22 October 2016Last updated

Features | The big story

In the UAE: single and happy

It flies in the face of popular belief, but we interview five Dubai women who are single and just loving it

Colin Drury
18 Sep 2016 | 11:22 am
  • Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

It is a new academic study, but some married people may say, with tongue perhaps only slightly in cheek, they already knew its findings.

Research released last month suggests that single people, contrary to conventional wisdom, live happier and more meaningful lives than their coupled-up counterparts. ‘They have a heightened sense of self-determination and are more likely to experience a sense of continued growth and development,’ said professor Bella DePaulo who conducted the mammoth study at the University of California in the US.

Other perks, she added, include a greater chance of professional success, an improved sense of self-sufficiency and a reduced likelihood of suffering negative emotions. Singletons are generally ‘more connected to parents, siblings, friends, neighbours, and co-workers, while married people… become more insular.’

If this appears to fly in the face of popular belief in the importance of marriage, then professor DePaulo reckons that’s because the joys of unmarried life go unacknowledged.

‘Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be,’ she told the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Denver. ‘Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life.

‘The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude. It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life – one that recognises the real strengths and resilience of people who are single.’

Is she right? Can a life lived by oneself fulfil like one with another?

In Dubai, there are many who reckon the answer is a resounding yes. This is a city, it seems, where single life is enriching, rewarding and, above all else, fun.

Who says so? Well, this lot do, for a start. To mark the landmark new research, Friday spoke to five women flying the flag for being single and happy…

Bettina Micu, 18, from the Philippines


Bettina Micu may be young at just 18 – but she says she already feels pressured to get married.

‘My mum keeps asking me, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing?” She’s hoping I settle down soon and end up with, like, seven kids.’

She hesitates for a moment and rolls her eyes. ‘That’s Asian parents for you.’

And this full-time blogger of Al Quoz may continue to disappoint ma for some time yet. ‘If I don’t ever get married I’m fine with that,’ she says. ‘And if I do I’ve already told her it won’t be until I’m at least 32.’

For now, she’s too busy and too happy pursuing her dream career and her ambitions of becoming a face in the fashion world to let a man get in the way. And she’s determined she won’t let either family or societal expectations prevent her.

‘There’s this feeling that you can’t be a woman and be happy unless you’re married,’ she says.

‘Like, my mum will see someone who’s single and in their 30s and be like, ‘‘Oh, what a waste’’. But why is that a waste? I just find that so patronising and unfair. I like guys but I don’t need one to make me happy. I’m fine being independent, thank you. And I don’t plan on that ever changing.’

Sharon Thomas, 22, from India


Commerce graduate Sharon Thomas has been officially single her whole life. And, for now, that suits her just fine.

‘At 22 I’m still learning about myself, still trying to understand who I am and what I want from life, still discovering what makes me happy,’ she says. ‘And I wouldn’t want to complicate that by getting involved in a relationship.’

Her key ambitions for now are nothing to do with romance. Rather, having just graduated she is looking to find a job that enables her to kick-start a successful career here in Dubai where she has lived – in Al Qusais – since the age of three.

On a personal level, meanwhile, she wants to continue developing her confidence and expanding her horizons. Her parents, too, are happy with that choice.

‘I think if you can find happiness in independence, that will allow you, when the time comes, to build a relationship that is stronger and more fulfilling,’ she says. ‘I suppose at some point I will want to find someone, but it would have to be the right person. I will never get into a relationship just for the sake of being in one. It must be true love or not at all.’

Emily Jardine, 36, from the US


When Emily Jardine moved to Dubai in 2010, she was happily married to a man she had met almost a decade earlier and had recently had a daughter with.

Barely 12 months later she was divorced and a single mum. Yet today she has never been happier. ‘Clearly that wasn’t an ideal situation,’ says the 36-year-old of Al Barsha. ‘But, to me, making that fresh start was better than putting up with a marriage that just wasn’t working.’

Since then, she’s changed careers (from teacher to freelance journalist), started studying for a PhD in leadership, and is now looking into the idea of setting up a Dubai-based organisation to support women to achieve professional and personal goals. She’s also learnt to surf.

‘If I was still married maybe I would have still done all that but I think being single gives you an impetus and motivation to really drive to your goals,’ she says.

Oh, and she’s also raised Scarlett, her now eight-year-old daughter.

‘No one goes in life, “Oh, I want to be an unmarried mum”,’ she says. ‘But I wouldn’t change Scarlett for anything. We have the best time together. And I’m still good friends with her dad so he still sees her regularly which, practically speaking, makes things easier. Plus Dubai is very child-friendly so it’s a good environment for her. Things worked out quite nicely.’

Katrina Valente, 50, from the UK


At 50 years old, Katrina Valente claims, with some justification, she’s ‘gorgeous, successful and intelligent’.

She is also single, and has been for 10 years. She ended her last serious relationship when she started to feel she was making do and compromising too much. Even the fellow asking her to marry him didn’t change her mind.

‘I suppose I have high standards,’ says the self-employed holistic beautician of Tecom. ‘I expect the guy to bring a lot to the table, and that intimidates some men. I love my independence and if I was to be with someone, it’d have to be someone who understood that and allowed me to keep it. If not, I’m sorry, he’s not for me.’

Being single, she says, meant she was free to travel the world in her 40s as part of her job, allowed her to create a fulfilling social life in Dubai (‘I’ve been here 17 years and have such wonderful girlfriends’), and keeps her feeling young. ‘Sometimes I meet men my age and we just don’t click,’ she says. ‘They seem drained of all their energy.’

Her only slight annoyance is when people ask why she isn’t married. ‘My stock response is, “Well, why are you married?” And that stumps a lot of people,’ she says. ‘It is irritating that they would feel being single requires an explanation.’

Beth Burrows, 26, from the UK


Beth says it would be lovely to have someone to cuddle on the sofa sometimes.

But she also insists it would have to be the right person. Until – or if – that happens, she is having the time of her life being young, single and independent in Dubai.

‘I have friends who are chronic relationship-havers,’ says the 26-year-old presenter, performer and MC. ‘They will literally flit from one person to another just because they don’t want to be alone. And, to me, that’s terrifying – I don’t understand why you would put all your happiness in someone else.’

For her, romance should be like that of her grandparents. They met under a lamppost in a seaside town in Britain, and then never had eyes for anyone else again.

‘I haven’t dated for two years,’ she says. ‘That’s not been a conscious decision but I think I’m happy in myself. I don’t need someone to complete me.’

Instead, she’s career-focused. ‘I’m very driven,’ she says, pointing out how she’s penned and performed her own musical cabaret, Sirens Of The Silver Screen, this year. ‘I feel 2017 could be really important for me professionally, and opportunities are easier to grasp if you don’t have to consider how they might affect a partner.’

Plus she has Dubai. ‘This is a city built on socialising,’ she says. ‘I don’t think being single here would ever mean being solitary.’

Colin Drury

Colin Drury