Chris thought she’d be married by the time she was 27. Now, single at 44, she shares how she’s
letting go of that unrealistic picture in her head.
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 like 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.
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.