The Single Female at 31
An Account Told in 2nd Person to Alleviate the Author’s Depression at Being Single at 31
Prelogue: I wrote this piece at 31 while in The Sackett Street Writer’s Workshop. That was 3 years ago. In the time since, I’ve met a wonderful man and I’ve married him. At 34, I am quite happy. I will share another update soon on ‘The Married Female at 34, going on 35.’ Or maybe ‘The Married Female at 34, Worried that She’ll Never Bear Children.’ I may share another update in a year or two, ‘The Married Female & Mother at 36, Still Kvetching about Something.’
There is a sadness that comes with being single at 31 years old. Sometimes it feels like loneliness that will consume you unless you stave it off with a new interest in yoga and a fierce dedication to calorie counting and the taking up of the searching for a hobby. Other times — after paging through the Weddings section of the New York Times and reading about couples who found love in middle age — after searching in all the wrong places and never in their yearbooks where it turns out their old high school romances were sitting all along, waiting to be turned into far older, rekindled lovers — a slight hope bubbles in you. But even that hope is tinged with spiraling feelings of remorse. That if you have to wait until you’re 50 to find true love, you will never be one half of a perfect looking couple that album cover art is modeled after and feature film sex scenes are inspired by — because with age comes gravity — even if you have mastered yogic feats on your head and only consumed 1200 calories a day [plus everything you eat after 9 pm which never counts] for months and years on end. Chances are, that between your middle aged partner and you, one or more of you will not be as limber and tight and smooth as the youthful, airbrushed couple that movies are made of (chances actually are: you were never that smooth to begin with). Maybe your love will have gained 50 pounds in the dredges of middle age when working out became a burden and no longer a hobby and the trimness of his biceps lost out on the ladder of priorities to watching the stock market crash and growing old. Or perhaps your changing metabolism has left you thinn-ish but with a small paunch around your belly that will not go away no matter how few calories you eat before 9 pm and that will not cease being unsmooth and non-elastic no matter how many headstands you do. This is to say nothing of fertility. Which you will have lost by the time love comes. Which is to say that while you may find a later love, your love will be wrinkled and sagging and barren. And if you do hold slight hope — it is based in this reality. You ponder all of this all of the time because even when you forget for a minute your fate — The Atlantic has made a new business of reminding you about it.
While you are single at 31 and stewing on the magnitude of your plight — and until you turn 50 and re-meet your high school boyfriend, soon to be the bright light of your golden years — you will date whom you can. You will date boys in their early twenties. You will at first assume that they are your age and be surprised and disappointed that they don’t make proper plans and they don’t pay for dinner and they are self deprecating and insecure and say things like well, maybe you’d like to grab a drink one night. If you are free. But I totally get that you’re busy and might not be. In fact, you probably aren’t free. Forget I asked. Unless, you’re like, interested in getting a drink. You will realize, mid-date, how old/young they are because you’ll be talking about things that happened 10 years ago and they will respond with stories of things that happened last year — when they worked as a barista. They still, it turns out, work as a barista. But they’re totally looking for new opportunities. And you’ll also date older men — a decade your senior. They are single because they’ve already gone through first marriages and experienced great love which either faded over time or at which they failed by cheating and neglecting and being generally poor spouses. And now they are free to date again. And jaded by their former relationship. And they want things to be easy. They say, on their OK Cupid profiles, that they are looking for short term relationships. But they are really looking for casual sex. Or they are single because they have always been single because they were thoroughly interested in their careers but only mildly ever interested in not being single. They are over 40 now and their single friends with whom they drank bourbon after work and watched football on Sundays are no longer single. And they have realized that they may have to start going to brunch on Sundays instead of sleeping late and catching the game if they are to see their former drinking buddies again. Ever. And they’d rather have a girl to sit beside them at brunch if they must participate in a coed social engagement that does not involve penetration than be the third wheel and witness to someone else’s happy beginning over breakfast food. Also, they have calculated the odds, realized they’re likely more than half way through their short lives, and they are scared to die alone. So you get these men at the opposite of their peak. You get them at their most vulnerable base — the plummeted ebb that may or may not precede another flow. You date these men — the ones who are older and the ones who are younger. Because at 31, there are absolutely no men left who are also 31 and also single and do not want to remain so. So you compromise. Or you give up.
At 31, you start to spend the money you presumed that you were saving for a wedding gown — in the sparkle range of dazzling to blinding — on jewelry. Gigantic, sparkly “statement” pieces like cocktail rings and jangly bangles and large metal objects that you wear to distract others and yourself from the fact that you are not yet wearing the five carat statement that you are married or engaged to be married — or even a one carat assertion that someone has made a promise to you. You are officially unattached to another human being — showcased publicly by your lack of diamond accessories — and so, out of nowhere one day, you decide that you love big pieces that catch the light and fill the very huge black hole on your left hand. With your new taste for bling — it is, all of a sudden, completely interesting what others are wearing too. When you sit in meetings, you search the ring fingers of each man in the room and secretly sigh to yourself when you notice the flash of silver or gold or platinum in his wave and then, to cover your sigh, you smile even bigger and continue on with conversation as if to say I am totally undistracted by the fact that you are married. I am in no degree of despair that I am single and you are not. So please — carry on with the presentation you were giving. I’m not even sure why you paused. I certainly was actively listening and not staring into the shiny vortex of your wedding band.
Existing at 31 in a world that is built to support and nurture two types of adults — those who are single and carefree and in their twenty-somethings and those who are grown up and paired off and own two bedroom apartments in condo buildings — is like residing in a social purgatory where there are no rules and only slim rays of hope that appear occasionally and when you remind yourself to think positively because negative people have even lower chances of finding a mate (this is a statistic that you have read in a sociological study of human beings that are alone). You think perhaps having lived so many years bestows upon me a wisdom. Perhaps, in this infinite wisdom of 31, I can finally be myself. And so you try your hand at honesty and write odd, quirky messages to men on dating sites. You tell yourself that the right man will appreciate your self awareness and the carefree way in which you exhibit your strangeness. But then the good ones don’t write back and those who do are far too comfortable with their own strangeness than you are actually prepared to handle in another person. So you decide that 31 is the year in which you’ll finally start to embrace the better, new, and improved you. You’ll wear makeup and dress up for work and cover everything natural and real about you under a layer of foundation and designer denim. But then you start to meet men who wear cardigans and gel in their hair and every date you go on leaves you with feelings that you are posing as another version of yourself that is not yourself at all and you are too old for this — and this cannot be the type of man you are meant to end up with — and that you are nauseous. You are so very nauseous.
At six months into 31, you realize that the year has big plans to come to an end in just six months more. Twenty four weeks seem not nearly enough to develop a game plan for attacking your solitude and no project will assume the engrossing greatness that a bonafide, effective distraction requires. This leaves you with your self and your nausea to contend with and a resignation to keep on trucking through 31 because you have seen the paths of those who have gone before you and you have no reason to believe that thirty two will be different. What doesn’t change is the small sliver of hope you started with and which you will carry with you to the next year and the one after. Because the NY Times’ Weddings & Celebrations section featured another couple in their fifties this week — one who’d met in high school and walked down the aisle decades later, children from the groom’s first marriage in tow. The couple doesn’t have the glow of youth because they’re not young and the bride wore a black cocktail dress instead of a gown. But they look happy enough for all the wrinkles and the years behind them. And happy enough some years from now warrants a little bit of cautious hope while you’re single at 31, you think.