Last night, I had the incredibly unpleasant experience of receiving a text message from a friend that included a screenshot of a conversation she’d been having with her roommate. The gist of its content was that my friend was trying to make her roommate feel better about something by sending her an article I’d written about that very thing. To this, her roommate responded, “She is in her 30s and miserably single, lol. I don’t want that.”
Photos, from top: Adam Katz Sinding. Homepage photo: Vanessa Jackman.
I have so much to say about this it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s get a few things out of the way first. I’ve recently realized a lot of people don’t understand my brand of self-deprecating humor, to the point that I once changed my Insta bio to read: “Guys, everything I say is a joke"; however, my friend's roommate doesn’t follow me on social media and has never read anything I’ve written. (Her exact reaction to the article my friend sent her was, “I started to read it. It’s too much for me to handle.”) So, I think it’s fairly safe to say she was making an assumption based on objective facts about my life (relationship status, age) rather than on jokes I’ve made regarding my happiness or unhappiness.
"I wish I could make my younger friends understand how much their ageist comments set us back as women."
Second, I really, really wish I could make my younger friends understand how much their ageist comments set us back as women. There’s something about being in your 20s—I remember it well—that makes you feel superior to all other women. The one who said that about me is not exactly a beacon of light, health and happiness. I’ve never not seen her stoned, on the couch, eating junk food—and yet being me is her worst nightmare because I’m older than she is. Shame on her and shame on the society that’s convinced her nothing is more lowly than an older woman.
With those two things out of the way, I’d like to address the connection implied here that being single in your 30s equals being miserable.
Sometimes I am miserable. I get bummed out about my finances. Or I wish I were in a different place in my career. Some days, it’s the hour-long commute that gets me down. Or all the people I know who are battling cancer. The current political climate. You know, that kind of stuff.
And I have been miserable on occasion because of not being single. I was miserable in the abusive relationship I endured for two years. I’ve been miserable in non-toxic relationships that just weren’t fulfilling. In any case, being single felt absolutely incredible afterward. Even though I was in my 30s.
Marriage is not a goal for my life—I need novelty so often that I can’t imagine being with one person for the rest of my life. Still, I love relationships, the purpose they serve at a certain time in your life and the ways in which they force you to grow and change. I’ve had epic ones, I’ve had tepid ones. I’ve had heartbreak that left me in bed, crying, for months. I’ve walked away from people I’ve never thought about again. I’ve had mutual partings, decided with love. Woven through them all has been single time, which I have loved most of all, and for this reason there is no part of me that defines myself by my relationship status. Romantic love is not the be-all-end-all to me, and it saddens me that the writer of that text feels my life can be boiled down to those bullet points. Single = bad. In your 30s = bad. Single + being in your 30s = misery.
"If you know someone who is single in her 30s, please don’t immediately assume she is not living her best life."
I'm not going to lie, I cried when I read that text. But then I felt emboldened, because I know it isn’t true. All of my being screamed out that it isn't true. I flipped through photos—the adventures I've lived, the people I’ve known and loved—that are proof it isn’t true. So, she did me a favor, because now anytime I get down on myself for not being "like everyone else" or when my relationship ends and I allow for a moment of "Am I going to die alone with cats" thinking, I'll be able to remember this moment and be grateful for the clarity it provided.
If you know someone who is single in her 30s, please don't immediately assume she is not living her best life. I'm not single because I can't find anyone to love me. I'm not single because no one will marry me. I'm single because that is how I feel happiest, so far, and I haven't yet met someone who makes me feel as though my life would be improved by forever tying it to his. Even my single-in-their-30s friends who want to get married are technically single by choice—they don't want to marry any of the men they've met so far. One even broke off an engagement recently, and trust me, she is far less miserable now than she was with that ring on her finger. The same is true of another friend, recently divorced at just 33.
Please don't assume what is right for you is right for everyone. Please don't assume just because you met the person you want to be with forever, everyone who hasn't is crying into their pillowcases. Chances are, the women you know who are single in their 30s have challenging jobs by which they support themselves. They likely have immense and diverse social circles. They likely have frequent adventures, lots of time for daydreaming and creating art and some really good days spent lying in bed watching bad Netflix.
"Sometimes I wish I were a man simply because I could live freely in the way that makes me happiest—single—without judgment."
It makes me angry that I have to write this to women, as I feel like we should all be on one team. Ageism sucks. Sexism sucks. If you don't think either was involved in this comment, imagine how someone would speak about a single man in his 30s, and I guarantee "miserable" isn’t the first word that pops into your mind. Sometimes I wish I were a man simply because I could live freely in the way that makes me happiest—single—without judgment. Instead, I have to pen pieces like this in the hopes of convincing women to stop being jerks to other women.
I hope the woman who wrote that text doesn't end up single in her 30s, given that she'd be "miserable" and "she doesn’t want that." But it seems to me she may already be miserable, because only unhappy people feel the need to drag others down in order to build themselves up. Regardless, she'll be in her 30s in just three short years, and I truly, truly hope she experiences them like I do—as the best years of my life thus far, relationship or not.
Oh, and for the record … I'm not even currently single.