Last weekend, I spent four days with three other people, all single, in their mid-to-late 30s. Together, we were two women and two men.
Some days we spoke about being single. The men bragged about their proficient activities across all the dating apps while the women spoke of their frustration and resentment with their past experiences. I shared that one of my readers had requested I write about life as a single woman in her late 30s and that it kind of jarred me. I never thought to label myself in that way, even though those words fit.
It’s been on my mind ever since. What is life as a single woman in her late 30s in 2020 like?
I really love men. I’m a committed heterosexual. I love cock. I find men funny and fun to be around. They can be useful for engaging dialogue and alternative perspectives, opening jars and lifting heavy things. Nothing turns me on more than a man that can make, build, and fix things with his own hands. Plus, they are great ego boosters and loving companions and serve a pleasant side of human connection.
And yet I hold some latent anger in my body towards men and what I have let them—and not only let them but enabled them—to do. I can’t believe the things I used to normalize and put up with. Like the boyfriend who told me he is a feminist and then requested I wax my labia and that, when we have kids, I get a cesarian so I would “stay tight.” I have inadvertently reinforced the inequality that underpins men and women and it leaves me feeling furious. I suspect many women feel this way without even knowing it.
I’m not blaming anyone here. Men were brought up and socialized to expect women to serve and obey them as much as I was brought up to be a good little woman and serve and obey. We were both playing out the conditioning of our ancestors. Except that women no longer rely on men for financial or physical safety and security, which was the only reason we were dependent and had to behave ourselves. My past experiences with men have only highlighted that I have plenty of deconditioning and unlearning to do so I can attract more equality and polarity in my relationships.
I’ve enjoyed many loves in my adult life so far. The university love who opened my innocent eyes to a whole new world. The hypnotic transient loves that I met while on the road. The safe love that offered me space to rest and reprieve when I was going through big personal changes. The love of my life, love which was the most passionate, exciting, and difficult by way of trauma bonding disguised as soulmates. The comfortable love when I desperately needed to feel secure while life moved through some challenging twists and turns. The test love that came my way to make sure I’d really learned my lessons.
None of those loves had much in common except for one thing: I had to shrink and stay small if I wanted to remain in them. I have yet to experience a relationship container expansive enough to hold all of me. The moment I outgrew or no longer matched their projection of who they thought I was when we first met, things fell apart. In recent years, I’ve learned some big lessons, including that love is not enough and that you can both forgive and hold people accountable for their actions.
And now, five long(ish)-term relationships spanned across 20-ish years later, I find myself single. I’ve been single for two years, not counting the ongoing much-younger lover and that short two-month error-of-judgement a year ago.
To be a single woman in your 30s is to receive a paradoxical message: It is simultaneously cast as empowering and courageous but also ultimately tragic. Relationships are considered essential for fulfilment and yet, unless your ultimate goal is to start a family, also unnecessary. There’s pressure put on women to settle down and preferably have children, in addition to biological urges that leave you wondering if you even know what you really want or if you’re just a reactive bundle of conditioning and hormones. All of this comes with the underlying assumption that, even if you are happy and fulfilled as a single woman, there’s still an unspoken hope that you will find a man and finally fit into the rubric society so desperately pushes us towards. Then, everyone can breathe a quiet sigh of relief: She’s finally been saved.
I know what I want, but it doesn’t fit into a recognized framework.
I crave intimacy and touch. Tender caresses, holding hands, kissing goodbye, making love. While I haven’t felt a strong impulse to have children, I at times fleetingly have considered it. I miss the simple, quiet, shared moments of being in a relationship—dreaming up future plans, reading lines from a good book, laughing about an awkward encounter. The sweet, devoted sharing of two lives lived side by side.
I also love living alone and being able to do what I want when I want without having to accommodate another person’s needs and practices in my space. Weird yoga when I wake up, working odd hours, brushing my teeth at lunchtime, eating pan-fried tofu in bed for dinner with nothing else. Full days in bed or at the least in bedclothes. Furiously typing on my laptop keys in child pose on the floor when I have an inspired idea. Spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen while spooning peanut butter dipped in honey into my mouth.
At times, I can’t imagine finding anyone who won’t annoy me enough to give up all of that.
Often I find myself daydreaming about how delightful it would be to fall in love again and give my heart and my little corner of the universe to someone who shares my inclinations and values but am disheartened when I remember how easily I have lost myself in past relationships and how little the men I’ve dated contribute to making the partnership a positive experience.
Why does it feel like I end up doing all the emotional labor as well as having to make sure I am turned on when it’s time for sex and run the household mostly alone? We’ve been sold the Disney love story with the heroic, all-capable man and are disappointed that reality doesn’t work that way. But if you’re single, you’re unfinished. If you’re content and single, there’s something wrong with you. “Find him!” they say. “He’s so close, I can feel it.”
I love being single and I want to be in a relationship. I enjoy other humans but I don’t want to deal with their weird ablutions and habits. I want to live in a flat by myself with my husband next door. I want to be wildly independent except for when I have to carry 500 books up three flights of stairs or need my washing machine replaced. Then I want my boyfriend to do it.
So, what is it like to be a single woman in your late thirties? Right now, in 2020 terms, a mix of palpable boredom and preventative ghosting. But overall it’s standing firm in my belief that the kinds of partnership I desire won’t look like a repetition of the unrecognized menial slavery the women in my family before me normalized, and I’m steadfast enough in my belief that there are men and relationships waiting in my future that will meet my eccentric hopes.