It was the morning after Thanksgiving and I was at a special 2 hour Zumba class that my favorite instructor was leading. As I was dancing and sweating up a storm, I had this flash of thankfulness, which was appropriate given the holiday weekend. I was thankful for the chance to sleep in, thankful for a healthy body that allowed me to move so freely, and thankful for the opportunity to wake up without much thought and go to Zumba class. I surveyed the room and recognized that many of the women likely had to worry about childcare or leaving family members behind in order to make the sacrifice to be there, others had to leave class early due to various responsibilities, and even more couldn’t make it. I breathed a deep sigh of contentment for being just where I was. Less than a week later, I completely removed myself from all online dating sites and apps for the first time in ages.
I always thought I would be married by the time I was 30. It makes sense that I thought this. It was really the only path that was presented to me for a woman growing up in the context I grew up in. When you grow up in small towns or religious settings, people marry young. It’s the cultural norm. Even if you leave this context, the overarching societal norm is that eventually you will settle down, you will get coupled, you will have kids. That’s the way it is “supposed” to be. How else would you ever find true happiness, fulfillment, love, etc. etc. etc.? I went to undergrad at an institution where the unspoken (or quite often, spoken) rule was “ring by spring.” That’s how it was “supposed” to be. You were supposed to meet a nice person in school and you were supposed to start your married life together soon after. The underlying assumption that was subtly communicated was that if you weren’t married by 25 or so, there must be something wrong with you. Regardless of the specifics, if you were a woman who wasn’t married by her late twenties or early thirties, you have to be too much of something or not enough of something else. In my case, I was too picky, not pretty enough, too opinionated, too independent, and too smart. Yes, these were the messages I fed to myself, but I need to set the record straight, these were messages that were spoon-fed to me by others long before I believed them to be true. And being too much and never enough, I remained single long past my expiration date… This meant I got to experience the “joy” of hearing the variety of myths coupled people LOVE to share with single people: he’ll show up right when you stop looking, you’re too cool to stay single forever, maybe once you get (blank) in order you’ll find someone. You name it, I’ve heard it. If these “rules” actually apply, why are there some many desperate, disastrous couples getting married?!
For every myth there is about how to change your single status, there is another myth about people who choose (or don’t choose) to remain single. “Single people are selfish: they only have themselves to think about and therefore, they only think about themselves.” Now without giving myself too much credit, that could not be farther from the truth about my circumstances. I work at a job where on any given day, I could have an issue arise with any number of the thousands of students I’m responsible for. Whatever they walk in with, stories of sexual assault, years of child abuse, time spent in the foster care system, suicide attempts, panic attacks, abandonment, I have to be ready to hold it. I have to step outside of my own worries and cares and embrace all the tears, the anger, the hurt. Then, when the work day is done, I have to step back inside of those worries and cares and still manage to care for all the people that I have been entrusted to me in my life. Selfishness is not associated with a marital status. Believe me when I say, selfish people are selfish people no matter what stage you throw them in. “Single people aren’t busy.” Why don’t you try to say that to me when I was finishing grad school and working a full time job for 40+ hours a week while simultaneously completing 20+ hours a week of my counseling practicum at the hospital? Or maybe try that one on me now while I am working at my job and also volunteering hours at the counseling center to meet the 3000 hour requirement needed to get my license. I get it, some people attempt this kind of schedule while simultaneously having a family, so yes, I suppose in that scenario, a married person would be busier than a single person. But once again, busy people come in all marital statuses.
So if by some miracle you manage to laugh your way through the myths and the “advice” you’re bombarded with as a single person and come out unscathed, what are your options?
I’m finding being single in my thirties far more enjoyable than it was in my twenties. So what does that mean? Does it mean that I never want to be married? Does it mean I don’t want to have children some day? To me, the answer to those questions is simple… Of course not!!! Since when does contentment and thankfulness with what you’ve been given preclude you from being content and thankful if someday you happen to be given something else? I realized something recently, which is I have wasted a whole lot of energy being in a place of discontentment about something because everyone else was telling me that I should feel discontentment about it. It seems whenever I am with single people they are heartbroken about their singleness and whenever I am with coupled people, they are trying to convince me how incomplete I must be without what they have. The problem with all this information I am being provided is that I don’t believe it. My wholeness and satisfaction doesn’t come from whether or not a boy likes me, my happiness isn’t wrapped up in “achieving” the husband, picket fence, and 2.5 kids. I don’t believe the deepest love is found in having a child. I also think I have accomplished some pretty cool stuff, like being the youngest in my family, but the first to get a graduate degree, discovering a career I love, and having some of the most amazing friends. I’ve gone on trips and I’ve learned to dance. I’ve mentored and been mentored. I’ve read, and written, and learned. I’ve given of myself and received in return more love than I could ever imagine. My life is full. Sure, it has dark spots. I’ll never be the rainbows and butterflies type; I see the world for what it is, with all of it’s brokenness. But still, my life is full.
Getting married young works for a lot of people. That’s not my personal journey, but I don’t have a problem with you if that’s yours. Can you be happy for me even though our stories are different? Can you believe me when I say I don’t see my singleness as a death sentence? Can you support me for as long as I choose (or don’t choose) to be single? Can we celebrate each others’ successes, mourn each others’ losses, carry each others’ burdens? Can we laugh at what’s funny, cry at what’s sad… vent when marriage is hard or singleness is hard without believing it means one wants a divorce and the other is desperate? Happiness doesn’t come easily to me and I have a lot of things in my life that could give me cause to be unhappy, but as strange as it is to say it, I find myself pretty happy right now. So please, PLEASE, let me enjoy it. Let me live loved and full and joyful. After all, this is a celebration, not a funeral.