SEX IN THE CITY: Emma-Louise Boynton on dating yourself

·5-min read
Go date yourself (Instagram.com/Hardcore_Decor)
Go date yourself (Instagram.com/Hardcore_Decor)

I recently took myself on a solo getaway to Rome. I had one intention: to romance myself.

With a skip in my step, I relayed my plans to the man who works at the coffee shop by my house (we are on friendly terms, lest you be wondering) as I purchased a final coffee before departure.

‘Aww’ he responded, his face crinkling into a frown.

“I’m sorry. Don’t you have anyone to go with?”

“No, no I do!” I exclaimed. “I have loads of friends who’d have wanted to come with me. This was a choice. I wanted to go solo,” I responded.

He looked unconvinced.

He wasn’t alone in doubting the true motivations behind my solo travels. While in Rome, my not having a dinner date, or anyone sitting across from me in the old wine bar at night, or throwing their arm around me while I perused the Coliseum, was an open invitation, apparently, to ask why I didn’t have a boyfriend before promptly requesting my number.

Obviously, I must be a desperately lonely single woman on an international hunt for my future lover, running my hand along the surface of an ancient ruin in the hopes it might serendipitously slip into the soft clutches of a perfect suitor. (It did not.)

But, having just turned thirty, I am determined to make a more concerted effort to celebrate rather than endure time spent alone and banish any niggling feeling that I need to wait to be with someone in order to do all the fun romantic stuff.

Because, in a society set up for couples - with 2-for-1 meal deals, hotel room prices based on two people sharing, significant financial incentives associated with getting married - women in particular bear a heavy social pressure to be romantically partnered up by a certain age, or else feel a social failure when they are not.

This is how Radhika Sanghani, author of “Thirty Things I love About Myself”, felt when a long-term relationship came to an unexpected end and she found herself newly single in her early thirties.

“At first,” she told me, “it was really hard because I felt like I was failing. And that didn’t necessarily come from me, or anyone specific around me, it was just this weird, failing feeling I had.”

The problem is, she notes, ”that getting engaged and getting married is seen as this huge success and this big thing to be celebrated. While everyone is quick to congratulate the couple, we don’t have that same response to all of the other amazing things you might do in your life.”

Even the language used around coupledom, like my ‘better half’ or ‘significant other,’ suggests that being single implies being incomplete, a half-formed-thing. It’s an idea echoed in Plato’s notion of a soul mate. According to Greek mythology, he said, “humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”

Until we find said soulmate we are, by Plato’s rationale, only half of a whole.

But while culturally there has long been a suave sexiness associated with bachelordom, of the Hugh Grant, Mr Big variety, the trope of the single woman past a certain age has seldom been a positive one. The term ‘spinster’ carries myriad depressing connotations, bringing to mind the lonely old woman Bridget Jones so viscerally fears becoming, who dies alone in a one-bedroom flat (quite the luxury in London these days, to be honest) and is promptly malled by Alsatians.

The message? Get married or shrivel up into burdensome irrelevancy trying.

“The thing is,” Angelica Malin, author of ‘Unattached’ - a compendium of 30 essays on singlehood - tells me, “not only is everyone’s timeline going to be different, but there are so many routes into happiness - there isn’t this one cookie-cutter way of living a fulfilled life defined by finding Mr. Right.

“Besides”, she says, “there are going be so many twists and turns in people’s individual stories. Just because your friends are married now doesn’t mean they’re going to be married forever. We just don’t know what’s around the corner.”

In the immortalized words of the late Joan Didion, “life changes in the instant, the ordinary instant.”

Women grow up being told that a man will one day save you, that a romantic partner is a panacea to your worldly woes.

But, they are not.

As my gym instructor is want to shout at me mid-class, the only person who is going to save you is, you guessed it, you. (I’d like to think she means for this sage piece of advice to extend beyond the agony I coax myself through within these four gym walls.)

In my newly-30 attempt to shake off the shackles of social expectation that so surrounds loving and dating and fucking as you get older (and edge perilously closer to that much-discussed ‘fertility cliff’), I’ve deleted my dating apps and am continuing to commit, for now, to romancing myself.

So, this summer you’ll find me climbing mountains, swimming in lakes and doing all the adventures I once thought I needed a partner to enjoy, but am now relishing doing solo.

I cordially invite you to join me. But just to be clear, it won’t be a date.

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