Seeking the Best of Single Life, in a Romantic Relationship
Six years later, does author Helen Croydon still want to “Screw the Fairytale”?
Posted Dec 29, 2019
Earlier this year, I wrote about the dilemma Helen Croydon experienced of loving being single, but loving romance, too. In her book, Screw the Fairytale, Croydon explained that in each of her romantic relationships, “there always comes a point when I wanted to go back to my roots: to being single.” When she saw my post, she asked if she could share with readers how she is living now, and how her ideas have and have not changed. I was delighted with her offer. Below is her insightful essay. I have so many thoughts about it, I will probably write a follow-up.
How I Try to Hold onto the Benefits of Being Single, in a Romantic Relationship
by Helen Croydon
When I wrote Screw The Fairytale, a memoir about shunning marriage and kids, I was convinced that singledom was the best route to contentment – at least for me. I wasn’t anti-relationship. I loved the idea of romantic love – who doesn’t enjoy that fuzzy feeling when getting to know someone you fancy the pants off?! It was because I liked this phase so much that I didn’t want the long-term commitment. In my experience that spelled boredom, compromise, and lack of control over my life.
That was six years ago. I was a journalist and like many writers, got my inspiration from what I was most passionate about at the time. For me that was my dating journey. I couldn’t understand why everyone was obsessed with landing ‘the one.’ As far as I was concerned, every time I’d been in a committed, loving romantic relationship, I felt worse off. I was more tired from sharing a bed several nights a week, fatter, didn’t see my friends as much, and was somehow less individual.
I joked that I don’t do boyfriends I have lovers. I didn’t mean meaningless sexual encounters. I’d been enjoying what I called ‘low-maintenance relationships’ way before the words Tinder, ghosting and bread-crumbing were coined. My dalliances were meaningful affairs of the heart, but we weren’t in love. So proud of my liberating yet rewarding love life was I that I wrote a column about it in a UK magazine and many more of my relationship theories ended up as opinion pieces in British newspapers (which made for interesting family Christmas conversations for a few years).
Very few people understood my perspective. “You just haven’t met the right person,” “I believed that at your age,” were a couple of the patronising remarks I encountered. Or the most ridiculous of all: “What about when you’re old and lonely?” (as if you should sacrifice the life you want now for the sake of an insurance policy).
Even my literary agent at first rejected the idea of Screw the Fairytale, because “most people want children, so it won’t have an audience.”
This only made me more determined to formally investigate my theory: Are long-term, monogamous, cohabiting, relationships really the recipe for happiness in modern civilisation? Or are they an outdated fairytale notion that society inflicts upon us in the name of ‘tradition.' (Actually, love-based marriages only emerged 200 years ago, so modern marriage is not an old tradition anyway, but that’s another argument).
Living as a duo certainly benefited us back in the days when you had to grind your own flour to make so much as a sandwich, or when women had no legal basis to buy their own home, or when the only way to have children was within matrimony or risk being sent to an asylum. But today, why would you voluntarily hand over 50% control of your social life if you don’t have to? I was convinced that this obsession to find the fairytale was an outdated conspiracy at worst, misguided advice at best.
So, Screw the Fairytale was formed. I researched the history of marriage, evolutionary theories on monogamy, the science of attraction, and most crucially, alternative models of relationships — such as polyamory or married couples who live apart – because I wanted to discover what I wanted. After all, I am a romantic at heart. I did crave a deep and trusting love on some level. I just didn’t want to share a house and bank account, and have a conference every time I decided what to cook for dinner.
The resulting book was divisive. People either strongly related, or vehemently disagreed.
I was flooded with messages from men and women saying they felt the same. Yet I was also confronted by Twitter haters with ‘how can you call yourself a woman if you don’t want children?’ or ‘just because you’ve been burned doesn’t mean you should spoil it for others.’ And something about disrupting family values.
Now, six years on I feel compelled to update my readers (and the doubters who probably never read the book but reacted to a headline) on what I think about relationships now. This was prompted after Bella DePaulo, a writer I have long admired and who I quoted in my own work, wrote about my book in this post. It felt strange to read my old quotes when I’d moved on.
The thing is, I am now in a happy romantic relationship.
Before you accuse me of being fickle, allow me to explain. Many people assume that I must revoke everything I said in Screw the Fairytale. But far from it. The relationship I have formed is one which allows me to keep the things I valued when single: We don’t live together. We don’t ask the other to be a ‘plus one’ at things we don’t want to go to just to give an impression of togetherness. We don’t feel neglected if we have a busy week and can’t see each other.
Notice that I used the phrase ‘formed a relationship’ and not ‘found.’ The fairytale narrative tells us that we ‘find’ someone who makes us happy. By definition that creates a reliance on the other person to answer all your needs – the very thing I found repulsive about relationships.
I still strongly believe that conventional relationships typified by films, books and the media are restrictive and unhealthy. When I see a reluctant half of a couple being dragged around a sofa shop, I still think ‘thank god I’m not in one of those.’ When I hear someone being called by their partner to come home because they’re out too late, or one half of a couple lying about what time they got in, I think ‘thank god I’ve opted out of that.’
The relationship I have formed is one in which honesty is at the core, rather than control. Even if that means, much to some of my friend’s horror, that we tell each other if we fancy other people or have an unprompted commitment wobble. That’s all part of the roller coaster of a long-term relationship and you have to accept it.
It is not easy to mold your own relationship because the fairytale narrative is everywhere. The very same people who nagged me to find a relationship now enquire ‘when we’ll move in together.' One of the questions I set out to answer with Screw the Fairytale was whether it’s possible to have romantic love and keep your independence. Now I know that it is possible, but only with a high degree of honesty and self-reflection. Ask me again in another six years and I may nuance my view once more, as we are all entitled to do on our relationship journeys.
[From Bella, again, several months later: I never did get around to writing the long follow-up I had in mind, so I will just add one thing here, an answer to the question you posed rhetorically in your opening paragraph, “I loved the idea of romantic love – who doesn’t enjoy that fuzzy feeling when getting to know someone you fancy the pants off?!” Answer: Aromantics don’t, that’s who.]
Helen Croydon is a British author and former journalist. She was a regular writer for UK newspapers including The Telegraph, The Times, and The Independent. She now specializes in personal PR for academics, authors and entrepreneurs and runs Thought Leadership PR.