Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Why I’ve retired from men

So it’s that time of the year again: the anniversary of my divorce (or divorsary as a friend has termed it). It’s coming up for three years now – if this were a wedding anniversary, the appropriate gift would, apparently, be something to do with leather.

I’ve been told on several occasions that it takes two years to recover from divorce, which means that everything should have been hunky dory for the past 12 months. So, has it? I still haven’t become mature enough not to indulge in a bit of stalking lite and checking out my ex’s new wife’s blog – just to see what they’re up to. As it turns out, they’ve started a business together and they seem very happy (yes, the tiniest of knives twisted in my heart).

But I can say with confidence that I’m better off than I was a year ago. I’m no longer that sodden pile of desolation who weeps whenever I hear sad songs by Coldplay. I have closed myself off from all possibility of ever getting into another relationship: that part of my life is over.

I have, in short, retired permanently from men. (Note to some of my male friends who have asked me this exact question: no, this does not mean I have become a lesbian. My argument for putting an end to relationships could apply just as easily to women.)

Why take this approach? Why not just shrug and step back from the world of dating instead of being actively hostile to it?

Yes, it’s emotional, a grubby tide mark of past hurt that no amount of scrubbing with emotional Handy Andy can remove. But it’s also pragmatic. I’m a person who wandered absent-mindedly into marriage, who once slept with someone I was not remotely attracted to out of politeness. (Yes, really.) I am vulnerable, and because of that, I need to be extra vigilant.

Here’s my list of reasons for retiring from men.

I’m too much of a people-pleaser. My terror of offending people and my pathetic inability to say what I want have got me into trouble too many times. The only way to deal with this kind of pathology is to put steps in place to short-circuit it, which means taking an active decision to shut others out.

The pain is too much of a risk. Three years after my divorce, I’m still in survival mode. Every day is a battle in the ongoing war with the black dog. Relationships are not interesting if there is nothing at stake, but the price of caring is pain, and I don’t want to feel that kind of pain ever again.

I’m too focused on work. By work, I mean everything, from paying client work to my own projects, such as art and writing. (Writing this blog is work, in a sense.) Work is like gas molecules gradually filling any given space: no matter how much time you have, there will always be more work to fill it. Work, or the idea that I should be working — being productive — has annexed my every waking moment.

I don’t have the time. There are times when I wish I still filled in time sheets so I could enjoy the special glow you get when you’ve just filled in 13 hours on a Sunday. Significant others expect you to spend time with them and they get pissy when you don’t. There’s a possessiveness about relationships that I just can’t stand.

Or the energy. It’s been a long year and I am incredibly tired. I just don’t have anything left for somebody else.

I don’t like myself enough. You can’t be in a healthy relationship with another person if you don’t love yourself first. So many of us make the mistake of thinking that the love of another will make us whole, but it won’t. If you are broken, nobody else can fix you.

I’m too difficult. I have enough shit of my own to deal with without having to take on somebody else’s too. (Other determinedly single people I know have said this too.)

I see the end before anything starts. I still don’t have a single good memory of my marriage. Just the thought of being in a relationship has me in a panic because all I can picture is the trapped despair of being caught in a bad one. So the moment I experience one of those rare stirrings – the distant memory of what it’s like to be in love – it’s quickly replaced by the much stronger memory of post-breakup anguish.

When I comfort friends who’ve either just come out of a break up or dealing with the misery of an ex who’s just got engaged, I say to myself: thank God that’s not you, Sarah. The best feeling in the world is that moment when you realise that the person who once took your heart and dropped it like an empty chip packet is now a crashing bore. The trick is not to let somebody else do that to you again.

So tonight, as with every night, I will climb into bed every night filled with relief and gratitude that I don’t share it with anyone.

I am free. That’s what matters.

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    • Yaj

      Learning to say no to others and yes to yourself is a very important lesson indeed.

    • Geoff Smart

      It is such a shame that so many people ignore the second part of Jesus’ second greatest commandment. The full text is “love your neighbour as yourself.” Why do we forget about ourselves?
      Like Sarah I am coming up to a 3 yr divorsary and learning to love myself is a most important part of my recovery.
      So here is my challenge to Sarah – learn to love yourself, despite yourself.

