Free at last … divorced and with children having flown the coop, it's time for some me-time. Photo: Corbis (posed by model)
Apparently I have a problem. You see, years after getting divorced, I'm still single, and I'm not actively doing anything about it. I am told, repeatedly, that I'm supposed to be putting myself "out there". Out where? Where is this mythical place? And why is everyone so insistent that I "put" myself there?
I feel like Jennifer Aniston – except for the looks, the fame and the money. But despite all that, she was universally pitied and fretted over until she scored herself a fiancé. What's that about? No one ever pitied George Clooney.
Ironically, I'm not alone in being alone. By 2020, it's estimated that the number of single-person households globally will approach 16 per cent of total households.
Just to be clear, I wouldn't turn down the right guy if he came along. But it's a little like Lotto: it'd be nice to win, but you'd be crazy to plan your life around it. Because what if "he" never comes along? Am I supposed to feel like I'm only living half a life?
Enjoying the solo life ... author Dianne Blacklock.
Let's crunch some numbers. Estimates by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that in NSW – where I live – there are almost 27,000 more women between the ages of 30 and 54 than men. So, contrary to popular wisdom, there are not plenty of fish in the sea. But even if, after your marriage has ended, you do happen to hook up again, things aren't always so great the second time around. Remarriages end in divorce at up to twice the rate of first marriages. If you've ever been through a divorce, it's not something you'd be rushing to repeat.
Then there's the fear of growing old alone. Are you kidding? Women outlive men in Australia by an average of five years; they comprise over 70 per cent of the population of nursing homes. We are destined to be on our own at the end, sisters, but I knew that already. As the late, twice-divorced American writer Nora Ephron put it, "A good thing about divorce is that it makes clear something marriage obscures, which is that you're on your own."
But here's the really shocking truth about my singledom: I am enjoying it. Hear me out.
I was 17 when I started dating my now ex-husband. I moved from the family home into the marital flat at 20 years of age, had my first baby at 22, then three more within the decade. I was the stay-at-home parent until my youngest started preschool, then after the marriage ended I was the primary care giver. The idea of dating was not a priority; to be quite honest, it was barely a passing thought. I had the kids, a house to maintain, and I was trying to keep my writing career afloat. I had more than enough on my plate.
One by one my sons flew the coop, and now it's just me and the youngest, who's still at uni. We sold up the family home last year and did a reverse tree change, moving from a high-maintenance house in suburbia to a unit in Sydney's inner west. I'm meeting new people, broadening my career in all kinds of interesting ways, and next year I'm planning to travel – to the places I want to go, to see things I want to see, without having to consult anybody else. I think I'm entitled to it, especially after all those years of "eating the burnt chop", of putting everyone's needs before my own.
Don't get me wrong – my child-rearing years were some of the best of my life, but I'd like to think there are also many happy years ahead of me, with new adventures and different challenges. And I refuse to miss out on opportunities because I'm single – in fact, I suspect that many opportunities are available to me precisely because I'm not tied down.
Admittedly, I've had the odd niggle about how I'll cope entirely on my own. But recently I was afforded a preview. My son went backpacking around Mexico last year, and for the first time in my life I lived alone for an extended period. The freedom was a revelation. I didn't have to make sure there was always food in the fridge, wonder if my son had set his alarm for class in the morning, that kind of thing. It was incredibly liberating.
Ironically, I'm not alone in being alone. By 2020, it's estimated that the number of single-person households globally will approach 16 per cent of total households. I'm reminded of the gay-rights slogan: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." Well, we're here, we're single, but it's okay. (Not quite as catchy, but you try coming up with a rhyme for "single".)
Actually, the struggle for acceptance in the gay community has parallels. Why should anyone care so much about the relationship status of anyone else? We're not coming after your husbands; frankly, the way you complain about them, why would we? Or is it the odd number around the table at dinner parties that's the problem? Isn't it time we stopped imposing our values, desires and, dare I say, fears on one another? Gay or straight, single or coupled, with or without children – each to their own.
The hardest thing about being single is the perception that there's something wrong with you, that you're incomplete. But I'm happy to just go my own way and do my own thing. And the best part is, I don't have to explain myself to anybody.
Dianne Blacklock's latest book is The Best Man (Pan Macmillan).