Looking after Number One: If you're not half of a couple, does it have to mean that something's always missing? Celia Dodd meets five single operators. I refuse to be the little woman

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The Independent Online
Anne Forster, 53, a teacher, divorced 14 years ago when her sons, now 31 and 29, were in their teens. She lives on her own near Preston, Lancashire. Over the past 18 months Anne has undergone three operations on a brain tumour.

THE WORST time of my life was before the tumour was discovered. Everything seemed to go wrong at the same time. I had no energy, and I don't think people believed me. It would have been nice to have had someone to give me sympathy and support. But by not having it then I learnt to develop it within myself, so now I can depend on me instead of thinking someone else must give it to me.

I've got a very long fight on my hands. I see it as a challenge, and I've decided I'm going to be happy. I don't wish I had someone to look after me. I am grateful when people offer to help, but I'd much rather do things on my own. I honestly haven't needed anyone, except to help with shopping, because I'm not allowed to drive. Because there's nobody else here, I don't have to do the housework if I don't feel like it.

For the first time in my life I'm happy, being on my own and having to depend on myself. Being single suits my personality. I don't like life to go along straight lines - I like to be a bit unpredictable. Unless you're living with the right person, who likes that kind of thing as well, you can't be. It's taken me a lot of false starts and sidetracks to find out what I want to do, but at least I know now. I'm training to be an astrologer.

The best thing about being single is the power. I like to make my own decisions, even if I get it wrong. At least I know it's my mistake and I can learn from that. And I like the freedom to do things as I please. I'm sure it's selfish and self-centred, but I like it.

I have been lonely, obviously, but I think loneliness is something you experience because you're expecting something else. If you learn to accept that you're all you've got, and you've got to make the most of it, then you can enjoy every experience. It's a case of changing your way of seeing things. That took me a long time and was quite painful at times.

If life with a man could be perpetual courtship I'd quite enjoy it. But it doesn't last. In my experience, the costs of a relationship with a man far outweigh the benefits. With women friends you can enjoy a level, non-possessive relationship.

I married when I was 21, and got pregnant within six weeks, which was a great shock. We'd had this wonderful courtship and suddenly I felt like a possession - not allowed to think for myself or make decisions about myself. I was dependent on my husband to give me money - I had no independence at all. If I hadn't got pregnant so quickly, I might have found ways to develop myself within a marriage. But it was the early Sixties and it was very hard to break out of a certain mould - it never occurred to me that I could do something else as well as bring up my children.

I liked everything about having children. The unconditional love you give them makes being a mother so rewarding. You do things without thought of yourself.

Once I'd got over the shock of parting from my husband, I had quite a nice time, although it was difficult being on my own with the boys. I don't think I handled it well. Then I met someone and we got engaged. We didn't live together, but after a while it started feeling like a marriage. I felt very much that I had to be the little woman and keep the home going. I don't want that, and the relationship disintegrated after about six years. That was five years ago.

I haven't felt in the least interested in men for a long time. Put the world's hunkiest man in this room and I'd think, so what? I don't think I'll have a romance again. But life might surprise me.

(Photograph omitted)