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In conversation with Vicky Spratt: 'Our relationship status shouldn't define us'
A few months ago I had a really interesting chat with a journalist whose work I have long admired. It was such a long conversation that it’s taken me a long time to get round to transcribing and writing up but I’m excited to finally share the wisdom of Vicky Spratt with you all. Vicky is a journalist, documentary maker and housing rights campaigner. Her 2016 campaign Make Renting Fair succeeded in getting letting fees for tenants in England banned. She is currently the i Paper's Housing Correspondent and an editor at Refinery29. Her book, Tenants will be published by Profile in 2022 (and available for pre-order now).
Vicky has written about issues affecting single women plenty of times herself and has always given me lots of food for thought. For Refinery29, she has covered the real reason women aren’t having children until later on or at all, whether egg freezing is worth it, starting again financially after a breakup, how economic abuse makes it difficult for women to leave relationships, the threat posed by incels and how she felt when everyone kept asking if she was OK when her little sister got engaged.
She also asked some big questions such as what the point of marriage is in 2021, how women can be with men, and how being single has been rebranded. She also regularly covers issues that affect single women in her housing work such as this piece on single mothers being moved hundreds of miles away from their homes and this piece on the gender housing gap (which hugely impacts single women). In her work at Refinery29, she’s responsible for commissioning me to write this piece, which I know is how a lot of you found this newsletter.
I was particularly keen to talk to Vicky about her experience of becoming single after a long-term serious relationship and about her experience of being queer. We had a great chat covering everything from leaning into her true self since her big break-up to what she learned during the period when she was single and living alone and why she hopes the term ‘coming out’ will one day be retired.
Vicky, who favours the term queer over bisexual or pansexual, says she always knew she was but that it was following the breakup of her relationship that she began to lean more into that side of her. “It's probably in the last two and a half years, following the break up of a longtime relationship with a straight man who I was building a life with, that I have really found myself. It was not necessarily by design, it was just how it worked out. I just found myself mainly dating people who were not straight cis-men.”
“I always knew though and had had relationships with women when I was younger but I suppose now it’s just something that I’m leaning into more,” she says, adding that she doesn’t like the term ‘coming out’ and there are several problems with it.
She says: “I think it can be very limiting. It implies you've been in the closet. The idea of coming out and the metaphor of the closet are inherently linked and I think they reinforce one another but I’m not sure I'm not sure that you ever can truly come out right like regardless of your sexuality or your gender. As a person, you're constantly evolving. How I saw my life when I was 18 isn’t how I see my life now and how I see my life now might not be how I see it when I’m 40.”
I love this way of putting it and I think she is so right about how we evolve as people over time. Sometimes when we have known people our whole lives, we can put them in a box and say ‘they are like this’ and and ‘they are into this’ and it can be difficult when that person has changed to let them get out of the box and really see them for who they are now – not who they were 20 years ago.
Although it wasn’t to do with my sexuality, I’ve experienced this and I’m sure many of you reading this have too. Let’s face it, there are so many little labels we put on ourselves or that other people put on us and they can be hard to shake off. One example that springs to mind is when my inspiring friend Jo decided to give up alcohol for good. The box she and others had put her in was ‘party animal’ and some people had a hard time reconciling the new Jo with their idea of who she was. Of course, there are reasons why labels can be good. It can help us find ‘our tribe’ and give us confidence to be who we really are because some labels can help others understand us (Jo, for example, now uses the moniker Sober Jo – and as a side note, I do recommend following her if you are sober curious!)
Vicky is hopeful, however, that we can retire the idea of people having to “come out” about their sexuality and I can certainly see how that would benefit everyone because maybe then we would all have less anxiety about following our desires and getting out of our comfort zone, without having to put a label on it. She says: “I’ve never come out and I’ve also never not come out. That is something I hope we can move away from because I think it can put a lot of pressure on people to say, ‘Hey, this is me. This is what I like, this is who I'm into’ and what if you change your mind or what if you meet someone and fall in love?”
Vicky is now seeing someone who is non-binary, which has been a new experience for her and has made her think even more about the labels we put on ourselves and others. “I don’t know what that makes me but I also don’t think it matters,” she says. “I’m attracted to this person who was assigned female at birth and who is non-binary but I don’t look at this person in terms of acronyms. We get on really well. There is chemistry so maybe it doesn’t matter what it makes me as long as they are able to live life as they are.”
She says that it was being single and living alone that gave her to space to find her true self and lean into her queerness. “I was in a very long-term relationship with straight man and everyone kept asking us when we were going to have kids, and having made that commitment to be with him, I suppose there wasn’t any space to think about whether it was what I wanted. I live alone now and so that gave me the space and quiet to actually think about what I want moving forward.”
Time on her own was also healing after the end of her relationship, which was a huge upheaval and is not talked about enough, she says. “Being single gave me the space to do the grieving that occurs when something very long-term breaks down. We were basically married, we’d been together so long, we owned property together and our lives were completely meshed. I had to grieve that loss and work out how to re-configure my life.”
Last year she wrote a long-read about single positivity and the re-branding of being single. It was a really interesting article and it really challenged me and my own thinking particularly when it comes to what she said about identity. To me, who has been single for eight years, it does feel like a huge part of my identity but I also appreciated what Vicky says about how limiting it can be to put ourselves or others into boxes. She was inspired to write the article after finding some parts of coming out of a long-term relationship challenging, particularly in how others viewed her now she was suddenly a single woman.
