Tristan Davis has never been more aware of the fact that he’s single. This past summer — just after his third year of law school at Osgoode Hall and just before he started articling at Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP in Toronto — he found himself attending what seemed like an unending stream of his friends’ weddings and engagement parties.
The pressures of law school, coupled with his own desire to be an academic powerhouse, never left Davis much time to date. He always placed work at the top of his to-do list. “But now, if I’m being honest, there’s huge anxiety around it,” says the 26-year-old from Pickering, Ontario. “I’m about to enter a profession that is extremely time-consuming. People say, ‘If you don’t find someone before articling, then good luck — it’s going to be impossible.’”
A growing body of research tells us that loneliness, or a yearning for more social interaction and intimacy, can wreak havoc on our health. Many studies have linked loneliness to heart disease, depression, dementia and cancer. One study, published in 2010, found that social isolation is as bad for your mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Another study, published two years ago, found that two-thirds of Canadian university students had felt “very lonely” at some point within the last year. The stakes are high: it’s crucial that we pay more attention to our emotional well-being.
But at law school, it’s common for work to trump relationships. “The competition and pressure to earn high grades never stops,” says Iva Keighley, one of Osgoode Hall’s on-campus student success and wellness counsellors. “I see students on a daily basis craving connections and relationships.” Keighley estimates that more than half of the students she meets with struggle with loneliness.
But even when they know they’re unhappy, the hyper-competitive culture of law school prevents some students from investing time in relationships. “They think, I don’t have time for another project,” says Keighley. “So they deprive themselves of happiness-increasing activities. They may inadvertently push their potential significant others or friends away. Then they feel lonely. This is often when we start to see symptoms of anxiety or depression.”
For Davis, it never got that bad. He keeps in touch with friends. He is close with his family. And, despite his current concern around singledom, he doesn’t regret living and breathing law school. He didn’t want any distractions.
That’s not to say he never felt lonely. When he was in the throes of his work, he gave it his full attention. But when his dizzying schedule quieted down — which, from time to time, does happen in law school — that’s when he would feel most alone.
In his second year of law school, Davis started to see someone he’d met on Bumble. “But I just didn’t feel like I was able to dedicate the requisite time to both the relationship and my work,” he says. They’d make plans to go out for dinner, and he’d cancel to work on an assignment. “It wasn’t that she was upset,” he says. “It was that I felt really bad about it. I didn’t want to be in a relationship if I would have to cancel dates all the time or move things around. It’s not fair to the other person.” They decided to break things off.
Now, as Davis starts articling, he’s ready to recalibrate his priorities and put more effort into the dating game. “I may have found success within law school — getting good grades, landing the dream job — but it feels somewhat inadequate,” he says. “When I observe classmates and colleagues who are in long-term committed relationships, I’m always somewhat jealous.” Now, that’s something he wants.
How to make the most of singledom
One of the hardest parts of being single is that the world is designed for couples. But solo living can also be liberating. Here’s some advice on how to solve three common dilemmas that single people face.
1. You get invited to a wedding, but don’t have a date
Consider this a chance to broaden your social horizons. At worst, you’ll make a couple of new friends and, at best, score a date with a hot groomsman or bridesmaid. Treat it like a networking event: put your phone away, put on your best smile and work the room. Resist the urge to imbibe too much liquid courage, however tempting the temporary confidence boost might be. And if you’re feeling nervous, “So, how do you know the couple?” is a simple go-to ice-breaker you can ask anyone in attendance.
2. You want to travel, but all of your friends are coupled up
Book a solo trip. Always wanted to backpack in South America? Stay at hostels, a sure-fire way to make new friends. Or if an organized trip is more your speed, book your next vacation through a company like G Adventures or Intrepid Travel. Both of them tailor regular group trips specifically designed for solo travellers.
3. You need to rent an apartment, but you can’t afford to live alone
This is one of the toughest conundrums to navigate as a single professional, since so much of our well-being starts with a healthy home.
If none of your friends are free or ideal candidates for roommates, consider sorting through listings on a Facebook group like Bunz Home Zone. Be clear about what you’re looking for, and seek out people with similar lifestyle traits and values.