Cuffing season is a long-standing, internet-invented institution. The period when we move from early autumn into colder months is renowned for causing panicked singles to couple up (“cuff” themselves to each other) to avoid spending the miserable winter months alone. For years, writers have wryly observed that cuffing leads to long-term relationships based on superficial choices.
However, 2019 may herald the end of needless cuffing. In its place, we can expect a new global movement: mass dumping. In 2019, more people than ever will opt out of relationships and choose to be single, heeding the perennial advice – “dump him!” – littered in the comment sections of Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram. And more often than not, the people avoiding relationships will be women.
The promotion of the single life isn’t entirely new. But the fourth wave of feminism and the #MeToo movement are encouraging more women to end unfulfilling relationships (which would once have lasted for years or decades) in exchange for a better, independent life. In 2018, a hype machine for the single life created the conditions for a new year of overdue break-ups.
Two hugely popular books lauding singledom were published in the second half of 2018: How To Be Alone, by former Cosmopolitan sex and relationships editor Lane Moore, and the remarkable What A Time To Be Alone, by 23-year-old women’s rights activist Chidera Eggerue; both books encourage people – and women in particular – to find pleasure in solitude, warning against entering relationships before learning how to be content by yourself. These books are aimed at straight women, a group who have long been told that their value depends on their partner and who have been burdened by societal pressure to shackle themselves to a man – irrespective of his behaviour.
Eggerue, who is predominantly known by her pen name “The Slumflower”, became a leader in the romantic independence movement in 2018 (a graph charting internet searches for her name is near-vertical). In an interview with gal-dem magazine, she described the ethos of singledom that won her acclaim. “We are sold romance and relationships as though they are the ultimate goal,” she said. “But your own company with yourself is just as valuable.”
Expanding on this in a TED Talk delivered in July 2018, Eggerue explained: “Often we use our relationships with other people as a distraction from ourselves. We use other people as a tool to run away from the responsibility of getting to know who we really are.” Through these messages, Eggerue has given thousands of women the courage finally to break free.
The singledom trend has also been spread by the female sexual empowerment movement emerging online. Sex and relationships writer Dami “Oloni” Olonisakin achieved viral online popularity at the end of 2018 by asking women to send in their stories of sexual adventures, sleeping around with multiple men, and cheating on their boyfriends – then sharing the best she received on Twitter and Instagram.
In the escapades she posted, the traditional male-female sex story narrative is reversed; it is the man who is left pining for the woman and the woman who discards romance in return for sex, lots of sex, and purely sex alone. Oloni’s collection of “sex-positive” tales has encouraged women to enjoy lovemaking and to raise their standards without the need for an unsatisfactory relationship.
As well as offering sex tips, Oloni has inspired women to recognise their worth when they do choose to be in a relationship. She regularly tweets, posts and podcasts, urging women to enter a relationship with a man only once they know themselves and are convinced the man in question is not immaturing with age (owing to millennials’ caution, the US divorce rate fell 18 per cent from 2008 to 2016). “In 2019,” Oloni wrote in a tweet that went viral in December, “we are not falling for a man’s potential.”
With hook-up culture growing, marriage rates falling (to a record low of 48.6 per cent among Americans aged 18 to 64), and young people discovering the value of independence and self-worth, choosing the single life in 2019 is surely the answer to the quest for personal autonomy in 2018. This year, more women will finally follow the perennial advice of their friends and “dump him”.
This article appears in the 02 Jan 2019 issue of the New Statesman, 2019: The big questions