Late last year I read this post by Garance Dore and was deeply moved by it.
I think about being single in my 30s a lot these days. When I was younger, this isn’t how I imagined “it”. It being my grown up life. I imagined having met the guy and gotten married and had a kid or two by this point. In high school and college and out of college I dated plenty. I had an on again and off again boyfriend for the better part of four years starting when I was 20. I never had a hard time meeting people or getting dates.
When I moved to New York at age 25 I assumed it would be the same. But then came adjusting to a new city in which I had enough friends to only count on one hand and then came my thyroid disease diagnosis. The latter veered me off course in more ways than I could have imagined as I gained weight and felt miserable. I could barely look at myself in the mirror let alone have an ounce of confidence to try and meet people to date.
Once I started feeling more like myself, it took a long time till I was happy enough with myself to begin dipping my toe back in the dating pool. And shortly after I did, I decided to become self employed and poured blood, sweat, tears and much of my free time, into making sure it was successful.
And by the time I felt ready to get back to dating more seriously, it felt like everything had changed. Apps were now the way of life when it came to meeting people. And while it has since normalized, I can’t help but feel so sad that the majority of “meet cute” moments in life seem to be non-existent. My grandparents met in church. My parents in college. And now I’m living in a world where no one talks to one another because everyone has their headphones in and their faces buried in a phone.
I’ve held out hope for a long time that I would meet someone “out in the world.” I volunteer. I get on every flight prepared at the possibility of meeting someone. I travel solo. I read at the bar by myself. I don’t commute with headphones all the time. I smile at cute strangers. I go to parties where I won’t know a lot of people. I go to church. I keep a mentality of being open to meeting someone. I maintain faith that it’ll happen. But here I am. 33 and single.
Sometimes I fear I’ve become too comfortable being single. Too comfortable being so independent. I fear it’ll be hard to re-adjust to being with someone and letting someone in. I barely recognize the person I was in my last serious relationship and while I don’t mind dating, I fear it’ll be hard to open up. To be vulnerable. To be liked. I worry that I no longer have the body/skin/hairline of my 20s.
And while “just” meeting people and going on dates is hard enough, the other element of being single in your 30s that’s so hard is the reactions and judgements you face from others. All.the.time. I know a lot of married or coupled up people mean well when they ask about my dating life but so often, it comes across all wrong.
I’m going to paraphrase some of what Garance wrote in her post that resonated so much with me:
“I was afraid of being judged by society – and what do I mean when I say “society?” I’m talking about generalized judgments. You, me, men, women, the label that gets stuck on our foreheads whenever we’re over 35 and single, judgments I also formed in my head, despite myself, or even expressed out loud without realizing it.
The idea of a single, mature woman, who’s ruined her life. The old maid. The one who missed her chance. The woman who ended up paying the price for her professional success, or worse, the woman who preferred her career over her personal life. The woman who was “unlucky in love.” I told myself the floodgates of condescension were about to fling wide open, so I’d better be prepared.
You know what I mean by condescension?
Those little side glances we give to people whose apparent misfortune makes us feel better about our own lives? The people who scare us because they are living through the things we are most afraid of in life?
I know this because right now I’m living through one of the things I was most afraid of in life. Being alone.”
I’ve had so many conversations with people that look at me as though somehow I’ve failed by “still” being single. That, at 33 years old, I haven’t met the man yet. Haven’t gotten engaged, haven’t planned a wedding, haven’t been pregnant. And some nights, when I’m most alone with my thoughts, I think maybe they’re right. That I’m not as successful at life because I haven’t yet achieved these milestones that society, in so many ways, tells us we should have done already by age 33. I let these people’s condescensions creep in and talk down to me.
But, then, on most other days, I look at my life and I’m so proud of it. I am living exactly where I want to be. I am affording my apartment, bills and lifestyle all on my own. I am running two companies. I am finally healthy.
I like getting to just prioritize myself and my wants, my needs. I don’t feel defined by being single or being in a relationship. I don’t measure my self worth on having a partner. On these days I also can’t quite imagine having the family and the house and the backyard quite yet. But it hurts because I know I do want these things.
On some days I think, at least I’m not divorced and single in my 30s. Or at least I’m not a single mother in my 30s. Or at least I’m not in an unhappy marriage. Or at least I didn’t just stay with the guy because he checked all the boxes on paper.
The thing with most of these scenarios though, is that the happiness is in the eye of the beholder. You can be happy and single in your 30s. And happy as a single mother. And happy as a divorcee. And in no way should society’s standards and storytelling dictate where we find value in our happiness or in our measuring of success. But, that is, in fact damn hard to do on a daily basis. Particularly in the age of social media.
In my time being single I’ve had people tell me I’m not trying hard enough. That I should focus less on work. That I should blog less. That I should go out more. I’ve had people say I need to lower my standards. That they “can’t wait till ‘this’ happens to me” referring to their married with children lives.
When I’ve asked to be set up by people, I’ve had immediate replies with no thought given “Oh I totally would but I just don’t know anyone in New York” or “I don’t know anyone single.” (What would be helpful is, if you know someone that’s single – it would be helpful if you racked your brain and your rolodex to think hard about who you know or who you know knows – that maybe would want to be set up with them. If I had a friend who I knew was trying to meet someone and I was coupled up or married, I personally wouldn’t stop at any opportunity to find that person people to date. But that’s just me, I guess.)
Over the years I’ve had people say things that are so hurtful and so condescending and they have no idea how they’re coming across. I’ve watched as people’s faces give away what I know they’re thinking. “What’s wrong with her that “it” hasn’t happened for her yet?” One of my deepest fears is that I won’t find the person I’m meant to be with and I really don’t need others reminding me of this regularly with their insensitive questions. And the thing is, I don’t have this fear because I care what others think. I have this fear because lifetime companionship is what I know I want.
The other element I find so difficult about being single in your 30s is the cold, hard truth that if you do want children, you have a window. When I turned 32 I started thinking about this a lot. I have friends that have frozen their eggs and I have friends that don’t want children. But my truth is that I do want children. I do want to get married and carry a child. And as a child of four who loves having siblings, I’d love more than one. And who is to say that once I meet the guy and get married, that having children will be easy? I’ve seen friends and loved ones go through loss and heartbreak when it comes to having and losing children and it is one of the most unfair things I can dream up in life.
So, here I am, 34 in a few months, and single. Making efforts to meet people through a variety of apps and through the occasional set ups but finding it a lonely road that often feels like a full time job. I have celebrated alongside my closest friends their finding love, their getting married, their buying houses and their having children. I have felt “behind” in life because I haven’t had these milestones but I’ve never had resentment. I’ve focused on their happiness and focused on all the amazing, successful, interesting, beautiful people in my life who are still single like me.
I also think as we’re discussing being single, it is important to note that not everyone wants to get married and/or have children. It’s another societal assumption people make.
I’ve never tackled this topic before on wit & whimsy because I find it deeply personal but if just one person can relate, than sharing this post – in which I had to break open my heart – will not have been for naught.
All this being said, I’m ready for love. I’ve been ready for a while now. (But I wasn’t always – I am a believer that you must love yourself in order to be in love and I went through some hard chapters that made this impossible). I believe I am deserving of love and I’m on the lookout for it, always. I place a lot of faith in God’s plan and things working out the way He intended. I’m hopeful that I’ll be guided and get to where I’m looking to be – one day.
. . .
Update: My follow up thoughts to the reaction to this post can be found here.
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