Sitting cross-legged in my high school gym, a guidance counselor asked 200 girls to close their eyes and imagine their life in ten years. I shut my eyes and immediately envisioned the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada. I was a girl living in the big city, applying lipstick in my modern, marble apartment; I glamorously hailed a cab to my glass corner office at the top of a skyscraper, all to the song “Suddenly I See” by KT Tunstall.
Opening my eyes, I turned to the girl next to me and asked what she’d seen.
“Well, my husband was cooking me breakfast…” she started, followed by a gaggle of approving nods from the girls around us. My face blanched as I realized that my vision was a stark contrast to everyone else’s. I listened to them coo over their white-picket-fence dreams—settled, wholesome, content.
At the time, I saw the world in black and white. There are “single girls” and “boyfriend girls,” I thought to myself. I was definitely a single girl. As we passed through high school, my peers began to get into their first relationships. I saw them as people who were easy to love, but to me that meant feminine and complacent. To be desirable seemed unfathomable. I was too loud and greedy—always with one foot out the door, ready to move onward and upward.
Three years later, I wake up in a new city in a bedroom with high ceilings, a glass dresser donned with J’adore Dior perfume, and a 2021 diary whose cover amusingly reads “Boss Lady” in gold cursive. I wake up, sit on my fluffy stool to apply makeup, drink smoothies with my Gymshark-clad housemates, and take the light rail into the city. It seems as if my independent-girl dreams have come true. Yet I still feel unsettled. What comes next?
Over the years, as my girlfriends and I have sat under umbrellas during happy hour, the conversation has veered more and more toward the boys in our lives. I’ve watched as they started leaving happy hour early to play house, and as they stopped showing up for meaningless fun in favor of being loved. Sitting around the table, both single girls and taken girls alike now contemplate how wanted they are. Toxically, we seem to equate our self-worth with how much we are loved. I’d like to think we’ve moved past the construct that a girl’s pursuit of true happiness lies in finding the perfect man, but I can’t help but feel like we are all Carrie Bradshaw—independent, glamorous, but afraid of dying alone.
When I return to my hometown, I catch up with old friends who have all seemingly found their perfect match. If I were to conjure up the perfect partner for each of them, this partner would be the person they are already with. Over potluck dinners we talk about their mature relationships—about old-people things like staying in to watch movies, and compromise, and support—about the mundanities of an emotional connection I’ve never experienced and am afraid I never will. I can’t help but wonder: if I’d stayed, would I be settled just like them?
In Dolly Alderton’s book Everything I Know About Love, she delineates her chaotic youth: the best of female friendships and roommates, reckless nights out, terrible parties, and, of course, her cluelessness regarding boys. Many of Alderton’s stories resonate with me—like the way she chases parties and meaningless extreme experiences, such as her grandiose idea to travel from London to Oxford for a party, intoxicated with unsubstantial funds for the taxi fare, or the humorous kick she gets out of sending random text messages to people she’s had chance encounters with. While the general comical, chaotic tone of her narration begins entertaining at first, as chapters pass, her stories begin to read as exceedingly lonely.
As time passes, Alderton describes how she watches her “friends, one by one, ease into long-term partnerships like they [are] lowering themselves into a cool swimming pool on a scorching day,” and how she can’t seem to do the same. Alderton seems perpetually stuck in a mindset that she is wasting her youth, “spread[ing herself] like the last teaspoon of Marmite across the width of as many lives possible.” For someone who thinks she has the strongest sense of self of everyone she knows, Alderton realizes that she is “all over the place,” “a hundred different floating pieces.” She has no sense of self.
Alderton ultimately concludes that while she doesn’t know what a long-term relationship with a man feels like, everything she has learned about love she has learned from her girlfriends. She ends up moving into a one-bedroom flat while all her friends have moved out with their boyfriends, and finishes the chapter filled with self-love. While this is a heart-warming concept, to me Everything I Know About Love serves as a cautionary tale. Perhaps I haven’t reached the sense of self that Alderton has, and perhaps I am too young, but the thought of being lonely petrifies me. Self-love sounds like bullshit.
As we sit around a homemade charcuterie board sipping on our red wine one evening, I interrupt my friends’ conversations about their relationship statuses to ask: if our brain were a pie chart, and each segment were a representation of what we think about, what percentage would boys make up? Contemplating for a moment, one friend answers 90% while the other answers 75%, thinking these responses to be completely normal. Meanwhile, when I ask my guy friends the same question, they say girls make up approximately 25%. Shocked, I’m unsure whether this is simply an observation of the people I am around, or a modern-day byproduct of the society we live in—where women pine over their husbands and Bridget Jones is reprimanded for being single on New Year’s Eve, only finding happiness when she kisses her true love in the snow.
I think about how when my friends get into relationships, they often disappear from their friends and hobbies to integrate themselves into their male partners’ lives—hardly ever the other way around. They justify their new lifestyle by calling it the “honeymoon period.” They’ll come back eventually, all our other friends say. Meanwhile, boys are taunted for disappearing to spend time with their girlfriends. Tradition holds that boys are for the boys—designating one night a week for poker night, or game night, or simply hanging out—and if they don’t attend, they’re a “simp.” No wonder being the last single friend is so daunting as a girl, and no wonder being a bachelor seems like no big deal to a boy.
Of course Carrie Bradshaw is afraid of dying alone when all her friends talk about at Sunday brunch is boys. In an alternate universe, if Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha weren’t always looking for boyfriends, maybe Carrie would realize she doesn’t need a man. Maybe she’d realize that being a successful writer in New York is enough.
I’m not writing this to say that we should all be single, because I understand that relationships can be wonderful. But I’m also beginning to realize that loneliness often doesn’t come from not having a significant other, but from the environment around us—whether that means comparing ourselves to our friends, attempting to fit into the status quo, or watching way too many chick flicks.
Just as Alderton has watched her friends slowly ease into relationships, and just as she has found that she is perfectly content on her own for now, I realize that inevitably everything falls into place. For now, I’m writing this essay to say that being the last single friend standing is painful, but it doesn’t mean we need a man… Do we?
By Meghan Chiew
Visual by Kaylina Kodlick