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Forget romance. Here's why we need more badass single protagonists in fiction


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Valentine's Day inevitably means the inevitable onslaught of coupledom, dine in meals for two, soppy cards, everything being centred around people in love. Naturally for those of us who are single, the onslaught of love can be a bit much to take especially when it seems that "coupled up and in love" is the only choice shown to us, particularly in fiction.

Image: Nicholas R. Andrew

There is already such a societal pressure to be coupled up, as if the only way that you are worth something is if you are part of a pair, and this pressure is reflected in the books we read. Almost every book I've ever read has some sort of romance at the centre, it's thought to be this universal theme that everyone can relate to.

Except that's not entirely true. Not everyone can relate to being in a couple, in fact, I would argue that singledom is a more relatable experience, since whilst everyone who has been in a relationship has at one point been single, not everyone who is single has been in a relationship.

Also this focus on love and/or sex can be particularly alienating for those who are on the asexual/aromantic spectrum and do not feel sexual or romantic attraction (or both) as it contributes to the culture of making them feel abnormal because they don't experience what society considers to be "normal". People on the asexual/aromantic spectrum experience relationships in a different way to people who are allosexual and/or alloromantic and it's important to take this into account before we portray love as the be-all/end-all for everyone.

The perpetuation of this idea of the "One", that one perfect person out there for everyone is incredibly dangerous, because it makes it seem as if you don't find the "One" or indeed if you find several "Ones" then there is something wrong with you. There are enough people in the real world who make you feel bad about being single, we don't need to see it in fiction as well. If we could see more badass single protagonists, particularly women in books, then we might be able to make waves in removing the stereotype of the lonely, single woman who needs saving, and show that singleness can be a strong and empowering choice and that there is nothing wrong with people who choose to be that way.

Having more single protagonists in modern fiction would also do wonders for getting to see other relationships aside from romantic ones. The tendency, particularly in the books I read (which are mostly YA books), is to push the romantic relationship to the forefront at the expense of all other relationships. But the truth is, for most people, friendships and family relationships are just as important as romantic relationships, if not more so and these formative relationships have the tendency to get pushed to the side for the allure of "new love". 

I also think that by having more single protagonists in fiction, we can smash the myth of "girls and guys can't be friends". Yes it could be said that if you have two single characters of different sexes in a book who are attracted to the opposite sex, that the obvious thing to do is pair them up, but if they are both single and uninterested in each other, then we can subvert that trope and show that men and women can be friends and the automatic reaction to having two single characters doesn't have to be to pair them up. The idea that all women and men have to be into each other is arguably at least partially responsible for men's feelings of entitlement towards women and is a part of perpetuating rape culture. If we can show through fiction that this doesn't have to be the case, and get rid of the idea that "just friends" is a bad thing, then it will be a step forward in tackling that entitlement.

Bridget Jones made waves in the 90s as a singleton looking for love. But now we need new heroes for the 21st century, both men and women (but especially women, since single men are portrayed more as having a good time than desperate) who are single and happy to be that way, who aren't broken, or miserable, or "just waiting for the right one" or don't lead fulfilling lives because they don't have love, they are just people who happen to not have a partner. And if we can normalize that in fiction, we'll be well on our way to normalizing it in society at large. 

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