Felicity Aston is the first and only woman in the world to ski across Antarctica and she is one of two polar explorers (the other is the awesome Heidi Sevestre) I will interview next week at The Women’s Forum Global Meeting in Paris. Felicity talks about the terrifying loneliness of having been dropped off in the middle of a vast, empty and icy landscape so she could solo ski to the South Pole. That level of loneliness is unimaginable and her courage and resolve are unbelievable.
There is another kind of loneliness that is more common and all too familiar. It’s the kind that comes after heartbreak, separation, divorce, or not having partnered with anyone yet — the latter apparently is on the rise among the near or above 50s in the UK. In my case, it was prompted by the abrupt retreat of my former partner whose commitment and loyalty I had foolishly counted on. Adapting to urban singledom as a thirty-something can feel just as terrifying as waving a prop plane goodbye before facing sub zero temperatures.
Once I was settled into an apartment of my own, felt sufficiently independent, returned to working with a truly amazing team at Kite Insights (the Editorial Partner to The Women’s Forum), I felt it was time to explore dating again. Anyone will tell you it is a journey, requires patience and courage, blah blah… but your day-to-day is not a pleasantly adventurous leaf out of Ellen MacArthur’s Taking on the World. It is, instead, a steady questioning of your assumptions about yourself: Am I worthy? Will I ever be really seen? Did that feel like a lot? Did that feel like anything at all?
I now realise that I may never matter to someone in the way that I want or be just as outstanding and exceptional to them as I believe myself to be. In the marketplace of dating apps especially, I might only ever be one of the disposables: accounts, faces, bodies - mostly of women, coiffed, strong, well-paid, and all looking for love. So is our best bet dating ourselves? Or as Emma Watson recently put it, self-partnering?
The upside of disposability: A commitment to possibility
I think there just might be another way (and I’m not talking about Brexit) to approach going from loneliness to finding a good partner: to believe in the possibility of love (of all kinds but especially the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind), friendship, affection, loyalty and all the goodness, adjustment and discomfort that will follow.
Practicing this possibility-focused approach requires cultivating self-worth, for sure. But it does not stop there. While it does not accept defining one’s quality of life by one’s relationship status — single is a tough cross to bear in the fairly traditional work and social life in London and in the women’s leadership debate — it also concedes that yoga retreats and instagram poetry are not replacements for the joy of building trust, camaraderie and affection incrementally with someone you like.
Felicity found a way to encourage herself to get out of her tent every day to continue to walk that gruelling journey across Antarctica. The possibility to prove her skeptics wrong was her greatest motivation. I will follow her footsteps (not literally) and refuse to accept that I am my best bet. I do love who I am and hanging out solo or with my amazing women friends. But I believe that I can and will be seen, heard, be exceptional for someone, someday.