Book Review: The Unexpected Joy of Being Single by Catherine Gray

Yep, we’re going to talk about being single!

Society tends to view single people with a furrow of the brow, a pang of pity, and a ‘There, there, you’ll meet someone soon’ *pats hand*.

Opening line, The Unexpected Joy of Being Single, Catherine Gray
  • Published January 15th 2019 by Aster
  • Author: Catherine Gray
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre(s): Non-fiction, Self-help
  • Pages: 272
  • Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My review

You might know Catherine Gray from her other book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, which I haven’t read. But in the same way that that book was for people who did drink and decided to go sober, this book is for people who have been in multiple relationships and then decide instead to remain single. To illustrate this, Catherine refers to herself from the get-go as a ‘love addict’. Which means that when she found herself single, she’d jump straight back into dating, as if she couldn’t possibly go through life without always having someone.

The reason I picked this book up, then, is not because I’m a love addict, but because I’m already the opposite of that. I wanted to read this book simply because FINALLY, a book is addressing singledom head on. It’s very rare that I come across books without love stories or romantic plots, even when they aren’t in the romantic fiction genre. This makes it seem as though the most important thing in life is finding someone and falling in love, as if that’s what we’re here for. When really, being in a relationship is just one path of many that someone can take.

This book is primarily aimed at women/female people, but it does try to be as gender neutral as possible when discussing relationships, so that it’s accessible to single people as a whole. But Catherine also breaks down the different views that society has between single men and single women, and it’s ridiculous. There’s almost a screen blocking these views from actual common sense and reason. To some extent we’ve probably all done it. When I used to tell people about being single, it would be with a huff and a general air of ‘yeah, my life is awful because of this’, whilst simultaneously knowing that I’m fine being single. But for the purpose of society, I’d unconsciously treat my singledom as some kind of burden, as if holding up a placard that read ‘Hey everyone, just to let you know, nobody wants me!’ Because that’s the view society takes, and what it expects to hear from single people. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. My being single is a choice, and this book celebrates that in a way I’ve never encountered before.

“I bet you have somebody you could go out with right now, but you just don’t want to. You could hop online and stack up a queue of dates, but you just don’t want to. You could get back with that ex, but you just don’t want to.”

Chapter ’26 Ways to Source Single Joy’, page 89.

The last time I decided to stop being single was literally as easy as knowing someone in my life who I knew would say yes to being together. They were a guaranteed, but I’d wanted to remain single. And the moment I decided not to be single? Boom. In a relationship. Of course, I went into panic mode because the biggest reason I stay single is because I don’t like commitment. I love my freedom. Although I had someone, I felt trapped. I was with them for the wrong reasons, because although we wanted some of the same things, they wanted it within the context of a committed relationship. And for me, it’s not worth the hassle.

The answer’s ‘Yes’ by the way.

I came up with a metaphor for how I view what I want in life, relationship-wise: it’s like my work life, I have a ‘proper’ employed job and I have various freelance jobs. In my freelance life, if I take on one client, it doesn’t mean that I have to say no to another. I can see one client one day, and another the next, and I always have that freedom to take on more work. Whereas if I just had one 9-5 job, I’d be 100% committed to that, with no room for anything else. In terms of relationships then, I like to be strictly freelance.

“What is being single, really? It’s freedom, space, financial independence, emotional autonomy, mastery of all the tasks, sourcing love and romance in your friends and family. Being single for an extended period gives you a set of skills that make you feel slightly invincible, so to ever put those down just because you have a ring is madness.”

Chapter, ‘My Single Mission Concludes’, page 253

This book talks a lot of sense. Catherine includes snippets from a ‘dating diary’ she kept, and tells us what she’s learnt from choosing to be single for a year after having a bunch of relationships and dates that still lead to her ending up single again. She debunks the myths about single people, and highlights just how outdated many of the views about single people are. The stats back this up, too. She weighs up the pros and cons of being married vs being single, but asserts throughout that this shouldn’t lead to an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality. I do admit though that this book changed me from being slightly envious of people in couples, to being absolutely relieved not to be one of them.

None of this is to say that I couldn’t relate to the parts of the book about the dating/liking someone process. There is one absolute truth that crops up multiple times in this book, which I cannot fault in its accuracy:

  • “Women are most attracted to men who are ‘uncertain’ about them.”
  • “…our brain’s reward system lights up like a Christmas tree when somebody unreliable contacts us. And is slightly bored whenever somebody stable and reliable contacts us.”
  • “the only desirable partners are those who need chasing (…) approval being a movable target that we can never quite reach.”

I will always go for the guy who takes roughly four months to reply to texts, or the guy who’s into me but is never available to meet up. It means playing the long game, sometimes for zero gain, sometimes not. But the guy who I could text right now and be with instantly? Nah, you’re alright.

Also, I’m super guilty of this next one, when I read it I felt exposed:

If you’re single, read this. If you’re in a relationship, read this. Views about singledom need to change, and this book is revelationary as well as possibly revolutionary.

Link to the book on Goodreads: The Unexpected Joy of Being Single

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