The Church of England has called for single people to be valued as much as couples and families in a report that points out that Jesus himself was single.
A large part of the UK population lives alone: according to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of one-person households ranged from 25.8% in London to 36% in Scotland in 2021. And from 2011 to 2021, the number of people living alone increased by 8.3%.
We spoke to four people about their experiences of single life, its drawbacks and its advantages.
‘I don’t wait around for someone to enjoy life with’
“I’ve been single all my life, so I don’t know any different. Life as a single person can be difficult and lonely. I’m a homeowner and I pay all the bills myself. I work full-time, so I get no benefits. It’s the time of year again where my car and home insurance need to be renewed, which means I have to make potentially big decisions alone. I cook, clean, and manage my finances, which can become exhausting. I even change the headlamp bulbs on my car myself. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. My attitude is to live life to the full and don’t wait around for someone to enjoy it with. I like to go on solo adventures. I’ve travelled all over by myself: France, Belgium, Malawi, Australia three times, and once worked in the US.
“A lot of my friends are married. They are generally understanding, but on the odd occasion, I have been excluded from gatherings such as meals due to my single status, which can hurt sometimes. And I’m unable to go away every year; it takes time for me to save up. Although I like my own space, at times I can feel low, especially when you compare yourself to the highlight reels your married friends post on social media. But over the years, I have found the best way to get out of the slump is to get out and about.” Rachel Roberts, 41, digital learning designer, Stoke-on-Trent
‘Friendships can be intimate, too’
“At 37, I realised I had no idea who I was outside of my relationship at the time. I had been in couples with various people since I was 14 – so no wonder I didn’t! I wanted to get to know myself as an individual. I did have some relationships in my 40s, but over the last six years I have been single by choice and I find it to be a rich way to live.
“I think there’s a cultural belief that we need to be in an intimate relationship to truly belong in society. I work a lot with women as a therapist, and many single women in their 30s feel ashamed because they’re not following the traditional route of a relationship: moving in, having children and so on. I think it’s easier for me as I’m a bit older. Single people are often thought of as lonely, but the loneliest I have ever felt is in a bad relationship. I’ve now made more space in my life for travel and spending time with friends. Friendships can be intimate, too.
“The only issues I have with being single are practical things – like putting a blind back up that fell down, or moving a heavy bed. I sometimes feel lonely, but that’s usually because I’ve been online for too long. I am open to meeting someone but am also at peace if I don’t. I have had two children and three grandchildren, so I’m very busy.” Donna Lancaster, 56, writer and therapist, West Sussex
‘The single person always has to pay more’
“I’m a gay man, have been single for 12 years, and wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve always been someone who likes their own company, and having been in relationships that didn’t end well in the past, I never felt the need to do it again. I could potter around my house for days and not see a soul and be quite happy. I enjoy being able to do what I want, when I want. Maybe that’s selfish, but if the right person came along, I’m sure I’d adjust.
“It frustrates me that everything is geared towards couples. The single person always has to pay more, for the same thing. Buying a house is a struggle for most couples; nigh on impossible for an individual. Holidays cost more because of single-person premiums for rooms, cabins, and so on. Even apps like Spotify charge a couple less than they do for a single subscription.
“People often expect you to be in a relationship, or tell me that I just need to find the right guy to be happy – probably even more so now that two men can get married and have kids. But none of that has ever appealed to me.” Darryl, 49, company director, London
‘Single older people are thought to be sad and often lonely’
“I was married twice, but have been single for about 15 years. I do not seek a relationship – other than with myself, of course. Frequently, single older people are thought to be sad and often lonely. Yet for many of us, being single is a positive life choice. I walk a lot, I read a lot, I have a lot of time to immerse myself in the natural world. I don’t experience loneliness. It is not selfish to devote time to learning about yourself, and finding a separate way of being in the world.
“Sure, being alone can be challenging. Supermarkets assume you will buy at least two of everything, for example. For some, a single person can make for an awkward balance at dinner parties. But people are different, have different needs, feel and think differently. We must become better at accepting this. I am not a 76-year-old lonely older person; I am alive, enjoying my single life, and the fact that I do not have a partner does not diminish me.” David, 76, retired, Great Malvern