The Problem With Having Your Life All Mapped Out

05/19/2015 06:00 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016
Jose Vazquez/500px

I never imagined that I would be 43 and single.

After all, I had my life all mapped out. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed and Best Hair in my small Minnesota High School; I was going places. I was going to graduate from college with honors, naturally, and get a high-powered, high-paying job, buy a house, meet an exceptional guy by the time I was 25 and get married soon after and have a couple of kids before I turned 30 and started to get old.

Things started out according to plan. I did have good hair. I did graduate from college with honors. did have a decent career run going. I bought my first house at age 24. I did meet an exceptional guy and married him at age 26. I had my son when I was 28, twin girls at 30. But just as I was pulling out of newborn twin haze and getting ready to ease into the-rest-of-my-fabulous-life, the wheels came off (my husband was a cyclist). My marriage imploded, my life fell apart and I was suddenly a single mom at age 32 who hadn't worked since I got married. I had turned into the woman I made fun of when I was young, single, unencumbered and knew everything.

And while that was not very funny to me at the time, I can see a lot of humor in it now. I have grown up in a million ways and can't imagine my evolution happening on any other path. It's amazing what some time (OK, fine, a decade) and a little perspective (and therapy) can do.

I joke with my friends that it's not freaking funny to be dating, perhaps seen naked for the first time, precisely when the body is starting to shift and melt. When you shift and melt with your longtime love, they knew you back in the day, so they see you through a filter of loving timelessness. Or maybe their eyesight is fading too? They know that your soft tummy and breasts were caused by the stretch of growing their beautiful babies, or the lines by your eyes are the product of shared laughs, vacation sun or squinting together into the future. To be middle-aged and single can be rather awkward, especially if you can't laugh about it. We want to date men our own age, but they often go for a second round start up, only to wind up in the exact same place a few years later. If we go younger we're cougars, and if we go older we're trophies. Everyone judges everyone as hastily as the swipe of a Tinder finger. Book, Cover. I think I already read you. Sometimes married women don't think about this when they feel restless and unappreciated, curious about the other side.

I call this the Greener Grass phenomenon.

It's basically the same thing women have done throughout history. Curly-haired girls want straight hair, while straight-locked girls use curlers. Tall girls slouch and short girls wear heels; brunettes bleach their hair and blondes go Goth; flat girls get implants and big ta-tas get reductions; young girls dress too old and middle-aged mamas dress too young; fair-skinned maidens bake in the sun and leather ladies get dermabrasion; smart girls play dumb and dumb girls act smart. We wait and wonder about puberty and later wax everything off and get our tubes tied.

We are in a constant, futile cycle of thinking the grass is always greener.

Some married women complain that their husbands are controlling; they want sex all the time or else they are boring in bed; they don't help around the house or with the kids; they are married to their jobs or to their cell phones. Married gals get sick of cooking dinner, attending or hosting functions, taking the kids to church alone, being weekend widows to golfers, hunters or workout fanatics or asking a hundred times for something to be done or fixed and finally paying somebody else to do it. They are tired of having to run everything past someone else, as if they were an employee and unable to make plans or find solutions without an approval process.

They wonder what it would be like to feel like "that" again. The rush of emotion, nervousness and excitement that comes with the first blush of love (or lust, really, I mean, c'mon). They miss the way their heart skips a beat when he calls and the miraculous five-pound weight loss from lack of appetite (best diet ever). I contend that it isn't so much the way a woman feels about a man that creates this much flurry, but more the way a man can make a woman feel about herself. Married women miss this. They often feel unseen.

I think marriage has taken a major hit from technology. Think about it. Years ago, if a man wanted to perv out with porn, he had to drive at night to some godforsaken place near the airport with a neon sign and boarded up windows and creep in there like a cretin. Today, he can just peek over his shoulder to make sure she's got the kids in the tub and surf the web for any kind of sleaze. It's totally accessible and seemingly without consequence. The same goes for bored or lonely wives with the advent of Facebook. The last thing a neglected wife needs is to reconnect with her high school flame. Are you kidding me? That is the relational equivalent of throwing a grenade at a gas station. We can send emails, Facebook messages, tweets and texts from the perceived safety of our screen, peeking coyly behind it like a Googling geisha. It seems innocent enough at the time, but whether it's instant porn or instant messaging, it's all immediate gratification and it all escalates until it's not so innocent anymore.

So in classic greener grass mentality, married women miss the rush and single women miss the blah. I miss sleeping like spoons with someone whose arm fits over my waist as comfortably as my blanket. Someone whose sleeping sounds are as familiar to me as the songs on an overplayed CD from my college years. I miss Sunday afternoons and evenings when doing nothing together constitutes a very fine plan. I miss rummaging around for dinner fixings and deciding at the last minute to order takeout instead. I miss the banter over coffee, the crossing paths with a fly by kiss, the bed head hair, the bickering, the person reading over my shoulder, the safe, soft place to lean on the airplane, the dreams and plans. I miss somebody worrying if I'm late. I miss the smell of shaving cream and tiny flecks of hair in the sink. I miss getting bored and trying to spice things up. I miss being a family.

See, dating is nothing like this. Dating is more like frosting with no cupcake.

I can admit that it's nice sometimes to have cereal for dinner or shave my legs when I feel like it, or discipline or love my children consistently -- my way. I can decide how I spend my money, my vacations and my free time. I have a lot of freedom. But I think it's possible to have that kind of freedom within the confines of relationship, when it's the right relationship. I used to watch my babysitter plop on the sofa with my kids while they ate pizza and watched Animal Planet as I was about to leave on a date and I'd wish that I could pay my sitter to go on my date instead. I wanted to snuggle and watch TV with my kids while she determined if the guy was a chump or worth missing a night with my peeps. I wonder if there are rates for that sort of thing? Let's face it, the guy for me would likely rather stay home and eat pizza and watch Animal Planet, too.

