I Rewatched "How to Be Single" After My Breakup, and I Have Notes

I met my ex-boyfriend at the end of my 20s after almost giving up on the idea of finding real love. ("God, if you want me to be the single and sexy rich auntie, just say that," I actually prayed at one point). But after two long years of a serious relationship, certain I was going to get married, I suddenly found myself single again. Now a few months removed from the painful split, I'm still not sure how exactly I should move forward in this new chapter of my life. What does being single in my 30s even look like? And how does one do it?

As luck (and Netflix) would have it, the 2016 movie "How to Be Single" has made its way back into the discourse right on time. The ensemble rom-com follows the adventures of Alice (Dakota Johnson), a newly single 20-something in search of herself after a long-term romance, and explores the many ways single people navigate dating and complicated relationship statuses.

True to its title, the film aimed to highlight what life is like for young adults who are romantically unattached — but does its understanding of dating and sex still resonate? I rewatched it, and have some thoughts.

Why "How to Be Single" Can Feel Outdated in 2024

This film came out in 2016, when the world was a far different place. Eggs didn't cost as much as a two-bedroom apartment. Twitter was just Twitter, not whatever Elon Musk is calling it these days. Most importantly, the idea of the world shutting down due to a global pandemic was just the plot of a Steven Soderbergh blockbuster.

The spread of the coronavirus in 2020 changed the world as we know it, including the way we socialize with each other. Two years of being sequestered in our homes may have been good for our work-life balance, but it left many of us with noticeably decreased social skills, hindering our ability to easily connect romantically. A 2022 survey conducted by OnePoll for Forbes Health reported that nearly 60 percent of American adults find it harder to form new relationships after the height of the pandemic. Our usual dating haunts may be open, and we might be swiping on the same apps, but our dating patterns have changed because we've changed. We're more anxious than ever, more cautious, and more self-conscious.
We have a lot to be anxious about, and "How to Be Single" feels outdated given the intense changes in our sociopolitical and cultural landscape over the past eight years, and the impact they've had on our love lives (or lack thereof).

On top of trying to navigate our post-pandemic new normal, society is shifting rapidly. As the patriarchy and its culture of gender inequity and violence persist, more women and femmes are "decentering men" and declining to date or marry entirely. Economic hardship and contentious political decisions are raising concerns about future generations, causing birth rates to drop to a troubling low. With all this chaos and more, it's no wonder that dating feels more stressful than sexy these days. Who even has the bandwidth?

"How to Be Single" Does Make A Few Points, Though

Times may have changed, but there are some realities that "How to Be Single" does get right, like the frustration of many singles actively pursuing serious relationships. It's annoying that finding the proverbial one is Lucy's (Alison Brie) entire personality, but we all know that online dating can be exasperating, especially when you know what you're looking for. Even with accounts on every dating app known to man, and men making up most of the dating app membership, it can still feel like the numbers are working against us.

Plus, Lucy explains, the issue is one of quantity and quality. Everyone's on apps these days —
more people than ever are even paying for premium membership — but the more specific your preferences are, the smaller the dating pool gets. Want someone who believes in monogamy, supports reproductive rights, loves traveling, also has a penchant for BBQ, and is sexually compatible with you? You might be swiping for a while.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Rebel Wilson's Robin, Alice's coworker and self-proclaimed dating mentor. After being in a committed relationship with one man and his same penis for four years, Alice is free to hit the streets again, and Robin makes it her personal mission to hook her up with as many people as humanly possible; after all, Alice only has "a short window in which to bang [her] way through New York City," Robin explains emphatically.

Megan thee Stallion was still an underground artist in 2016, but Robin's chaotic philosophy to dating as a single woman has the early makings of that of a hot girl — to quote the Hot Girl Coach herself, someone who's "the life of the party and just a bad b*tch." Exuding a powerful, sexy aura that's attractive to just about anyone, the hot girl does whatever (and whoever) she wants, and that makes dating and hookups a breeze. Years after the release of "How to Be Single," we've since coined a term for that sexually liberated, balls-to-the-wall era everyone goes through at least once: a hot girl summer.

At the center of the plot is Alice's own existential crisis, during which she realizes that she's been a relationship girl not because she loves love, but because she just doesn't know how to be by herself. It's an uncomfortable but relatable truth for many single people; a lot of us don't have any clue how to be alone without being lonely.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to find true love, but when we distract ourselves with dating to the point that it's all we think about, we don't take the time to develop ourselves. No hobbies, no ambitions, just vibes. Fortunately, Alice's time in NYC and the heartbreak that she experiences along the way offer her a new lease on life, one where she ultimately falls in love with her actual soulmate: herself.

Is "How to Be Single" a foolproof step-by-step playbook for surviving your single season? Not by a long shot. It's more of a glimpse into a totally different era of dating culture, when we didn't have to screen potential partners based on their vaccination status or who they voted for in the 2016 election, a time before FaceTime first dates and the manosphere.

Still, even with its somewhat dated take on the dating climate, the film manages to touch on the challenges of being single in a way that rings true. Whether you're dating yourself or scouring the apps in search of your other half, the movie asserts there's no one right way to be single. Who knows — maybe the first step to making the most of your relationship status is actually accepting it.

Ineye Komonibo is an editor and writer with a love for all things pop culture. Her focus has always been on fleshing out the deep cyclical relationship between society and the media we engage with, ever curious about who we are and what we do because of what we consume.