Can a woman ever really be happy alone?
IT'S not everyday I have something in common with a successful and stunning popstar, but it turns out that Alesha Dixon and I are more alike than first meets the eye, writes Tanya Sweeney.
A couple of weeks ago the Britain's Got Talent judge admitted that her friends think she's weird for enjoying her single status. The singer has been unattached since 2007, and is more than used to going solo
"I do want kids, but I'm quite happy not having children right now," she said in an interview. "I love the fact that I can live a spontaneous lifestyle, and I love a lie-in. I've got friends who genuinely do [think I'm weird]. They sit there and go, 'I need a man'. I'll have a go at them -- 'You don't need a man, you need a hobby. You're just bored. Go and get a box set. Get over it'."
Even her BGT colleague Simon Cowell manages to get a dig in about her single status every so often: "Anyone who walks out on stage, whether he's eight or 80, he'll go, 'Oh Alesha, he'd be good for you'. I'm the butt of the single jokes."
Now, being a single lady is nothing new; pop culture has mined a hugely rich seam on the plight of the bachelorette. However, being a long-term singleteer with nary a plan to hitch your wagon to anyone is a different kettle of ball games entirely.
There's a presumption that if you're alone and of a certain age, you're always 'looking'. That you are single because you're picky and refuse to settle for Mr He'll-Do. That, no matter how much you spout on about loving your single life, you will eventually give up on your juvenile cocktails, shopping and partying and join adulthood proper. Well, bah to all of that.
It's not that I'm not partial to a cocktail, or even a rollicking night out. It's just that when you spend a long time on your own (four years in my case), you start to become emotionally self-sufficient. It's either that or wait around for the white knight ... and what a waste of time and energy that would be.
Being self-reliant, by the way, is different to being emotionally closed-off. Bringing the shutters down to safeguard yourself from future hurt and becoming happy on your own are two very separate things.
Yet at some point, after the botched dates and disappointing men, it makes sense to think that in the long term, there's a very strong chance that it will be Just You.
Some call this 'giving up hope' ... I call it being a realist and getting on with life. You wouldn't sit around living your life as though you were going to one day win the lottery, would you? No, you work with what you've got in the here and now. Why live life as though you will be 'rescued' from your single status?
In fact, it's only other people who seem to have a problem with the idea that it's Just Me. Over dinner, I floated my theory with a longtime friend. Her face was a picture, as though she was watching a light go slowly out. She took my hand tenderly. "Tanya, you will meet someone eventually," she sighed, as though I was looking to her for a cure for an illness.
Society has conditioned us to think of marriage and love as a meritocracy; as life's milestones we are all expected to reach as functioning adults. And this societal conditioning runs DNA-deep. This is why people are in awe when someone like Cameron Diaz or Alesha Dixon 'manages' on their own. The subtext: they're gorgeous and glamorous ... what exactly is wrong with them that they can't get a man? The way society sees it, there's something not quite right with you if you're constantly on your own.
For years, my friends would fret about being single and I got caught up in it all. We'd sit around for hours trying to figure out this secret handshake that would get us 'into the club'.
We'd console each other and reassure each other that we were amazing women and that a man would eventually see what we saw in each other. And one by one, my friends have all met their significant plus ones; great, charming decent guys one and all. But it does mean that I haven't had that 'why are we single?' chat in a very long time. And so, the fog has lifted.
Without the chatter of my friends, I can see that being single is perfectly great. No secret handshake needed.
While plenty has been said about the perils of being a wallflower, no one ever talks about how boring being in a relationship is. I haven't had to decipher a text or fret about what a boyfriend is up to on a lads' night out in ages. I've not gotten flowers either, or been whisked off on a surprise weekend in years. But there wasn't much of that happening while I was in relationships. There is more to life than these fleeting moments of romance, anyway.
From my vantage point, marriage and kids doesn't look like an achievement. It looks plain boring, and like hard work.
Married friends tag team with their partners over housework and babysitting. It's like one unending relay race.
When you're single, housework is merely tidying up after yourself. If you're in a relationship, it's a battleground. My married friends think that heaven is an uninterrupted bath and they haven't had a lie-in since we had a female president.
I know women who complain about the domestic drudge endlessly. So why am I the one everyone feels sorry for?
Does it sound like I doth protest too much, when I say that I'm not meeting someone because I don't want to? I genuinely don't mean for it to.
I just wish that saying you actually want to be single wasn't such a radical standpoint in our society. I'm not being a man-hater or a cynic; I just think that life works better for me this way. Will I come to regret my stance down the line? I hope not.
As George Clooney's character succinctly says in Up In The Air, we all die alone anyway. But right now, being single versus married is a bit like being a Size 16 versus a Size 10.
It's much more socially acceptable to be the latter ... but it's much more fun, more delicious and a helluva lot less work being the former.
Especially when you're brave enough to own your decision.