My 21-year-old self knew nothing… and other things I’ve realized as a 30-something unmarried woman
As I grew up, there were certain things in life I was made ready for. My parents lovingly prepared me for milestones such as my first day of school. I sat in classrooms with educators who taught me how to be conscientious about the planet, how to form a coherent sentence, how to do complicated math that to this day I have never used, and eventually how to take tests that prepared me for higher education.
Then I went to college for training in the field of my choice, where I sat in larger classrooms and had experiences that would prepare me for a profession, thereby enabling me to enter the real world and somehow survive.
In spite of all this intentional, quite expensive preparation for navigating the waters of life, one thing I was never prepared for was ending up in my 30s, questioning dating and marriage, wondering what on earth I am doing with my life.
The thing that took me a very long time to realize is that being alone does not translate to standing still.
All of these are very meaningful happenings in the lives of those we love and care about, but we are rarely prepared for the emotions that flood our hearts when we realize their lives are moving forward and ours seem to be standing still.As young girls, it seems we are programmed to be excited about our wedding day. Then we go to college and watch our girlfriends get engaged and married in apocalyptic proportions. Soon they start having kids like the survival of the population depends on their specific uterus. Then down the road some of the marriages devastatingly fall apart and you become a shoulder to cry on because you are still unmarried and know what it’s like to be alone.
The thing which took me a very long time to realize is that being alone does not translate to standing still. Pursuing a successful career, traveling, and fixing up my home while being unmarried does not mean my life is stagnant, but rather, means I am chasing dreams that do not include a man yet.
In her book A Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh reminds us, “Actually, these are among the most important times in one’s life – when one is alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.”
One day a married coworker was talking about getting ready for an event the previous night. She said, “I don’t know how single people zip up the back of a dress.” This got me thinking. What else do single people do that married people take for granted? How do single people drain pasta? Fold fitted sheets? Open jars? Know if their jeans make them look fat? It’s truly a miracle that we survive! Do you get where I’m going with this?
At some point, after being asked the question of when I’m getting married one too many times, I began to feel incomplete. What society expected of me had not yet happened in my life, therefore something must be wrong. I echo the sentiments of the heroine in Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict when she says, “I resent it being a truth universally acknowledged, no matter what era I find myself in, that a single woman of thirty must be in want of a husband.”
I do want a husband, but I also want to be a whole and happy individual even if I never get married. There are things I wish I could go back and tell myself at twenty-one that might have prepared me a little better for this space I find myself in. Perhaps a letter that could travel back in time and say:
Dear 21-year-old Self,
As you leave college you will be thrown into the world without a life preserver, expected to swim upstream through challenges and hopes and dreams you never knew would come your way. I, your future self, want to tell you a little of what lies ahead so that in your darkest moments you will have hope that all is not lost.
You have been blessed with the most wonderful friends! I am happy to report that the ones you value most now will still be your closest friends in 10 years. You will come to understand that a man is not the answer to the fulfillment you seek. Your heart will be broken a few times and you will feel like you cannot survive the loss, but you will. In fact, you will not be married when you hit your 30s, but will be in a relationship you hope will eventually get there… after several years.
You will work at a really crappy job that you hate and then you will be unemployed for 13 months before landing your dream job. Your friends will get engaged, married, and then all have children at the same time, 10 in one year. Then they will have second children all at the same time. You will buy so many presents for other people’s showers, you will seriously consider pulling a Carrie Bradshaw and registering at Manolo Blahnik just for the hell of it. Some days you will feel like you are going insane and are so “behind schedule”. The timeline in your head is imaginary, it does not exist. You will turn into a crazy cat person who sends out Christmas cards with pictures of your cats in retaliation for all the Christmas cards you receive with babies on them.
You will go to Italy and love it so much that you decide to learn the language one day. Facebook will constantly make you wonder if something is wrong with you. Ignore it. You will lose a beloved grandparent. You will buy a house by yourself. You will miss the place you grew up so much and your heart will ache to go back there, but you will remain where your work has led you and visit often.
And through all of these situations when you question where your life is going and wonder if you made a big fat mistake, you will feel blessed by the love you have in your life. There will be moments when you stand looking out your kitchen window thinking back over the years and catch your breath at the treasures that exist in your life. You will deal with feelings of jealousy, depression, inadequacy, and hopelessness at times, but will emerge from each situation with resilience, a greater capacity to love, and the understanding that your story is your story and not anyone else’s. This knowledge, plus good friends to encourage you along the way, will bring you peace.
With Respect for the Woman You Will Be,
Your Future 30-Something Self