Last night, I was scouting the Majestic wine list for deals on Malbec when a voice shouted up the stairs.
“Turn on the news,” said my father (I’m living with him, temporarily). “The Government has banned gatherings of over six people. I think you’re going to have to cancel your birthday party.”
My heart plummeted. What… again? I had moved my Great Gatsby garden party with “whisperings and champagne and stars” once already – from mid-May, on account of lockdown. Thinking mid-September would be a safe bet (and warm enough to have it socially distanced in my dad’s big garden), I had paid a deposit for caterers, bought the sloe gin for the cocktails, found a three-piece jazz band.
The guest list of 30 legally allowed people (self-whittled from 40) had booked hotels. The men were already assembling their bow ties. This party was supposed to mark a major ‘life event’. I turned 50 in May 2018, but didn’t celebrate this milestone then because I was unwell. So May 2020 was going to be the big one.
I accepted and fully understood the lockdown reason for moving it. I mean, who wouldn’t? After I moved the festivities to September, I badged them as my “Unbirthday, Back to Life” party. Unbirthday, as I was going to be 52 and a half, which wasn’t really an event of note. Back to Life for me, after an illness – but also for my friends and family, after the misery and six months of lockdown self-denial.
My spike of disappointment last night initially subsided. I stoically shrugged it off, in the way I often do with disappointments these days. This was a deus ex machina – a virus-created postponement. It was the same for everyone. All the Jewish New Year parties were also going to have to be cancelled, and the university Freshers’ events.
But then I looked at the small print. There were to be some exceptions to the no-big-gatherings rule, it seemed. Funerals: well, ok, fair enough. But also sports teams, households or “support bubbles that have more than six people in them”. And weddings.
Weddings? My first thought was to laugh at the stupid lack of logic here. How on earth would an invading microbe know whether someone was wearing a white dress or not, and decide to move on? Then I started to get annoyed. It wasn’t the virus who was discriminatory here. It was the Government. Against single people.
It’s been this way the whole time. Right at the beginning of all this, the Government warned that couples who did not cohabit had to move in together, or not meet at all. “Dating couples should test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household,” said Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer.
Which, let’s face it, is not ideal, if you’ve only been dating for three months, or even a year. It was heartbreaking for my soon-to-be 18-year-old daughter, in that first flush of love and not to be able to see her boyfriend. But also for me: my boyfriend lives in New York. How was that going to work out? As it happens, I haven’t seen my boyfriend since mid-March, when I was on one of the last flights back to the UK out of the States.
And he will be with me, properly quarantined, on the night that my party would otherwise have been held. Although I am forseeing a disaster even here: with my luck, I am assuming that, before next Friday, the Government will find a way to stop transatlantic flights.
My personal woes aside, there does seem to be a lack of consideration for single people in the UK right now. So much of the Government discourse is around married people, and “family bubbles” and “households”. Ok, whether I count as ‘single’ or not, is up for debate. But, I am unmarried, and, to all intents and purposes, it’s the same thing. And the Government is also showing itself to be out of step, for we singles are in multitudinous and in good company.
The number of people living alone has increased by a fifth over the last 20 years, from 6.8 million in 1999 to 8.2 million in 2019. According to the Office of National Stastics, the majority of this increase is driven by the growth in the numbers of men living alone (up 72.1 per cent), who are predominantly aged between 45 and 64 years. Of all one-person households in the UK, just under half contain somebody aged 65 years and over.
According to Age UK, in this age-group, women are more likely than men to live alone. It’s not just a problem with princessy women who want Great Gatsby parties. So for now, it will be Neflix-and-chill for my boyfriend and I. See you all for my 53rd, “honestly-it-really-will-be- Back-to-Life-this-time” party, next year!