I love online forums. As a writer, I prefer discussions that I can read at my leisure and respond to in what I feel is my best medium for communication. I have belonged to a number of them over the years and have enjoyed having a place to talk deeply about subjects that don’t often come up in everyday conversation.
A favorite forum of late is the discussion forum for Aspiring Mormon Women. As a single career woman in my early 40’s, I often feel like a little out of place at church. AMW has introduced me to women all of the country and world who value education and careers and have helped me less alone. It’s a group that is largely supportive of a variety of paths to being a “good Mormon.” So I was taken aback recently when one particular thread caught fire a few weeks ago. A woman posted that her, by all accounts pretty amazing, 28-year-old daughter was beginning to despair that she would ever meet a nice LDS boy and get married and start a family. I expected support that 28 was young to worry about such a thing and that there are a multitude of ways to have a fulfilling life. Instead, it devolved into tales of how horrifyingly late in life these ladies finally got married and were able to leave the nightmare of single life, and don’t worry, someone is out there for you, girl, keep your chin up while you slog through your poor, poor sad lonely life until you find someone. Married woman after married woman told her anecdote about how she or someone she knew had “not married until (insert an age where you can hardly believe someone was willing to take on the old crone).” Their loud voices managed to drown out the single women here and there who were trying to say, “Hey, actually it might not happen and here’s how to have a good life no matter what” or “You know, let’s not tell this girl to move to another state to find a better dating pool because everywhere and nowhere is an ideal place to date.” I worried that maybe the forum’s usual encouragement of everyone having their own path and no one’s worth being contingent on their marital status was all lip service to cover a deep, abiding need for a prince to come along and save us.
I don’t believe it was intentional, or that any of these women realized that what they were making singleness sound like a form of torture, but I recently turned 40 and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what sort of advice would have been legitimately helpful from someone actually in the trenches of singledom when I was her age. So here we go, my old spinster advice to a 28-year-old single gal.
So. I hear you are beginning to worry that the relation-ship has sailed for you and that you will be spending the rest of your life alone. First of all, may I say 28, that I have so much empathy for how you feel right now. But I feel equal parts like rolling my eyes right out of my head. I know that as an LDS woman, you have been watching your friends get married for ten years, but man, 28. It’s early to start thinking it’s already over.
But this isn’t about age, and it’s not about dating. It’s about a promise to you, that your life will be infinitely better if you take the time right now to learn that your fundamental self does not change with your relationship status.
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast by a woman who has spent her whole life struggling with her weight. She talked about how she had always been heavy, but because it’s shameful to be fat, she spent her time interacting with thin people by always assuring them that she was definitely doing all she could to lose weight and be “one of them.” And then one day, she decided that being thin wasn’t going to change the fact that she was a smart, fun, interesting person and she didn’t want to waste her life counting almonds. So she told her friends, “Guess what guys? I’m fat. And I’m ok with it, so let’s stop talking about it, eh?”.
Don’t spend your life counting the dating almonds. Don’t relate to the married people around you by stressing how hard you are working to escape being a single person. Don’t position your value to yourself or any of the people in your life on a relationship status scale. You will have all manner of well-meaning friends and family assuring you that it’s going to happen for you, that they just know you will get married. The truth, my young awesome friend, is that you might. But it might be a few years, it might be a lot of years, and it really might be not at all. If you waste those years wallowing in worry and fear, I can promise you from a place of authority that you will regret every second you lost to being sad about something that is essentially out of your control. I have willed and worked myself into nearly every dream on my teenage checklist so I assure you that if a family was a thing you could earn, you would not know dozens of incredible men and women who have achieved success in every other aspect of their lives who are alone. You can go to every singles ward and be on every app and accept every set up, and it doesn’t mean you’ll find a partner. I approached a lot of experiences in my twenties and early thirties with the anticipation that maybe this is where I would meet “him.” I regret the opportunities that I allowed to be dampened by the disappointment of not being romantically fruitful. So you can decide right now if you want to savor all the advantages of this season of your life or if you want to spend the next unknown amount of years always feeling like a little bit of a failure.
I want you to do a little exercise for me. I want you to think about all the people you know who are married and ask yourself if any of them became fundamentally different people when they found a mate. Do you know a bunch of people who were lame but then they got married and became kind and good and interesting? No, you do not. Because getting married does not alter the core of a person. Are there unique lessons that only marriage can teach you that will make you grow in certain ways? Definitely. Can the same be said for being single? Absolutely. Who you are, and what you can contribute to the world is unaffected by your marital status. There are douchey married guys, and mean and gossipy married ladies, and loads and loads of weirdos who manage to get hitched. Just like there are rad single people who are weary of hearing “gosh, you are a catch, why are you single?”
I recently turned 40. I’m on the tail end of getting over a breakup, so I am square one single right now. I have had an unreal, fulfilling, meaningful life so far. I used to feel like I needed to downplay how fortunate I’ve been so it didn’t seem like I was enjoying being single too much. When a friend would say something about all the interesting things I was doing I would always be sure to say, “Oh, but I would trade it all for a family!” Here’s the truth. No, I wouldn’t. I haven’t been stuck in a back-up version of my life; this isn’t some “plan B” I’ve had to endure because I am not part of a couple. I am unspeakably proud of the person I have become and I’m here as a result of the twists and turns of a life that I know is exactly the right one for me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I might be different in some ways had I married, but I wouldn’t actually be a better or more worthwhile human.
So here’s the net of my advice. Tell your friends, and your family, “Guess what, guys? I’m single. And I’m ok with it, so let’s stop talking about it, eh?” And then go live your life. Do things, try things, fail at things, succeed at things. Say yes more often than you say no. And when you turn 30, or 35 or 40 or 80, you will be the very best and most fulfilled version of yourself no matter who does or doesn’t fall in love with you.
Katie Clifford is a marketing professional who has worked for the U.S. Olympic Team, PUMA, and The North Face. She has lived all over the United States and recently moved back to beautiful Salt Lake to spend more time playing outside.