What I’ve learnt from writing The Single Supplement and a decade of flying solo

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On my 35th birthday, I hit send on my very first newsletter. I called The Single Supplement a birthday present to myself. In that moment, I had no idea it would end up being the best present I ever gifted myself. 

The newsletter on Substack began with the line: “It’s my 35th birthday today and I have woken up alone.” I went on to say that I knew some people might pity me but that all I was feeling was relief not to have to worry about someone else on top of everything else I had going on. I explained that it hadn’t always been the case. When I turned 31, I had a complete meltdown about being single and waking up alone. 

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I wanted content that didn’t assume I was miserable or desperate

In the four years that had passed, I had become so much more secure in my relationship status and felt the time was right to shift the conversation. I was sick of the lack of quality content out there for independent women. 

All the magazine and newspaper articles I was seeing simply didn’t reflect my life. I wanted to read and shine a light on content that didn’t patronise me or assume I was miserable or desperate. I also wanted to create a space free from dating chat where single women could just be.

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During the pandemic, I welcomed single men into the community

This was in October 2019. Since then the newsletter has taken off. I started with a couple of hundred subscribers. Most of them were people I knew. Now I have thousands from all over the world and from all walks of life. 

It’s been featured in the national and international press and I’ve even won a Curated Newsletter Fest award for best niche newsletter. During the pandemic, I also decided to welcome men into the community after noticing a number had signed up organically and that they also needed support.

I’ve now written thousands of words about being single. I’ve spoken to everyone from the freshly single and broken-hearted to an elderly widow determined to make the most of her final years and everyone in between. I’ve also spoken to people in relationships – the ones who want to understand their single friends better; even the ones who would very much like to be single again and just need to pluck up the courage to leave. 

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At first, there were topics I wouldn’t dare write about

The newsletter has also changed my life on a more personal level. Although I did feel secure enough to launch it, I still felt the sting of shame and stigma. At first, there were topics I wouldn’t dare write about, including how long I’ve been single (nearly 10 years) and whether I wanted to be a mum (yes), which now I feel comfortable discussing. Writing the newsletter has helped me come to terms with the things I do want, as well as the things I find tricky. 

My perspective has also shifted through the interviews and guest pieces I’ve published. In 2020, Genevieve Roberts – author of Going Solo about conceiving as a single parent –  said she thought your mid 30s was the worst age to be single because there is so much societal pressure to hit certain milestones. 

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In your 30s, there’s this intense pressure – which then releases

When you hit 35, female fertility supposedly drops off a cliff at the exact same time as broodiness is at an all-time high for those who want children. This is also coupled with most of your friends getting married and having babies of their own, putting your circumstances into sharp contrast. 

This really validated how I was feeling at the time. She told me that things get easier and three years on, I agree with her even though I’m still in the same situation. 

“I feel like there is this whole thing in your 30s where there is this very intense pressure – and then it just releases,” she told me. “As people get older, they really appreciate that thinking about goals in a linear way is quite constraining and there’s more to life. People are going to make different choices and those are just as valid. There are so many ways to have a fulfilling life. People also realise that racing to do things isn’t always the best way either.”

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We’ve written about the joy of your bed and cooking for yourself

My contributors also reminded me of the sheer joy you can experience when being single. Solo mother and journalist, Emily Morris, wrote about loving her bed. She advised readers: “Tonight, savour your bedtime. Slather on face cream, slip into the sheets, spread out, sink down, snore, bask, wank, eat, read – do whatever the hell you like in your dreamy realm. It’s yours, all yours. And yours alone. Lucky you.” 

Meanwhile, writer Hannah Davies enthused about the joy of cooking for one and how an unthinking comment from a friend (who wondered why she would go to the bother of planning a three-course meal and deliberating over wine pairings when it was just for her) stuck with her. She wrote: “I enjoy cooking for friends and family, watching the pleasure my food gives them. What hurts is that my friend assumes I wouldn’t – shouldn’t? – show that same affection towards myself.”

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My solo trip to Morocco reminded me of what I’m capable of

Of course, solo travel has also come up in conversations with my audience. I wrote about why going to Morocco for a month on my own remains one of my greatest life achievements after friends, family, and even strangers, tried to put me off and said it would be unsafe. 

Their naysaying just made me more determined and, as all solo adventurers know, I wasn’t alone for very long. In fact, I spent my month in Morocco surrounded by amazing people who moved me and made me laugh until I cried.

In the newsletter, I wrote: “Whenever I think about my adventure in Morocco, my heart swells. It meant so much to me because I’d spent my mid-late 20s living abroad and travelling. This trip to Morocco made me feel like myself again and it reminded me of what I am capable of.”

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My inbox is now full of single people sharing their secrets

Alongside the newsletter, I run a very busy Facebook group with more than 2,000 members. Many of them organise meet ups in their local areas, too. Nothing makes me happier when readers share pictures from meetings or talk about their genuine friendships that have blossomed. Thanks to the newsletter, my social media and email inboxes are now filled with messages from other single people who tell me everything, from the annoying thing a colleague said to them to their deepest darkest secrets. I have truly found my tribe. 

One reader perfectly expressed why being vulnerable and honest is such a powerful thing: “I just wanted to let you know that your newsletter makes me feel heard, understood and not alone. Sometimes I feel like you’ve reached into my head and articulated exactly what I’m feeling – it’s extraordinary.” In turn, by sharing their own stories with me, my readers have also made me feel heard, understood and not alone. I can’t think of a better gift.

Signed up to The Single Supplement? Next, join solo travellers in their 30s and 40s on a group adventure with Flash Pack

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

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