Being The Only Single One In My Friendship Group Can Be Difficult – But Liberating

"In the time I’ve been single, my life has completely changed. In fact, it’s unrecognisable."

Group Chat is a weekly series where HuffPost UK writers discuss friendship, diary dilemmas and how to reclaim our social lives in a busy world.

This month I’ve been rewatching Sex and the City. I’ve just got to the episode where Carrie turns 35 and is unintentionally stood up by all her friends in a restaurant. Later, she talks about how the experience made her realise how alone she really is – in that scene, her best friends nod along and cry with her.

My own 35th birthday is fast approaching and, like Carrie, I will probably wake up alone that morning. This is not me being pessimistic, I just couldn’t be more single if I tried.

Most of the time – because I’m independent, have a good social life and am also really busy – I’m fine about this. Every now and then, however, I have a wobble like Carrie did in that scene. You see, no one in my friendship group is single. We’re not “in it together”, like the women on screen. Two of them are married, one lives with her boyfriend and the other is in a serious relationship.

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I absolutely love my friends, but the hard truth is this: it’s becoming increasingly hard to be the only single one among the group. Given I have mixed feelings about marriage (and the idea of sharing a bed with someone for the rest of my life gives me heart palpitations), it annoys me to say that in the last year, there has been this creeping sense of dread that I’ve been left on the shelf.

The feeling sits like a weight on my chest and occasionally bubbles over – like the morning I got a text from one friend to say she was engaged. I cried ugly tears in the shower and, as I dried myself off, felt deep shame that I had reacted that way. I’ve never cried with sadness after hearing anyone’s happy news before. I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t want to be jealous. I don’t want to be thinking ‘Why not me?’. Yet somehow, there I was, being that person.

Being the only single one in the group felt particularly relevant recently, when I told another single friend how anxious I was feeling about an upcoming mini-break with that friendship group. I worried the conversation would inevitably revolve around their relationships, one that is difficult for me to contribute to.

After listening to my concerns – and also, my guilt for even thinking these things – my friend’s advice was simple, yet harsh: “Remove yourself from the situation and stop hanging out with them so much.” I laughed off her suggestion, but a part of me could see her point. Because when I surround myself with people who are in similar positions in life, I relax.

My relationships with these women are among the most important in my life, and I would drop anything and everything if they needed me. But sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly anxious, I worry the same wouldn’t be the case if something happened to me. Not because my friends are horrible people – they are quite the opposite – but simply because the older you get, the more responsibilities you have. With babies inevitably on their way, it won’t be possible for them to drop everything even if they wanted to.

The knowledge that I am nobody’s ultimate priority is sometimes crushing – but it can also feel liberating. This realisation came to a head recently when I was asked to share advice for someone’s daughter, who is in her late 20s, and the only single person in her group of friends.

I hesitated. Why would this girl want to hear from me, given I am still single in my mid 30s? I imagined how I felt in my late 20s and knew I would’ve been gutted to learn my relationship status was still the same six years on.

But after thinking about it, I realised I had a lot to say. In the time I’ve been single, my life has completely changed. In fact, it’s unrecognisable. I moved countries. I changed careers – making my dream of being a national news reporter come true – having been awarded a prestigious bursary to go to the country’s best journalism school. I spent two months in Berlin doing a journalism fellowship.

And, to the detriment of my bank balance, I have also prioritised having fun. I’ve had countless spontaneous nights out and travelled around Morocco for a month by myself.

Some of the absolute best times of my life have happened while I’ve been single. So I told the woman to tell her daughter exactly that; that I would never take this time back, that I’m so grateful for everything I have learned, and that she should use this time to focus on herself and be selfish.

Later I took my friend’s other – and much less brutal – advice, and confided in a friend of the group about how I was feeling about our trip away. Far from judging me or taking offence, she understood where I was coming from. And the relief was instant.

Sure, sometimes it’s hard, but I’d never change my girls – and their lovely partners – for the world. And maybe one day, I’ll be able to join them in moaning about my own partner and how women are still, even in 2019, lumbered with all the bloody housework.