When “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande was released towards the tail end of 2018, it broke YouTube and Spotify streaming records and enjoyed a lengthy run at number one in the charts. For some women, it also inspired a new way of life.
“I've loved and I've lost, but that's not what I see / 'Cause look what I've found / Ain't no need for searching.”
The message of the song is short, sweet, and to the point: Don’t dwell on the negatives of relationships past—but appreciate yourself, because you’re great. For Kelsey Ruff, 25, from Spartanburg, South Carolina, the song struck a chord due to a traumatic break-up where her ex-fiancée, Jonathon, ended their relationship over text only six weeks before their wedding.
Watch: Barbie Ferreira's Guide to Online Dating
Tired of men making her upset and her energy being sapped up by relationships, Kelsey decided to adopt an unusual New Year's Resolution: No Man 2019. The lyrics “you had almost got married” hit me hard, she tells Broadly. “I thought screw it, why can’t I just focus on myself like [Ariana]? I don’t need a man either.”
She isn’t alone. Several women are taking part in No Man 2019 for similar reasons: frustration, continued disappointment, and a need to figure out what it is they really want out of a relationship.
The origins of No Man 2019 vary, but for some it is the continuation of a tradition dating back several years. On Twitter, the phrase has circulated since about 2018, although a few adoptees say that they simply landed on the concept organically.
“I just made it up,” says Maya, 23, from London, who first attempted the resolution in 2016 after a string of bad relationships. (Maya didn’t want to use her last name for privacy reasons.) “My self-esteem was at an all-time low, and it was time to take a step back.”
Maya explains how in the past she didn’t complete the year as she felt social pressure to give guys a chance. “Every time I gave in something went wrong, but this time I’m taking it seriously,” she says.
The guidelines vary per person, and aren’t set in stone, but generally they go along the lines of: no dating, no flirting, no relationships, and no sex. Getting to know oneself better, and a feeling of self-fulfillment are also big factors for those taking part.
Relationships expert Emma Kenny, 45, says that periods of being single can be very beneficial and should be seen as working on your relationship with yourself. “Sometimes we need to just stop and take stock of what’s happening in your life. If you've had a string of bad relationships, you’re the common denominator in those. So what do you need to learn about yourself?”
She describes singledom as “one of the most progressive scenarios that you can experience”—as long as that scenario is happy, of course. Obviously, Kenny jokes, it would go against the spirit of the idea if someone says they’re doing No Man 2019 and stays in to cry every night. ”If you’re productive and strategic, it can really help—there’s nothing like meeting a human being who is really solid and happy on their own.”
It sounds great in theory—and very catchy—but in the US only 8 percent of people follow through on their New Year’s resolutions, and in the UK the picture is only slightly more optimistic at 12 percent. Four months into 2019, what makes these women believe their resolutions will be any more successful?
After six years of back to back relationships, Becky, 24, from London, is reluctant to give up her freedom any time soon. (Becky did not want to us to use her last name for privacy reasons.) “I’d be surprised if I want to date again this year, or even in the next few years. I want to figure out what I want for myself, before finding a partner.”
Casual dating and hookups “make me feel worse,” she explains. “If I wanted it at the time, I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s unlikely. I’m so much happier focussing on myself and my friends.”
As for Kelsey, a bizarre final date at the end of 2018 confirmed her devout commitment to No Man 2019. “It was our third date, and he started driving us to meet his mom… It was the third date!” she says. “It would mean a lot to me to be able to say ‘I’ve gone a whole year without needing a man,’ so there’s no way I would put myself in a situation that would jeopardise that.”
There is a real sense of hope and positivity among the women, and most of all excitement for how the year has the potential to benefit their future relationships. It’s not “anti-man” it’s more anti-dating, observes Maya, who says her previous dating mishaps have left her feeling more committed.
“I think it sounds negative, but it’s really the opposite. It’s more ‘me 2019,’ than ‘no man,’ the two just happen to coincide,” she admits.
Ruff agrees: “It’s more of an empowerment thing; you can’t pour from an empty cup in a relationship.”
After her own divorce, Kenny took part in what she describes as “No Man 2011,” long before she even knew of the phrase. She credits the trend with helping her meet her now husband three months later. “It was the best thing that happened to me. I think that marriage happened because during that year I knew how good it felt to be on my own. My husband always quotes to me: ‘The hardest thing about being with you is that I know you will never need me.’ But I always say that's the most powerful thing about being with him because I want him.”
But, life is not linear, Kenny reminds me. If it was, it would be simple. Even at your most broken-hearted and vulnerable, she says, “always be open, because you don’t know who may be walking into your life.
Women like Becky, Maya, and Kelsey say that No Man 2019 has been gone well so far—they’ve stayed single successfully and avoided men. More importantly, however, they’re using it as a stepping stone to a stronger relationship with themselves and whoever they meet in the future.
“What [No Man 2019] has made me realize,” Becky says, “is that I’m so excited to meet the person I do end up with.”