Why we need to change the narrative around female singlehood

Why we need to change the narrative around female singlehood

Not so long ago, being single was one of the worst things a woman could be.

Being unpartnered carried a heavy burden of stigma and attracted unsolicited dating advice and pitying stares.

Even now, after decades of fighting for greater freedoms, the idea that a woman is only ‘complete’ when they find a romantic significant other is holding on for dear life.

Shani Silver, author of A Single Revolution and host of A Single Serving Podcast, is working to change the harmful, antiquated narrative that surrounds single women.

Having been single for more than 12 years, Silver’s work highlights the misogynistic and pronatalist values that underpin society’s obsession with women partnering up.

Silver is working to bust the myths that surround single women; that there is something ‘wrong’ with them, that they aren’t trying hard enough, that their expectations are too high, or that they need to hurry up and find a mate before it is ‘too late’ (which is just a thinly veiled form of age-shaming).

Here is why we need to change the narrative around single women.

Being single isn’t a problem to fix

Silver’s book deconstructs the deeply ingrained assumption that singledom is the ‘wrong’ way to be; a problem that needs an urgent remedy.

She encourages her readers to put aside the conservative values that have shaped their world view and ask themselves: “what is really so bad about being single?”

If we stopped treating singlehood as some kind of tragedy, would more women embrace a life of freedom and fulfilment that doesn’t hinge on a romantic partner to share it with? And is finding a partner really a guarantee of more happiness or fulfillment?

Women in relationships tend to carry more than their fair share of household tasks, mental load, and childrearing responsibilities, so it shouldn’t be surprising that some women decide that path is not for them.

Being single enables a deeper immersion in your own goals, ambitions, passions and interests. It creates more space for women to be ‘selfish’; a radical act in a world that expects self-sacrifice from wives and mothers in a way that never seems to apply to men.

That said, being single has its own challenges and being partnered up naturally has certain benefits. No one is arguing with this, least of all Silver.

“The benefits of coupledom are obvious—and quite amazing by the way, I’m not diminishing them,” she said.

“Companionship, sex, split rent — you certainly have my attention. But the benefits of being single are harder to see, and kind of impossible to understand unless you’re living them. They do exist, however, and I hate that so many of us gloss over them in fierce pursuit of partnership.”

Shani Silver, author of A Single Revolution and host of A Single Serving Podcast.

Shani Silver, author of A Single Revolution and host of A Single Serving Podcast. Image credit: Shani Silver.

Being single creates space to live authentically

Silver has arrived at a place where she celebrates her singledom, relishing the freedom to do as she pleases with her time, energy and finances.

Being untethered has helped her create a life that is truly, uniquely hers. Rather than seeing coupledom as the ‘happily ever after’ that evades single women, Silver highlights the very real sacrifices that come with cohabitating with another person.

“Single has become a precious time in my life, full of unique experiences, exploration, and … a lot of selfish indulgence,” she said.

“If I’m going to give this kind of freedom up, whoever he is, he’s going to have to be goddamn amazing.”

Silver’s idea that singledom is something to celebrate, admire, or even envy, should not be such a controversial one.

Yet, in a world designed largely by and for men, painting a picture of single women as pitiful or strange remains incredibly pervasive.

It upholds other antiquated ideals of femininity, such as the expectation to look a certain way, be nurturing and caring to the point of martyrdom, and to care more about finding love and having children than about the many serious world issues taking place around us.

“Overall, I have no idea why society has always been so motivated to pressure women to partner up,” said Silver.

“Maybe they’re worried if we’re single, we’ll have too much time on our hands and we’ll be able to craft that world domination plan we keep in the back of the drawer.”

There are many things worse in this world than being alone

Being single is not always an exciting whirlwind of spontaneity and joy.

Silver also speaks openly about the difficulties of flying solo in a society obsessed with ‘settling down’ and bravely shares the raw emotions she experienced in her journey to embracing her single status.

Sadness, frustration and even anger are perfectly natural emotional responses to what it means to be single.

However, Silver rejects the idea that this anger should be directed at herself and refuses to internalise her singledom as a sign that she is lacking some magic personality trait that will land her a husband.

“You won’t find me internalising my own terribleness,” she said.

“I’m not going to blame my singlehood on some long-pondered list of personal faults. Not with the traits of these married people I see. You can’t lie to me and tell me I’m in need of ‘fixing’ before I can be ‘ready for love’, because all the partnered people in the world who haven’t seen a day of therapy could fill an ocean to the brim.”

The narrative that there is something ‘wrong’ with single women invites unwarranted judgement and pity from others, creating serious flow-on consequences.

Instilling the notion that being alone is the worst fate a woman can experience serves to keep many women stuck in unhappy relationships, paralysed by the fear that they will never find another partner.

Telling women that any partner is better than being alone is ludicrous, and yet many of us perpetuate this notion without even realising it.

We do it every time we look at a single friend with pity, or plan a social event assuming everyone will bring a partner, or ask someone who finally leaves a bad relationship if there’s a chance of them getting back together.

Silver does not want women to shun the concept or love or companionship altogether. She is simply encouraging them to drop the self-shaming that comes with attaching one’s worth to their relationship status.

“It’s never about curing ourselves of the desire for love. It’s about decentering the pursuit of it,” she said.

A Single Revolution by Shani Silver

A Single Revolution by Shani Silver.

How to embrace your single status and support your single friends

When coupledom is the default, single women become devalued and invalidated.

Women should be free to choose their path in life, whether or not that includes a partner, free of judgement and shame.

Silver encourages all of us to rethink the way we treat single women, and realise that even well-intended gestures and comments can do more harm than good.

Despite good intentions, treating our single friends with reassurance or sympathy actually perpetuates what Silver calls ‘pity energy’, which, unsurprisingly, is not helping anyone.

“Pity energy is the gut reaction to single women; the first thing that comes to mind. It is a head tilt, a warm frown, a pat on the hand or a nurturing hug,” said Silver.

“It’s a reassuring phrase, a dismissal of wrongs, a verbal confirmation of a person’s validity. These all sound like nice gestures until they’re constantly aimed at you because you’re single. They breed a belief that something’s wrong with you.”

Silver’s message to single women, be it by choice or circumstance is clear:

“We are whole, valid, and we’re not settling for a smaller status any longer. From now on, it’s respect, celebration, and understanding. Anything less is simply not enough for a community of women who are more than enough.”


You can purchase a copy of A Single Revolution by Shani Silver here.

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.