Singles’ Day, the annual holiday championing those that are unattached, has become the world’s biggest online and offline shopping event since it originated in China in the 90s.
The day of recognition is said to have been coined by a group of student in Nanjing University in 1993, as a celebration of being uncoupled – effectively, an anti-Valentine’s Day.
Chinese e-commerce platform Alibaba later capitalised on the day as a shopping occasion.
The holiday has grown in popularity in the UK over the past few years and today reports predict Singles’ Day will generate £1.3 billion in UK sales. Numerous retailers slash prices to mark the annual event, including ASOS, Amazon and Sports Direct.
Meanwhile, Singles’ Day is still going stronger than ever for the southeast Asian market: in its first hour of trading alone today, Singles’ Day has raked in £11 billion on Alibaba.
While Singles’ Day has evolved into what’s predominantly considered a shopping event, the idea of being “happily single” is by no means over.
It was recently addressed by Emma Watson, who described herself as “self-partnered” in a British Vogue interview.
To celebrate the “single and proud” philosophy behind Singles’ Day, we spoke to three women on why they’re happy with their solo status.
“I don’t want to lower my standards”
Katilena Alpe, 50, is a widow with 12-year-old twins. She’s been single for 11 years.
Alpe says she has “truly enjoyed being single”, a state she associates with “freedom” and “not having to be with a man and look after his every wish”. Alpe, a PR executive who lives between Athens and London says she finds it “liberating” being single.
She has a close circle of friends – “half single, half married” – whom she’s known since she was at school and are a “big part of [her] life”.
She has also made a number of friendships through her tennis club and her life-coaching group.
Despite loving her present lifestyle, Alpe never expected to be single. She was happily married for 22 years until her husband’s “untimely death” from a heart attack when she was 39.
The pair met when Alpe was just 18, and enjoyed a “whirlwind romance”, marrying the same year. They enjoyed their independence as a married couple - something that she’s never been able to find with any partners since.
“I don’t know if I could be in a long-term relationship right now,” she says. “I’m so comfortable with my life with my kids.”
Some five years ago, Alpe dipped her toe in the dating waters – but found the notion of being answerable to someone else “suffocating”.
“I kept being asked, ‘Why are you spending so much time with your friends? Why haven’t you called in five hours?’ It was suffocating,” she explains.
Since then, Alpe feels no rush to get into a long-term relationship.
“People say to me, ‘You have to lower your standards,’ but I’m not prepared to do that, and that’s my choice. If someone comes along who fits my lifestyle, I might consider it. But for now I’m perfectly happy.”
“I’ve spent time getting to know me”
Rosie Dutton, 35, who lives in Tamworth, Birmingham, has been single for the past eight years – ever since splitting up with her husband, and father of her daughter, in 2011.
The separation was not her decision – and she admits it took her a couple of years to move on.
“When I came out of the relationship, I realised I’d devoted everything to it – and I struggled to transition to being alone,” Dutton says.
This was especially true as she had moved from her hometown in the north of England to Birmingham in order to be with her husband, saying: “All I knew was him, his family and his friends – so I had to start a new life.”
However, for the past six years, she says she has not been “interested even in the slightest” in getting into another relationship.
“I’ve spent the time getting to know me,” she says. “I love my own company”.
During this time, Dutton has thrown herself into her career, starting her own business teaching mindfulness and relaxation to children in her local area. She’s also launched a blog, Mum in the Moment.
While Dutton has “no single friends”, she says she feels no qualms about going out with a number of couples. “The way I see it, they’re all just my friends,” she says.
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Still, she faces some pressure from well-meaning acquaintances who pity her single status.
“I tell them I’m happy at the moment, but they’re all trying to set me up with their friends,” she says. “They want me to be in a relationship more than I do.”
Then there’s the questions from family members and even from strangers. “Weddings, christenings – I go to pretty much any social occasion and people ask, ‘Why are you single?’”
She says her mindfulness practice, as well as being part of her career, has helped her deal with anything negative feelings associated with being single.
“I started going to mindfulness after my divorce – and it’s really helped me to learn to be with myself,” she says. “If I get lonely or bored I can help myself out of it.”
“I’m not looking for someone to complete me”
Rebecca Shapiro, 26, who is from London and lives in Toronto, Canada, has been single for four years. Her last serious relationship was in 2015.
Since then, she says she’s had long-distance romances, travel flings, and one night stands, where “sex and feelings have been involved”. But, nothing she’d consider to be a formal romantic relationship.
Shapiro, who works in marketing for the travel industry, says she considers her life “happy and full”.
“My focuses are career, travel, friends and family. I’m not half a person. I’m not looking for someone to complete me,” she explains.
She has travelled to more than 40 countries and believes her single status has allowed her to have the “mental energy” to focus on her travel and career goals. “I likely won’t be able to have this focus forever,” she adds.
Does she face pressure to settle down? Certainly. She says: “I’m Jewish, so loving family pressure to settle down with a Jewish man is always going to exist.”
However, she’s managed to convince her elder relatives to come around to her lifestyle. “I’ve reached the point of stressing my independence where my grandparents get excited to see pics of my recent solo trip to Japan and not to hear information about my dating life,” Shapiro says. “Same with my parents.”
While many of her friends in Toronto are single, Shapiro says most of her closest friends, whom she’s known since her school days, are in long-term relationships.
Yet, she feels they are happy to support her lifestyle. “My friends are more explicit and liberal in wanting whatever is best for me - traditional lifestyle or not,” she explains.
Her attitude towards single – although consistently positive – has changed over the years. While she once enjoyed the sexual freedom that came with it, she says she’s now jaded of “so-so casual sex” – which comes with its limitations.
“The worst is when you’re tired/ down and want to be looked after but you know the casual sex/ cuddles won’t fill the emotional intimacy void,” she says.
Yet, for Shapiro, the trade-off – for now – is more than worth.
As for future romances, she says she wouldn’t get into a long-term relationship unless it was someone she thought she might “spend [her] life with”.
“There’s interested men, sure, but I’m pretty specific with what I’m looking for,” she adds.