Voices: I’m single and child-free at nearly 30 – and I’m not lonely

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week was loneliness. It seems fitting because for many people, the pandemic has meant experiencing new levels of loneliness and isolation.

The ongoing pandemic aside, many women are made to feel alone by being in our 20s, 30s and 40s without having kids or being married. A recent study by the Office for National Statistics using the term “childless women” sparked discussion online, and some people were uncomfortable with the emphasis on whether women of a certain age have kids or not.

I don’t have kids, or a partner – but I neither feel alone nor lonely. Not having kids does mean that I don’t see various childhood friends as often, as I can’t help them kill two birds with one stone by bringing my own child along for a playdate. If I’m sad, I’m reassured by friends that “I’ll find someone soon”. Usually the root of my sadness is as menial as a broken nail, rather than the supposed empty void of singleness. Regardless, I’ve cultivated a strong support network, featuring fellow “childless” friends.

The life milestones that we, as a society, place the most importance on all seem to involve other people – weddings, parenthood etc – rather than solo accomplishments. Even things that bring me immense joy like holidays are marketed heavily towards couples – it’s all about “bae-cations” and single travellers are too often ignored or straight up financially penalised.

Single people spend £2,049 per year more than people in relationships, and the main reason for this is travel. When you book a solo holiday, there’s generally a solo person premium that you have to pay, as holidays are often sold on the premise that there are two people going. You can happily travel the world alone, but it’s going to cost you!

As someone who regularly travels, I was terrified that staying put during Covid would negatively affect my mental health. Let’s be real – feeling sad in the sun hits differently from being cold and sad in England. But the pandemic actually became a blessing in disguise.

Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) when I was a teenager because of my constant conflicting moods, I have long struggled with social interactions and often felt alone when around other people.

During the repeated lockdowns, all of these interactions vanished and I thrived being by myself. My mental health peaked, because I was enjoying activities that could be done solo. I became a mother, before the age of 30, to numerous green creatures potted around my house. I love my cheese plant, my cheeky mother in law’s tongue and my sensitive calathea. I also renewed my love of reading novels.

I didn’t feel lonely at all, because I found something I’d never experienced before in a fast-paced and relentless world where “the grind” is always prioritised – a sense of inner peace while being alone.

However, I’m conscious that my experience of lockdown might be the exception. A close friend of mine became pregnant just before lockdown and spent her pregnancy feeling “stranded”. Lockdown negatively affected her mental health and robbed her of the normal things that would have helped her enjoy her pregnancy and prepare for motherhood. She said goodbye to the prospect of having a baby shower, a maternity shoot, mum-to-be classes and attending antenatal scans alongside her partner.

As a radio producer, I produce a weekly one hour BBC Radio 1Xtra speech radio show called 1Xtra Talks. It’s the one job that forces me to physically come into the building as the show broadcasts live, so I can tick human interaction off my imaginary list once a week.

On the most recent show, we covered Mental Health Awareness Week. One of our panellists, clinical psychologist and founder of Abode Therapy, Dr Samantha Rennalls, touched on something that really soothed me and made me reflect on how I personally viewed loneliness, both before and after lockdown.

She told the panel that “research shows that people who experience loneliness are no worse than having social interactions or building relationships than people who don’t experience loneliness”. I always linked loneliness to failed interactions, and that’s why I never wanted to confess to having those feelings. But after hearing this, I felt a real sense of relief. I found out that I had not failed a test that I didn’t know about and therefore had not prepared for.

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One of the questions posed to the panellists on the show was about why the word loneliness carries a stigma. I think it’s because we’re supposed to be strong, social and successful, and we don’t really talk about the fact that you can be all these things and still feel lonely.

Open social media and suddenly your phone is overflowing with pictures and videos of people “living their best lives” with friends. Be it on holiday, or at an expensively priced Instagrammable venue, it’s easy to infer that these people are not lonely. After all, online they are social butterflies, which is thought to be the complete opposite of someone experiencing loneliness and isolation.

Somewhere along the way, loneliness became something that we’re conditioned to feel ashamed of. My mindset pre-lockdown was that I would rather be lonely and miserable than tell anyone about how I felt and allow people to surround me with love. I could not even admit to myself that I was lonely – let alone anyone else. But truth be told, the strongest connections I have now are with people I can be mutually vulnerable with.

I hope people read this and also find some relief from Dr Samantha Rennall’s words. And if that fails, hang on tight to the title of rapper Dave’s second studio album – We’re All Alone in This Together.

Sylvie Carlos is a producer for 1Xtra Talks on BBC Radio 1Xtra. She also writes about books, mental health and travel

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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