Are You Being Single-Shamed? Here’s What To Do

Kick that third-wheel life to the kerb.

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Everyone’s hooking up except for you, and now they’re making you feel bad about it as well. Ugh, what’s that all about?

With 392,000 one-person households in Ireland according to the last census, you’d think that’d put a bit of pause on nosy uncles at family events who are hell-bent on finding out the exact and precise reasons why you prefer the company of your cat.

Sadly, that statistic seems to be a fact unknown to many, but Cameron Diaz, during her long-term single years, summed it up well. “I think some people want other people to make the same choices in life that they have made so that they can feel good about their own choice.”

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Being single in 2015 isn’t a case of desperate spinsterhood, as swathes of the media, who were so desperate to paint Jennifer Aniston in this light for years, seem to think. In fact, for a lot of women, it’s a choice. For others, their singlehood is a situation that’s temporary, but one in which they frustratingly find themselves the brunt of a friend fixation about being ‘set up’, or ‘fixed’.

“I noticed it was happening gradually,” says 23-year-old Niamh Lee. “Both of my close friends have boyfriends and I didn’t. I noticed more and more that we weren’t able to hang out or go out as much because they had boyfriends, so I’d just be a third wheel.”

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While it wasn’t deliberate, it still hurt, and it got worse. “Quite often there’d be comments like, ‘oh you don’t know what it’s like – you’re single.’ Then it started to change and get a little more intense, like, ‘would you not want a boyfriend, you’re 23.’ I’ve been set up with nearly all the boyfriends’ friends because you know, we have to find someone for me, apparently. Any time we meet, I’m interrogated about whether I’ve meet anyone yet… I almost feel like I shouldn’t be single, like its abnormal or something, but I know in my heart it’s not.”

Social media doesn’t help matters either. “You see all those memes about single girls and it makes you go, ‘that’s not me!’ Sometimes you doubt yourself, because you get all the Snapchats of couples out together, all the gifts, all the loving Facebook posts – and don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for my friends that they’ve found people who love them, however sometimes you feel like you’re missing out on something,” she confesses.

Despite the pressure, Niamh’s happy with where she is in life. “I’m in college finishing an honours degree, and I know that I just want to focus on myself and be who I want to be. This year has been so demanding I can’t honestly tell how I’d balance having a boyfriend on top of it,” she muses.

For Claire O’Toole, 35, her single status is a badge of pride. “Honestly? I love my life,” she says. “Obviously everyone makes the choices that are right for them, but I look at some of my mates and they’re run ragged trying to juggle family and work and they’re wrecked. I’ve just got to please myself, my time is my own and I really enjoy that,” she says.

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It’s not about being selfish, Claire says, rather, it’s a matter of priorities. “I’m really into my job,” she smiles. “And I love having the time and the opportunity to be able to grow within it uninterrupted. Being single, as well, has made me a braver, more curious person. I travel a lot – on my own or with friends – I’ve loads of different groups of friends and I’ve time for them all.”

Claire’s not saying no to meeting someone, but it’s not her be all and end all, either. “I just think I have to be happy for myself, because that’s so important. I only have one life,” she points out. “I can’t spend it wishing it away, hoping for something that may or may not happen – if it does, great, but if not – well, I know I’ll be grand.”

It’s the way to be, says cognitive behaviour therapist Martha Ryan, who says that if you’re feeling single shamed, you need to have a look at what’s going on with you. “It all depends on what it means to a woman to not be in a relationship. If a woman feels bad or inadequate, she needs to explore her inner world and listen to what she’s telling herself everyday about not being in one,” Martha points out.

If, Martha says, “you’re telling yourself things like, ‘I’m too old to meet someone’, ‘all the good ones are taken’, ‘no one loves me’ etc, then it’s that self talk that’ll make you feel down. The more you notice everybody asking about your relationship status, the worse you feel – it’s not because you’re single, it’s because of what you’re telling yourself about being single,” she says.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. “This is a thinking error known as ‘attentional bias,” she reveals. “The more attention you give to a situation, the more you notice it. The more you notice it, the more it feels true. Take a step back and start to notice other conversations people have with you apart from you being single.”

And as for the big bugbear single ladies have, being constantly asked about your status? Claire’s coping strategy, honed over the years, is a smart one. “I ask people why they want to know,” she laughs. “That usually stops them in their tracks.” Martha has more advice. “The main thing to remember is that, if you feel badgered about your relationship status, it’s because your attention is raised to notice it,” she points out.

The solution? Get yourself straight about how you really feel about your status first. “Once you’re clear on how you feel about being single, it’ll be easier to be less attached to other people’s questions about it,” Martha says. “You can go into a situation expecting to be quizzed and focus all your attention on it when it happens, or you can choose to focus on everything else that’s happening So if you’re at a party or a meet up, you can decide before you even go to it, that if it’s mentioned, so be it, but that you’re going to focus on the company, the atmosphere and the ambience.”

As a single issue, it’s a tricky one. But keeping a positive attitude is vital. Like Claire says, you’ve got one life, so make sure you’re living it for you.

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s February issue. The October issue on shelves now!

October 2016 STELLAR magazine cover

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