National Singles Day: Yes you can! Being a badass single, Victorian style

National Singles Day: Yes you can! Being a badass single, Victorian style Briony Rainer

10th March 2017
Gertrude Bell

Ah, National Singles Day. An invented holiday to celebrate all the truly fabulous people out there going it alone – who are widely overlooked. We have spending power, resourcefulness and inner strength in bucketloads, but we are strangely unrepresented in depictions of modern society.

But with our new special day, all this is about to change, right? My local Clinton Cards and M&S will be full of Happy Singles Day cards and overpriced bouquets and chocolates to present to my amazing single friends. Erm…no. Maybe next year?

Oh well. We know we are awesome.

Or do we? I regularly hear women (and men) saying things like ‘oh, I couldn’t do that on my own’ or ‘I usually only do that when I’m with someone’ – and missing out on SO many things as a result. I am sad about this. Yes, it is anxiety-provoking to go it alone, and yes, you will feel self-conscious the first…oh…twenty times or so. But it is SO liberating.

So here is some inspiration for anyone struggling with ‘I can’t do it’ on National Singles Day. If these amazing women could go against the norms of their day and achieve all they did, then you, in 2017, can go to a pub, restaurant, theatre or on holiday by yourself. You can learn a language, skill or trade. You can change jobs, your town, your life. If you are in an unhappy relationship, you can change that. If you are single but worried about signing up to that activity group or going speed dating on your own, why not go along just once?

Fear and anxiety hardly ever killed anyone…but the stress of an unhappy, unfulfilled life definitely does.

So single or settled, let us make the most of all the opportunities we have in 2017 and take as many chances as we can, in celebration of these women that made their ambitions happen against all the odds. Be a badass pioneer and get out of your comfort zone. Be like Marianne, Isabella and Gertie….


Marianne North – ‘The Flower Huntress’

Marianne North
Marianne North (1830–1890)

A totally badass botanical illustrator. She cared for her widowed father for half her life, and studied botany and geography with him. She refused to marry, saying it was ‘a terrible experiment’ that turned women into ‘upper servants’ – probably a fairly accurate assumption in her day.

Her father died in the 1860’s when she was 40, and now being free to do what she wanted any old time, she learned to paint using oils (at that time usually used by men, with watercolours being the delicate lady-paint of choice). She then decided to travel the world, alone, seeking out rare plants and painting them in situ, rather than the more usual method of bringing them home. She ended up visiting America, Jamaica, Brazil, Tenerife, Japan, Singapore, Borneo, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, painting as she went.

Her reward for her endeavors? Whilst she was still alive, she saw her life’s work housed in a purpose-built gallery at Kew Gardens – which is still there. If you are in London, go and find it and be inspired.

Gertrude Bell – Explorer and Diplomat

Gertrude Bell National Singles Day
Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926)

A PANK to the very end – Professional Archaeologist (and writer, explorer and political negotiator), No Kids. Born in 1868, she benefited from the new rights to education afforded to women in the late 1800s, and was the first woman to graduate with a first-class History degree (considered to be a nice ladylike subject) at Oxford.

She visited an uncle in Tehran shortly after graduation and devoted much of her life to traveling – and we are not talking sedan chairs and coaches here, we are talking scaling mountains and riding side-saddle across vast deserts! She became famous for developing a sympathetic understanding of the people and culture of the Arab world, eventually becoming an extremely knowledgeable writer, cartographer, and archaeologist with considerable political influence. She was recruited to a British Intelligence team in Egypt during WW1, and after the war helped to establish the state of Mesopotamia (Iraq), and subsequently built and curated a national museum of Iraqi antiquities.

Of course, this kept her far too busy to ever get married. Instead, for the rest of her life, there was even more intrepid exploring and high-level diplomatic engagements in Iraq and beyond – where she was known (and is still remembered) as Miss Bell. Such a fabulous woman was she, that Werner Herzog recently directed a film of her life, released in 2015 – Queen of the Desert (sadly widely panned because it was turned into a soppy love story, so don’t rush to seek it out – unless of course, you like that kind of thing).

Isabella Bird – Cowgirl and Missionary (stop giggling at the back there, this is serious stuff)

National Singles Day. Isabella Bird
Isabella Bird (1831 –1904)

Unwell as a child and having had a spinal tumour removed in her teens, “an outdoor life” was recommended as a curative, so she set sail to America in her early 20’s. She became an author, writing books about her travels. Via Australia and Hawaii she ended up in Colorado, had a long love affair with a cowboy, and of course flatly refused to ride side-saddle like a proper lady should, instead, she rode Western style (which must have been tricky in all them there layers of Victorian skirts).

She then set off on her travels again, all around Asia, and after finally returning to Britain got married for the first time at the age of 50. Her husband died 5 years later, but did she dress in black and mourn for years like a proper Victorian lady should? Did she hell. She trained as a doctor, buggered off to India as a missionary and founded a hospital named after her late husband. She traveled and did charitable medical work in the Middle East, Turkey, China, Korea and Morocco until she died.

So, no more excuses and no more ‘I can’t’. If these amazing women could live their lives to the full, then so can we all. Yes ok, they had lots of money, and that always helps. But we can still make changes on a much smaller scale, to live the best life that we can within the limits of what we already have. Why not set yourself a challenge today? Take one small step outside your comfort zone – then who knows where the next step will lead.

Happy Singles Day, everyone!


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