by Anna Wilking
For anyone who has been single at an age when you’re “supposed” to be partnered, it can be a gut-wrenching time. After a sudden and terrible breakup with a (terrible) partner, who I was willing to hunker down with and squeeze out some babies, I suddenly found myself alone and heartbroken at the age of 38. I had been with my partner for several years and could have never foreseen the circumstances that led to my walking out (more on that later). Little did I know that I would be single for the next four years. Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I needed time to heal and lick my wounds. I wanted to celebrate my newly-found freedom and feel like an empowered woman, but it was a struggle when most of my peer group was married with children. At times, it was a dark and lonely existence. Don’t get me wrong — at times, it was a carefree existence with lots of ridiculous Tinder dates with “inappropriately aged” younger men (much more on that later).
But despite enjoying my newly found status on Tinder as a fetish object for men on the prowl to fulfill their professor-pupil fantasies, Sunday afternoon would roll around, and as I tapped into my social network, I found that no one was available. Sundays are family days. Everyone would be with their partners or their spouses and children, enjoying the frenetic activity of “Sunday Fun-Day” and getting their households ready for the week ahead. I felt desperately lonely on Sundays. I had my running club and domestic obligations like everyone else, but often I would sit and feel dejected, wondering why I wasn’t also part of a family. Why wasn’t I scooting children from one birthday party to the next or planning a picnic in the park with my boo? I was often filled with despair as everyone else seemed to have a life filled with love and chaos while I sat on my bed, alone, aching for anything to throw a wrench into my afternoon plans of journaling.
I will tell a story from my travels: during my years in Ecuador, while conducting my PhD research on street prostitution in Quito, I found myself asked the same question over and over again. After my nationality and marital status, I was always asked if I was a mother. When I answered “No,” with a mixture of annoyance and desperation, I was often told that I was not a “real woman” yet. I became accustomed to fielding these prying questions with my perfected deadpan responses, to the amusement and surprise of my interlocutors. I would answer, “Then what am I, an alien?” knowing I would get a laugh. Or I would say, “And live a life of misery with a drunk and cheating husband?” which would make people laugh even harder (with many nods of understanding as well).
See, here’s the thing. Even though I live in Brooklyn, New York — far, far, away from the more conventional gender roles of Latin America — if I’m going to be completely honest, I still feel social pressure to be a mother. Even here, in my bubble of progressive thought, in which women well into their 70s walk the streets with purple hair, I still feel an absence in my life. Although many women in relationships might also feel that absence, for me, as a single woman, my childless future seemed imminent. And I loathe admitting this. I hate expressing these sentiments in writing, but a part of me feels like I am missing out on some fundamental experience of being human. As such, in my weepy conversations to my mother (all in the “What’s wrong with me?” genre), my deep sadness at being single was connected to the intense pressure, social scrutiny, dreams, and ambivalence of being a mother.
But for now, I just wanted a lover and a friend. I wanted to share my life with someone and look forward to getaway weekends with my boo. I wanted to have that person to text during the day and check in with at night. I wanted companionship and love. I mean, who doesn’t? But in my early forties it hit harder as I looked around and saw everyone my age paired off and usually with offspring. And yes, even though I knew not everyone was happy, I thought to myself (as crazy as it sounds), at least they had fulfilled their social obligations. At least they were busy! My married friends with children have often told me that they envy my life and the sense of stillness and quiet that accompanies it; but yet, that silence has been incredibly painful at times — in fact, that silence has turned into a scream of sobs and why me’s as I tried to figure out what I had done to deserve “this.” “This” being my life without a partner.
As it turns out, 42 has been an outstanding year so far. All the tired clichés (i.e., it happens when you least expect it) have proven true, as I find myself madly in love (!!!). I have now found my boo — the one I now spend my Sundays with — and I am forever thankful. But yet, I know that my four years of Sundays, alone, were not in vain. Even though I craved a relationship, I learned to feel complete by myself. I became fiercely independent and was accustomed to doing everything alone. Even though I am deeply appreciative of the love that has recently entered my life, I know that I can do this thing by myself if I need to. I cultivated a lot of self-love during my four years of Sundays, despite my moments of uncertainty. But more importantly, I have empathy for anyone who finds themselves single at an age when they feel they “should not be.” I feel your struggles and promise you that this time alone is serving a critical purpose. Being partnered is not the end goal for all of us, and that is something to celebrate as well. We’re each on our paths in life alone, ultimately, and although we crave connectedness and belonging as social animals, our moments of being alone are gifts along the way. So here’s to all the single ladies!