On Being Single in Your 30s

February 20, 2019

On Being Single In Your 30s | wit & whimsy

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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203 comments on “On Being Single in Your 30s”

    1. Great post- honest and real. I was there as well. I was single till 43 living my great” big life” with a career I loved, lots of travel and my family which I adore. I did find my true love- just took time and in the mean while I found me. Life isn’t about finding yourself it’s about creating yourself!

      1. “a career I loved, lots of travel and my family which I adore. I did find my true love- just took time and in the mean while I found me.” Love this so much, Caroline!! Couldn’t agree more and here’s hoping I follow the same path.

      1. I’m literally in the same boat as you. Same age, same city. No one wants to hang out. Apps are ways of time. I want to meet real people to be friends to do activities with and date decent serious men. Again, like you i enjoy my freedom and own company but I also want life long companionship not just to get married for the sake of it or have kids for the sake of it.

      2. What are some of the places to meet people in NYC, especially during Covid19. All of my friends are married, have moved and are busy with their 3-4 kids. People at work are older than me and married. I don’t do dating apps. Why do you go to meet new people to meet or hang out with not just for dating. But especially if the city life is so lonely you want 1 or 2 friends to hang out with.

        1. I’m in Long Island and always looking to connect with friends. I recommend the HeyVina App or Bumble BFF to set up friend dates. I haven’t been going out much because of COVID but definitely know the apps are up and active. Years ago I used meetup and made a TON of friends but not sure if those are running right now.

        2. Long Island girl here- I would use Hey Vina or Bumble BFF to set up friend dates. I know they’re really active and I have met great friends through them.

  1. This is an amazing post! While I was fortunate enough to meet my fiance in college, I feel your post said so many things that many of my friends have a hard time vocalizing. I really appreciate your continued honesty in this blog and I have loved reading along . <3

  2. Great post, and thank you for writing this and giving us your honest feelings.

    I needed this post right now because while I am married (met my husband at work, in the wild!) we are likely not going to have children. This is a difficult decision for both of us, but we refuse to have a child until we both really want one. That time has not come and I am not sure it ever will. I just turned 38, so the “window” as you mentioned is starting to close.

    All of my friends and co-workers are having kids, and some are on their second kid already. It hurts to know that they are going on a journey that I won’t understand completely, but I am not willing to change our journey to keep up with others. People “bingo” me all the time and make remarks of “oh you will change your mind” and even going so far to ask “what’s wrong with you?” and it’s getting harder and harder not to explode when people probe my life choices. I’m sure you understand.

    Anyways. Stay strong and don’t worry about your timeline. It’s cheesy but since you are open to finding love, I think it will find you. Stay true to your choices and don’t settle for anything less than what is true to you!

    1. It is always the next thing that people want from us, isn’t it? Thank you for sharing your relatable experience, Rachel and for the kind and uplifting words!

  3. You truly are an inspiration to so many. You stated it perfectly in this post… One must love themselves before they are truly capable of loving others…I am a very busy mom of 4 but who one day a few years ago stumbled upon your blog and look forward to seeing your email in my in box everyday. I don’t do any social media at all I lv that up to my children but I do have one vice online and that’s your blog. I have gotten some great ideas, introduced to some amazing companies and products,etc. As my mother ha told me since I was a little girl.. think good things and good things will happen.. this is the first time I have ever responded to anything because I just don’t but I lost my dad last week and your post truly touched me on so many levels.

    1. Thank you for letting my posts be a part of your ever day! That means so much to me. Completely agree about the power of positive thinking! Thank you so much for the kind comment, Barbara!

  4. I think it’s so important for people to share stories like this Meghan, even though I know it’s hard, because it really does help so many others realize they’re not alone (just like Garance’s post did for you – she’s so fantastic btw.)

    I don’t know if my perspective will help or not. I’m 48, and I married my husband when I was 40. I’d had years of relationships, some short, some as long as a couple of years. I am SO grateful I never married any of them. As it turned out, I was friends with my husband for several years before those feelings changed into something else. And even still, getting married at 40 (he’s 6 years younger than I am) was not all roses and sunshine. It took work to merge our two very independent lives, and I doubt that effort would have been worth it for anyone else. Thankfully, the hard work to really learn how to communicate with each other and share our lives paid off and we are so happy nearly 8 years in.

