Not happy alone? There’s no shame in saying so – we are meant to be coupled up, says Charlotte Haigh-MacNeil.
If you’re single, you’re not alone! So to speak. More and more people are not in a relationship in the long term, but singledom is not our natural state. And while there are times you may need to be on your own – for example, to pick yourself up and consolidate lessons learnt after a break-up – most of us gain optimal wellbeing from being in a good relationship.
In Attached (Pan Macmillan, £12.99), neuroscientist Dr Amir Levine argues we are pre-wired to be attached to another person. Our ancestors evolved to find a partner who cared about them because this meant they were more likely to survive, and we’ve inherited that desire from them. We may not be battling to stay alive in a harsh environment, but the need to be with a significant other is in our genes. So if you want a partner, you’re not needy – you’re obeying a deep human instinct.
Unfortunately, these days there’s a lot of social pressure on women, in particular, to come across as happy and confident on their own. If you admit you’d like to meet a man, you risk seeming desperate. The self-help movement has promoted the idea that we should learn to love ourselves and be happy alone – to the extent that there’s now a widespread belief you are unlikely to meet a partner unless you feel entirely content on your own. That’s simply not true, says Levine. Being unhappy alone doesn’t mean you need to work on yourself; quite the opposite – it’s natural to feel low and uneasy if you’re reluctantly single. In fact, so ingrained is our need for another, being with a partner even has a positive physical effect.
‘Research shows a good relationship eases stress and lowers blood pressure. Even your cuts heal faster,’ says Levine. And he’s identified something called the ‘dependency paradox’ – when we’re happily settled with someone, we are more, not less, independent. The safety of a relationship allows us to take risks. Of course, we’re not talking any old relationship here. It’s worth that noting an unhappy or unfulfilling partnership has the opposite effect, raising stress and blood pressure. It’s surely better to be alone than stuck in a situation that makes you miserable. But if you’ve grown accustomed to being on your own, or find yourself declaring you’re perfectly happy single, it might be time to question yourself a bit. You may not be able to magic up a relationship instantly, but here are some tips to point you in the right direction.
■ Be yourself Don’t worry if you think you come across as needy/shy/insecure – it won’t deter the right people. Show your true self and you stand a better chance of attracting someone who fits with you.
■ Don’t play hard to get Yes, it works – but only if you’re looking for a fling. Levine warns that this tactic is only likely to attract men who think you’re interested in a no-strings relationship. When you ask where it’s going, they’ll run a mile because they never intended it to go further, and thought you didn’t either.
■ Be wary of internet dating It can work, but it’s the perfect forum for noncommittal types, as it allows them to dip their toes in the dating water without having to face up to getting serious. If you enjoy it and you feel it’s working for you, that’s fine – but if you’ve done it for a while and haven’t found the right relationship, it might be time to try out something else.
■ Develop your interests You’ll meet new people through doing something you enjoy, whether that’s cycling, singing in a choir or joining a writing group – and if you don’t find someone straight away, you’ll still be learning new skills and having fun, so it’s a win-win!
■ Drop the bravado Don’t be afraid to tell people you’d like to meet someone – you never know who they might introduce you to. Say you enjoy singledom and they’ll believe it.