Karen McCabe* hates Valentine’s Day. The 36-year-old Dubai fashion and beauty PR is the last of her group of single girlfriends to pair up and settle down, so for her, the most romantic day of the year is actually the loneliest.
“When I arrived in Dubai nine years ago, I was part of a big group of expat girls who all arrived in the city at the same time,” says Karen. “We did everything together. We had our first brunch, our first mega-mall shopping trip, our first al fresco concert, and traded dating horror stories over afternoon tea.
“But over the years, the rest of the girls have settled down, got married and a few of them have had kids, while I’m still looking for The One.
“A lot of the time, I don’t get invited to social events anymore because my friends assume I won’t want to go to a kid’s party, and when I do get invited to couples’ events, I feel like the odd one out.
“At a recent dinner party, the seating was boy/girl at the table, meaning I had to sit in between a couple. Then at my friend’s wedding I was put on a table of four couples. There might as well have been a neon sign saying ‘Poor single girl alert.’
“I know that there is a lot to be said for being single, and I shouldn’t need a man to make me happy. But when my friends’ husbands are all whisking them off to romantic restaurants and resorts at this time of year, it doesn’t always feel that way.”
Stop feeling like a failure
Judy Ford, author of Single: The Art of Being Satisfied, Fulfilled and Independent (www.judyford.com) says single people like Karen are often made to feel like failures in a society that is defined by relationships.
“Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone wants to get married. Being single is not a tragedy, a calamity or an affliction,” says Ford. “It does not mean that you’re unlovable, undesirable or antisocial. It does not mean that something is wrong with you and it doesn’t mean that you will end up friendless and abandoned.”
In fact, many people actually live more fulfilled lives as single people. “Some people feel sorry for single people and expect their single friends to feel panicked about their single status,” says Bella DePaulo PhD, a social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatised. “What these people do not understand is that some single people are happier being single because that is how they can live their most authentic and most meaningful life.”
DePaulo believes people are often ashamed to say they are happy being single. “People often dare not say they like their single lives because they can anticipate the scepticism that will ensue – for example, the condescending claim that deep down inside, you know you really want to be coupled.”
So rather than hide your single status, says DePaulo, you should wear it as a badge of honour. “I don’t think any single person should ever feel the need to defend their single status. Single people should live their lives fully, joyfully and without apology.”
That’s not to say that there won’t be things in your life you’d like to change, but that you should learn to accept your life as it is now rather than pining after a fantasy.
“Give yourself permission to talk about your fears of being alone,” says Ford. “Everyone goes through times when they feel hopeless. Coming to terms with the reality of your situation is a task of growing up. Doing so allows you to move forward.
“A wonderful adult life begins when we face the reality of our aloneness squarely. Then we can put our energy into having a fabulous day, whether we’re with someone or whether we are not.”
It’s only when you embrace your singleness, says Ford, that you can be truly happy.
Be a smug singleton
Being the only single person in a room full of couples can be extremely daunting, so be prepared for the dreaded ‘Why are you single?’ question. Instead of shrugging and thinking ‘I’m not smart/rich/young/attractive enough’, simply say, “I’m single because I want to be. I chose this life,” suggests DePaulo. Likewise, you can fend off the ‘Don’t you want kids?’ question by simply stating, “These decisions are so personal, don’t you think?”
DePaulo adds, “On your way over to social events, think about the things in your life that you are finding especially interesting or meaningful or rewarding, then share those wonderful experiences with the other guests.
“Even if you do wish you were coupled up – and it is hard to walk in uncoupled – do it and feel proud. Embrace and enjoy your inner smug singlehood. Think ‘I know that I’m supposed to feel self-conscious walking into parties on my own when so many others are coupled-up. But I don’t. In fact, I feel both happy and proud. Happy, because I’m a sociable person and I like some of these gatherings, and happy because I also love my solitude. And after the party is over, I can go home to some peace and quiet.’”
Instead of focussing on what is missing in your life, focus on what you have. If you’ve got a great bunch of friends, for example, appreciate them, instead of day-dreaming about an elusive stranger with the looks, charm and cash of George Clooney. Why spend your time fantasising about meeting the imaginary Mr Right when you could be spending time with the awesome people that actually exist in your real life?
“Wasting energy wishing for something you don’t have while ignoring all that you do have is a vicious mental trap,” says Ford.
It’s also worth remembering that one person alone can’t fulfil us. We need all the relationships in our life – family, friends and parents – to feel whole.
“The word ‘relationship’ is a very big one, referring to far more than just romantic relationships. Single people often value friends, relatives, mentors and neighbours more,” says DePaulo.
Work on yourself
Rima Armstrong, 28, a Dubai-based PR, has been single for most of the seven years she’s lived in Dubai. She admits she spent her early 20s frantically searching for Mr Right before she finally acknowledged that she was happy just as she was. “When I was looking for a boyfriend, I would go out all the time thinking ‘Maybe I’ll meet him tonight’. But I’ve grown up a bit since and I’m more comfortable in myself.
“Now, I spend my time on self-improvement: studying, music, sports, travelling and reading. I’m an active person. I work, I have music lessons, I do wakeboarding, I go snowboarding and I’m studying for a masters. I’m rarely at home, and if I am sat at home, I have my head in a book.”
DePaulo says cherishing this kind of alone time is one of the advantages of being single. “Singles tend to know themselves better than many other people do. They appreciate those aspects of life that are of great value but rarely recognised, like solitude.”
Ford adds, “All relationships fall short of filling us up. We need both companionship and solitude. We need others and ourselves. We need time together and time alone. It’s not one or the other, it’s both. The most enduring relationship of all is the one we have with ourselves.”
Rima adds, “Single life is an easy life. I don’t have to think about anyone or anything so I can just get up and go. I don’t have anyone else to consider.
“But if I want to see my coupled up friends I have to book them weeks in advance. They’ve got that extra responsibility. They have to check first what their other half is doing. You can’t just say, ‘Come on girls, lets go out’, you have to get it in the diary.”
“I do get the whole ‘Why are you single?’ question which is very irritating. My answer is I haven’t met the right person yet.
“But I wouldn’t go out looking for him. I did when I was younger. Now I have grown up and I’m just not willing to sacrifice things that I want to do just to be with somebody else – it just doesn’t make sense. If it fits like a glove, then yes, but I think it’s very hard to find.
“I’ve got good friends, good family, I’m busy working, I travel loads, I study, I do a lot of different things. I don’t think I necessarily have to look for a guy to make my life complete.”
*Name changed on request