I married at 43, to the collective relief of my friends, who feared I’d be the last, lonely single gal among them. Still, I remember well my decades of single life, and the struggle to stay strong and independent and not “need” a man, while all the while harboring the desire to marry and have children and fearing it would never happen for me.
That juxtaposition—the “you’ve come a long way, baby” expectation of happy bachelorette-hood versus the pressure—and desire—for a lasting, long-term relationship puts single women between a rock and a hard place. If you’re single and looking for a man, you’re labeled as desperate. Yet if you’re single and don’t have a man, you’re odd woman out among your married friends.
THE ROCK: ASHAMED TO ADMIT OUR LONGING
Years ago, I huddled with two of my closest girl friends in a mountain cabin, lamenting my long-term relationship that had just ended. I thought I was dating the man I would marry, but he had different ideas.
My friends and I were all self-avowed feminists. We came of age in an era where abortion was a guaranteed right and college and career were the expectations. We all had our own apartments (although I had until recently shared mine with my ex) and our own money. We could come and go as we please, eat standing up in the kitchen, take lovers, and answer to no one. We had it all, right?
Still, I wanted to get married and have children. My two friends wanted none of this. They were adamant, to the point that I was a little embarrassed to admit my “traditional” desires of husband and family. They might not have had contempt for me, but they did for my June Cleaver-esque longings.
Somewhere into our second or third bottle of wine, I realized that I’d sought counsel from the wrong women, and I told them so. “It’s not easy saying I want to get married and have babies around you two! You make me feel like it’s something I shouldn’t want.”
They heard what I was saying, and they tried to be kinder as I wept over my ruined dreams. And in a bitterly ironic twist, both married long before I did, and one now has a young son. So much for their rejection of traditional lifestyles!
Read Related: How to Be Single and Love It
I don’t think my experience was so unique. Because single women are supposed to just love being single. They’re supposed to be strong enough to shake off loneliness, longing and worry about the future. (Though one of my above-mentioned friends did always worry that she’d die of an aneurysm and her dog would eat her body, and then police, when they finally found her body after neighbors complained of the smell, would blame the innocent dog, who was just hungry, after all.) Because we’ve grown up in an era where we don’t “need” men for the primordial needs of shelter, food and protection—heck, we don’t even need them to procreate anymore—we’re expected to not need men for any of our emotional needs, either. Love, friendship, companionship, romance, a co-parent…who needs ‘em when we’ve got a good job and we pay our own bills? Admit that you want all of these things, and you risk the scorn of other single women, the pity of your married friends, and that dreaded label of “desperate.”
THE HARD PLACE: SHUNNED BY THE SMUG MARRIEDS
The flip-side to the myth of the happily single successful gal is that once your friends get married, they join a club to which you are not eligible for membership. I’m not saying they won’t still be your friends, but when one person melds her life with another, her priorities and responsibilities change. Plus, married couples hang out with other married couples. Where does that leave you, the still-single fifth wheel?
I got a good dose of this in my 30s, when my single friends were fewer and farther between. I was particularly close to one couple; progressive and modern, theirs was not a traditional marriage. She was the breadwinner, he was an artist, and they never, ever wanted to have kids. (They now have two.) They were hosting a couples-only themed wine dinner at their home. It promised to be a classy, fun event, and there would be lots of people I knew in attendance. Plus, there would be all that wine…
Except…I was not allowed to come without a date! Me, one of their closest friends! Fortunately, I was dating a new fella, and I brought him to the dinner with me. Otherwise I would have very likely sat home that Saturday night and cursed my misfortune at still being single.
But it wasn’t just this one dinner. There were countless other parties, dinners out, movie nights and outings to which only the married folks were invited. And I don’t think they were excluding me to be mean. It’s just that in the lives of married couples, single friends only fit into certain corners. And as our friends marry and have kids, we have less and less common ground to bind us together.
Now that I am married and have a baby, I naturally have a much better understanding of how life changes when you are bound to a partner and family. But I was single long enough to remember every bit of longing that creeps in, even as I see single ladies try to keep a brave face. I applaud those single women who are really, really happy without a man in their lives, and perfectly fine with the outcome whether one comes along or not. (Better alone than in a bad relationship, right? It took me decades to learn that lesson!) But I know, too, that you can have your house and your career and your freedom, and your beloved dog, who may well eat your body if you keel over from an aneurysm, and still feel there is something missing from your life. And guess what? There’s no shame in wanting more!