When I first sat down to write this story -- single, with a mid-30s birthday looming -- I went into default self-deprecating humor mode. "I have a learning disorder," I typed before realizing that this self-effacing I suck at love; pity-me-for-getting-older-crap is neither funny nor true. Women are programmed to think that time is not on their side. But the smart ones know that it is. Let me explain.
A year-and-half after my partner of six years left me in the middle of the night for another woman, I finally have the hindsight to look back on the situation and count my blessings. Up until now, I cursed my ex for leaving me single at an age where the majority of my peers are in relationships. It was time, and only time, that allowed me to see that though not all the memories are happy ones. Realizing that has given me a sense of what I want out of a partner and what I just won't tolerate. Once you've had your heart broken -- if broken is a euphemism for stomped into a gooey pulp -- you can re-evaluate where you've been and where you want to go. Men, designer outfits, laser facials, body-sculpting classes or even mind-blowing orgasms cannot get you to that place. The only thing that can is time, if you're reflective and honest with yourself. No offense to my 20-something sisters, but I wouldn't trade places with you for all the men, designer outfits, laser facials, body-sculpting classes or even mind-blowing orgasms in the world. So, here's a brief rundown of what I've learned:
Being in a Relationship Doesn't Automatically Make You A Happier Person
Who you are in a relationship shouldn't be any different from the person you are outside it. You still experience raw human emotion whether it's bliss or misery, regardless of your relationship status. And here's some groundbreaking news: not all people in relationships are happy. There have been times in my life where I tried to convince myself that my relationship was everything I wanted it to be, but I've learned that there's a big difference between being comfortable and being happy. I've started being honest with myself about the difference, and strangely I've found that the best relationships involve moments of real discomfort -- but also real joy. Trying to convince yourself, your family, your friends, even your partner that you're happy when you really aren't is exhausting. I'd rather put that energy into something authentic.
It Should Be Easy In The Beginning
When you first start dating, the only thing that should be hard with a guy is, well, in bed. Smart, savvy, sophisticated women are so used to analyzing everything -- those critical thinking skills have brought us a lot of success professionally -- but at the beginning, resist calling an emergency dinner with your girlfriends to decipher his six-word text message, what some chick wrote on his Facebook wall or why he hasn't called. It's a waste of time, and trust me, men aren't doing the same thing. If he's making you jump through hoops ; if he's too busy to respond to you at the beginning of the courtship; if making concrete plans is like pulling teeth; if he's already lied to you about something stupid -- chances are these things are only going to get worse with time. By then, you'll be more emotionally attached. If it's hard at the beginning, strongly consider getting out STAT.
Sex Is Not An Accurate Relationship Barometer
We've all experienced the inital sex haze at the beginning of a relationship -- when the sex is amazing, and the guy makes you feel desirable, beautiful, and lovable. He may give you mind-blowing orgasms, cuddle all night. He may stay the next morning, lounging in your bed making you feel like you're the only girl in the world. Many women -- and I count myself here -- can easily confuse intense sexual connection with emotional intimacy. Unfortunately, in my experience, sex plays a huge role in proliferating women's attachments to men who aren't right for them, which in turn lead to unfulfilling relationships.
Lots of women believe they can "sex" their way through a relationship. This is not the case. Passionate sexual chemistry will cloud your judgment and does not a relationship make. Great sex is what it is -- and has a place as long as you don't accept it as a substitute for other important parts of a relationship, like the ability to laugh together and knowing that he'll call when he says he will.
If He Seems Unavailable, He Is
Ah, the unavailable man. He's charming, sexy, says the right things, may even fake a future with you to make you believe he's in this for good. Women love unavailable men for a variety of reasons probably best left to a shrink to figure out. What's dangerous here is that dating unavailable men can drain your emotional energy, sometimes your financial resources, and in very bad cases, can put your health in jeopardy. Now that I'm in my 30s, I I'm pretty good at spotting an unavailable man. The harder part is resisting him. I still come up with all sorts of reasons he will become available -- but not I recognize that it's not happening. The only way to deal with this guy is to delete his contact information, block him from your Facebook, and stop showing up at his favorite bar. The sooner you admit the truth to yourself, the better you will be in the long run. There are plenty of available men out there, but you're never going to see them when you're focused on Mr. Never Going To Happen.
Marriage Isn't An Accomplishment
What's different about women in their 30s today, as opposed to women of a previous generation, is that they don't think of marriage as an accomplishment or just another box to check off. If you happen to meet someone and fall in love, that's a good reason to get married. If you don't, you stay single and probably do pretty well on your own.
I'm not saying marriage isn't important. Even my divorced friends say they don't regret their marriages -- especially when those marriages brought them a child -- and say that the years of living a life together will always define them in some way. But they don't need to stay married to prove something.
Younger Men Make Fabulous Lovers
If like me, you're single and in your 30s, consider this: There's lots of chatter about how the 30-something woman and the 20-something man are sexually simpatico. This might not be scientifically proven, so I invite you to experiment for yourself.
When I was in my 20s, one-night-stands were where I got my thrills. They were a way to prove my sexual appeal and skills, my ability to gratify impulses. Now that I'm in my 30s, one-night-stands have lost their luster. Waking up in an unfamiliar bed feels gross, like I've just indulged in Taco Bell when I regularly stick to an organic foods regime. But having sex with a younger man, now that's interesting. It's still a little taboo, and thus a turn-on. Younger men can be sweet and adoring, and eager to take direction -- unlike their older, and often more cynical, counterparts. Of course there's the immaturity factor, but that's not necessarily bad. Maybe a younger man can bring out that playful side you've been hiding. I spent my 20s trying to convince the world of my intelligence, sophistication, and savoir-faire -- at work and in the bedroom. It's totally exhausting, and frankly, I'm over it. For me, sex with a younger man has many benefits, both physical and psychic. Many of my friends don't get it; but they don't have to sleep with him!
Male Friends Are Important
Whether the bonds are familial, as with my brother and brother-in-law, or just platonic, some of the most important relationships in my life are with men. I find these friendships emotionally rewarding on many levels, and very different from my bond with my female friends. Guys, for one thing, offer invaluable advice on men. I also relish the chance to offer them advice on women, and trust me, they need it. And however stereotypical this sounds, men are very, very practical. When I found out my ex was shacking up with another woman, it was one of my close male friends who told me to kick the [expletive] out immediately. He then proceeded to craft the ultimate kiss-off text message, and hit send. Good male friends also serve as an important reminder of how many trustworthy, kind, reliable men there are out there.
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