    I come from a blended family of 5 kids, and I always wanted a bunch of kids myself. As it turned out though, between getting married at 40 and having my autoimmune issues arise at the same time, it turned out that having kids is not in the cards for us. I won’t ever be able to say I’m happy about that, but I am glad we tried and I’m glad we stopped trying and I can’t imagine our life any other way now. I have 9 nieces and nephews (and now a great-niece and great-nephew!) I get to spoil rotten, we have a house full of rescue animals, and my life is richer than I ever could have imagined. I wouldn’t change any of it. I also know I would have had an equally fulfilling life had marriage not been in the cards for me. I truly believe there are so many paths our lives can take, and whether those paths make us happy and fulfill us is entirely up to us. If marriage and kids is what you want, I hope you find that, but I also hope that no matter where your path takes you, that you choose to find fulfillment in that path rather than disappointment that the path might not have led where you thought it would, because no matter which way you go, every path is filled with joys and sorrows.

    Most of all, I hope you can let go of other people’s judgment and expectations (of course much easier said than done). It often comes from a well-meaning place, but those expectations are really reflective of their own stuff, not yours. YOU are fabulous and unique and you have a purpose that no one else has (we all do). I think all we can do is pursue our purpose and trust that what we need will come to us when we are ready for it.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Marcia Marcia Marcia — although I am in a very different stage of life, I loved reading your perspective, too, especially when you said you are “glad we tried and I’m glad we stopped trying.” I can identify with that mixed bag of feelings.

    2. Marcia, you always leave the best comments. I am moved by your sentiments and couldn’t agree more about pursuing what we want in life and choosing fulfillment time and time again. “I am glad we tried and I’m glad we stopped trying and I can’t imagine our life any other way now” – you are brave and strong and I admire your take on life. Thank you so much for sharing your experience – it moved me.

  5. One of the greatest things we can do in this crazy online world is be a little more personal. I so appreciate you sharing this. I was with the same guy for more than years, married for 1 and then we got divorced when I was 36. We shouldn’t have gotten married. I met the love of my life soon after, and we have a baby now. Not through a dating app, ha! I was too scared to break up with my first husband because I never thought I would find anyone else. But what is worse? Being with someone you don’t really want to be with, or being alone? Being alone is far better. I often imagine if I had had courage in my 20’s and early 30’s to really end a relationship that was a friendship and nothing more. It all worked out in the end, but I will be teaching my daughter confidence that I know and hope you always have.

    1. Shannon, your comment deeply moved me. “I will be teaching my daughter confidence that I know and hope you always have.” brought tears to my eyes and your little one is so lucky to have a brave and wise mom. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  6. I never comment on things on the internet but this post really hit home. I have the same feelings and it’s so comforting knowing that other people are going through the same. Hearing comments about what I should do with my dating life sometimes makes me confused about what I really want and need in life. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Doing what is best for you will always be the best thing! Remember that and thanks for commenting – it means a lot and I know others will be comforted to know they’re not alone

      1. Wow I am SO grateful to have come across this post and comment thread. It’s so easy to forget you’re not alone, it’s the default really, and the optimism/hope is the struggle. I’m in a relationship now that lacks feelings of being “in love” on my end, though on paper he’s everything I should desire. Thank you for sharing your feelings, it means the world to people like me out there stumbling around online for comfort. And my goodness you have an army of powerful followers. Thanks to everybody who commented as well! ??

    2. I second this.
      Thank you so much for opening up, i identified so much with what you wrote. I am 34 now and sometimes feel so overwhelmed by these feelings. It was encouraging to see there are others facing the same challenges. All of my friends are now married with children, which is wonderful, but I am often alone now.
      Thank you so much for offering hope.

    3. Thanks for this post. I really needed it right now. I’m 34, single and finding it really hard to meet people. I feel like I’m losing faith and this is going to happen for me. I too want companionship and kids but I wonder if all of that won’t happen for me. It feels a little better to know that you’re not alone. Thanks ??

