When my boyfriend left in the middle of the night, thus ending our six-year relationship, I thought my life was over. My ex and I had shared an apartment, family obligations, finances, arrangements to start a family, cookery, linens, a Netflix plan and an art collection. On Saturday nights, we'd lie on the couch grooming each other like baboons and feed each other ice cream. We'd settled into comfortable domesticity -- punctuated by the dysfunctional arguments that tore us apart.
As a tutor for young women, (one of my many jobs during our relationship) I liked to think of myself as a mentor. I'd try to empower adolescent girls by telling them: "Don't project your hopes and dreams onto someone else. Direct that energy inwards." Unfortunately, my personal life completely belied this sentiment. Deep down I knew this, and the tension of acknowledging and denying the truth of the situation only added to my misery. It didn't help that the majority of my girlfriends were also coupled up, and my computer bombarded me with messages like Kim Kardashian: Devastated to Be 30 and Single. I mean, if Kim Kardashian was devastated to be a single gal over 30, what hope was there for the rest of us? (P.S. Kim's fairytale wedding to Kris Humphries aired on TV before her October 21st birthday, when she turns 31.)
Well, I'm over all that. I can truly say that I'm happier now, as a single woman in her 30s, than I was before. I know what you're thinking. Here comes another article regurgitating the "Sex and the City" notion that today's women can have sex like men and delight, utterly, in being unhitched; another article failing to perceive that underlying the Carrie Bradshaw fiction is another cliché: that behind her happy-go-lucky (thanks, Holly Golightly) façade lives a pathetic single woman facing the big 4-0 like it's the guillotine. With both of these cultural myths in mind, I'd like to share some reasons why a woman in her 30s really can be single and fabulous:
As educated and feminist-minded as I was, I, like KK, found the prospect of being over 30 and single terrifying. Of course this notion is completely irrational. Then I read something Olivia Munn said recently, "I don't think women should be ashamed about their age. That anxiety is wasted energy ... If I stop having birthdays, stop being older...well, I guess that means I'm dead." So true.
Fast forward 15 months after the breakup, and I'm able to give my career lots of long-overdue love. During the relationship, I worked several jobs and put myself through grad school, while also supporting my boyfriend, his education, and career path. I'd read articles like "Don't Let Your Man Eat Your Career" and think they didn't pertain to me. Yet, the truth was, a good 90 percent of my mental, physical, and emotional energy was spent on "the relationship" and what he and I were doing wrong. I spent minimal time developing my own networks, the career I ultimately wanted, and the seriousness of my own ambitions. No more.
While my first couple attempts at dating post BF were a tad inept, the courtship process is a lot more fun now that I've got some life experience under my belt. I'm no longer the ingénue. I'm aware of what I want, and confident. Sexually, I've done things I never thought I'd do, and rather than feeling promiscuous like I did during my adolescence and early 20s, I feel sexy and powerful. And my experience isn't all that unique. Clinical and community psychologist/psychoanalyst, Dr. Judith Kuppersmith elaborates: Today's women are having experiences women of previous generations didn't have before. They also have lots of default situations that turn out to be better than they ever imagined: meeting more men, having more sexual partners, not automatically equating love with sex.
In today's world, not every woman over 30 is dying to have a baby. While the one-woman empire Kim Kardashian lamented to her myriad fans that being without child was a major failure in her life, a 2010 PEW Research Center survey found that more women are choosing to be childless: "Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s," the report states. The increased accessibility to birth control, even within the past five years, is one explanation for this trend. Today, a woman (17 years +) can buy the emergency contraceptive Plan B at a pharmacy, or even online without a prescription. Furthermore, a woman's decision not to parent has lost a lot of the social stigma attached to previous generations. Online communities like The Childless by Choice Project, The Childfree Life, and Womanhood Without Motherhood support the idea that it's okay for women to have sex for pleasure, not only to procreate.
In America, sex, money, and power are inextricably linked, and we should acknowledge that women are richer and more educated than ever (say what you want to about KK, but she's a marketing genius). Dr. Kuppersmith explains, "20 years makes a difference. Some of the change has to do with the greater economic advantages for women. When women have more money of their own, they have more choices."
Another irrational fear of being single was driven by my impulse to compare myself to other women, even worse ... my friends! Comparing yourself to others is a complete waste of energy that usually leaves you in a state of inertia rather than giving yourself the opportunity to be the person you want to be. Besides, everyone is insecure about something, so the "perfect" friends I kept comparing myself to were probably just envying someone else. I do, however, think one comparison is useful: That between the old and new me. The difference is not only something I feel on a daily basis, but something people notice immediately when I run into them on the street. "What's different about you, Jill? You look terrific!"
I'm not going to lie, there are moments of self-doubt and evisceration, loneliness and envy of my paired-up pals. But, there are also moments filled with clarity, where I can reflect upon why I tethered myself to an unhealthy relationship just to avoid being single at "a certain age," and how much richer my life has become in the aftermath.
Is female George Clooney Syndrome likely to become a booming trend? Not likely. It's nearly impossible live in American and not buy into the idea that love, romance, and marriage are the ultimate source of happiness, especially for women. It's also true that I had to be jilted to arrive at where I am now. But I no longer think of myself as having an expiration date, and I no longer think that love or romance or marriage have to follow any particular formula. So with that, foregoing the lyrics to the wildly popular Cee Lo song (though, jeez, it's tempting to belt them out), I'd like to sincerely tell my ex, THANK you!
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