I’m a single 32-year-old woman with no kids. I’m going to pause for a second to let that sink in, and to let you think about the images and feelings that spring to mind when you hear that phrase. Pop culture would tell us that I am either: Standing in a leopard print dress at a bar saying extremely loudly, with a slightly to very crazy look in my eyes, “I LOVE being single! I never want a relationship! Relationships are for the weak! Look at HOW MUCH FUN I AM HAVING!!” Sitting in my pajamas, eating a vat of ice cream while watching When Harry Met Sally and sobbing about how lonely and empty my life is.
I’m here to tell you that while I am neither of these things, this is not going to be one of those posts, which always seem to reek of desperation to me, where I list 10 things that are SO GREAT about being single, including things like “you get to watch whatever TV you like!” and “you can sleep sideways on the bed!”
I’d say that I am a (fairly) confident woman who has a pretty great life, full of meaningful work, a large support network of friends, and a loving family. I’m not going to go on and on about how great my life is, but I will say this: I recently made a huge life decision, on my own, to change careers and move back to my hometown. I’ve never made a better decision, and honestly, this move is one of the things I’m most proud of in my adult life, because I took a deep breath and took a huge, terrifying step to follow my dreams (ugh, cheesy, I know). And guess what, it worked out! I love being home more than I could ever imagine, my work is immensely fulfilling and I have managed to build a wonderful group of new friends.
However, I’d also say I’m a woman who finds herself occasionally lonely, would like to eventually find a long-term partner, and (hardest of all) sometimes can’t hear herself think because of the pounding noise of her biological clock.
I do actually fall much more into the first description of myself, and work really hard to both focus on my life and not internalize all the negative stereotypes we are fed about single women and remain confident that the things that I would like to see in my future will happen.
That is pretty hard some days, and in my experience, the hardest thing about being single in your 30s is not actually being single, it’s putting up with the constant barrage of comments and pressure to “find someone” and “be happy” (with the inference that if you are single, you must be miserable), almost all of which come from women.
I am here to tell you, when you are single in your 30s, people feel like they can say ANYTHING to you. Here’s a quick sample of some of the lovely advice and wisdom passed onto me in the last few years from partnered or married women:
– “You should think about freezing your eggs.”
– “So, I was talking to some friends of mine who are adopting a child…have you thought about adoption?” (said to me at the ripe old age of 31)
– “But wouldn’t you like to have someone to do things with so you don’t get lonely?” “You are so pretty, why aren’t you married?”
– “Don’t worry, girl, we’ll find you a man.”
– “I hope that you will still hang out with us when we all have babies.”
But perhaps the worst example of this happened to one of my closest friends, Jessica. She’s tall, beautiful, and incredibly smart and driven. In her mid-30s, she quit her lucrative job and switched careers to open her own business (which is now thriving). All of this to say: She rocks and her life is anything but empty. A few months ago, she was out to eat with a recently married friend, Lacey. At the end of the dinner, Lacey told Jessica that everyone was worried about her because she wasn’t dating, and then proceeded to grab her by the shoulders and shake her while saying, “What are you going to do” over and over. In Lacey’s mind, Jessica’s single status was akin to some sort of flesh-eating disease that, if unchecked, would eventually consume her in some awful way.
While the insensitive remarks can sting, what’s harder for me to take are the people who think that they somehow have the right to tell me that it is my fault that I am not yet partnered. Over the years, at times when I haven’t been in a relationship, several friends have given me lectures on how I just need to “go out more” or “put myself out there more,” with no real idea of how much effort I might be putting into meeting someone, with no real results.
A few years ago, one of my closest friends, who is married, gave me such a lecture (which reduced me to tears). Since then, she’s had some fertility struggles, and a few weeks ago, out of the blue, she apologized for that lecture, because she finally realized just how awful it felt to want something, and to be actively striving for something (hello, online dating) and to have someone imply that if you just DID MORE that thing would immediately materialize. Not once have these “talks” made me feel empowered to “do more,” instead, they reinforce my biggest insecurities and fears.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but sometimes all this stuff makes me question my own happiness. These days, I feel like life is pretty great. But then some awful remark happens and the self-doubt creeps in: “Wow, are you really happy? How can you be when you’re single? You must be kidding yourself. You are a loser.” And then of course the inevitable happens: I begin to covet other people’s lives-specifically married women with children. I project my own insecurities onto them, and imagine that their lives must be so perfect, forgetting that there is no real way to know what’s really going on in someone’s life. I usually snap out of that within several hours, but still, it’s a pattern I wish I didn’t have and one I work daily to try and break.
I always wonder what compels partnered women to make hurtful or patronizing remarks to single women. Is it because they really think they’re doing us a service? Do they really believe my life is empty? Or are they trying to justify their own life choices? There’s probably not one answer to that question-but with a divorce rate at 50 percent, what is it about marriage that still compels people, especially women, to feel that it is the end-all-be-all of happiness and success?
Along those same lines: Why is it socially acceptable to comment on someone’s single status, but definitely not OK to comment on someone’s relationship? There have been many times when someone has said something offensive to me, and I will look at their relationship and wish that I could fire something judgmental back. Some of the people who have said the worst things to me are the ones in the most dysfunctional relationships: married to a raging alcoholic who abuses pets while drunk, a patronizing and controlling man, or a man who refuses to communicate in any real way. Are we so enamored with the idea of marriage that we believe that any marriage, no matter how dysfunctional, is better than singledom?
Of course, the complicating factor in all of this is the biological clock issue. While I find myself content and fulfilled most of the time, I know that I do want children, and that I have a finite amount of time to make that happen. But at this point, I know that I do still have some time, and that obsessing over every day that my ovaries could be potentially drying up doesn’t actually cause fertilization, and that instead, it’s healthier to recognize the time issue, to try and actively date but to not become fixated on a specific year by which I should have a baby. And then I have a contingency plan that if there comes an age where I feel like it’s time, and I’m not partnered, I will explore my options.
I don’t have any grandiose conclusions to this piece. Instead, I offer this: I think that women, both partnered and single, would benefit from being more honest about the joys and struggles that come with either situation. How wonderful for a single woman to talk about some of the struggles of being single without being automatically judged as miserable, or to be able to share her happiness without someone thinking or saying “Yes, but you don’t have a man.” Conversely, how wonderful for a married woman to be able to admit she sometimes longs for alone time, or that sometimes marriage is difficult.
I also want to emphasize that I’m not anti-relationship or anti-love. I believe in love — all kinds of love — and I know its transformative power. I feel like I’m surrounded by love in my own life. And I have plenty of friends who are in (mostly) happy and healthy relationships with wonderful men.
One last thing: I decided to write this under a pen name because while I think this is a subject that needs to be addressed, there is a part of me that feels like I will be judged as a “bitter single woman.” And the fact that I have that fear, despite knowing that I’m anything but, does make me sad.
Are you ever asked to explain your relationship status? How do you respond?