Thirty, Flirty, Thriving — and Single?
Being single at 30 was never planned. The truth is I never really considered what my life would be like when I turned thirty. Yet, there is something about singlehood that forces you into imagining a future for yourself. When I had a partner in my 20s, I hadn’t thought about this future: I hadn’t considered when I would get married or what type of wedding I would have, when and how many children I would birth, where I would live to raise these unborn children, or how important being in a relationship would be to me. When I was in my 20s there just seemed to be more important things to focus on: my career, addressing my anxiety, trying to do a pull-up, building my leather jacket collection, traveling around the world, finding myself.
But when I became single in my 30s I suddenly felt like I had all these romantic goals that I failed to worked towards: having a grand and romantic wedding, raising my three perfect children, moving to a place that would fit my imaginary partner’s career goals, and a relationship that was supposed to ground me and give me purpose. There’s just one problem with these goals. They aren’t mine and if I reach them, I’m not sure they will actually make me happy.
Am I alone in this struggle somewhere between who I am and who I think I am supposed to be at age thirty? Absolutely not. Over the last few months I’ve had several conversations with women who are single and terrified of their futures. And it isn’t just single women. I’ve had conversations with women in relationships who similarly are afraid they aren’t performing adulthood in the way they should: putting off having kids, buying homes they can’t afford, putting off trips they want to take in order to save up for families they do not have. The reality is that being a woman in your thirties comes with a million expectations about how to perform adulthood correctly and it makes most of us feel like failures.
And being single in your 30s feels like the ultimate failure. And yet — I think we forget all the ways that being single might actually be a measure of the ways that we succeeded in pursuing our own happiness whatever that means to us — and not what we have been told will make us happy. For me, I succeeded at not settling for a partner who didn’t understand my passions (and didn’t really want to), who didn’t listen to me when I asked for what I needed, who didn’t take my trauma seriously and instead demeaned it, who saw my success and praises as his failures, who didn’t take care of me because he expected me to always be independent, who didn’t like how transparent I was about my life with people, who thought I wasn’t sexy enough, who was emotionally unavailable, who was conflict averse — I’m not talking about one person, I’m talking about numerous partners who I dated and in the end — all didn’t make me happy. And instead of settling, I had the courage to let them each go because deep, deep, deep down I loved myself enough.
Now, post break up it never felt that way. It felt the opposite. I hated myself, I told myself that: I demand too much of people, that my trauma had turned me into a broken person that didn’t deserve a person who was whole, that I was too complicated for someone to love, that I wasn’t beautiful enough, that I should be ashamed of myself for not being as sexy as a porn star, and I thought I was unlovable, unredeemable, and imperfect. But, deep, deep, down I loved myself.
When we become single suddenly the only way we can see ourselves is from the perspective of others. But at the end of the day with or without a partner the person we spend the most time with is ourselves. So when we anxiously chase a life that doesn’t suit us at that time, settle for partners we don’t love, buy houses we don’t want, have children we aren’t ready for — who exactly are we making happy? Our parents who are not dealing with the consequences of our choices? Our ex who doesn’t really care what life we are living because he/she is concerned with their own anxieties? Strangers who won’t think of us outside of the small exchanges we have with them?
When I stop thinking about what my life is supposed to look like from these perspectives my happiness is surprisingly very simple. What makes me happy is having a job that makes me feel purposeful, traveling and trying new things, working out every day and appreciating how strong and capable of my body is, enjoying food — cooking it, eating it, photographing it, loving my friends who understand my weird quirks and have strange and soul wrenching conversations with me, going to the grocery store with my mother and coupon hunting together, losing myself in painting and writing, finding quiet moments to think, observe, and listening to perfectly curated music playlists that no one cares about except my little sister — who is my biggest fan.
I think singlehood especially in your 30s can create a dust of anxiety that constantly reminds us of what we don’t have (and it doesn’t care if we don’t want it now or ever). And when it does that it takes us away from everything that we have and love in this moment — including ourselves. Don’t get me wrong — I want a partner. I want to build a life with someone. I want to grow old with someone. I want to raise children with someone. But, does that desire have to take up my entire life — when there is so much more to it?
As I continue on in my 30s single, I think it’s important to recognize that this status will bring with it anxieties and insecurities. That’s ok — we are living in a society that makes this inevitable. But as much as possible I’d like to distance myself from them and try to look at the entire picture of my life. Because when a romantic partner is just one piece of that — it’s easier to see exactly what type of life we want for ourselves —and eventually that person will just fit there. So, cheers to being thirty, flirty, thriving and single. May we, in spite of all the expectations of adulthood thrown onto us, curate lives for ourselves that make us happy now and someday if a partner adds to that happiness, we welcome them with open arms.