  7. This post <3. Love you to the moon and back and am grateful you put this into words and sparking this dialogue. You have been the biggest cheerleader in my life and I am so thankful for that. Going to take a spin through my Rolodex again – I will admit I don’t feel like I’ve done enough and you deserve finding the “one” more than anyone else I know. Love you lots.

  8. Thank you so much for this. I’m trying not to cry at work. This so encompasses everything I feel. I love your blog, first time I’m commenting. Thank you for putting this out there.

  9. Meghan- I’ve always been a passive blog reader, but I understand the deep sense on community and togetherness that can be built in forums like this, and I know that your words will resonate with so many. I got married this past summer, at 34, and I insisted that our vows were about how our marriage won’t complete either of us, but that it will complement us, as we are whole complete people already. I have shared in your experience and I know that it was because my husband and I knew who we were as individuals that we were ready to be together. I can tell you are there too.

    1. My heart is warmed by “complement” vs “complete” – you are a smart soul for recognizing this! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with everyone – it means a lot to me.

    2. Just wanted to chime in to say that I did the same at my wedding this past December! Any reference to completing each other was removed from the ceremony —the beauty of meeting your partner in your 30’s is that you’re two independent people willing to compromise and work to be together.

  10. I’m of the belief that just you saying those words here, that you’re ready for love, will set those things into motion for you. And as someone who was in a long-term relationship that ended in an cancelled engagement, I feel for you so much. I talked a lot about relationships with my best friend while she was visiting this past weekend how half of me is having fun saying yes to all sorts of people (I’ve learned so much…even though those first dates didn’t go anywhere!) but how I’m also ready to be in a relationship. So much more I wish I could say….if only we could catch up in person 🙂

    1. Jess, you’ve been so brave to open up on your blog about your relationship journey and I so admire you for it. Love that you’re so open to meeting people and I can’t wait till we both meet our people!

  11. This is such a thoughtful, well-written post, and I can completely relate. I have a disability and use a wheelchair – dating is incredibly challenging, and using the apps really does feel like a full time job. I don’t really have more to add, but I just wanted to leave a comment because I enjoyed AND appreciated this post a lot.

    1. I am so glad you appreciated and enjoyed it, Heather! Thank you for sharing your experience – you are brave to be out there on the world of the apps because I know how hard it is!

  12. Beautiful post, Meghan. These are hard things to talk about, but so necessary. I imagined saying all of this to my family when I was going through it but was not as brave as you are. I do fully believe that being open to love and loving yourself has to happen first, so impressed and proud of you for getting to that place. Not everyone can and does and it will make you a better partner because of it.

  13. I have the impression of reading the story of my adult life. I am going through every single thing you talk about. Thank you for sharing this personal story, it means a lot to know you are not alone going through this. I do believe that the one is out there somewhere and will reveal himself at the right moment but sometimes time does feel long and all the “headphones, phones and apps” are not helping. But I am cossing fingers for you, me and all the 30s single out there !

  14. Oh man, I hear you and admire you for giving yourself and others this space <3. I am getting married this year for the first time and I’ll be 45. I didn’t meet my guy until I was 41.

    I reached a point in my 30s when I had to grieve the loss I felt from my life not looking like I thought it would. It was hard and it hurt, but moving through it and getting to the other side was a gift. I’ve lived in four states, bought two houses and traveled extensively with friends and on my own.

    I dated online and learned about myself and others. And then I met my guy in the craziest way possible and not on a dating app. I don’t think either one of us is who the other expected but we work, it’s almost effortless and we give thanks daily for finding each other. We wouldn’t have been ready for each other a moment earlier than when we met.

    All that said, I miss moments of my single life. I could turn my days into whatever I wanted them to be, I could travel on a whim or eat dinners that don’t always have to involve meat! Neither is better or worse than the other.

    If I could go back and tell myself one thing when I felt so out of the loop on having a significant other, it would be to enjoy the good parts, acknowledge and feel your way through the tough parts and give thanks for both. Sending you all the love and cheering you on!