Recently I was sitting across from a friend at lunch when she asked me if I was dating anyone. When I said no, her face contorted into a shape I had never seen, as if I had just told her I decided to grow a second head as a fashion statement. It was a mix of pity and awkwardness, sadness and horror. I, on the other hand, looked blankly back at her while stuffing another bite of my salad into my mouth. I had just returned from a few glorious weeks vacationing in Europe, work was going great and my friends and family were all doing well. By all accounts, there was no reason to feel sorry for me. My dining companion seemed to disagree.
Truth be told, I am used to these types of reactions when people find out I’m in my upper 30s and single. I understand that a good portion of the population think this is both a cause for concern and sadness. I just don’t feel that way. My mother would tell you I have never, not once, mentioned a long, white dress in my life. As a child, she dressed me as a bride for several years in a row for Halloween probably as both a subconscious wish and, to be honest, because she wasn’t one of those moms who was good with costumes. Regardless, even though I’m a child of two very happy, 49-years-married parents, a wedding never felt like a goal for me. If it happened, cool. If it didn’t, still cool. But as I’ve grown older it’s become readily apparent that the rest of the world doesn’t believe you when you tell them that.
What struck me at that recent lunch with my friend was this: No one ever asks me about how my career is going (great, thanks for asking). Or how my savings is accumulating (just fine, thank you). They don’t ask about my latest win at work or if I’ve achieved any personal or professional goals recently. Nope, what people ask me about is if or who I’m dating as if that is the only thing that matters, the only thing that could possibly lead to “real” happiness.
Recently Jen Aniston wrote a thought-provoking essay in Huffington Post taking on the media’s portrayal of her as somehow less than if she remains childless or—gasp—gains a few pounds. As a single woman with a good career, countless friends, hobbies I love and a jam-packed travel schedule I, too, have wondered many times why is it that with all of those things going for me, people constantly feel the need to feel sorry for me because I haven’t “partnered up.” Because nothing says happiness like joining bank accounts and signing a legal document.
If we have come so far as women, why is it that we still equate so much of our happiness with being part of a duo rather than on our own? Two is better than one, plain and simple. Or is it? Last time I checked there was a 50 percent divorce rate in this country. And to be honest, when I look at a lot of the marriages around me, many of them don’t give me a lot to covet. Of course, that’s not true of all of them, but certainly more than a few. So I’m supposed to spend a good portion of my life prepping to enter into a contract that has a 50 percent failure rate? I would never enter into a business contract with those odds, so why should I be so eager about a personal one?
"If we have come so far as women, why is it that we still equate so much of our happiness with being part of a duo rather than on our own?"
In my experience, people rarely feel that way about a man. Men are rarely pitied when they say they’re single. Somehow being older and single makes some men even sexier (remember George Clooney pre Amal?). Have you ever seen a friend greet a woman who just got engaged? More often than not, the friend all but drools on the bride-to-be and the ring, congratulating said woman for her massive “success” and “accomplishment” in getting someone to ask her a four-word question. Ever seen a guy greet another guy who just got engaged? Usually it’s little more than a monotone “congrats,” often delivered in a somewhat skeptical tone and usually followed up with some sort of passive aggressive comment about one’s life being over.
Of course, if someone I wanted to hang out with for—you know–ever, came along, that would be lovely. Who doesn’t want a permanent partner in crime? But I don’t like the concept that my happiness is determined by something that is out of my hands. It isn’t up to me whether or not that person ever walks into my life so I would prefer to be judged by the things I can control, not the ones I can't.
"I would prefer to be judged by the things I can control, not the ones I can't."
If one more woman tilts her head toward me while saying in a sympathetic tone that “it’s going to happen for me,” I think I might scream. The truth is they don’t know that and frankly, given recent statistics, there is a good chance “it” may not happen for me, and that’s perfectly fine. Of course, when I tell people that, they don’t believe me. And you know what? That’s ok. I’ll worry about it on my next flight to somewhere fabulous.