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I’m posting this on the 14th of February, because singles don’t get enough airtime on a day like today. This post has been sitting half-baked in my drafts since last year, and I finally felt the impetus to finish it in time for Vday.
While watching Season 2 of Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking in August last year, I heard the phrase ‘grieving my singlehood’. It was mentioned by Aparna, a fiercely independent, hardworking and ambitious 37-year old lawyer & author. This was in the context of how most of her friends were already in another phase of their lives, while she was in the process of grieving the loss of her imagined timeline of marriage & having kids.
As someone who’s been chronically single
because of high standards & oddly-specific criteria, and yet hopes to be married with kids before 30, I related to her situation immensely. Having gone through the sadness of always being the ‘single friend’ – a feeling which I can now label as ‘ambiguous grief’ – I had a terrifying vision of myself being in her exact shoes 12 years down the road.
And so I’m writing a whole post about that, with the hope that maybe one other person out there might relate to this, and finally be able to put a name to how they’re feeling when they’re asked ‘Why still no boyfriend*?’ for the 100th time.
*or any other genders and permutations of this question
This post is about to get pretty personal, so hold on tight.
festive season woes
Another Christmas and Chinese New Year recently came and went, and I mercifully didn’t get interrogated. I was on the receiving end of mild questions like “Are you seeing anyone?”, “It’s not safe for a girl to travel alone, why not find a boyfriend to go with?” or “Why are young people nowadays getting married so late?”
My answers to the above questions were: “No comment”, “I enjoy travelling solo and won’t go to dangerous places”, & “Housing is too expensive, dating apps are messy, and we’re too busy” respectively.
And the thing with ambiguous grief is that it creeps up on you silently, and at random times, especially around festive seasons, when all the couples seem to be out in full force at Singapore’s Winter Wonderland and posting cute couple-y pictures.
This grief doesn’t come on as a huge, overwhelming sensation of loneliness, but instead lingers in the back of your mind, constantly reminding you that ‘everyone else’ – even though you know it’s statistically untrue – is coupled up. You might try to rationalise that being attached is not all it’s chalked up to be, by reminding yourself of all the times you’ve heard about messy breakups, toxic relationships, or dysfunctional families, but that only works for a short while.
Seeing your friends finding their life partners one by one, your acquaintances getting married, or your peers having adorable toddlers makes you wonder when it’ll finally be your turn. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these are ‘life check boxes’ that everyone needs or wants to tick off (I have plenty of firmly child-free friends), but those are things that I’ve wanted since I was a tween listening to Love Story for the 100th time.
At any rate, I’ve been making a conscious effort to detox from and cut my social media usage since the start of 2023 precisely because my feed has been flooded with posts of couples and/or weddings. Everyone only ever posts the rosiest parts of their relationship on Instagram, and it’s easy for chronically single people (like myself) to feel a tinge of FOMO every time we ‘like’ another one of those posts.
Indian Matchmaking Season 2
It doesn’t help that our mid-twenties are a strange time where half your acquaintances might be getting engaged, buying a house, or getting married, while the other half are still single. Among the singles, half might be actively looking and swiping on apps, while the rest just aren’t really bothered.
I’m in the half of the single population who’s spent the past few months seriously swiping for someone who meets most of my criteria and is in the right phase of their life (to settle down, but not merely for the sake of applying for a BTO). If I had been on Indian Matchmaking, the esteemed matchmaker Auntie Sima would have scolded me for being ‘too picky’.
On the show, she told most of the ladies that they would have to be content with someone who met just 60% of their criteria or risk ending up alone and *gasps in mock horror* unmarried!!
Ironically, I don’t remember her telling the men anything along those lines…sexism at its finest. And maybe that’s why most of the cast members eventually found matches on their own, instead of being match-made successfully by Auntie Sima. For a show that revolves around her as a famous matchmaker, her track record doesn’t seem that stellar.
At any rate, I enjoyed the show NOT because of the actual matchmaking nor Auntie Sima’s snarky comments, but rather hearing these fellow singles express their immensely relatable frustrations, sadness and hopes for their personal & love lives.
After all, can’t we all relate to Joey at times? (as much as we might hope to end up like Monica and Chandler)
what is ambiguous grief?
Anyway, back to the main point of this whole post. What is ambiguous grief? This spectacularly relatable article by The Atlantic sums it up perfectly:
In ambiguous grief, there’s a murkiness to the loss. Lots of people experience ambiguous grief, not only those hoping to find a partner. A husband or wife may experience it if their partner is still alive but can no longer live with them or recognize them because of a disease like Alzheimer’s. A woman might experience it if she is trying and unable to get pregnant, though she has not lost a child. And a single person hoping to meet someone might experience it in the lack of a partner he or she longs for but hasn’t met.
