Q: Is being single in your 40s difficult? (for those 40 year olds who aren’t married)? — 20-something
A: No more difficult than being married in your 40s:) — 40-something
This question came in and I hesitated to answer right away because it’s a big one. It could be half the subject of my book. As someone who’s been both single and not single in my 40s, and who has interviewed many women on both sides of the marriage equation, I definitely see the ups and downs of each. I will go ahead and start the conversation on single-hood in your 40s today.
I think the hardest part for some 40-something singles is the judgement of others. Part of the inspiration for writing my book (yes I’m in the process of turning all this into a book) was that so many 40-year-old women still feel a stigma about being single. I don’t want 20-somethings today to feel that stigma when they’re 40. It’s crazy. We finally have choices. For my mothers’ generation (think the movie Revolution Road), it was just expected that you would get married and have kids. If you weren’t happy with that, then there was something seriously wrong with you. You had to deal with it quietly as no one was going to lend a supportive ear. Today we know, in theory at least, that marriage and baby is not an automatic “pass go” to happiness. But on a personal level we keep feeling that it is somehow better.
One 40-something woman, who is quite otherwise happily single, said to me that she would rather tell people that she’s divorced than single because people think something is wrong with you. Try telling that to all the women who’ve gone through the difficulties of divorce.
I don’t dismiss the powerful affect that family pressure, society and media messages about couple-dom put on young women (rom-coms and coverage of the royal wedding to name a few), but I think some of the judgement is in our own heads. When it comes right down to it, it’s just another case of you thinking other people are spending way more time thinking about you than they do. You just have a lot more time in your head for you. Yes, we are fascinated by the Cinderella stories (and the break-down of them too) but that doesn’t apply to real life when we are dealing with our own day to day issues.
Just think about your friends that are single…vs. married…do you like them any differently because of their status? Probably not. Other lifestyle constraints may get in the way of spending more or less time with them, but you probably like them for reasons well beyond whether they are single or married. Similarly, have you ever looked at a divorced person and thought less of them for the simple fact that they are divorced? That would pretty much take out half of the once married population. So relax…you are probably putting more pressure on your “status” than anyone else is. And truthfully, if someone does judge you for that, they probably aren’t worth being friends with or dating.
I’m not pro marriage or being single…I’m pro figuring out what makes you happy and doing that for yourself rather than because of the expectations of others. The trends point to the fact that more people are staying single and there will be an increasing number of single people in our culture. So why do so many young women still feel the pressure. I read a figure the other day that 30% of divorced women knew it wasn’t right when they went down the aisle. So many of them went ahead down the aisle for people other than themselves. This is so true based on the women I’ve talked to.
My thought, let’s not propogate that stigma so we don’t continue to make the same mistakes. Here are a few things we all can do starting with ourselves:
1) Stop looking for reasons why single = something wrong. When you or your friends date someone amazing there’s this a natural tendency to wonder what is wrong with them if they haven’t been “snapped up”. Stop dissecting that and start thinking how great it is that they are available. The more you look for a skeleton in the closet the more you waste time not getting to know that person in the present. Then, you’ll be better able to notice if there’s something that doesn’t work for you in the relationship…rather than if there was something that didn’t work for someone else.
2) Start relishing why single = something right for you, at this time.
Again, stay present. There are lots of things to enjoy about being single. And to look forward to. Getting back to the original question, being single in your 40s is better than ever. It’s sort of like being single in your 20s without any of the stresses. Once you get past any feeling of judgment (which many women don’t feel anyway…the joy of being 40 is that you care less about what other people think), there is so much freedom. By 40:
- You have more disposable income than when you were younger and less responsibility than you do as a couple. You can pick up and travel and pursue your passions on your schedule or lack there of. You can be a lot more spontaneous.
- You can live on your own. No roommates needed to share expenses or washing machines, or parents for that matter. You can enjoy the paper all to yourself, eat what you want, watch what you want. You can spend time with your friends or on your own without feeling selfish.
- You are over the Sunday blues or Friday “I have to go out” mentality. You can choose to stay in on Friday night and go out on Sunday night and not feel guilty on either account.
- You still have first kisses in front of you.
These are just a few. We’ll keep the list running.
On the downside, I’d have to point out that it’s easier in urban areas or cities where there are more singles. And even in cities, it’s difficult to be spontaneous when your friends are all married with kids But that is probably more in your head too. You don’t have to limit yourself to single friends. Get rid of the phrase “token single”. Why not go on a trip with couple friends. I was speaking with a 40-something single the other day who is going away for Memorial Day with her best friend and her husband. At first she hesitated, but then realized if they wanted to be alone and romantic they wouldn’t have asked her. They always have a great time together and they are all excited to explore a new city.
Similarly, two friends, one in the midwest, married but loves her independence. The other in the Northeast and single in a town that is very couple-centric. They plan a fun weekend trip away about once a month. They can afford to on one hand, but they also have the freedom to do so and enjoy the planning as much as the trips. I’m not talking huge expensive trips. It could just be networking with singles in your areas and planning weekend adventures. And for many there is a joy in discovering that you enjoy traveling on your own. Or just eating a meal by yourself at a bar or restaurant. It can be fun to meet other people on the way…no commitment. Just learning about new people and the fun of that getting to know you conversation. You can enjoy the freedom!
So a little planning lets you take advantage of all the joys of more spontaneity. Of course there are lots of benefits to being married too and we’ll dig into those too another time. But just remember, it’s your choice and don’t be so hard on yourself. Your friends and family are most likely there to support you not judge you (you will be surprised, even if you think they are not) and your happiness lies inside you.