I'm 36 & I've Been Single For 10 Years. Spoiler: I'm Fine.
A new series that explores what it's really like to be single in your 30s and NGAF.
“Do you think beautiful girls are going to stay in style forever? I should say not! Any minute now they’re going to be out, finished! Then it’ll be my turn.” - Funny Girl, 1968
I always think of that line when I think about being single. It has nothing to do with self-esteem, and everything to do with logic. Going against logic seems insane. Said another way: “Do you think couples are going to stay in style forever? I should say not! Any minute now they’re going to be out, finished! Then it’ll be my turn.”
Call me crazy.
I’m Shani. I’ll treat this like a Tinder date and tell you immediately that it’s pronounced SHAY-nee, so neither of us are embarrassed later. Like rainy with a “sh.” I’m a writer living in Brooklyn in a small, mildly charming apartment. I love traveling, stand-up comedy, and I’ll never stop trying to learn French. I am also 36 years old and have been single for 10 years. I write in an effort to change both your reaction to that sentence and mine.
I’m a heterosexual woman who exists in society. A side effect of that, the existing, is an idea that’s been stuffed into my brain like down feathers. An idea so simple and powerfully suggestive that women build goals, even futures around it. The problem is, that idea is a lie.
Single bad, couple good. You’re not supposed to be single. Are you single? Why? You’re so pretty! Find him! Then you’ll have completed yourself, and you can start living your life. If you’re single, you’re unfinished. Like an unstained raw wood patio exposed to the elements, graying and losing value with each passing day. Being single is sad. Being single is wrong. Do you want to be sad and wrong?
And all of that is just the cute stuff, the mild salsa version of urgency. Once we turn 30, sweet merciful Streisand it gets worse. Singleness begins to permeate through life, from the big events right down to the mundane muscle memory motions, to the point where there’s nothing about being alive that doesn’t remind single women that they are, at all times, failing.
Don’t step in that bullshit.
That’s why I’m doing this, Every Single Day, to show myself and everyone who’s in the same kayak as me that maybe — grab the railing — we are supposed to be single, that maybe we don’t have to live our lives in constant pursuit of another person simply because there’s no “&” on the mail we get.
I’ve been actively dating, online and in real life, for actually a decade. It has never once resulted in a relationship. But (mercifully) dating has never been my life’s focus. It’s always been work. I’m a writer, a content strategist, a brand voice consultant. Essentially anything that needs internet words is entirely my shit. I never stop thinking about what’s next, and my professional drive is one of my favorite things about myself. I’m either type A or just a morning person, I dunno. I was raised in Fort Worth, Texas (y’all Beto vote!) by a single mother who would not permit me to date under her roof. You don’t date “until you have your career.” She meant well. We’ll get to that another time.
I do not hate being single. I used to. I once questioned my own worth because everyone around me was having “success” at dating and I never, ever, ever did. And then about five years and a hundred or so dates into that I thought...the fuck?
I’m speaking in abstracts, but the single woman over 30 reading this isn’t living in them.
Why am I doing this? Why am I trying so hard to stop being single? I enjoy other humans, I’m not quite in my dilapidated mansion on a hill phase just yet, but I’m not someone who has to have company by nature. It was never really me telling me to “complete” myself, it was society that said it.
I’m speaking in abstracts, but the single woman over 30 reading this isn’t living in them. What exactly am I talking about? Not wanting to go on another online date but your conscience says you should because “you never knoooowwwww.” Not being able to leave the house without worrying about how fuckable you look because “you never knoooowwwww.” Feeling compelled to go everywhere and meet everyone and exhaust yourself in endless pursuit mode because “you never knoooowwwww.”
I’m also talking about things that have nothing to do with being a constant huntress. Have you carried an air conditioner up four flights of stairs alone? I have. Have you watched Instagram stories of your friends hanging out together with their kids but not you because you have no kids? I have. Have you ever sat down to dinner with family, friends, friends of friends, colleagues, a workout buddy, or your fairy godmother and the first thing they ask you every single time is “so, how’s dating going?” [Crushes wine glass in bare hand.]
Here’s how dating is going: Dating is the worst part of being single. I am fine with my single existence until the moment I try to alter it. Then I’m plunged back into the bleak waters of knowing within 30 seconds of meeting my “date” that I’m not interested in him. But I showed up, because “you never knoooowwwww,” so I still have to stomach palpably boring conversation and two glasses of mediocre wine before I can politely lie and go home.
The “fun” part of being single isn’t dating.
The fun part of being single is no different than the fun part of living life any other way. The fun part is what makes you happy, what gives you purpose. You will never convince me that married people have more purpose in being alive than I do. You know who never asks me how dating is going? Single women.
It is possible to genuinely enjoy being single. It wasn’t new-jar-of-peanut-butter smooth, the path to a place in my mind where being single is a good thing. I’m still walking down it and I trip over shit all the time. But when I look at my single life and add it up as a list of positives, any negatives — and I do acknowledge they exist — are actually like...fine.
I make all of my decisions without consulting anyone. I spend and save my money how and where I want. I watch Moonstruck at least five times a year. I go to Paris every spring. I starfish. There’s an openness to being single that we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy because we’ve been groomed to see “open” as “empty.” I am not empty. Neither are you.
I will be in a couple one day. I think it’s possible to look forward to that without focusing on it so much that I ignore all the good I have right now. There are wonderful things about being in a relationship, too. They’ve just had top billing too long.
I’ve devoted so much time, energy, and self-criticism to something that was never wrong with me in the first place. But rather than make that one more thing to be angry about (having nobody to zip up inconvenient garments is quite enough thank you) I try to just let it all go. The sad way friends look at me, the concern in my mother’s voice, the hilariously abundant joy and confidence given to people who get engaged and married even though the divorce rate hovers around 40-50%. I try to let go of it all, in favor of enjoying my time being single, because the society that taught me not to doesn’t know its ass from its ring finger.
There will always be little servings of shit I have to swallow. There will always be days that try to remind me I’m wrong because I don’t have partner. It’s not about making them go away, it’s about changing my reactions to them. Maybe in letting go of false urgencies, invisible missing pieces, and entirely made-up definitions of what counts as a valid life, I can illuminate the good aspects of being single, and feel less alone in discussing the rough parts. Maybe that will generate some perspective and positivity around what I am. If you’re single, I hope you’ll join me. Maybe society will, too. You never know.