Emma John is in her 40s; she is neither married, nor partnered, with child or planning to be.
In her hilarious and unflinching memoir, Self Contained, she asks why the world only views a woman as complete when she is no longer a single figure and addresses what it means to be alone when everyone else isn’t.
In her book, she captures what it is to be single in your forties, from sharing a twin room with someone you’ve never met on a group holiday (because the couples have all the doubles with ensuite) to coming to the realisation that maybe your singleness isn’t a temporary arrangement, that maybe you aren’t pre-married at all, and in fact you are self-contained.
The book is an exploration of being lifelong single and what happens if you don’t meet the right person, don’t settle down with the wrong person and realise the biggest commitment is to yourself.
Sometimes you see a book that just seems to have been written with you in mind and Contained Scenes From A Single Life by Emma John seemed to be one of those books. It was and it is! I am single, resolutely so, happily so most of the time and yet I have often felt like a square peg the world is trying to shove into a round hole, because society sees my single hood, as a failure to be a meaning member of a club that caters only for couples. There are many women out there, that are single by choice or circumstances and most are living happy and fulfilled lives. While others want to be in a relationship, but one that nourishes them and so while they enjoy a single life, the pressure from families, who just want them to be happy, feels like a weight of expectation that threatens to stifle them.
Emma John’s Contained Scenes from a Single Life is an often funny, moving tale of how she has comes to understand that it is important for all women to live the life that fits them best, that babies are not for everyone, that women can love sport, travelling and deserving of friendships that cater to their interests. That they can be both whole and happy individuals if marriage doesn’t happen, because the significant other, whom we are all told is out there, simply isn’t, or is rather annoyingly hiding in plain site. This is a book that says, my life may not be the one I expected to lead, not the one I thought I wanted, but despite all of that, it is when I take a step back, look closely, one that is full of endless possibilities and many wonderful memories.
What I found incredibly moving is when she writes abut how she didn’t feel whole, because the man, meant to make her feel a complete unit hasn’t arrived yet. The complex emotions she has to deal with when facing the fact that he might never. How hard it is when all her friends are pairing off into couples and she feels surplus to requirements. The moments of loneliness and frustration. Even more touching is when she talks of how when travelling, she made friendships that will be with her for life, that she is wanted, that she is whole, that she perfect as she is, even without a partner. She takes us on a journey through a life that she spends time making others feel less uncomfortable with her single-hood, to one in which she celebrates and she can be happy single, while being open to meeting someone. But until then and if it never happens, she is ‘whole’ and fantastically so.
Reading this book has made he more determined not feel weighed down by others expectations of my life choices. I’m going to embrace sitting alone in a cafe watching the world go past. Go to the theater on my own if no one wants to join me, or just because I want to. I will cherish the friendships of people that both nourish and sustain me.
About the author
Emma John is an award-winning author, journalist and podcast presenter. Her book, Wayfaring Stranger: A Musical Journey in the American South, was recently named one of Newsweek’s Travel Books of the Decade; her debut, Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket, was named Wisden Book of the Year. Emma was the first woman to win a Sports Journalism Award in the UK, though she is also known for her writing on music, theatre, film, books and travel. Her latest book is Self Contained, Scenes from a Single Life, published by Cassell.
She hosts a number of podcasts and is a regular voice on BBC R4, BBC Radio5Live and talkSPORT. She tweets @em_john and you can find out more on her website, emmajohn.net,