A few months ago, I received a call from my alma mater. It was a fundraising solicitation disguised as a “we want to verify your contact information” chat. It began innocently enough- confirming mailing addresses, email, and employers, but quickly took a turn. Our conversation:
Caller: “You graduated in 2007, correct?”
Caller: “Great. What is the name of your spouse?”
Me: “I am not married.”
Caller: “Okay. How many children do you have?”
Caller: “Oh. I’m sorry. Would you be willing to make a donation to the incoming class?”
I didn’t mind the questions necessarily. But what bothered me was that she apologized for my not being married or having children. No congratulations on career milestones or for being a productive member of society. Just an awkward apology for my taking the road less traveled.
When you are single and/or childless after a certain age, people pity you. I think that’s bullshit. While I am not technically single, being in a nearly 8 year long relationship doesn’t count in Kentucky. There is no box for me. I check ‘single’ rather than ‘married’, ‘divorced’, ‘separated’, or ‘widowed’. I am undefined.
Your mid-twenties to late thirties can be isolating. It’s the age where your friends and family are settling down, and if you’re not quite there, it can make for the occasional lonely night or sympathetic glance. You’ll likely attend at least one wedding or baby shower in which you’re the only single gal, and might spend the entire party feeling the need to explain your life choices. I have been there several times, dodging the “you two have been together long enough” and “How I wish I had your free time!” conversations while trying to make everyone else feel comfortable. Because that’s what it is, right? Others project their fear of being alone onto you- it’s as if singleness and childlessness are contagious and they must disinfect the room before it becomes airborne.
And thankfully that’s not always the case. I had dinner with two sorority sisters earlier this year and it was an interesting dynamic- three successful women in different stages of life: a work-from-home writer and mother of two small children, a single world-traveler with a job at National Geographic, and a tech writer in a long-term relationship. None of us pitied the other. We sat and talked and laughed and drank wine and never once judged the other for our paths. It was refreshing to know that we can coexist and discuss careers and life without being made to feel like we’re missing something or that we had failed in some way.
There are lots of blog posts and magazine articles dedicated to topics like “How to Get Him to Propose” and “How to Make Him Fall in Love” and “How to Get Married in a Year” – all real titles with such sage advice like self-marketing, how to look date-appropriate (put in more effort when getting ready!), and smiling all the time because men like it (God help those of us with Resting Bitch Face). And then there are the people who tell you that you can finally be happy once you meet someone and get married. We are fed this garbage so frequently that we begin to believe it.
The truth is you can be happy and have not failed if you choose your career or travel or life over marriage and children. You have not failed if you want to meet someone but never make a connection- settling is a waste. You have not failed if your body works against you when you’re trying to conceive. You have not failed if you want to be a stay at home mom.
You’re doing fine. Live the life you want. If that’s being a wife and mother to 10 kids, good for you. If it’s traveling the world and having a lover in every major city, good for you. Celebrate your accomplishments in career and home and claim victory when you make it to Friday.
I hope you get the life you want and don’t feel pressured or pigeonholed because of your sex. Life is long but it can also be short and you should live it as you wish.