But one thing that does make it additionally challenging is that it tends to go unacknowledged. There are no condolence cards directed at the person whose spouse is there physically but not cognitively, or the person who can’t have the child she dreams of, or the person whose imagined partner has never appeared. There are no community rituals in place to support these people in their grief. They don’t get to take a day off work because they’re heartbroken that yet another promising date turned out to be a dud and they’re back in the throes of ambiguous grief. Instead, their grief goes largely unnoticed.– Dear Therapist: It’s Hard to Accept Being Single (source)
A research study titled Romantic Relationship Status and Emerging Adult Well-Being: Accounting for Romantic Relationship Interest (Beckmeyer and Cromwell, 2019) even went as far as to prove that singles who were very interested in a romantic relationship reported greater depressive symptoms and experienced greater loneliness than the other two groups surveyed — namely the (1) romantically involved & (2) singles who were not or only slightly interested in a romantic relationship.
I don’t think they needed a whole study for that; they could just have asked my younger self.
I’ll admit that when I was an immature 21-year-old hopeless romantic, the ambiguous grief from singlehood — or rather, wondering if I would ever be able to get a boyfriend — was something that I struggled with and wasted far too much mental energy on.
Back then, I perhaps saw ‘getting into a relationship’ as a badge of honour that I had yet to attain, and it was the one thing in life that I couldn’t work hard to achieve, which made it all the more frustrating. And to be honest, I was too busy in med school to care about dating or meeting new people, so I wasn’t exactly doing my love life any favours.
Thankfully, my parents have never been the type to ask for grandchildren, and my extended family has never made me feel bad for being 25 & single. In fact, a few of them even encouraged me to stay single and enjoy my current lifestyle, because apparently marriage isn’t as fun (but I’d sure like the chance to prove them wrong).
goodbye ambiguous grief, hello self-love
Funnily enough, ever since I began using dating apps* in earnest as a self-declared ‘More Mature 25-Year-Old’ late last year, the feeling of ambiguous grief has mostly faded. I realised that the issue was never a lack of single people looking for relationships, but rather finding an emotionally-available person who I can envision building a life with, complements my energy, and holds similarly-aligned values.
*I mean, isn’t it fantastic yet terrifying that your life could be irrevocably changed by a single right swipe on a profile that the algorithm decided to send your way? (these days, I’ve been feeling pretty amazed and grateful)
In an earlier
and extremely cringeworthy draft from early 2018, I was clearly trying to embrace the whole self-love trend, while also still inwardly struggling with being single:
Society revolves far too much around romantic love and the idea that we need someone to be complete, but that’s rubbish. I wonder how much of my foolish teenage mindset of desperately wanting to be in a relationship was caused by society’s oppressive obsession with romantic love, and if I could have avoided heartache if I had known that it was all a lie created to sell movies, happiness & products. I don’t need to be someone’s girlfriend just for appearances’ sake or for the fear that I’ll never meet someone. I don’t wish to be defined as being half of a couple, because I am worthy of love, even if it’s not romantic love.me, circa 2018
While I still don’t feel the need to be defined by my relationship status (and would absolutely not want to be in a codependent relationship), I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be nice to have someone who you can call your base camp while both parties climb their personal Everests and build a beautiful life together. Something like that would be well worth waiting and searching for.
The Insta post below illustrates it perfectly:
Perhaps there will always be waxing and waning levels of ambiguous grief – although grief feels like too strong a word on most days – as I continue living life as a single person in a society designed for couples. I used to think I had to completely eliminate those feelings of ambiguous grief in order to be a ‘strong single woman’, but I’ve since realised that self-love involves working through them and just letting life & love take me where I’m meant to be.
Anyway, to all the couples in happy and healthy relationships, happy Valentine’s Day and BTO-ing! And to the rest of us, happy Valentine’s Day too, keep working on yourself, and remember never to settle for less. Buy yourself some flowers/chocolates, and just give in to the marketing gimmicks! 😛
In case anyone wants good ideas for what to do as a single person on Vday to beat the crowds and service charge, I’m going for my regular Tuesday swordfighting lessons and cheap supper, because there’s nothing more romantic than parrying and prata.
I’ve been listening to this absolute bop on repeat ever since I discovered it earlier this month, and it seems a rather fitting anthem for Valentine’s Day:
I’m catching all these feelings
Oh boy, you’ve got me flying through the ceiling
Wish you would tell me what you’re thinking
If you drink about me on the weekend
We’ll see if I’m still singing the same single-pringle tune next Valentine’s Day, but for now that’s all for this post. Thanks for sticking around, and be sure to follow my Instagram or FB page to stay up to date with my monthly doctoring posts (on the 25/26th)!
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series
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