    • Augustine

      I often come accross people – be it friends, or family, or just plain random people who’d ask me ‘why are you single?’. Not having ever been married or even engaged, but having slaved myself to please another man, even if it was for a brief time, under the apparent code of love, has taught me being single is the bestest option a good sense-making person would choose. I’ve also come accross friends who are married, and 6months down the line of marriage tell me that they don’t know what it is they were thinking when making that ‘commitment’. Must also add, I’ve had some thinking that I’m a les for making the decision to remain with myself, alone. So yes, I’ve too retired from men, and I LOVE the freedom it has. Indeed, that freedom really is all that matters.

    • K1d

      I think you must be very young despite whatever your actual age is.
      You also exemplify an old personality trait that’s become a modern norm;
      None of your reasons have any need to detract from your freedom,
      perhaps a maturing spell of loneliness will bring out the truth that will truly set you free.

    • Laura B

      Amen, sister! I hear you loud and clear, and I relate x

    • Laurence

      you also have a long way to go. have you read 10 to 15 self-help books ? good ones, like the road less travelled by M. Scott Peck and philosophy, classics by the old masters.
      then, when you are ready, you will find someone who is also mature. then all these fears will belong to the past.
      humans aren’t meant to be alone, unfortunately simple fact. especially not when older.
      therefore get ready. if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.

    • Lennon

      Perhaps you should stop looking and just float with the breeze. At some point, you will meet Mr Right.

    • Rakgadi

      I completely hear what you are saying and a part of me feels like that from time to time, but i realize that for me the reasons you have based your decisions upon may make sense now but not in the long run. If you quit on relationships because of those reasons you might as well quit on life, because it too requires commitment, hardwork and energy. But for now whether i agree with your reasons or not, i believe you have made the right decision.

    • Sean

      You get what you give !

      I have been with the same beautiful woman for 20 years (married for 15) and still rush home every evening and look out for any opportunity when the kids are not around to sneak in a quickie.

      But then I am married to a woman who gives me absolutely everything and being on the receiving end of so much, how can I do anything other than give her everything back, looking for any opportunity to spoil her and tell her how beautiful and perfect she is.

      That is why we talk of relationships in terms of commitment, because if either of you are not committed, the relationship is doomed, or at least doomed to become urbane and unfulfilling.

      As I said, you get what you give, and you will only get when you are prepared to give, unreservedly.

      It looks to me like you are very far away from this, and getting further in each posting.

    • Greg

      As a man of roughly the same age (I’m guessing from the photo) as the author I have to say I concur exactly with her thoughts and experience if only the other way round!

      It’s now all about career and personal enjoyment of free time, allowing me quality time with friends and family around the world. At 35 I’ve invested time, money and above all emotion into a couple of serious relationships only to have them bite back and fall away. My life-experience had already put me off the idea of marriage (thanks Mum and Dad to waking me up to it!) though I will admit to the concept of “the one” and “happy ever after” being a dream I still have though recognising it as a dream.

      Sex has taken a back seat and can be enjoyed alone or with the occasional paid for professional service – yes really – or even with members of the same gender just because it is easier, more business like and emotional ties are not considered.

      And like Sarah I’ve a continuous stream of “newly divorced/seperated etc” friends, both boy and girl, who want someone to rant at over dinner/wine/beer…

    • Em

      I was here, too, last year. My marriage of 7 years ended, and I ended it. I’d realised that having someone intimately involved in my life meant giving up bits of me piece by agonising piece as we grew together.

      They were little things. Food, TV shows, furniture taste. Big things, too: which city, no, continent to live, children, financial ambition (I’m happy poor; he’s not).

      Compromise, I realised, was something I did not want to do, ever. But as compromise is supposedly an essential part of any relationship, I was faced with a choice: relationships (in general, not just my doomed marriage) or my sense of self. I chose the latter, ended it and swore off relationships. It wasn’t a bitter decision, or one made from fear. It was liberating, actually.

      But six short months later I met an incredible man who felt exactly as I do about relationships and compromise. He also checked every box of intellect, physical attraction and emotional intelligence. So we hung out. We’re still hanging out. It’s not a relationship. He’s not trying to change me, nor am I trying to change him. He doesn’t own me and I don’t own him. It’s something I thought did not exist, but it did.

      I tell you this because Earth is a planet of 7 billion multi-faceted people. Some facets fit better than others. Out there are several million someones who’ll fit your neuroses and busy schedule (and you theirs). It just takes one to cross your path. Heal, by all means, but don’t close yourself…

    • A Friend

      I really like your honesty, being divorced myself. The one thing I can say is to never close yourself off from friendship. My friends, including oddly my ex wife, are now the strongest and most wonderful part of my life. Once one takes away the horrible pressure/ expectations/ sexual bullshit that come from the whole concept of ‘relationship’ – which I agree often has far more pain than happiness – one can open up to just being friends with people, of all ages, of either sex. Children know this – and they can still make you happy, they dont have to be yours. Friends of the opposite sex can sometimes be even better than a relationship – and more enduring. So keep the door of friendship open.

