I’m turning 20 years old soon. For some, it might seem a rather early age to talk about the idea of being single. For others, the state of being single at the age of 20 deserves some tears. But for me, this is right about the time when some of my high school classmates changed their relationship status to “got engaged,” while my mom started sharing her past stories with men and warning me against foolish decisions she had made. This is also the right time to start asking myself what it means to be a single woman.
Nowadays, singlehood is no longer perceived as a restrictive condition for women in most places. A stable, formal relationship is no longer prioritized as the center of female life. Women can do nearly everything without having to formally attach themselves to a man.
Our choices of singlehood are no longer intentional actions of feminist protest, but personal choices that reflect what we value more in our own lives. We have the freedom that the women in the past didn’t have — that is, the freedom to first be an independent adult, to enjoy a life with privacy and solitude, and then to decide with complete freedom when or whether to step into formal relationships.
It’s not fair to say that being single is better than being in a relationship, just like it’s not fair to say so the other way around. Even though a lot of people say things such as being single allows us to focus on ourselves, these so-called advantages are not really relevant to our relationship status.
What matters is not whether we’re single or not, but rather whether we know how to build a complete self in singlehood. That said, being single should not be considered a static, passive state but a dynamic, active process in which we consciously learn to be independent and build a healthy relationship with ourselves.
Even though singlehood doesn’t automatically equate to independence, it offers us more opportunities to learn to be independent. Here’s an anecdote:
Just one or two weeks ago, my mom saw the biceps on my arm and challenged me to arm wrestling. I put her hand down in less than a second. Even my dad had to defeat me with a lot of sweat. As they were marveling at my muscles, I realized the extent to which heavy work — which I had to do all by myself during the past five years outside home — has made my physical competence grow. I have become much more confident in my own strength, knowing that my body has the potential to be as strong and capable as any other’s.
But true independence requires not only physical strength but also mental strength. Being able to carry six suitcases from home in China to my freshman dorm in Berkeley is one thing — being able to do so without feeling depressed and lonely after is another.
It’s natural to hope for the presence of someone who can carry our burdens, solve our problems and take care of us when we feel helpless. But what makes us mentally strong and independent is the process of learning to do all these things alone. Last spring break, I went to Colombia with friends. On the last day, because of some computer issues, the staff in the Bogotá airport could not validate my visa and then refused to give me my boarding pass. Since school was about to start, my friends had to go back without me.
I was left all alone in the airport of a South American country where few people knew English. Later, a staff member told me in broken English that they accidentally checked in my baggage and could not find it. I suddenly felt so helpless that I started crying in public. I started lamenting to myself the fact that I didn’t have a boyfriend who would definitely stay with me and take me in his arms to comfort me at that time. Despite the tears dripping down my face, I had to figure out ways to arrange my new flight plans and find a place to do away with the remaining 10 hours until my new flight.
As I look back now, the troubles that I went through all by myself have taught me invaluable lessons. I discovered what scared me and learned to face those things. I realized that I was capable of conquering my fear and overcoming these difficulties by myself. It is truly inspiring to see my potential to be far stronger and more resilient than I thought I could be.
There’s a lot more to be said about what it means to stay single, especially when we get older. It allows us to focus on our own passions and fully devote ourselves to the pursuit of them. It encourages us to recognize what is truly important to us without external influences. Most importantly, it means that we learn to seek answers within ourselves instead of looking to others.
Single or not single — perhaps it doesn’t really matter after all. What matters is that we know how to search for wholeness within ourselves. As we find such wholeness, we learn that a romantic relationship is simply a beautiful addition to our world, not a solution to everything.