On Navigating The Part of Your Life That You’re Supposed To Have a Family But You Don’t.
When at the age of 31-yrs old my boyfriend of five years broke up with me I was deeply heartbroken but also stunned that I was no longer on the path of getting engaged, getting married, and having children by the age of 35. That was the course that I had seen so clearly unfold in my head, and when I vocalized this desire to him it was then that our relationship began to systematically implode.
After he was gone my best friend confidently assured me that the next person I met was the one I was going to marry. The next person came and went, as did the next, and several more after that. I was existing on a steady diet of men with commitment phobias, complicated divorces, and aggressive OCD issues that had prevented them from settling down. This was dating in your 30’s.
I go to dinner with my friends and their husbands and tag along to their Upstate homes on weekends. A few years ago I got my officiant license and performed the ceremony of my best friend’s wedding (always the officiant, never the bride). My friends ask their partners if they have any single friends. “None that are good enough for you,” is most often their response. I’m pretty sure that’s code for “the only people I know that aren’t married have proven themselves incapable of maintaining a meaningful adult relationship.”
At 36, it can feel a bit surreal to wake up alone. There is an expectation when we’re younger that we will have met our match by this point and if both partners agree to pro-create, that process will be well underway. There is a stigma that if you are still single at a certain age, it must be either a choice (i.e. I am too independent and free-spirited to ever settle down) or you are damaged goods (i.e. traumatized from a past relationship or bat-shit crazy). I happen to think that I don’t fall into either of those categories, and it becomes exhausting and a little humiliating explaining that to people when they ask why I’m still single. The truth is I don’t know, I just am. Why am I supposed to have a reason?
The last few years of my life have been very different than the depiction of being single that shows like Sex and The City portrayed. When I watched SITC in my late teens and early 20’s, I imagined that like the series main characters, I would bounce around from man to man until I finally found my Mr. Right (or Mr. Big as the case may be), but throughout it all I’d be surrounded by my closest friends and have many glamorous nights filled with cocktails and fabulous parties. I still have my closest friends, but I see them less these days. They love me all the same, but they have spouses and babies to take care of now. On top of it all, we live in New York which means we are all overworked. Most nights I come home exhausted. There is less expendable energy and time for things like spontaneous martini gatherings. And dating.
The last best date I went on was with a guy named Josh that I met on OkCupid. He sent me a perfectly witty and non-creepy message. He had a mop of reddish-brown hair and clear blue eyes. After skimming his profile, I determined that his grammar was excellent and therefore he seemed too good to be true. Spoiler alert: he was. On our first date, we slurped oysters and told each other made up stories in funny accents. We ordered cocktails for each other and tried to guess what ingredients were in them. I stayed out way too late and at work the next day my painful hangover only served as a visceral reminder of the electric night I just had. We went out on two more dates that same week. On the third date, I could tell it was over the minute he walked into the bar. I arrived on time, and he was very late. He kissed me on the cheek and avoided my eyes. He told me he was going skiing in Norway the next week (duh, he’d already told me that). But not with his friends like he’d mentioned. With just one friend, actually. His ex-girlfriend. Because they were getting back together, maybe. A romantic getaway in Scandinavia would probably help crystallize that for him.
When my younger sister had trouble getting pregnant everyone rallied around her and tried to be as supportive and optimistic as possible. She was undergoing IVF treatment, and the constant dose of hormone injections was making her extraordinarily emotional. On a vacation that was supposed to relax and distract her, she lashed out at me for not giving enough attention to her vacant womb. Feeling hurt and bitchy, I wanted to respond, “I’m not pregnant either.” But I didn’t because that would have been mean. And when you’re single you don’t get to complain about things like that. What you do get to do is be happy for everyone around you who is getting engaged and having babies (thankfully my sister is now is the mother of two beautiful twin girls) and try not to think about whether or not you’ll ever have those things too.
This is not to say that I don’t live a fulfilling and happy life — I do. In my 30’s I changed careers, got my Master’s Degree, travelled extensively, found a job that I love, and really learned to appreciate myself. When you graduate from your 20’s, you shed a lot of the self-doubt and need for validation that seems as vital as food and water when you’re younger. You wake up one day, and you’re just more comfortable being yourself. Part of getting older is tolerating a lot less bullshit.
Every so often I’ll get nostalgic for my younger self. I’ll be in a cab coming home from the East Village, and I’ll remember what it was like to be out all night, dancing in dark corners of grungy bars; greasy 3 am diner meals and watching the sun rise before you finally go to bed. There was a lot less responsibility then, but also a lot less to be proud of.
I think I have a pretty great life and not a lot to complain about. But sometimes I can’t help thinking that it would be nice not to have to try and explain why I’m single anymore.