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Being Self-Partnered: a review of 'Unattached: Essays on Singlehood' edited by Angelica Malin

Unattached features essays from 31 women*, each of whom meditate on being single, either currently or retrospectively. Motivational, reassuring and empowering, reading this book feels like being at a wine night with your closest friends. Angelica Malin overall constructs a real feeling of sisterhood; as you make your way through these essays, you feel seen, supported, understood, validated and affirmed in your life choices, which is comforting in a world that stigmatises women for being single.

Collectively these writers show that the majority of the pressures we feel to be in romantic relationships are external. They are societal – our world is built around pairs; they are cultural – our media bombards us with images of idyllic marriages and unstable singletons; they are familial – our loved ones gossip, worry, criticise and matchmake; they are economic – our capitalism fosters a patriarchal system of financial dependency. If we courageously decide to strip away these factors and properly interrogate the fear of being alone at its core, we find in actuality there is not much to fear. Single lives are viewed as incomplete, empty or a failing merely because this is what we have been taught to think.

Instead, these writers show us that being single means entering a restorative and transformative chapter. It is the time in life where you learn the most about yourself. It is a period of reflection and introspection during which you learn your limits and discover the strength to implement your boundaries. You learn to self-validate and invest in other relationships with friends and family, building a life for yourself that is very full and very happy.

This book is by no means bitter. Quite the contrary; many of the contributors describe new relationships they entered after their period of singlehood. The point is not to rebuke romantic love altogether, but to dissect it openly, unlearn what we know about it and be honest about its shortcomings. Rather than viewing romantic love as one’s sole source of happiness, we should view it as just one resource of many. These writers have not necessarily renounced relationships, they have simply learned not to be reliant on them, and in doing so, they built better foundations for future relationships when those came along.

If we unshackle ourselves from the need to be in relationships, we reposition ourselves in society in a way that is incredibly radical and liberating. De-centring romantic relationships allows us the space and energy to focus on the most important and longest relationship we will ever have: the one with ourselves. Although the unpredictability of single life generates much anxiety, this exciting spontaneity is precisely what we should be embracing. Rather than living our lives according to a pre-laid route, we should all be leaving room for the wonderful unknowability of life – a mantra that everyone should implement, even those in a relationship.

Unattached is a quick read; each essay is no more than a few pages long. Left behind is the shallow language of cultic toxic positivity, such as ‘be a bad bitch’. Instead, the contributors refreshingly recognise and analyse the challenges of being single. They acknowledge their pain and discuss it in depth in a way that is far more enlightening and useful for single readers. Naturally, this theme of romance, sex and singlehood lends itself to some more difficult topics; grief, heartbreak, domestic violence, infidelity, sexual assault and family trauma are all explored.

This collection features a diverse range of contributors of varying backgrounds and ages. Some are openly queer, though the majority of the experiences described centre on relationships with men. This is not a shortcoming, however, as the topic of singlehood is universal and can resonate with every reader. Although women of all ages could benefit from reading this book, I would particularly recommend it to a younger female readership – 18 to 25 – in the hopes that it can be educational and instructive, and act as a necessary anecdote to the toxic societal pressures to couple up, which only intensify as we grow older.

Unattached is a book that, as you read it, you find yourself making a mental note of all the women in your life to whom you will pass it on when you’re finished. I suspect all of our copies will be incredibly worn by the end of the year as they do the rounds and enrich us all. In the sisterhood, we can all take comfort in this communal pep talk as we learn to embrace our single lives, together.

‘So now I write my own life. And I make sure it's roomy; that I can expand with it and it can expand with me. I won't send a pre-chosen story out ahead of me, chopping myself up to fit it or to fit in. I write as I go and live the effervescence of each word. My life is more than a page-turner to race through, until the disappointing but predictable end. Instead I'll dance out the last syllables of every sentence, not knowing when the full stop will come, pausing breathless and alert when the beat stops, unexpectedly, for a moment. I'll allow myself to feel the dangerous, delicious, expansive freedom of not knowing what's next. I'll trust that I can co-create something beautiful with the universe, that will be perfect for just me, and it doesn't have to look like anything at all.’ – Unattached, Felicity Morse, ‘Writing Your Own Story’, p.39

*Angelica Malin, Annie Lord, Ashley James, Bella DePaulo, Chanté Joseph, Charlie Craggs, Chloe Pierre, Felicity Morse, Francesca Specter, Jessica Morgan, Ketaki Chowkhani, Lucie Brownlee, Madeleine Spencer, Megan Barton-Hanson, Mia Levitin, Natalie Byrne, Nicola Slawson, Poorna Bell, Rachel Thompson, Rahel Aklilu, Rebecca Reid, Rose Stokes, Rosie Wilby, Salma El-Wardany, Shani Silver, Shaparak Khorsandi, Shon Faye, Sophia Leonie, Sophia Money-Coutts, Stephanie Yeboah and Venus Libido.

Author: Angelica Malin (ed.)

Published: 03/02/2022

Publisher: Square Peg, Vintage, Penguin Random House

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