Being single at 36


When I was young, I always wondered what it would be like to find “the one”. That, and of course, having kids of my own. I was a hopeless romantic: A dreamer who idealised the notion of soulmates who are meant for one another. You know, The Notebook kind of eternal love. I wanted to find my Noah.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be single, child-less and in my thirties, but here I am. And let me tell you, I’m having the best time of my life. Which begs the question: When did my desire for a traditional happily-ever-after dream get flung out of the window?


What I thought my life in my 30s would be like


being single in my 30s
Me as a young, hopeful child. And a letter to Straits Times Life! Mailbag on 25 Nov 2006. *I changed my name in 2010.
Image credit: Vanessa Mostafa

I’d always longed for love for as long as I can remember. It didn’t matter that I never knew love or what a happy relationship looked like up close as my parents separated when I was just a baby. I knew that one day I’d have it. My heart ached for it so bad, that I even named my future children at the age of 18.

I loved movies such as Ghost and Pride and Prejudice. And like the ladies of the Jane Austen novel, I imagined one day, bumping into my “Mr Darcy”…

I saw myself meeting the love of my life, maybe somewhere quaint like a library or a cafe, just like that scene in Taylor Swift’s Begin Again music video. Perhaps we’d date for some years, unrushed, before finally tying the knot in an intimate wedding in a secret garden surrounded by family and friends.


What it actually was like in my 30s


I recently turned 36 a few months ago. Twice the age of when I first came up with the names of my future children. Yes. I am still single. Never been in love. And of course, without kids. There are many reasons however, as to why I ended up still single in my 30s. Some by choice, while others by circumstances.


Helicopter mum & lack of socialisation


My mum was a helicopter tiger mum who overprotected me to the point of me not having a social life with people my age. Unlike many teenagers and young adults who had the luxury of hanging out with friends through social meet-ups after school, simple meal get-togethers such, or staycations; much of my teenage years right through to my mid-twenties consisted of merely school and home. 

Socialising was unheard of, let alone a partner in life. Heaven forbid I should go on a date or bring a boyfriend home at that age.

I never understood my mum’s rationality other than the fact that she was set in her ways, and that there was nothing I could do to change her mind. I remember turning down many requests and invites to hang out with friends after school. Even post-work hangs with colleagues became a chore as I had to “ask her for permission”. 

After many years of fighting with her over this, I simply gave up.


Insecurity from being bullied through school


Insecurity about my looks also played a role in dampening my quest for love. I never felt that I was “attractive enough” for society, much less for the opposite sex. I was convinced that the world revolves better around you, if you had good or pleasant looks to begin with. I hated my teeth, my gummy smile and lack of womanly assets. 

Perhaps these feelings also stem from my past history of being teased and taunted. No one knows this. Not even my family. But I was pretty much bullied all through school. When I was in primary 6, some classmates called me “duck” whenever they saw me while making quacking sounds and flapping their hands. 

Under One Roof
Under One Roof’s Abigail (pictured left)

Image credit: todaypk.video

At some point, they even called me “Abigail” – a recurring character in the local sitcom Under One Roof who had big teeth and cried a lot into a bowl. I did not cry a lot, but I had big teeth. In secondary school, another classmate simply said “eee…” whenever I was near him.

At that time, I was resigned to the fact that I would forever be the ugly duckling that would never grow into a beautiful swan.

Much has changed over the years and I have learnt to accept my “ugliness”. I no longer care about how people look at me or if they judge me. I am comfortable in my own skin and being in front of the camera. 

I no longer have awkward smiles that just don’t feel right, wondering whether to show teeth or not to. Selfies and wefies feel perfectly okay to take and filters are not needed. I became okay with ugly, or as I like to call them, “derpy” photos of myself.


Prioritising my work and self over the search for a partner


There is this notion or expectation that someone of my age should be happily married right now, with kids of their own and having a family. Thankfully, my mother didn’t expect this of me. At family gatherings, loved ones were far more concerned about my career prospects than me settling down.

In fact, so was I. After all, how am I supposed to support a family, if I cannot even support myself?

By the time I had passed my mid-twenties, many friends that I knew from school and work had started to get hitched, while others had their first child. Yet I didn’t feel like I was lagging behind. 

It wasn’t that I had totally rejected the idea of marriage and children. I had merely put it on pause. And as the years passed, the idea of a soulmate became less and less important to me, while the idea of a “soul career” took precedence.

I also became more and more emotionally independent. I was probably 27 when I decided that this – me just being on my own – could really work. I guess you could call this the turning point in my life.

I was comfortable in my skin and now I was comfortable in my own life too. After all I had been through, it was a reflective and empowering moment where I saw myself focusing on self-nurture and self-growth.


Embracing singlehood and being “self-partnered”


Emma Watson coined the term self-partnered instead of being single – a term I seriously love! Instead of wallowing in the “what ifs”, “whys” and “maybes”, I punched ahead to embrace the possibility of a life without a partner and the idea of self-love. Every day from there just became an adventure.

I love my independence. I like the freedom and luxury of being able to do what I want when I want, even if it is something as small as watching a movie on the fly or traveling solo to another country.

My single life has led me to many epic adventures and seen me travelling abroad on a whim for many concerts. 

being single - Ed Sheeran gig - concert
Going to an Ed Sheeran gig alone in Melbourne in March 2018
Image credit: Vanessa Mostafa 

From Ed Sheeran to Doctor Who, Fall Out Boy to Anne-Marie. I am happy that even in my mid-30s, I can manage, with little to no sleep, still camp at gigs, dash for barriers and even be on my feet for seven hours straight. Partaking in activities and tours such as feeding the animals at Mandai Wildlife Reserve also became a regular affair.

The highlights of my singlehood go beyond just tangible stuff. Being happy in my singlehood has become a mantra I live by.

Mandai Wildlife Reserve
Selfies taken in Feb 2021 while feeding the animals at Mandai Wildlife Reserve parks in Singapore

Image credit: Vanessa Mostafa 

In essence, knowing that I do not need another person to make me happy. I relish the idea of being able to visit attractions and take part in fun activities on my own, whether it’s learning to plant padi at Bollywood Veggies or simply hunting down the Minions at Universal Studios Singapore

Of course, sometimes I do these with friends too.

Universal Studios Singapore
Visiting the minions at USS for Halloween 2021.
Image credit: Vanessa Mostafa

My life adventures also include giving back to society and helping others in need. I am a regular blood donor, occasional volunteer and recently I even registered with the Bone Marrow Donation Programme (BMDP) to join the international pool where I could donate my stem cells or bone marrow. 


Am I still open to the idea of marriage and kids?


Yes. I do still believe that I’ll bump into my Mr Darcy some day. But right now, I’m going to focus on making myself happy. 

I have learnt that despite having friends on different pathways, like those in a marriage or with kids, my life is no less colourful and meaningful compared to theirs. I’m on the path of self-love and self-worth, and I couldn’t be happier.

Being single in my thirties feels very much like that Coldplay song – where every day feels like an Adventure of a Lifetime. But unlike the song, the only difference is that I don’t need someone… “to feel my heart beating and alive again.”

I may be 36, single and childless. But I am truly and comfortably happy for now.