A Love Letter to 31 (And Single)

Photo by Panda Landa

Dear 31 (and Single),

Some weeks ago, you went on a first date. You could tell right away it wasn’t a good fit, but you sat and chatted nonetheless, drinking cup after cup of steaming tea. The man was kind, and sweet faced, and far more into you than you would ever be him. Still, it was a nice time, and you enjoyed the company.

Afterwards, buoyed by the conversation (and caffeine), you made a point to meander around your hip, happening neighborhood. You stopped by the bookstore, the vintage shop, the co-op (okay, so its not actually a co-op, but it sure feels like one), glorying in the waning afternoon.

As you walked, you felt something… happy. A simple happiness that landed in your lap and spread through you without warning, or pause. Bright, you followed it. You picked up objects in stores and examined them. Bought yourself a treat. Smiled at a stranger. Literally smelled a flower.

It was nice. And unexpected. And something that you, 31 and single, are told you aren’t supposed to feel at all.

Of course, you’re not always so sunny, are you, 31? Some days, you throw pity parties fit for a queen. Curl up on the proverbial couch and nurse your hurts and haunts with episodes of Broad City and a caring hand. Holidays are hard. Weddings are equal parts awesome and terrible. And your mother’s insistence that you’ll find a nice prince someday only slightly annoying (part of you still likes it, you admit).

But then … there are these moments. Moments where you find joy and meaning floating in a coffee cup, or in the leaves of the succulent you pause to consider at the flower seller nearby. These evenings where the air itself is a marvel, and the way the moon edges into the night, downright magical. These nights where nothing can quite disrupt your splendor, your wonder, your insistence that it is enough you get to live this life, in any way, at all.

Ah, 31. Those are good moments. And you have plenty of them. So why do you allow yourself to feel anything else?

I know, 31, there are some reasons. Expectation first and foremost; the idea of the 30s handed to you in your youth looks little like the reality you find yourself in now. At 12, 17, 23, those years of rom-coms and wandering hormones, you were certain the 30s was a magical land of All Figured Out. Of Got it Together. Of Wow Folks, She’s Fantastic, She’s Successful, and She’s Married! The image of 30-something you you created from clippings of Friends episodes and magazines was so polished, she hardly resembled you (or anyone).

And second — you cringe, don’t you 31, to say this awful human cliché out loud — that still, somewhere in the soft folds of your belly, beyond the years of dedicated self-work and introspective growth, past the therapist’s couches and novels’ worth of journals, out beyond every cell in you that knows otherwise, you worry that you are, nonetheless, damaged, irreparable, unlovable.

Oh, 31. I wish this love letter came wrapped in tissue paper that, when you unfolded it with gentle hands, sang you the songs you want to hear. Soothed that small place in your belly. Laid out a creative path that made sense, with staircases to climb, and a map. Handed you men with flowers in their eyes and roots in their feet, and turned meaning and money into milk and honey parading down the street.

But 31 —it doesn’t. And what’s more, I wouldn’t want it to.

Because 31, that is the nectar of life. That is the sweetness, the milk (okay, non-dairy is fine), the honey you seek: the not knowing. I know how aggravating it is to hear these things, I do! But would you actually want me to hand you the answers? Wouldn’t that, at the end of the day, be a bit anti-climactic?

The truth is that no one else hands happiness to you, 31. Cinema and novels painted happiness as a gift borne by a dedicated lover, to be unwrapped only upon the exchange of vows. But you, of all people, know this to be untrue. You know that happiness is a fleeting bird who comes to sit on your windowsill when the day is bright, and the neighborhood is sweet, and the conversation flowing — or whenever you take the time to invite her in.

You know that life is lived here, 31, in these moments.

Life is lived here. Not in the what-is-not. Not in the what-should-be, but instead, in the this moment, this very moment, as it is. As it is, bruised and blemished and imperfect, with hard, heavy holidays and good days and everything in between, with great dates that lead nowhere and shitty ones that somehow do — all of it, 31, is this life that you’ve got, and to shrug that off in favor of a fanciful vision of What Should Be is to do this life no justice at all.

Will love ever arrive, 31? Will it ever show up on your doorstep with bashful eyes and open arms — and will you let it in? I don’t know. I can predict that no more than I can predict the rainfall in Los Angeles, and I am pretty terrible at that second bit already.

But will you, regardless of romance, continue to invite in happiness, and live out your precious days with passion, with joy, with verve, and squeezing every last bit of nectar out of your one, rollicking, ridiculous life as you are able — ?

Of that, 31, I am certain, and with marvel to spare.