I’m 39 and I’m single. These are the facts, the obvious part. But the why is a bit more complicated, as why’s so often are.
Most people would say it’s my fault. It’s something I did, or something wrong with me. I’m too picky, too difficult, too high-maintenance, too needy, too independent, too rash—the list is never-ending.
Is it my fault?
That’s the wrong question, because the blame game usually ends with a victor and a victim—yet another way that society enjoys separating us.
I’m neither victor nor victim. I am, however, 39 and single and, unlike some other 39 and single folks, I do not enjoy it in the slightest. In fact, I find it frustrating and infuriating. Every day is a reminder that I have failed at love, at connection, at my womanly gift of procreation.
The daily reminder goes something like this: I’m at a kid’s birthday party and everyone is oohing and aahing at their adorable 5-year-olds feasting on their own boogers and farting on one another.
And then, like clockwork, mother Queen Bee flanked by her minions asks which child is mine.
“None,” I respond with a faux smile, my sunglasses shielding the involuntary eye roll.
Quizzical stares from the proud parents of said booger-eaters.
“Then what are you doing here?” another mother asks, contemptuously.
“I get along with kids. Probably because I can do the splits.” (This is a fact.) “So-and-so’s daughter invited me.”
“And you don’t have something better to do with your Saturday?” someone else probes.
Honestly. No. Because all of my friends are partnered up, making families and doing family things, and I’m over here trying to figure out the next show I’m going to binge-watch on Netflix.
I don’t actually say this. Instead, I go with: “I’m single.”
A collective AHH, half-judgmental, half-pitying. They excuse themselves with talk of school uniforms, after-school activities, husbands who don’t make it home in time for family dinner, and other such subjects that a single, childless 39-year-old would have nothing to offer to the conversation.
It’s like I have a disease. If you get too close, you may catch it.
Singledom. Diagnosis: not booed up.
“Life doesn’t work out the way you want it to,” they say (“they” being the throngs of happily married friends and family who stare at me with that all-too-familiar look of pity). Or, “Have faith. God has a plan for you,” as they drive around in their Tesla SUV, a 4.5 karat rock on their ring finger. Or, “Life happens on God’s time, not yours.”
Really? I had no idea (said with a thick air of sarcasm). If it were to happen on my time then I’d have been married, with two kids, roughly ages seven (boy, Roman) and five (girl, Issadora, but we call her Issa for short), live in a beautiful white house (that looks like something out of a Nancy Meyers movie) with French doors off of me and my husband’s bedroom that leads to a patio and a garden with lots of greenery. I’d have a home—make that a pied-à-terre—in Paris and a country house somewhere on the Italian Riviera. My husband—who, by the way, is 6’2″, gorgeous, dark eyes, full head of dark hair—is madly in love with me, and he still brings me flowers and gifts for no apparent reason. Roman and Issa are happy and healthy and thriving in school and in life. We go on three family vacations a year, and we’re so goddamn happy that as I write this, I actually hate my faux-self.
The life I dreamed of versus the life I actually have: 39 years old, single, childless, living in a duplex without a garden or French doors. Without any of Nancy Meyers’ touches.
But my absolute favorite (and I’m using favorite as a negative here) conversation is the one where the married friend oblivious to the perils of singleness tells me that I’m too picky.
Let’s just nip this in the bud right now. I am picky, I admit it. I’ve lived 39 years with myself, for myself, by myself. I know what I want and I know what I don’t want. Pickiness isn’t bad when it comes to choosing the ripest fruit at the grocery store. Nobody complains when you’re picky about the school you want your child to attend or sticking to a daily schedule or the workout method you prefer. So why is picky suddenly a negative when it comes to the person you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with? I’m just supposed to settle even though I yearn for a deep connection that I have yet to find? Because I still do believe in a happily ever after (despite my better judgement), but happy-ish should suffice?
And then the married friend—the one who faults me for being single—always follows the pickiness comment with, “Well, then being single is your choice.”
My choice? Who the f wants to spend their Friday and Saturday nights scrolling through Bumble or Raya or whatever other relevant dating app is trending at present to find another lonely soul to converse with?
Speaking of app dating, let’s discuss this online dating phenomenon. It has literally made the going-out-and-having-a-meet-cute obsolete. YOU WILL NOT MEET A MAN OUT ON THE TOWN, SO WHY GO OUT ON THE TOWN? You go out just to hang with your girlfriends? In my 20s, sure. My early 30s, OK. Now? No. You go out to meet someone (or get laid—your choice, no judgement). So if the guys aren’t picking up girls at the bar (because they’re at home watching sports and swiping left and right), then what’s the point of going to the bar? Overpriced drinks? No, thanks. Pricey Ubers with overzealous drivers who are constantly trying to strike up worthless conversation? Rather not. Spending 30 minutes putting on makeup to impress—my girlfriends? I’d be so much happier watching an episode of Sex and the City, with visions of Carrie and Big’s true love dancing around in my lonely head.