    • Susanna Coleman

      A Short History of Beds We Have Slept in Together

      Let us not repeat the easy lies about eternity and love.
      We have fallen out of love before – like
      children surpassing the borders of their beds,
      woken by gravity, the suddenness of tiles.

      So it is we have opened our eyes in the dark,
      found ourselves far from all that was safe and soft.
      So it is we have nursed red bruises.

      If we are amazed at anything let it be this:
      not that we have fallen from love,
      but that we were always resurrected into it,
      like children who climb sweetly back into bed.

      Kei Miller

    • Bernpm

      Simply stop advertising your sorrows and start having uncomplicated fun.

    • PM


      sure thing, Sarah. Just keep on stirring the pot all you want….

      Look, it is perfectly normal to take current trends and expand them out into the future…..but things change, i happen to know that you also know this, and you are not nearly so assured as you appear here…but go for it! By all means!!!!

      And i look forward to the time when you find happiness with someone who will be wonderful.

    • peter nel

      Remember that you are the best friend you will ever have and males suck anyway! Why they are so full of it God only knows – they have done more damage than good on this planet so their chauvinism is greatly misplaced.

    • Dinks

      Don’t despair… Keep the door open, even if only a little chink. There is someone, somewhere who is just as deserving as you, looking for someone like you… 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

    • Mack Nyati

      @ Sarah

      “… I still don’t have a single good memory of my marriage. ”

      This single statement is the one that should set you free. There is absolutely no reason to mourn that kind of marriage.

      So, if you once ‘absent-mindedly wandered into marriage’, you still have a long way to go in learning that marriage is not a game, but an ideal state where two souls get to be one. You are not supposed to fight for that state; but both of you have to grow into each other. The mistake most of us make is to get into marriage for all the wrong reasons.

      It’s never too late to do the right thing… the time will come for you to get happiness by being with another human-being. The trick is… do not look for it; it will find you.

    • MLH

      From an older single woman who has heard all the above excuses, please don’t take this personally:
      The day you can all accept that ‘the person who once took your heart and dropped it like an empty chip packet’ probably did so because you refused to allow him in properly, you will have learnt something about yourselves. You may believe that you trusted so much that your heart was irretrievably broken, but I’ll take a bet he felt kept at arms’ length too.

    • Frans Verloop

      For a successful relationship maturity of both partners is one of the essentials. It is perfectly normal to be concerned about your personal interests but maturity helps you to balance these with those of your partner. The fact that longstanding successful relationships exist proves that that is not a pipe dream.

    • Ntombi

      Relationships have evolved over time and unfortunately informed by social trends that impacted negatively for some depending on which angle your perception goes.

      Our aura is in constant tug of war with negative and positive energies that have come to dominate and influence our well-being. Indeed as human beings, we are social beings; But we tend to ignore the call by the “voice in us’ when soliloque/solitude is required. This to me, I have realised, is the time when partners often cross each other’s path unnecessarily and ending up in squabbles and unending not so true allegations, the list goes on.
      It is mostly at the time when the soul and the inner you, requires your attention that you feel crowded by your ‘demanding’partner.
      How often do you say , you wish to go somewhere far, alone, switch off your phone, get tranquility and just listen to yourself THINK????
      If and only if we could tell when to give each other space; maybe and just maybe, relationships would last.

    • The Critical Cynic

      I wrote you a long inspiring response only to delete it by mistake, so hears the shortened version…

      It takes more like 5 years than 2 to recover from divorce. Factors such as duration, children, acrimony etc can make 2 years feel like just the beginning of recovery. Your third year was better though!

      Follow Lennon’s advice – it holds more promise for happiness than any permanent decision.

      Read Sean’s response several times – this is the possibility you are giving up. I am 4 years into a similar relationship and concur absolutely with his comments. And, I met my beautiful lady by following Lennon’s advice :)

      Presumably you are still going to have friends, so be honest here- you aren’t retiring from men, you are retiring from having a Love relationship with another person. But, here’s the rub, you still have to learn to love yourself if you want to be truly happy…and once you do, you will want to love others again.

      I may be cynical about many things, but true love is no longer one of them.

