I’m perfectly happy without a partner – but do I need one?
The dilemma Do I need a man in my life? I’m 52 and have been a single mother for 14 years. Very occasionally I’ve seen men for purely physical reasons. I’ve never felt I wanted their company beyond that. My child’s father had addictions – gambling and drugs – that I only discovered after the birth. That was a painful time. I recovered and grew stronger as a result. I have found I love solitude though I take care not to isolate. I know many people and have a few I would call close friends. I’m now concentrating on my career, which is going well after many years of being mainly focused on parenting, which I have loved.
I can’t seem to allow myself past a certain point in a relationship, and struggle to see the worth of allowing someone into my life. When discussing the point of being in a relationship, a friend said, “Well it could offer you a different perspective on life.” I guess sometimes I wonder if I am missing out. I can barely recall what it feels like to be close and have a support, it was so long ago.
My previous relationships were with people who were either physically or emotionally unavailable. It’s a painful thing to recall. I have much more love for myself these days, I adore my teenager and my animals. Is there really any need for a partner-relationship?
Philippa’s answer If you are asking yourself this question, you can probably do well without someone but, equally, you might still thrive in a partnership. If you never ask this question then it’s because you probably know the answer either way.
There’s much research about the health, wellbeing benefits and costs of being in a long-term relationship and you could spend some hours Googling it all. You could have therapy with a practitioner who specialises in attachment theory, to learn how you make or don’t make relationships. When we become more aware of these relationship processes, we can then decide whether we want to change our behaviour – but I think what you are really asking me here is: are you missing out?
The writer Naomi Alderman said that the point of having a partner is to have a witness for your life. While there are plenty of people who can do life happily and successfully without a romantic partner, it is a different experience to do it together. She added, “I like having someone around who gives me a look if I speak to a waiter sharply.” She has a point. It is important to have someone close who can challenge us but with goodwill. Teenage children are good at this. They can get us to think about how we choose to live because they tend to question things, but the other thing with teenagers is that they will probably leave home.
I can imagine that making yourself vulnerable with someone again might feel like sticking your hand into a fire, so it might be an idea to unpick your fears. Ask yourself: “What am I most afraid of about being in a relationship? What am I imagining they might do to me, or stop me doing?”
If you do embark on a relationship again, it will be different now as you have learned to love yourself – you won’t settle for someone who makes you unhappy. You would know to find out whether they had addictions and how they made you feel when you were with them. You can take your time. You can take things as far as you are comfortable with and no further. You don’t have to end a relationship you enjoy just because you don’t want to share your whole life and live with them.
Sophie Heawood, a single mother for years and author of The Hungover Games, told me that she recently realised that the point of a romantic partner is as much about your experience outside the home as the one you have with them in it. She says her experience out in the world has improved since knowing there is someone at home who loves her no matter what. She says, “It’s like wearing waterproof clothing after many years of feeling a bit too easily rained on.”
For me, one of the reasons for having a partner is to have a mutual, equal relationship with someone you love who accepts you exactly as you are and who loves you, faults and all. It’s difficult under those circumstances not to grow as a person, not to have more courage, generosity and love to give, not only to your partner but to everyone. If you ask other people why, there might be as many answers as there are people.
You sound happy with work, you know a lot of people and have some good friends, so you have witnesses for your life. You also have people to have fun with, who give you different perspectives, on whom you can call, and who make you feel good. I think if you find a loving partner it will be icing on a well-made cake. And if you think you prefer your cake without icing, that’s fine, too.
Listen to the Stephen Sondheim song Being Alive from the musical Company.
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