"How I rebuilt my confidence after divorce"
Jennifer Aniston recently gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal, in which she was asked once again about her single status.
“I didn’t like the idea of sacrificing who you were or what you needed […] so it was almost easier to just be kind of solo,” said the multi-award-winning, 54-year-old actor.
I couldn’t help but empathise. At the age of 55, I too have regularly had to explain why I’m single.
Last July, I was invited to a party where a man incredulously asked why I didn’t have a partner – as if something might be wrong with me. I responded by saying I simply haven’t met Mr Right. But really, I was thinking, I am complete with or without a mate – something that Aniston once wrote in an open letter for the Huffington Post.
It’s not that I necessarily want to be single, but after my last relationship ended three years ago, I am yet to meet a man who enhances my life.
The last date I went on was in September 2022, with a divorced father-of-one I met on a dating app. Four months in, we were calling one another boyfriend and girlfriend, and making plans to go on holiday together, when – out of the blue – he ghosted me, ceasing to reply to any attempt I made to contact him. But as exasperating as that experience was, I’m not jaded. I still very much want to go on dates and meet someone – just not online.
Last year, I quit dating apps for good and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I found them demeaning. I’d spend hours swiping potential dates to the left and right, depending on whether I liked what I saw. Then, when I did match with a man, it soon became obvious that all they were interested in was sex. Deleting the apps not only reduced the anxiety and stress I came to associate with texting, it gave me a sense of freedom, enabling me to focus on other aspects of my life.
This summer I spent five glorious weeks travelling around the US, Slovenia and Italy, visiting friends and family. And this month I’ll be joining a tennis club – something I’ve been wanting to do for ages, to both improve my game and make new acquaintances.
Katreen relishes the freedom that being single brings
Like Aniston, I feel no shame in being single. Although there might have been a time in my early 40s when I felt societal pressure to settle down and have kids, I no longer care what people think. With age comes confidence and I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin.
A colleague, married with children, once asked how I managed to look so much younger than him despite being five years older. I joked that my secret boiled down to being unwed and childfree. Maybe next time someone asks me why I’m single, I’ll explain that being solo is my fountain of youth, allowing me to eat what I like, rest when I like and be physically active on a daily basis. It’s what keeps me young.
Unlike my married friends, most of whom are mothers, I’m able to go away on a spa weekend at the drop of a hat or spend the day watching Netflix undisturbed in bed because I don’t have to run my plans by anyone.
Only sometimes do I wonder what it would be like to be in a healthy, long-term relationship, which doesn’t mean that I envy my friends – especially those who bicker with their spouses and can’t remember the last time they were intimate. In midlife, we should be reaping the fruits of our labour and all that we’ve achieved – not wallowing in resentment.
In 2021, Aniston posted a video clip to her Instagram account in which Eartha Kitt is asked by a journalist whether she would compromise if a man came into her life. The singer bursts out laughing and replies: “That’s stupid! A man comes into my life and I have to compromise? Why?” Aniston added laughing and red-faced emojis to her post implying that she’s also not the type to make concessions when it comes to love.
And neither am I – at least not anymore. I once moved in with a boyfriend who had a house in the country, miles away from my friends, and quit my job as an actress so that we could try for a baby, going through what would end up being two rounds of failed IVF. Suddenly, I was living the life of a suburban housewife and no longer recognised myself. Even my best friend mentioned that I had changed – and not for the better.
Now when I come home, it’s to an empty flat. I relish being on my own, taking the time to decompress, especially after a long day at work. I appreciate the peace and quiet.
So why can’t people accept that an unattached woman in her 50s can be happy? According to behavioural scientist Professor Paul Dolan, author of Happy Ever After, single people often find fulfilment in their freedom, despite the discrimination and “singlism” they often face at work and in society. He wrote in The Guardian: “There is some pretty robust evidence, that single people are more likely to foster social connections that bring them fulfilment, whereas married people often find themselves with less consciously-chosen social networks, such as a spouse’s family members […] so this might go a long way towards explaining why single people aren’t as miserable as many people would imagine them to be.”
Case in point: about a year ago, I met a woman at a party. We hit it off, chatted and danced together until the wee hours of the morning, and today I consider her to be one of my closest friends. Had I been there with my other half, or she with hers, I doubt we would have exchanged one word.
Deleting dating apps gave me a sense of freedom, enabling me to focus on other aspects of my life.
Recently, I had a conversation with my mother about how blessed her life is given that she is surrounded by loving children and grandchildren since the passing of her second husband, 11 years ago. Should I be lucky enough to live to be her age, I won’t have that.
And yes, sometimes it’s difficult to be the odd one out at social gatherings where everyone else is coupled up. But I try not to let it bring me down. Instead, I make sure I’m well dressed, with my hair and make-up done. I swear that what I’m wearing, and how attractive it makes me feel on the inside, changes the way I view and approach situations. I try to focus on what I do have, rather than what’s “missing”.
As I look to the future, I’m not daunted by the idea of being alone – because I won’t be. If I don’t one day meet an amazing man with whom I can enjoy the finer things in life, I’m comforted by the fact that I have many friends and family members always open to new adventures.
This October I’m heading back to Slovenia to meet up with my best friend from university for a week-long road trip. I cannot wait.
To anyone reading this who feels bereft at the lack of a special someone to make plans with, I’d invite you to look around and see who else is in the same position. There’s a world to explore and a high chance that someone you know would love to take that journey with you. What have you got to lose?
Written by Katreen Hardt
Katreen Hardt began her career as a freelance journalist after writing about her experience as Gwyneth Paltrow’s body double on the set of Great Expectations. Since then, she has become a regular contributor to a variety of publications. She specialises in real-life features focusing on women’s issues, from sex in midlife to harrowing journeys of triumph over tragedy, many of which are showcased in the Stories section of her website