigate a coupled-out world as a single, and stay sane?
1. Quit with the comparison.
The best way to kill your mood has got to be comparison. And yet our connected world constantly encourages it. Even if we all know that Instagram accounts present a curated and edited reality, we can still be inwardly comparing ourselves.
The secret comparison that gets overlooked is comparing our current self to other selves, past or future. Endless mind games where we romanticise a past relationship, or dream of how happier we will be with some ideal future partner, or what terrible future might befall us, should we choose to stay single? Kill any chance to enjoy our own company in the here and now.
2. Don’t fall into the ‘should’ trap.
There can be a lot of ‘should’s thrown at singletons. You ‘should’ date, for example.
But this is your life. And you are free to question traditional ways of living. You do not have to date. You do not even have to ever want to be in another relationship, or be monogamous.
And you don’t have to travel the world solo, go out every weekend, go whitewater rafting, or try any other apparent ‘single’ adventure. If your version of single is staying home and reading, then own it.
3. Get out of the past and future.
The present moment is the space where we find acceptance and peace. Never by punishing ourselves for a bad past breakup we can’t change, or fantasising about an ideal future we can’t actually live up to.
Mindfulness is a power tool here, now used by many therapists with clients. As a daily practice over time, it helps you naturally stay more in the present. As a bonus, research shows it helps reduce stress and anxiety.
[Learn how to have a mindfulness practise now, using our free Guide to Mindfulness.]
4. Don’t let your media consumption bring you down.
Convincing us we need a certain something to be happy is the crux of how advertising works. And it’s what sells books, films, and products. So stay savvy of this to protect your mental wellbeing.
Now is not the time to binge watch romantic comedies or novels, however tempting.
And don’t overlook your music rotation. If you are constantly listening to sad songs about breakups or loneliness, how can you even begin to expect to feel happy currently being single?
5. Stop telling the story.
Constantly talking about exes and past relationships is never the road to feeling happy being single (nor to keeping friends). Replace endless telling of stories with some personal processing instead.
See being single as opportunity to get to know yourself, not the stories you keep telling.
This might be through therapeutic journalling, or even working with a counsellor if the truth is that your past relationships fell into a pattern that wasn’t exactly healthy or helpful, or if you suffer mood swings.
6. Quit being aimless.
If you are having troubles not endlessly talking and thinking about being single or not, then look at getting a stronger goal set for your life.
Are there goals you put off when in relationships you could now revive? What big goal would give you a sense of purpose? What small goals would raise your self-esteem?
The more goal-orientated you become, the less you might find relatives and friends asking about ‘when you’ll find someone’. Often they are just wanting to see you happy. If you have good goals that have you passionate and excited, that gives them other things to ask about.
7. No more shame game.
Photo by Nick Fewings
Secretly putting yourself down for being alone?
Self-compassion is taking over as the new way to raise your self-esteem.
Not sure if you have self-compassion or not? Sit down and write a letter to a friend going through a problem, giving them support.
Now change the name at the top to your own, and read it to yourself. How comfortable does it feel?
Being self-compassionate means working to treat ourselves with as much respect and understanding as we do our best friends. What is one way you could let yourself off the hook about something, right here and now? And how will that feel?
8. Kill the cognitive distortions.
It might be all fine, your single life, during the week and at work. Then the weekend hits, and you feel lonely.
Loneliness can lead to ‘cognitive distortions’, thoughts parading as ‘truth’ that are actually not. This can look like black-and-white thinking, future-telling, and making everything your fault. A negative thought leads to a negative feeling leads to a negative action leads to another negative thought… leads to low moods.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on helping clients notice and changed distorted thinking to what it calls ‘balanced thinking’. Learn how you can stop your thoughts bringing you down with this technique in our article ‘How to Have Balanced Thoughts’.
9. Fight the feeling that nothing good is happening to you.
You’ve heard of gratitude by now, and have always meant to do it, or gave it a good start. But a gratitude practice only works (and read here for the research about just how gratitude really does work) when it’s consistent. Try piggy backing it to a non-negotiable, such as finding five things to be grateful for each night when you brush your teeth.
Another idea here is to record achievements. Some of us can unconsciously feel like a ‘failure’ if we are single. We aren’t matching up to the expectations others have of us. Taking time to write down three to five things that you achieved each day, even if it’s small things like making a healthy meal, can train your brain into feeling successful.
10. Don’t let a ‘vow to stay single’ stop healthy relationships happening.
Being single can be a very good thing. For some people, it’s their preferred state of being and how they spend their lifetime. And that is perfectly okay.
But if you are single because ‘everyone lets you down’ or ‘relationships are dangerous’ then this shows you are staying single to avoid hurt and old painful patterns being triggered. But these things need to be processed to be happy single, too. Otherwise they will trigger in other ways, like work relationships.
And if you have had a good time being single but have met someone you really connect with, who you can be yourself with, and who seems supportive ? It’s okay to stop being single, even if you have told others you won’t. Life doesn’t always go to plan.
Is being single getting you down despite best efforts? Time to look at what your loneliness is really about? We connect you with top London therapists at our three London clinics. Or use find UK-registered online therapists and counsellors you can talk to from any country.
Still have a question about being single, or want to share your own tip with other readers? Use the comment box below. Note all comments are moderated and we do not allow harassment or advertising.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about relationships, feels great when she is single, and also works as a consultant helping people plan their perfect therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy