Over 35 & Single? That’s Okay

Note: I wrote this for another site about a year ago.

When I was about 9 or 10, I decided that I would be married by age 27. I don’t know where I got that number. It sounded likechristan_prom a good age at the time. At 10 years old, I thought I was supposed to be married and have children before I turned 30.

My teen years were awkward ones. I wasn’t very confident around boys. I was awkward in both presentation and looks. I’d climb into my dad’s car after a school dance, and he’d ask if I met any boys. I’d shake my head while fighting back tears. He’d stay silent for a while and then say, “Don’t worry. Your time will come.”

My 20s presented a number of romantic opportunities. While I may have blossomed into an attractive woman on the outside, on the inside I was still that girl who would sit alone in the bleachers as Journey’s Open Arms played, signaling the end of the mixer. I didn’t know how to flirt and was struggling to like myself. My lack of experience with the opposite sex during high school and college had severely stunted me. I didn’t have the same level of experience as other women my age, thereby making me a dating liability well into my 30s.

By my late 30s my father stopped asking me if I was dating anyone. I used to think it was because he had given up on me ever finding a partner. It wasn’t until much later that I realized his heart broke for me whenever I would say no, just like it did those nights years ago when he’d take me for ice cream after the dance.

At 44 I have come to terms with the reality that marriage is probably not in my future. I would love to say that this was my choice all along. But I can’t. There are some days where I feel overwhelmed by the longing for a partner. Usually that pull comes after a particularly long work week or in the midst of a crisis. Not having that person to turn to and who sets aside all of their priorities for you can sometimes make those especially difficult days tougher. That sense of wistfulness eventually subsides and I feel perfectly content and complete. I’m not single by choice. I’m single by circumstance. I accepted my participation in this outcome a long time ago. That, too, is incredibly freeing. Once you own the mistakes and bad choices, nobody can shame you. You’re free to write your own Second Act.

When never-married women my age write in to me with their dating dilemmas, the one thing I always try to point out to them is that they’ve made it this far being single. They’ve developed a sustainable career and established themselves financially and socially. They’ve done this all without a man. What’s truly unfortunate is that so many women have been conditioned to believe that all of that—the great job, the loving friends, their passions—mean nothing if there isn’t a man to point to in their life. While I don’t try to dissuade these women from finding a partner, I make sure to remind them that they always have the ability to re-define their idea of a happy ending. Maybe it will have a leading man or maybe it won’t. Perhaps he’ll just be a supporting character. That’s the beauty of taking control of your own story rather than allowing someone else to write it for you. You get to decide how it unfolds.

Yes, they might get those waves of soul-crushing loneliness from time to time. Anybody who ever said that being single was a round-the-clock after-party was lying. There are plenty of upsides to it, for sure, but what goes up must come down from time to time. It won’t always be easy, but you’ll get through it.

Sometimes I feel like women aren’t supposed to admit to feeling isolated or dissatisfied with being single. Take, for example, one of the sections on an OK Cupid dating profile that invites people to share what they do on a typical Friday night. Since I review profiles for clients as part of my job, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of responses to this one question. Many men don’t think twice about admitting that they might spend that night home alone watching Netflix. The women, however, almost across the board fill that space with dinner parties and happy hours and activities. You’d think their lives were episodes of Sex and the City played on a loop. There’s this pressure to appear completely fulfilled and busy 100% of the time. That’s another one of those expectations that many single women try to fulfill in order to avoid looking (and feeling) like a failure. God forbid that DoctorBoiforU knows that you sit home binge watching House of Cards or Sherlock.

I don’t often post inspirational quotes to Twitter or Facebook, but when I saw this one being passed along I thought it was a good fit for this piece.

What screws us up most in life is the picture in our heads of how it’s supposed to be.

I grew up believing that, as a woman, I was expected to want marriage. Once I understood that I had been pursuing a goal that had no authentic desire or intention behind it, it became easier for me to accept being single. I wish I could say that I was completely at peace with that, but I can’t. What I can say is that I don’t fear being alone anymore the way I did when I had all that pressure looming over me.

If I could go talk to the 10-year-old me, awkward and lonely and wondering when a boy might tell her he likes her so she could be like everybody else, I’d say what my dad used to say to me when I’d get in his car after another unsuccessful night at the dance. Only I’d add one thing.

Don’t worry. Your time will come. But it might not look the way you think. And that’s OK.



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13 Responses to “Over 35 & Single? That’s Okay”

  1. Erin Says:

    This is truly one of your best posts ever! Although I am one of your married readers, I have learned so much from your posts. I have always said that the majority of what you write can be applied to almost any relationship in your life; co-workers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, friends, clients, business associates etc. I truly do believe that other than catastrophic illness and death, most things do turn out the way they are suppose it just sometimes takes us a very long time to understand why something was truly the way it was suppose to work out. We all make our own happiness whether we are married or single and that is why it is truly so important for each of us to figure out that which truly makes us happy. As you said the pictures in our head of what we think life should be like hurt us so much more than they ever help us. The greatest thing about getting older is realizing most people truly want what is best for the people they love and although we all have difficult people in our lives we have to deal with difficult people are their own worst enemies. Any one who worries about why someone else is single is probably desperately unhappy with themselves and the choices they have made and they want to deflect all attention away to themselves. Single people can be easy targets for unhappily married people. Happily married people never try and make single people feel uncomfortable about their lives. Happy people single or married know that everyone’s lives follow different paths. Thanks for always giving us such great food for thought. Always wishing you the best!!!!!

  2. Megira Says:

    This post was very honest and comforting. It really is food for thought in interpreting my own single status. Thank you.

  3. C Says:

    This was great!

    My mother used to tell me, “There are both happy and miserable single people just like there are both happy and miserable married people”. Her attitude really took the pressure off from feeling like I had to do or be anything other than happy. I hadnt realized how lucky I was to have a mother with such a view of life until I read this piece. She taught me to chase what makes me happy and allow the rest to take care of itself.

  4. Howard Says:

    Posts like this are good on most levels. However there is a little pitfall hiding around the corner. As humans we do need a little of that uneasiness to spur us into making things happen. If the advice in the post is taken the best way, then the outcomes are good, but unfortunately, that is often not the case. These types of posts often act as a way of satisficing, as opposed to self-searching, prioritizing and adopting a more expansive view of other people. The last item especially hits the nail on the head as to the very name of this site: “And that’s why you are single”

    Too many people have a higher standard in others, that they themselves greatly lack in matching. Cinderella delusions are indeed alive and well, and of course so terribly destructive to mindset of many, causing endless searching for some prince or princess that never ever materializes.

    • Goldie Says:

      As someone who put very little thought into deciding on a partner – did that three times in a row to be exact – I cannot fault those readers on this blog that are more selective in their search for, not a prince or princess, but someone who is a good fit for them, and they for that person. None of my exes was a bad person, we were just a pretty terrible fit each time.

      I’ve said it on this blog before and I will say it again – nothing is worse than being trapped in a bad marriage. NOTHING. It really is hell on earth. It destroys your soul and your outlook on life. Seriously.

      When I told a close friend I was getting ready to separate and start divorce proceedings, she asked me, “How are you going to live alone?” I told her, “Same way I’ve been living alone all these years”. My ex husband and I lived under the same roof, but we had separate lives, separate bedrooms, friends, finances, nothing in common. When we did interact, it was to argue and disagree with the way the other one lived their life. I used to lay awake at night, scared half to death of what would happen if I got sick, lost my job, etc and had no one but this semi-stranger to support me through the tough times. I am now less afraid of growing old alone than I was afraid of growing old with that man.

      As amazing as it is to be in a healthy partnership, being single and content with it is the next best thing. Being in a so-so partnership, or in a dysfunctional one, isn’t. It is not an option for me anymore, been there, done that, do not recommend it to anyone. And let’s face it, no matter how much we work on ourselves, build our connections to other people, grow personally and intellectually – which is what I’m sure a lot of this blog’s readers do on a regular basis – finding a good partner is still like winning the lottery, highly unlikely. I’d rather concentrate on being the person *I* can live with and be happy with, while meeting other people and learning from/about them. If one of those people happens to be the right man for me, awesome. But if not, then it would behoove me to learn how to be happy with myself.

      • Howard Says:

        The problem, is that every person is rolling out this exact type of logic of finding a good match, which in reality ends up for most, to nothing but arbitrarily high standards. And I do understand the frustrations of wanting to make things happen but dealing with a “rest of the world” that is stuck in that mode.

        The reality of modern life, even with help from blogs like this, is that we just take a really lot longer to find a match, compared to our ancestors or people in the supposedly less developed countries. What makes it even more distressing, is all the technology, greater social avenues and greater leisure time we have, compared to our forebears. It seems as though we use these things, that should benefit us, to create greater problems.

        One concept about life, transcends everything. When we really want things to happen, we generally make those things happen. It’s not so much about trying or working harder; it’s more about changing our attitudes and outlook.

        I accept the need for coping mechanisms, after all, life is about creating happiness, irregardless of the situation. But as we do that, let us not fall into the trap of losing sight of, or foregoing our goals. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we are fine and wonderful growing old by ourselves; for most of us, there is a little voice at the back of our heads saying, “There is somebody out there with whom I can have a very happy life” If it weren’t so, blogs like this would not exist.

        • C Says:

          You both raise great points.

          I would think there must be a happy middle ground between grabbing the first guy that comes along and setting yourself up for failure by demanding unreasonable and unnecssary partner attributes.

          I briefly dated a guy who seemed very focused on achievement. I know this is going to sound strange but the way he talked, I got the impression that he would never settle for anything less than a very attractive 30-something year old woman who was at the top of her field (like the woman his brother was dating who held a very coveted Federal position). He claimed to want a family, but he is turning 50 this year as a lifelong bachelor. I hope he finds what he is looking for but it seems like he is shooting himself in the foot.

          • Goldie Says:

            Sigh, I currently want someone who would feel at ease with me, and I with him, i.e. there’d be a good connection on the personal level, matching core values, no massive dealbreakers (like zero income/zero assets, anger/violence issues, substance addictions etc), some level of physical attraction, who’s more or less at the same stage in life as I am (doesn’t want anymore kids, things of that nature). And sometimes I think that I’d have better luck if I had a checklist of height/weight/degree/income. It is so hard to find someone who understands you and you, him. Much harder than it is to find a proverbial 6′ Ivy League PhD with a six figure salary. So yeah, on one hand, my bar is set high, but on the other, it isn’t set high in the way that people normally expect it to be. I don’t plan on lowering it, though, for now at least.

            I never did grab the first guy that came along. There was good chemistry and many items checked off on the usual height/weight/status/shared interests checklist. I just never looked at whether we “got” each other, if you will. Neither did I look at whether our core values were the same. I assumed that, with enough attraction and compatible interests, the person would grow on me and I on him. And things do not seem to work that way.

        • Matt Says:

          “The reality of modern life, even with help from blogs like this, is that we just take a really lot longer to find a match, compared to our ancestors or people in the supposedly less developed countries.”

          You mean with the arranged marriages that were/ are common? Yeah, we do take longer, because the choice is in our hands instead of someone else’s.

          • LostSailor Says:

            Yeah, we do take longer, because the choice is in our hands instead of someone else’s.

            Yeah, that, and the fact that there’s almost too much choice, leading to the idea that there’s always someone “better” out there. Of course, that was always true, but holding out for the supposedly “better” wasn’t much of an option…

  5. Mark Says:

    Moxie’s post has the ring of honesty to it.

    It has that ever sting of such an admission without coming across as self pitying. So it sounds heartfelt.

    If you were to read a random sampling of some of the letters they tend to fall into one of the notions that she touched upon. Either directly or indirectly. That goes for both men and women of every type. We all have our own threads that we use to weave the tapestry of our lives. So make the best of what you have, not with what you don’t. There are no guarantees, not about much anyway. But you can certainly do some things to improve the odds in your favor.

    Sun Tzu, a famous general concluded the following:

    “Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    Sometimes a person needs to take a break from things. Other times a self assessment is in order (hopefully an honest one). Then you can decide whether or not to move ahead in the hope of looking for that person who makes you laugh as well as make you cry. But in the end they help you answer the age old question of what the fuss is all about.

  6. Lisa Says:

    Coming from a Christian perspective here (which I realize not everyone subscribes to but…) we aren’t all promised marriage. Single ppl have a role in the Church, too. It’s not about wanting it and expecting it; you go along w/ whatever purpose God has in mind for you

  7. Ben Iyyar Says:

    Moxie, it saddens me how you suffered as a teen and young woman. But it is your difficult relationship experiences, along with your own sensitivity and intelligence, that informs your insightful dating advice and often profound relationship commentary. As a husband and a father I have personally benefited from your blog in my relationship with my wife. Moreover, I have often used your advice to help my sons to unravel their occasionally complicated and difficult relationships with women. I feel that you are doing a lot of people a lot of good, and I thank you for it.

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