I’ve lived in London for almost four years. I moved here after a stint of travelling post-university, which saw me gallivanting around Asia and Australia for the best part of three months. When I moved, it was by accident. I’d flown to Stansted airport from Belfast International with nothing but a carry-on case and a small faux-leather backpack from Primark. Planning to see some London-based friends after months apart, and to experience Notting Hill Carnival for the first time, I’d booked my return flight for 4 days later.
I found myself scrolling on Twitter one evening while lying in my makeshift bed at the top of my friend’s stairs, when I saw a call out for copywriters. “I could do that,” I thought. But could I? Could I move my life from my childhood bedroom to a new city where the only connections I had were the friends who rushed to the Capital post-university? 23-year-old Sara, in an act of bravery that feels foreign now, decided she could. So I did. I rang my mum and told her I would not be taking that flight back, I was interviewing for a job, and if I got it, I’d see her when I came home to pack up all my worldly belongings. I lived on an air mattress at the top of my friend’s stairs until I found a flat I could call home.
The highs and lows of London
Over the past few years, I’ve experienced the exhilarating highs that the city has to offer – after work press events! With free cocktails and goodie bags and a flock of C List celebrities! Bottomless brunches, walks by the Thames on a crisp Autumn morning, gearing myself up for a first date that would inevitably become fodder for a gossiping session. I’ve also felt the crushing lows; the worry about how I was going to pay my rent when I was made redundant at the start of the pandemic, the homesickness that comes with having your family a plane ride away. But none of this compares to the one, insidious feeling that has grown roots and taken hold of me, almost cyclically every year or so; an immense sense of disconnect and loneliness.
I feel the need to caveat this topic (probably for my own pride, to be honest) with the following statement: I have a lot of friends here. I’ve carried over and sustained beautiful friendships from previous places, I’ve cultivated new ones with ex-colleagues, current colleagues, housemates and friends of friends. I’ve rekindled an old romance (spoiler: it was a mistake) and started new ones (most of which were also questionable).
I have a community here, and I’m so grateful for that, but when I came to the city, I was in my early twenties. My friends and I were out every Saturday night, chasing the buzz of a fully-packed bar, and sleeping over at each other’s houses so we could order a McDonald’s breakfast and debrief in the morning. Now, I’m quickly approaching 27 (which I am aware is not ~ old ~ by any stretch of the imagination) – and things are different.
I saw a TikTok recently that really resonated with me, and it succinctly described the way I’m feeling:
Most of my friends are in long-term relationships; living with their partner, or planning to. It’s a well-established fact that when you’re approaching your thirties as a single person, your social calendar becomes less and less full. Relationships take up space; there are niece’s christenings to go to, family dinners to be had, weekends away to be enjoyed and 2x the friend’s birthdays to be celebrated. I don’t resent that fact, and I’m sure I’d be doing the exact same if I wasn’t single. But when you’re not in a relationship, that shift in the rhythm of your social life can floor you.
In writing this, I’d like it to be known that I am well aware that I have not been ‘left on the shelf,’ or ‘missed the boat.’ I’m 26 for god’s sake, and besides that, those are both patriarchal labels that shame a woman for being by herself, but don’t apply to men. This isn’t a piece about yearning for a relationship or hating being single – it’s about the feeling of in-between. When your friends’ lives have shifted and yours hasn’t.
Dating in London has always been a shit show
Let’s not beat around the bush here, dating in London has always been a shit show, but thanks to the pandemic, it’s become a bin fire. People are touch-starved; which means half of us are going on dates with people we know we won’t click with just to feel something, and the other half are hooking up with their exes. There are some of us who used lockdown to really, truly, think about what we wanted in a partner (and are now not willing to waste our time on Jack from Hinge who could have potential if we only looked past that sexist joke) and others who are planning a date every Friday. Neither approach is right or wrong, my point is simply that it’s probably one of the most difficult times to cultivate a healthy, aligned relationship.
So, where does that leave us singletons? I spoke to a friend from home on the phone recently, who is in a similar situation to me: plenty of great mates, various hobbies, and a good sense of self. We spoke for an hour, and the main takeaways from our conversations were as follows:
- We don’t begrudge our friends for enjoying romantic relationships – they deserve to feel loved
- It is a difficult fact to accept that at the transitional stage of life we’re at, the friends you had solid plans with every weekend are now booked up months in advance
- It’s a literal human need to feel connection
- It’s not desperate to seek love, connection, and company
- Being no one’s priority (but your own) can really, really hurt
- Being single can feel exhilarating, like freedom, like opportunity, and also really fucking lonely
It was comforting to realise that someone else felt the same way as I did. Don’t get me wrong, I still regularly see my friends, even if it’s for a midweek catch up as opposed to a weekend-long hang out. I still feel their love and I know I can call them in a crisis, but at the same time, I’ve got to learn how to love my own company. I’m doing that slowly, by taking myself out for a coffee or a wine, or spending Saturday perusing my favourite book shop. Sometimes it feels great, sometimes I wish I was 6 mimosas deep surrounded by my army of people.
In my usual articles, I’d end on a learning or a positive spin, but in the thick of this feeling, I don’t have one. I just want you to know that if you feel similarly – you’re not alone. You can be an incredible friend, the hottest bitch around, a force to be reckoned with, and still feel a bit lonely. From experience, it’ll ebb and flow. Ride it out, and you’ll come out the other side, I promise.
Oh, and coupled-up readers – check in on your single friends, won’t you? It’s been a wild couple of years.