She says: “People were like ‘We can be single friends now’ but I'm still the same person I was before the break up. I still like the same stuff. I felt like ‘Why do you need to put me in a single box? Have I changed overnight? Was I not still fun when I was in a long-term committed relationship?’ If anything, I had more headspace to be a better friend because I wasn't going through a huge trauma which is what a breakup of that magnitude is. My life didn’t suddenly look like an episode of Sex and the City.”
Having been single for as long as I have, I related to this. I often wonder when I’m going to turn into Carrie Bradshaw – and I think, especially when I lived in London, people probably assumed I was the single girl about town going on dates all the time and it all being incredibly glamourous. That really wasn’t my life – but that also didn’t mean my life was not worthwhile. For the most part, I was fine. There were ups and downs just like there are when people are in relationships but it was the misconceptions about single life that I found most frustrating. I think that’s why this line of Vicky’s article really stood out to me:
What if we – single women – were okay all along and we’re only just finding ways to articulate that, to figure out how we want to be in the world and ask for society to put systems in place to facilitate it?
She expanded on what she meant by this in our chat: “I just think we're so uncomfortable with accepting women on their own terms. Our relationship status becomes a defining feature of our character. That is wild when you think about it. How can it be? There are a million ways to be a person in a relationship and a person not in a relationship yet the culture of singledom, which has been invented by brands, persists and it’s just to sell us things we don’t need and profits from our insecurities by selling us those ideas and those experiences and those drinks and those clothes.”
“I just found that like transition from ‘oh, you're a person I understand as having a partner’ to ‘you’re a person who is single’ kind of wild, particularly among extended friends who I didn't really know that well. I was just in the weeds of it, trying to figure out what to do with our joint bank account and it was jarring to have all these people asking how I felt about being single. Even though I had a life partner and the security that comes with it, I didn’t feel like he was a defining feature of my life and now I don’t feel not having that long-term relationship a defining feature either.”
That’s not to say it’s always been easy to be on her own for the first time in a long time. “There are obviously moments when I do sit in my flat and I feel I have no-one to call on if something goes really wrong. In reality, I have plenty of people, my family and my amazing friends to call, but you do realise your vulnerability when you’re on your own. Of course though, you can be in a relationship and feel incredibly lonely and unsupported.”
She adds: “I just think our ideas about what is going on in other people's relationships – or lack of relationship – needs an overhaul.”
Amen to that! I would love to know what you think of what Vicky has said whether you agree or not. Do drop me an email on the topics covered today. And if you want to hear more from Vicky, I’ll be sharing more from the Q&A with paying subscribers of the newsletter later in the week so do sign up if you haven’t already.
Hope you enjoyed today’s offering. Sorry I didn’t get it out on Sunday. I won’t tell you how long this took me to do. I blame my leg injury for not being on top form.
Have a good week,
Things you should check out
After Coming Out As Non-Binary, I Found Strength In Being Single – Here’s the latest from R29’s The Single Files
The great turn-off: has Covid put single men off sex? – “We all suffered, dopamine plummeted, testosterone plummeted, sex is less important,” says the expert. Not surprised but think this applies to everyone not just single men.
I spent £10k to have kids solo – single mums make better parents, other women say they wish they had done what I did – Clickbait headline aside, this is worth a read if you’re considering solo motherhood. (For those of us who don’t have a spare 10k lying around the line about it being a choice over a car or foreign holiday may grate.)
Spain expands IVF provision to cover single women and LGBTQ+ community – Good news from Spain.
Liv Bentley Feeling Like The Last Single Friend Is All Of Us – I don’t watch Made in Chelsea but this caught my eye and Natasha makes an excellent point about how being the only single one in a group of friends can feel both “isolating and infantilising.”
Enough Already. Where The F*ck Do I Meet My Husband? – Shani Silver dismantles the concept that actively dating singles will eventually have “earned” a partner through their struggles.
Single woman in her 50s welcomes baby girl through IVF – Good for her. Just don’t go look at the comments on Facebook under this article!
The Great Accelerator: Why Are We Feeling So Much Pressure To Make Big Life Decisions? – This, which is actually by Vicky Spratt, isn’t about being single but more about life in general but I think a lot of you may relate.
When You Find the Best Friend You’ve Been Longing For – I enjoyed this conversation!
“I Found A Best Friend And Companion”: Malala’s Wedding In Her Own Words – This is about why Malala did get married after believing it wasn’t for her. I thought it was an interesting perspective to think about.
Thanks for all the messages and comments about last week’s newsletter. I’m so glad it resonated with so many. I’ll have to do more on the topic of asking and accepting help as it seems lots of people struggle with it.
My pal and friend of The Single Supp Tiffany Philippou has just revealed the cover of her debut memoir. Read more about it here and do pre-order if you have enjoyed her words, which I have shared in this space quite a lot!
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, where I spend most of my time!
For those who don’t know, I’m Nicola Slawson, a freelance journalist who lives in Shropshire, UK. If you particularly liked this edition, you can buy me a coffee, here’s the link to my Ko-Fi page. Follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
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