Ah, singledom. It's a strange place to be. Of course, when you're 19, 21 or even 26, there's nothing better than being all footloose and fancy free (as my aunt would put it). You want to be out with your friends every night and you want to be meeting dark, handsome strangers who whisk you off for fleeting affairs... Because when you're younger, life is all about your mates, building a career, being independent and having 'fun'. The thought of settling down and having babies seems so alien. "It's something you do when you're old," a certain teen boyband member recently told me during an interview. "Like when you're 30".
He had a point (despite his slightly misguided view on what's 'old'). When you're an excitable teen just out of college or university and dying to make your mark on the world, you have this dreamy idea that when you've made your millions, snogged loads of fitties and bought a house, you will magically find the boy (or girl) of your dreams and settle down in a whirlwind of rose petals and confetti. You imagine how it'll all just come together - and more importantly - you presume that at around 30, you'll be ready for it.
But then reality strikes and you find that suddenly, YOU are on that downward slope to 30 - and shock, horror - you're still single (and maybe not even that bothered about marriage and babies). All around you, your pals are celebrating 30th birthdays, engagements and wedding days. Some have even welcomed little babas into the world. It's all very cute and of course you're unbelievably happy for them. But you're so far off that world. It can leave you feeling like a bit of a failure. Why haven't you got that life yet? Why do you not want that life yet?
Here's something that happens far too often. You go to a friend's wedding. You're armed with a smile and a beady eye (both perfected for the Best Man and ushers). But instead you find yourself on a table with all the coupled off pals. "Who are you with then?" they ask. "Oh I'm here on my own," you reply, fully aware of the pity tilt of the head that is coming your way. And sure enough, there it is. "Oh, well maybe you'll find someone here tonight?" they suggest 'helpfully'. 'Oh thanks, yeah I never thought of that,' you think to yourself, still smiling of course.
But why does being single in your late twenties, early thirties (and perhaps older than that) seem like such a life failure? What if you're actually - shock, horror - happy being single at (almost) 30?
Recently someone told one of my single buddies that if she had found herself still single at 30, she'd be forced to find herself a man who already had kids. Clearly, she thought being single so 'late' in life is a call for desperate measures what with the ol' body clock ticking away and all that. But come on, being 30 is hardly over the hill is it? And there's no rush to be having kids. What's the point in panicking?
For me singledom (at my age!) has actually been quite the eye opener. As a teen (and early 20-something), I was in and out of long-term relationships. To be precise, three long-term relationships. They were great while they lasted but hey, it didn't work out. And since the last one ended just over 18 months ago, I've discovered there's a whole new side to life when you're single.
Firstly, I've learnt how to properly take care of myself. Gone are the days where I couldn't fix a leak in the bathroom or change a tyre on the car. When you're a girl on your own, you learn this stuff. A few hours of your time getting to grips with the basics is much preferable to facing plumbing charges or having to wait for the AA on a busy London road. You just do it.
Secondly, I save at least £30 on my fortnightly shop because I don't have to buy so much meat! (Why do boys like meat so much? I mean, I like a steak as much as the next person, but do you really need meat in every meal?). The result - more space for wine, cider, cheese and fruit. Brilliant!
Thirdly, I've made some lovely new friends through the simple gift of time. Before, I'd be running home to get the dinner started or spending Saturday lunch times in Ikea. Now, I can stay in the pub for as long as I like without worrying about starting a row and on Saturdays I can grab brunch/watch the footie/shop with my friends - sometimes, we even go for a manicure. In fact, some of my now closest friends are people I've got to know in the last year - and I wouldn't change our hungover sofa sessions for the world.
I've completely redecorated my flat. If my ex were to walk back in now, he wouldn't know what had hit it - it almost looks like a grown up's apartment. And that's all down to my new-found abilities with some paint, a hammer and some nails. It's a wonder!
I'll happily eat and holiday alone - pretty much rock up to any bar in the world and stay there for hours. But that's okay - in fact, most of the time the owner ends up being my NBF before the week is out.
I've even done the craziest thing ever and left a secure job at a magazine to go freelance. It turns out, it was a brilliant decision! But if I was still in a relationship, I would have been far more dubious about taking that financial risk. Having someone else to worry about would have definitely swayed me away from making the leap.
This is not to say being single hasn't had its moments. Of course there are times when you miss the cuddling up on the sofa to watch a film, or the on-running debate of who should have got voted out of The X Factor. Even just having someone to spoil rotten is nice.
But all in all, the last 18 months have been the best life lesson I've ever had. It's not that you can't do all these things when you're in a couple. It's just, more often than not, you don't want to because you're pretty content with how things are. People even stay in relationships because they feel they should - not because they're madly in love and really want to. If it's not right, then why settle? You could find the most amazing person if you're strong enough to wait.
Being able to dedicate so much time to improving a work situation, to seeing old friends, making loads of new friends, not worrying about time and just seeing the world through my own eyes and not through someone else's for once, has been the best experience ever for me.
And you know what the most exciting part is? That if we want it, we still have that whole 'finding someone you adore' thing to come. At some point, we will meet that person we want to spend every waking moment with; that we want to travel with; that we want to snog the face off... and we have all of that to look forward to.
Follow Karen Edwards on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KarenNEdwards