“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” ~ Maya Angelou
To many people’s astonishment, I have never been in any romantic relationships—long, short, or casual—in my life of 40-plus years.
I went on less than a handful of first dates.
I lost count of how many times I was asked “how come you are still single?” and how many times I shrugged my shoulders and responded with silence and an awkward smile.
And I used to think there was something seriously wrong with me.
Maybe it’s because I was not pretty enough, not slim enough, or not funny enough.
Maybe it’s because I was too deaf, too introverted, or too studious.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t drink, dance, or party.
Trying to make sense of my singleness, I read thousands of relationship blogs, did too many “why am I single?” quizzes, and compared myself constantly against my loved-up friends.
Some said I should not need to look for love because fate would lead me to my soul mate, and some said I should put myself out there and sign up to all the dating apps to go after my dream partner.
Some said I should maintain high standards and find someone who would tick all the boxes, and some said I should not be too choosy because I could not afford to die old and alone.
Some said I should just relax, be my natural self, and keep my minimalist style, and some said I should doll up like Scarlett Johansson and speak like Emma Watson to attract potential suitors.
Piling on top of my confusion and self-doubt, I had to brave the waves of negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of singlehood in the eyes of society.
In the Chinese culture, women who remain unmarried in their late 20s and beyond are often called sheng nu, which is translated as “leftover woman,” comparing them to leftover food.
In the West, derogatory terms like “spinster” and “old maid” are often used to disparage older women who are unmarried and childless.
Television shows, movies, and the retail industry fantasize and sell the perfect images of love and coupledom. That we need to fill our lives with dramas, flairs, and stuffs in order to have our happily ever after.
While I have never desired to become a mother, I have always assumed that I would couple up with someone nice and kind by a twist of fate one day.
When relationships still had not happened in my early 30s, I spiralled into a dark place. I loathed every inch of myself when I looked in the mirror. I wondered if I were a ghost or spirit that was invisible (or creepy) to most people. I felt deeply disappointed at myself for denying my parents the opportunity to experience life as in-laws and grandparents.
Yet I hid my shame, insecurity, and loneliness behind the façade of being a strong, independent career woman, pretending I did not need or care about love and romance.
Eventually, I crashed and burned.
Until recently, I have worked up the courage to explore my single life—only after practicing maitri for several years.
It has dawned on me that my singleness has nothing to do with my lovability, my look, my body, my hearing, my introversion, my intellect, or my quirks.
My singleness is, rather than what feels like a curse, an unexpected gift made by my young, unconscious mind with the purest intention—to protect me from the perceived pain and suffering associated with love, connection, and intimacy.
This protection, like everything, has a shadow side.
Pema Chödrön once said, “When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.”
Having my heart tucked away has no doubt kept me safe from bad relationships, heartbreaks, and rejections. But it has also blocked me from feeling joy and sweetness in life, from fulfilling my hopes and dreams, and from building genuine connections with other people.
Like a coin, it is not possible to keep the head and deface the tail. We must keep two sides of the same coin to realise its value.
In hindsight, I hold so much love and gratitude for my singleness.
It has propelled me to the path less travelled, opening doors to many opportunities that are beyond my imagination.
It has inspired me to define my version of success and create a life that is meaningful to me.
It has led me to kind-hearted people and communities that get and accept me as I am.
Best of all, it has given me the one and only gift I ever need: How to be my own best friend and love my imperfect, weird self with a full heart.
Now I am taking off this armour, freeing myself to feel, to experience, and to make the most of this human life, whether I am single or not.
I am basically good.
I am a mere mortal who needs love, companionship, and connection.
I am opening my heart to welcome the highs, the lows, and boring stuffs in between.
I am content.
I am unhurried.
I am free.
“I do not accept any absolute formulas for living. No preconceived code can see ahead to everything that can happen in a man’s life. As we live, we grow and our beliefs change. They must change. So I think we should live with this constant discovery. We should be open to this adventure in heightened awareness of living. We should stake our whole existence on our willingness to explore and experience.” ~ Martin Buber