A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: How to make the most of being single

I am currently single but whilst I would really like to be in a committed relationship eventually, I also want to enjoy and make the most of being single. I feel a lot of pressure with friends all getting engaged or married and my family are starting to make comments about finding someone.
Jill Goldson shares her advice on how to deal with being single. Photo / Thinkstock
Jill Goldson shares her advice on how to deal with being single. Photo / Thinkstock

There is no doubt that pressure and views from others about how we live our lives will impact our feelings and perceptions about ourselves.

Your letter suggests that you are perhaps in your twenties or thirties - the very decade in which women in particular come under the most pressure about their social status.

Mainstream and social media reinforce these images with a high focus on finding partners. Singles are under the glare with endless relationship status updates and Facebook chatter. And our obsession with what is happening to the love lives of celebrities shows no sign of abating.

An upsetting and recent breakup is about working through grief, and is a related but different topic. But regardless of how we got to the position of being single, there is no doubt that the attitudes of family and friends - and of society itself - can make our lives stressful by creating doubt and anxiety.

Even though marriage itself has begun to decline in the western world, attitudes to being alone have changed very little over the past 30 years. There is still a pervasive mind-set that if you don't find a mate - especially by the time you are in your 30's - then there must be something wrong with you. Research from the University of Santa Barbara describes the current phenomenon of "Marimania", a cultural obsession with weddings.

The focus on dresses, bridesmaids, hen nights, stag nights locations, receptions, and themes can add to the feelings of the single person that they are somehow out of step.

Read more:
How to be alone, not lonely
The pros and cons of playing matchmaker

You mention wanting to 'make the most of being single' which is a healthy and positive way to celebrate your life. What's more, your balanced attitude puts you in a prime position to contradict the view that being single is about a loss and vulnerability - a view which needs to be changed as soon as possible.

Whether you are female or male, there are many reasons to enjoy a single status and to discard the myth of being a fifth wheel with friends, or a worry to family. The research is clear about the advantages of being single. Singles tend to be fitter, achieve more in their careers, manage money better and have more rest, better sex, more friends and less depression. Of course a balanced perspective allows the fact that the research is positive also about the psychological benefits to the individual of healthy and committed partnerships over the lifespan.

It goes without saying that being in a destructive relationship does not have good outcomes, any more than being lonely as an unwilling single person. Making changes is an option open to anyone who is not coping with their life situation.

The short answer to your question is that you should continue to make the most of being single and enjoy your "me" time and the opportunities to focus positively on yourself and those you love.

Those in partnerships do not own "belonging". Belonging is fired by our connectedness with one another, so your single relationship status allows you connectedness and belonging in abundance. A valuable aspect of your current single situation is that you are in a prime position to recognise social pressure for what it is, rather than accept it as background noise.

Being single can liberating if you make the most of it. Photo / Thinkstock

We all want to avoid "shame", a universal trait. In our culture this can create a yielding to pressures to conform, in this case to conform to the idea that being different, by being single, is an unenviable state and one to be altered.

Thankfully social change throughout the decades has brought about greater awareness and analysis of social pressure. Much discrimination of past decades around sexuality, class, and race, as well as general assumptions about how to be, has been challenged. But many traditional assumptions are still alive and well, and the messages are in our faces every day.

Understanding that you do not need to be defined by these views is giving you an opportunity to be you and to liberate yourself and to live your life to the full.

This opportunity is one which allows you to shrug off the straitjackets of other people's views, and to understand the nature of conformity and how important it is to keep this coercion at arm's length.

Achieving this will bring about the resilience needed to become everything you can be, regardless of relationship status, and to continue to belong, whilst living life to the full with all your uniqueness and creativity unhampered.

As the well-known quote by Baruch puts it: "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter , and those who matter don't mind".

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A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be. • Jill Goldson is a Family Dispute Resolution mediator and counsellor, and Director of The Family Matters Centre in Auckland.

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