This single life

Life on her own suits Helen Walmsley-Johnson. Things stay where she puts them, for one thing.

Sunflower in a cornfieldEvery so often a debate starts up about the unmarried. There’s one raging now after an antediluvian blogger announced that, in her opinion, 36-year-old Chuka Umunna should have been married off yonks ago instead of having a girlfriend. Outrageous.

So here’s the thing: I am 59-ish and am myself, unmarried – deliciously, happily, subversively unmarried – and my state of singledom concerns me not one jot. I have slept on both sides of the connubial blanket as it were and this is the side I like, the side that belongs to me… all of it.

That I am the age I am places me squarely in a generation of women for whom marriage was considered the ultimate feminine ambition. You went to school, you grew up and you got married. You moved straight from family home to married bliss.

‘Married bliss’ for me lasted 15 years – the last three of which we mostly spent trying to kill each other – and then I became that fabulously glamorous creature: a divorcee. Sadly, despite early promise, it turned out not to be all that exciting: a divorced woman in the early ‘90s was considered a threat to society, a cougar on the prowl with ungovernable sexual appetites.

My social life withered. There were no more dinner parties, because obviously I’d be wantonly seducing all the husbands before we got as far as Delia’s chocolate truffle torte. As a result I developed a degree of bloody-mindedness about the whole business and began a quest for self-sufficiency. My father worried as time wore on, and launched sporadic interrogations on the subject of whether there was any ‘suitable’ man hovering around my perimeter fence, in answer to which I would raise an eyebrow and change the subject.

“I have slept on both sides of the connubial blanket and this is the side I like, the side that belongs to me… all of it.”

One day he asked me if I was, “you know… a lesbian, or something?” “Er, no Dad, I’m not (and why would it matter anyway?). I just like my independence.”

Scratching round for reasons to be married or cohabit, I’m afraid I struggle to come up with anything substantial where the presence of a partner might be considered essential, except perhaps for that scourge of the solitary traveller, the single supplement.

Or perhaps for when I’m really tired and on my way home and I know there’s no milk in the fridge. Or it would be lovely if just sometimes someone else made me a cup of tea, or poured me a glass of wine, or cooked supper. But none of those things are enough to make a man a necessity. I suppose (shock! horror!) there’s the sex thing – hardly ever discussed in a single capacity except in the deviant sense – but personally, I’m with fictional Italian Aurelio Zen who when he’s asked, “What’s the matter? You don’t like sex?” answers, “No, I remember it very fondly.”

I like this attitude. I dated an Italian once, during my ‘wrong ‘un’ phase. He totally was a wrong ‘un but stupidly handsome and really rather good at sex, which could be why the relationship lasted for several on-and-off years before disintegrating into the toxic fall-out of an exploding planet. But respect for moi please. No need to write off the old Invisible quite yet.

“My bathroom is pristine. I don’t have to ask anyone if I can buy a pair of red Prada shoes and if I want to spend Sunday afternoon on the sofa lost in a brilliant book then that’s up to me.”

“But what about bookshelves, spiders and punctures?” I hear you ask. Well… I once waited three weeks for a man to come and put up a curtain rail and got so fed up I went out, bought a drill and put the damn thing up myself. I don’t know what all the fuss was about – it was a doddle. Spiders are a fair point but if there’s no one else around and the Cat’s otherwise engaged then I do cope, more or less. And the Cat does like to throw them around, so on the whole I’d rather do it myself because at least then I don’t have an unanticipated spider landing in my lap.


Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Eating out then? Going to the theatre? Going anywhere? Weekends? Nope. Cracked all that years ago and I advise you to do the same or if singledom is your chosen path you’re going to get very bored very quickly. Actually, crack it anyway because at some point in your life singledom will be your lot whether by accident or design and it’s as well to learn how to deal with it competently and with grace, rather than howling at the moon and developing Tinder thumb. And once you get to my age it’s a whole other ball game anyway, in a manner of speaking…

The truth is that I enjoy my own company and I enjoy having my king-sized duvet all to myself. I am in sole charge of the television remote. Things stay where I put them. My bathroom is pristine. I don’t have to ask anyone if I can buy a pair of red Prada shoes and if I want to spend Sunday afternoon on the sofa lost in a brilliant book then that’s up to me. I am responsible for myself and I have learned to love myself enough to make accepting that responsibility a real and genuine pleasure. What’s not to love?

READ MORE: Do we really need our politicians to be married? Fiona Longmuir’s having none of it:

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Written by Helen Walmsley-Johnson

Helen Walmsley-Johnson is a journalist and author who writes as the Invisible Woman. She has a weekly style column for older women which she writes for the Guardian. Her first book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now. @TheVintageYear