“The number of things we think we can’t do while we’re single is astounding, especially when you also realise that every single one of these can’t-dos and can’t-haves is a giant, festering lie.”
A Single Revolution author Shani Silver nails it in her piece for Unattached, a new anthology edited by author and journalist Angelica Malin. The book brings together 30 incredible writers to pen empowering essays about singlehood and loving one’s authentic, messy, wonderful self amid the outdated crap that apparently requires us all to be in romantic relationships to define ourselves.
Published through Square Peg, Unattached sees some of the UK’s best writers politely asking societal norms to move down the bench while celebrating and honouring oneself. Malin herself opens the anthology with a moving essay on navigating through painful experiences to develop self-compassion — and why women in particular are subject to constant pressure around being single.
“In many ways, I think we fear a single woman,” she writes. “She’s powerful, self-assured and independent. The world wants women who are insecure and self-conscious, because they are easier to sell to. Should we fear being single – or does the world just make us fear it, because a single woman is a force to be feared? By diverting from the narrative that you need to be coupled up to be happy, you are literally turning a commercial model on its head.
“But there’s more to life than finding ‘the one.'”
Charlie Craggs reflects on loss and the power of messy, honest, personal authenticity in the outstandingly titled “Big Macs and Big Dicks.” Poorna Bell examines the myth of The One and its connection with grief in “Soulmates.” Shon Faye examines loneliness and realising your own powerful resilience during lockdown in “One Year Without Sex, Love or Dating.” Stephanie Yeboah celebrates loving yourself loudly and relishing in your own company in “The Journey of Being Plus-Size and Single.” Nicola Slawson finds emotional freedom by expanding her social circle when priorities change in “Navigating the Seasons of Friendships as a Single Woman.”
And Mashable’s senior culture reporter Rachel Thompson, who covers sex and relationships on this very site, in our series Party for One, and in her first book, Rough, writes about the vital nature of setting boundaries and the surprisingly unglamorous but immensely powerful act of choosing oneself.
We’re lucky enough to have an extract of Thompson’s essay from Unattached (because of course I asked for this one!) and it’s a must-read for anyone who’s expecting a glorious movie montage of finding empowerment — it’s a more subtle journey consisting of small, constant acts of self-love. As she writes, “You don’t just wake up one day with a certificate that says, ‘Passed: Loving Herself’ before letting love in from somewhere else.”
by Rachel Thompson
“Give it a name,” my therapist said to me through my computer screen, her eyes narrowing in sympathy for the crying woman before her. “I usually call it ‘the perfection project,'” she proffered, by way of suggestion.
The perfection project was my go-to solution for coping with heartbreak. Dumped? Cool, yeah, simply change everything about yourself and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be deserving of another person’s love.
My heart had been broken into pieces during the third national lockdown, and instead of doing all the things I would usually do to distract myself – brunch with friends, post-work drinks, maybe even a Hinge date – I sat on my lumpy sofa and confronted the most uncomfortable truths about myself. Such as the fact that my default mindset after something ended was to tell myself the reason he didn’t want to be with me was because I needed to lose weight.
It was as regular as clockwork. The moment a situationship ended, or someone I was interested in didn’t like me back, the perfection project would rear her unwelcome head. “This is the medicine to cure all your problems, this is the road to loving yourself and being loved,” she would whisper. Her plan didn’t work, though. It never did.
Disordered eating would ensue, calorie restriction became my sole activity and eventually my body would shrink. People around me would tell me I looked amazing. “Mate, you look tiny!” “You’ve lost weight, keep it up!” they would say. It always struck me as weird to hear these comments, particularly from people who knew what was going on behind the scenes. Those who knew about the pain behind the physical change. It was like winning a prize for hating yourself: “Well done for feeling so bad about yourself that you stopped eating.” The problem was that the perfection project never made me feel any less unworthy. After the weight loss I would still feel just as unlovable. It was a big lie that left me feeling like an even emptier husk than before.
“The patriarchy has really done a number on us, huh?” a friend said to me a few years ago when I tried to articulate the battle inside me. I feel that number deep down in my bones. I’ve grown up with the internalised idea that I’ll never be good enough for myself, let alone for anybody else.
On a Tuesday night at the end of March 2021 something happened that made me want to shake myself out of the funk I had been living in. I was looking at photographs of myself early one evening. They had been taken one year into the pandemic and my body was bigger, my face fuller. A white hotness spread throughout my body, and tears pricked the edges of my eyes. I hated the photos, but that hatred felt so normalised within me – a figure that had been lurking in the background, waiting for the right moment to jump out and reveal themselves. At that moment I realised it: I had disliked myself for twenty years. I had considered myself unlovable for two decades.
RuPaul has a saying that I used to love: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” Lately I’ve started to wonder: what if I never love myself? What if that epiphany never comes for me? Do I not get to be loved?
When this all started in my early teens I had an idea of my future grown-up self. She would be living in a city somewhere, she’d have got the hang of wearing high heels, she would hopefully be a writer and, crucially, she’d have figured out how to love herself.
Now, I am that grown-up. I’m living my dream of being a writer, I live in London and I’ve (just about) learned how to hobble around in heels. But loving myself? That part of me hasn’t changed since I was twelve years old. And I really can’t shake the feeling that by the age of thirty-two I really thought I’d have overcome this.
That’s when the fear crept in. What if this is how it’s always going to be in the most important relationship I have in my life – the one with myself? Am I always going to be my own worst enemy? Is my body image always going to be such an insurmountable obstacle? Am I always going to look at my friends with wonderment when they act in a way that shouts their abundant self-worth from the rooftops? Will I ever know true self-love?
What I didn’t know then was that things were already changing. There was movement within, but I simply hadn’t felt it yet. I had already been choosing myself time and time again. The girl I was before didn’t set boundaries with the people who hurt her.
They’d trample her heart and she’d lie down on the ground before them and let them do it to her again and again. When 2021 called, it was time to get up and take a stand.
…Continued in Unattached, out now through Square Peg.