Being single is exhausting because you always have to be “on.” When you go to the grocery store or your morning coffee run, a married person can look like a disheveled mess, dressed in sweats with globs of zit cream misplaced on her face. But a single girl? Well what if our Prince Charming is there, rummaging through the frozen foods aisle? What if the one time I don’t look like my best self, I bump into him? I can’t take that chance. Especially not at my age. I always have to come with my A-game in tow. You never know where your soulmate will be. What will this trip to CVS have in store for me? Literally and figuratively.
It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even meet eligible, available men anymore. I’m way passed the set-up stage because everyone is coupled up. One of my friends told me that she wouldn’t set me up with her husband’s single friend (singular) because he dates 25-year-old models.
“Not that you’re not pretty,” she offers. “You’re just too old for him.” And there it is: adding insult to injury. I’ve passed the appropriate single age. The age of 39 is over-the-hill when it comes to finding a partner. All of the 40- to 50-year-old men want the 25-year-old girls. Even with the help of FaceTune, I’d never want to be 25 again, tyvm.
My divorced friends—the ones who have exes (ex-husband, ex-mother-in-law, ex-step children)—feel as though they’ve just struck the lottery. Single life is everything to them. They scorn my indifference, make that outright angst, for single life. Little do they know, the facade fades away fast and furiously. And what you’re left with is a) being the oldest woman at the club or b) having your most serious relationship be the one between you and your Apple TV. I’m onto the latter: Apple TV is definitely my most significant relationship.
I HAVE to believe that God has got something better in mind for me. If I think otherwise, I’ll never get out of bed. I’ll obsess over why and how I ended up here: alone at 39. I’ll obsess over why and how I’ve gone this long without any actual sex. I’ll obsess over why and how I can spend so much time solo, talking to my dog. (Have I lost my mind, Harper? As if on cue, she wags her tail. Damnit.) I’ll obsess over why and how I got to this point in my life where I PASS OUT AT 10:30 P.M. ON A FRIDAY NIGHT—AND NOT BECAUSE I’VE BEEN DAY DRINKING OR I SMOKED TOO MUCH WEED. BECAUSE I’M TIRED. EXHAUSTED. SPENT. AND ALL I DID TONIGHT WAS ORDER IN RAMEN (THANKS TO POSTMATES) AND WATCH A LOUSY ROMANTIC COMEDY ON NETFLIX. (I CRIED, OBVIOUSLY. WHY DOESN’T IT END HAPPILY EVER AFTER IN REAL LIFE?!)
HOW IS THIS MY LIFE?!
Inhale, two, three, four, five. And exhale, two, three, four, five.
STOP. CANCEL. DELETE. I refuse to get stuck in the hamster wheel of thoughts that tell me I’m not worthy. Feelings aren’t facts. (No, I did not read this in a Hallmark card, but it would make for a damn good one.) I am worthy. I am lovable. I have the journals of affirmations that I used to write religiously to prove it: “I am lovable. I deserve love. I welcome love. I am love.” I have the vision boards that I made, images of houses, children, and Justin Timberlake glued to a piece of cardboard. I have the notebooks filled with the traits of my “ideal man.” But if you believe in the power of manifestation (it depends on the day, personally), then this perfect man should’ve found his way into my life. I should be married to him. I should have kids with him. I should be living that happily ever after dream … shouldn’t I?
Reality check. Justin Timberlake is taken. Jessica Biel got to him first. Her vision board must’ve been way better than mine.
My old therapist once asked me if I wanted a husband because I actually wanted to be in a relationship, or if I wanted a husband because society says that at a certain age that’s what you’re supposed to have. I scoffed at her ridiculous—and, quite frankly, rude—inquiry. But then I pondered what a husband actually meant. The guy I thought I wanted in my 20s is not the same guy I want in my 30s. (Sorry, JT … I’m into Ryan Gosling now.) The attributes I deemed non-negotiable are now actually negotiable. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and that clock is tick-tocking so damn loud, it keeps me up at night. Perhaps it’s because I’m wiser and the things I thought I wanted I’ve learned aren’t what make for a loving, lasting relationship. Perhaps 20-something years of dating has left me slightly jaded and, at this point, I’ll take pretty much any man with a beating heart and a full head of hair. And a job. And 6’2”, fit, brown hair, brown eyes, smart, funny, Ivy League educated, and interested in art, politics, and film. Oh, and he should have a job in tech or finance, but I’m fine with any career that isn’t creative, as long as he’s successful in said career. Struggling artists need not apply (been there, done that—for all of my 20s, literally).
Okay, so I do still have that laundry list of attributes. Hey, I admitted I’m picky. But after one too many awful dates, I come home, drop to my knees, and pray to God that he puts a kind man in my path. Because, at the end of the day, I really just want someone who loves me, unconditionally. I want to feel safe.
The rest of it is just pretty window dressing.