    • Rejoice Ngwenya

      Sarah, you just met the wrong guy first time around. There are men out there who really know how to love, but I guess you see sharks in every water glass. I’ve seen some of your great pieces of art – they scream of a love starved emotion. I once gave up on women myself, but I convinced [myself!] that you women are simply … magic!

    • ShowUpForLife

      Is it possible that there is absolutely no-one out there who can love you in all absolutely possible ways?

      I think not.

      But that kinda love needs to be self-radiated to be attracted.

      God luck.

    • Katynomad

      Maybe the real issue here is that you no longer trust yourself to make good choices when it comes to men – I know that that was once true for me. And for any relationship to work, BOTH parties need to be committed, both to doing the hard work and to joying in the good times together. Not leaving is often the best stategy: relationships that endure through thick and thin get stronger over time, and we often find that by the time we’re in our sixties we have grown together in ways we never expected, settled down, become realistic about what we can expect of each other, and have learned the compassion and tolerance that alows us to love each other in ways that are rewarding and fulfilling. The point is, the notion of a ‘Mr Right’ is a myth, but the need to love others is not – loving others is essential if we want to remain open to life and continue to grow.

    • Dave Harris

      Just love your honesty Sarah!

    • Oh please…..

      Sarah, this all sounds rather self centred and melodramatic. I have been happily divorced for 8 years and the comments about getting over it are correct – it depends on the individual circumstances. Maybe you should temper your public angst – it may come back to haunt you down the road. Some people flourish on their own, some are miserable (I suspect you are the latter but don’t want to acknowledge it). I love my freedom but I would be first to acknowledge that it is very selfish. I am able to do exactly what I want, and in any relationship that would be totally unrealistic.I am very independent, and a mature, educated woman, and although I have been approached I have chosen not to get into a relationship unless I really LIKE the man, and he has attained a certain level of maturity that demonstrates that he is not going to be a clingy wuss in the relationship. After 29 years (of marriage) I am selfish enough to want a partner who would nuture me and not just expect me to do the nurturing. I do not want to be some miserable old bu***r’s nanny. That is my choice, and even though my friends regularly tell me I really deserve a great man, if I don’t meet him I am quite content. But to say that I have sworn off men would be a lie – I like them too much. :0) Sean you rock!

    • Geoff Smart

      @ Sean – man have you got it so right!
      Sarah, you could publish this column and its replies as a good “self help” manual.
      What a joy to see such sound responses.

    • Amanda Frank

      Great post! I know it’s cliche but sometimes I read self help books. I actually just finished reading a great one called “Borderless Broads, New Adventures for the Midlife Woman” by Morgana Morgaine. You can check her out and get the book right from her website, It’s a great read for women, especially those like me who are middle aged. I thought it was a pretty interesting read and instead of telling me “it’s all going to be ok”, it gave me a sense of inner peace and confidence in ME. And don’t give up, if you haven’t found Mr. Right, it just means the one you deserve hasn’t found you yet!

    • Rich

      Be warned: being single becomes a habit and one starts wondering how you ever had the time to get off the couch. And projects, like couch time, are so many one starts wondering how you ever had time for a partner.
      As long as you wonder you will be ok!

    • christopher steenkamp

      The brutal honesty was refreshing, bravo Sarah.

    • Ang

      I really enjoy your writing, Sarah, but this makes for a sad read.

    • Thabani

      Listen Sarah….No body knows or has got the manual of perfect relationships because it does not exist. I just mean to say whenever you feel you can or can not, you are always right. Nobody can dictate to your heart. I’m not that old just 33 years but in 2010 I came out of a relationship of 18 years because of my secrete relationship of 7 years of which ended 2 months back. To date I’m alone and so free, it’s refreshing I love myself for deciding this way. I love sex like r kelly – I breath, eat, drink, walk, talk and sleep sex. Oh yes today I get any shape, size and flavor cake I want and I’m happy. Yes no strings attached just a pleasurable tension eraser activity. I’m sure you’re the man now, you get all sorts of sausage flavors – yeah nothing wrong with it.

    • Oh please…..

      @ Ann, maybe you should be the one who should have a stab at writing – you express yourself well.

    • Mr. Direct

      Was that a collective sigh of sadness, or a collective sigh of relief from the single men in the world?

      You do realise that statistically, married women live longer than single women. I think it has something to do with “sucking the life” out of their husbands :)

    • SouthAfrican Parody

      How insightful! I eagerly await your next, equally thoughtful piece: “Why I retired from Branflakes in the morning”.