This entire post will date me, but I'm certain that I'm not the only one who has had this experience!
In my 20s I discovered Sex and the City, the HBO show about four single women in their 30s and 40s living it up and looking for love in New York City. It was a very real show that addressed sex and dating in a bold and fresh way that hadn’t been done in the 90s; for example, it was one of the first TV shows ever to have an episode about a sex toy. Scandalous, I know.
I was a fan of the show, owned the DVDs, and even had a shirt that said, “I’m a Samantha”, because who wouldn't want to be the sexy and outgoing vixen with an unwavering means of “getting with men”? Of course, I also related to the quirky Carrie, because the show was written to connect with every kind of woman. There’s Charlotte, the perfectionist who wants all the traditional aspects of a relationship, and Miranda, the cynical lawyer who is a voice of reason, but struggles with distrust of men. Together, they’re an odd batch of friends that seem to always have each other’s backs - the original girl gang.
While the show did connect with me when it came to introspective relationship questions, there was a part of me that didn’t relate at all. These were women experiencing a fun, semi-wealthy lifestyle that those of us in our 20s thought was glamorous because we didn’t see ourselves ever living it. I couldn’t have been the only 20-something that watched and thought, “Wow that would be rough to be in your 30s and single, Thank god that’s not going to be me”.
Until it was.
Society has a nice checklist for most middle-class people starting in their teen years:
Graduate high school
Go to college
Have a successful career
Marry your high school/college boy- or girlfriend
Have kids early
Work a long time
Travel and live it up once you have an empty nest
… Wait to die?
This mindset was implemented largely by the baby boomer generation because it worked in their economy and made sense for them. In more modern times, if you stray from this list, the majority of middle-class society side-eyes you but eventually says, “well, not everyone needs a college degree to be successful”, “people are having kids later on in life,” or “it’s okay to go back to college even when you’re older.”
But no one ever says “relationships aren’t for everyone” as a source of comfort. Instead, single people in their 30s and 40s hear, “they show up when you’re not looking”, which is a bullshit excuse people in relationships tell single people to make them feel better because they believe that was how it happened to them. So what if you have been looking for 7-plus years and no one has shown up yet? Just keep looking? Have faith, I guess?
More and more women are hitting walls, finding themselves single and hoping there’s “still time.” Online dating is an exhausting trial of swiping and messaging that runs the constant risk of getting ghosted, knowing you’re probably not the only one someone is talking to, and making decisions that might leave you feeling gross after the fact. While I have plenty to say about online dating, I’ll refrain for now and summarize that without apps, society simply doesn’t leave us with many options. Bars aren’t really where you expect to meet your future spouse. People say “go where you want to meet someone,” but approaching strangers in coffee shops and bookstores doesn’t really happen in real life. When women travel in packs or pairs, it makes us even less approachable. So, what do we have left, other than parties and social events where we hope we don’t find ourselves standing awkwardly alone and drinking to handle the anxiety?
Single women are left with thoughts such as:
“How is it that *insert generic woman name* never has trouble getting a boyfriend?”
“I never wanted to be an older parent, can I even get pregnant after 35?”
“All of the good ones are taken.”
And, most importantly: “What’s wrong with me?”
While it makes sense that these kinds of thoughts would show up, we need to first look at the facts before our feelings about being single spiral too far out of control.
Do you see being single as a punishment and inconvenience in life that you need to correct as soon as possible? Or is it a time to focus on yourself, decide where you want your life to be going and what you want to do with it? This time is what you make of it and mindset is critical to the outcome.
How does that one girl you know always have a boyfriend after breaking up with one?
We all have had that friend who seems to have no problem finding someone to date. Yet they never seem to have that someone long-term. That’s about standards. There are people out there who want relationships, even on Tinder, but are they the right person for you or just for right now? Also, some people have a hard time being single and find it far more comfortable to be in a bad relationship than to be on their own.
Can I even get pregnant after 35?
Contrary to popular myth, you can have children safely into your 30’s and 40’s. Adam Ruins Everything did an excellent presentation about why it's okay to wait until you're older to have children. They also touch on the real-world pros and cons of freezing your eggs.
All of the good ones are taken.
New people are becoming single every day. People go on and off of dating apps regularly because it’s so exhausting. There are plenty of good people out there who are available. Many have become products of the dating world and the behaviors it models, so it’s easy to imagine that no one out there has good intentions, but that’s simply not true. Make yourself one of the good ones!
What’s wrong with me?
We are all the common denominator in our dating lives, so after enough failed attempts, we tend to assume that we are the problem. That isn’t always the case. One of the best remedies to this is to make yourself the person you’re looking for. If you’re looking for someone who is career oriented, successful by their own definition, cares about their appearance, exercises, takes care of their body, or is adventurous and outgoing, then be exactly that. Ask yourself: Would a person like that want to be with someone like me? Why or why not? If you’re not looking for someone who parties and drinks heavily every weekend, is stuck in a job they hate, finds themselves avoiding the gym, and can’t manage their money, then don’t be that person either. Work to improve yourself and become attractive to the people you want to attract.
And lastly, relationships are truly not for everyone - and that’s okay! A Psychology Today article discussing a study that investigated whether single or married women and men are happier found that it is primarily single women and married men that are happier. Part of that finding stems from the fact that single people stay more connected with siblings, parents, neighbors, and friends more than their married counterparts. Not to mention, there are tons of perks to the single life! You don’t worry about the “drama” of relationships, you’re not navigating your life to accommodate someone else's, you’re not required to go to someone else’s family dinners, and you’re saving insane amounts of money on not having that wedding. Healthy friendships can enrich your life just as much, if not more, than having a partner.
So, whether relationships are for you or not, you’re not doing anything wrong by veering away from the outdated checklist that society and maybe even your parents put in place without asking your opinion first. You can be happy while single and enjoy that time in your life; you can use it to figure out who you are and what you want your life to look like with or without someone else as a contributing factor. If you want a partner, the advice is only partly true - they’ll show up whether you’re looking or not.
It’s also worth mentioning that by the end of Sex in the City’s six-TV-season run, only one of the four women were actually married.