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Am I going to be single forever?

Will I be single for ever? Even writing that sentence made me rush to look for reassuring platitudes, comforting words, a soothing back rub. No, of course not - you're just hitting your stride, babe. You'll find love when you're least expecting it! I don't know why you're still single. It's hard out there.

Of all the questions people ask Google, this seems to me to be one of the most moving. Sure, you'd have no hesitation in asking a search engine for advice about that weird rash you have, or to find possible relief on a forum about insomnia . But to ask the Internet whether you'll find someone who understands your very bones, who gets that you have to sleep with audiobooks on repeat, or likes the fact that you read only books about the pre-industrial age? That seems like a move born out of a fragility that no listicle can soothe.

When people get to the stage where a frantic Internet search at midnight seems like the right idea, you can bet that they're only looking for affirmation. Nobody goes online in the hope that the question they have is unanswerable, that they will get an unending variety of different options and opinions.

Just as people don't generally join comment threads to have a robust and respectful debate, nobody wants to find an uneasy shrug in response to their secret anxieties. Because in truth, the answer to the question, will I be single for ever, is: Maybe. Who knows?

Maybe you'll be unlucky with timing, maybe you're not equipped to have a lasting relationship. Maybe you loved someone once, a long time ago and that was your one shot at it. Maybe you'll meet your soulmate at 50 and live a long and happy life together. Maybe, maybe.

Be mindful that sometimes the worst loneliness of all comes when you're in a relationship but feel utterly disconnected from your partner. Fill your life with people who will love you in a myriad of ways, and don't rely on a search engine to assuage your fears about loneliness.

Of course, this slightly vague and depressing answer depends entirely on what being single means to you. For some, it may be a worry about missing out on the wonderful relief of someone who effortlessly "gets" you - to have a person that you always feel at ease with. Perhaps for others it's about having someone else around to share new experiences with. But when I see that question, I think what you're truthfully asking is: Will I be lonely?

There are many ways of being alone. A couple of years ago, the Office of National Statistics found Britain to be the loneliness capital of Europe. What a title to bestow. Some research has found that feeling alone increases the risk of having a stroke by 30 per cent. And still, so many of us find it almost impossible to tell other people that we feel isolated. To admit that we wish for more love and affection than we currently receive seems desperate, a recognition of failure, a bit… pathetic.

Yet a yen for the embrace of another person is part of what makes us human. No man is an island - we were never meant to be on our own, and yet modern life often means we increasingly find ourselves facing a ready meal for one. In Britain, 34 per cent of households have only one person living in them, and, even more startlingly, 51 per cent of all people over 75 live by themselves.

I suppose this is partly progress. You're no longer expected to marry the first eligible person you meet at a tea dance, or stay in an unhappy marriage just for the sake of respectability. The increasing autonomy we have over our own lives is something to celebrate, but it can be hard to rejoice when you've been on your 18th bad Tinder date in a row, or have spent yet another Saturday night alone because all your friends are coupled off and busy with their families.

If you are looking for companionship in a strictly non-romantic sense, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. It's generally agreed that making friends as you get older is hard and 9 per cent of people in Britain say they don't have a single friend.

Despite this, there are many options to consider. General wisdom suggests that you could join a book group, or start an art class. You might sign up to a running club, or volunteer to visit elderly people who are often also in dire need of some company. Sure, you'll probably feel incredibly awkward and embarrassed in the beginning, but persevere and you're more than likely to forge bonds with people who share your interests.

Finding one person to rub up against seems so much harder to find. The criteria are so vague, so difficult to articulate. Even if you succeed in nailing down what it is you're looking for, the strange chemistry that makes two people blush and sweat and want to touch each other remains mysterious and unfathomable. It can be extremely dispiriting to have this vital component continue to elude you. No wonder people are increasingly turning to dating apps that allow us to browse and swipe without too much emotional investment.

Though I've never asked Google if I'll be single for ever, I have asked myself.

Divorced and living alone, I can well understand the fears that spring up when you look to your future and see a path with only one set of footsteps. But instead of panicking about life without a soulmate, I think it's more helpful to recognise it's highly unlikely you'll be single for ever, but also to be realistic about the fact that you may not share your whole life with just one person.

Your grandparents celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary, but you might have several different types of relationships, with periods of being by yourself too. Your relationship status might always be "complicated" but that doesn't mean you've failed.

Be mindful that sometimes the worst loneliness of all comes when you're in a relationship but feel utterly disconnected from your partner. Fill your life with people who will love you in a myriad of ways, and don't rely on a search engine to assuage your fears about loneliness. You're more than capable of doing that yourself.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 19, 2016, with the headline 'Am I going to be single forever?'. Print Edition | Subscribe