It's ironic that a married woman might sit on her sofa, eating pizza and watching cable with her family and seethe or pine to be doing something else, someplace else, with someone else.

The whole greener grass mentality is loaded and somewhat dangerous. We peek across the fence into each other's yards and we wonder. We see lush green grass and we are too far away to notice the weeds, or the water bill. Sometimes greener grass is just rye grass; green for a season, then gone.

It's good to remember that our own gardens are worth tending.


  • Jill Abramson: You're more resilient than you realize.
    Chris Keane via Getty Images
    "Graduating from Wake Forest means you have experienced success already. And some of you -- and now I’m talking to anyone who has been dumped -- have not gotten the job you really wanted or have received those horrible rejection letters from grad school. You know the disappointment of losing or not getting something you badly want. When that happens, show what you are made of... We human beings are a lot more resilient than we often realize." (Wake Forest University)
  • Cecile Richards: Risks make the best opportunities -- so take them often.
    The Washington Post via Getty Images
    "If you hold out for an invitation, chances are good you’ll miss the party. And by the party I mean life. Growing up, Mom always told me: The answer to life is yes. This is the only life you have so make the most of it. Take every opportunity and risk you can. You’ll only regret the things you didn’t do because you were afraid to try." (Barnard College)
  • Katie Couric: You can't be criticized for hard work.
    Leah Puttkammer via Getty Images
    “When I became the anchor of the CBS Evening News, the first woman to do so alone, the critics were harsh and unrelenting. They complained about my hair, my makeup, my clothes, my delivery, even the way I held my hands. Some claimed I lacked gravitas, which I’ve decided is Latin for ‘testicles.’ It wasn't easy. But I kept my head down and I stayed focused because I loved the work ... The best antidote to the naysayers you'll surely encounter along the way is to stay strong, work hard, and put in the time. " (American University and Trinity College)
  • Sandra Bullock: It's the joy that stays with you.
    NBC NewsWire via Getty Images
    "Raise the bar higher. It is noisy out there and for some reason, people want to see you fail. That's not your problem, that is their problem. I only remember the moments where I tried beyond what I thought I could do and I do not remember the failures because I didn't ... Go find your joy. It's what you're going to remember in the end. It's not the worry, it's not the what-ifs. It's the joy that stays with you." (Warren Easton Charter High School)
  • Jennifer Lee, director of "Frozen": Ban self-doubt.
    Jeff Vespa/VF14 via Getty Images
    "While I am someone who stands before you so far from perfect -- there isn't a subway line to perfect from where I live -- I am enough. If I've learned one thing, it's that self doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self doubt is consuming and cruel. And my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it ... Think about all the crazy ways you feel different from everyone else. And now take the judgement out of that. And what you are left with is such a wholly dynamic, inspiring character who could lead an epic story." (University of New Hampshire)
  • Billie Jean King: It's our time.
    Brad Barket via Getty Images
    "This is the century of women. And don't you forget it." (Simmon's College)
  • Michelle Obama: Always be happy; never be satisfied.
    "You should be so proud, and so happy, and so excited about your futures. But what you shouldn't be is satisfied... See, because we're the lucky ones, and we can never forget that we didn't get where we are today all on our own. We got here today because of so many people who toiled and sweat and bled and died for us -- people like our parents and grandparents and all those who came before them, people who never dreamed of getting a college education themselves but who worked, and saved, and sacrificed so that we could be here today. We owe them." (Dillard University)
  • Zadie Smith: Stay open -- exclusivity is overrated.
    Facebook/The New School
    “Walk down these crowded streets with a smile on your face. Be thankful you get to walk so close to other humans. It’s a privilege. Don’t let your fellow humans be alien to you, and as you get older and perhaps a little less open than you are now, don’t assume that exclusive always and everywhere means better. It may only mean lonelier. There will always be folks hard selling you the life of the few: the private schools, private plans, private islands, private life. They are trying to convince you that hell is other people. Don’t believe it." (The New School)
  • Nancy Pelosi: Know your power.
    Win McNamee via Getty Images
    “Remember this: with the knowledge gained here, you can do anything. You may not be aware of the opportunities that await you, but when those opportunities present themselves, be ready. Be idealistic, be pragmatic, be ready. That’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart in my own experience. Although with my generation, I was inspired by John F. Kennedy, I had no idea I’d go from the kitchen to Congress, from homemaker to House Speaker... My wish is that you know your power to light the future with your ideals and your optimism." (University of California at Berkeley)
  • Anne-Marie Slaughter: Stand up for your right to balance.
    Alonso Nichols/Tufts University
    "When your co-workers, and later your employees, compete as to who can put in the most hours to the day, suggest to them that they must be very inefficient workers. Pity them for not having enough depth and breadth to get a life... Stand up for play -- for the leisure that will renew and recharge you. Stand up for love. Stand up for each other, and equally importantly for those who do not have the privilege that you do. Stand up for their right to have a life of meaningful work that earns them a living and the time and resources to enjoy their lives." (Tufts University)
  • Madeleine Albright: Shine bright like a diamond.
    Dickinson College
    "I hope that you will go forward with confidence, despite the burdens handed down to you by others; that you will employ your talents to keep pace with technology -- while remembering that there is no technological answer to the questions that matter most; that you will take pride in who you are, but leave room for the pride of others; and that by your actions, you will each add luster to Dickinson’s name -- and to your own." (Dickinson College)
  • Valerie Jarrett: You have the power to reflect your values in your world.
    MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images
    "I do believe that the 21st century workplace must reflect the values and priorities of the 21st century workforce... You all have to have the courage to speak out. You have to advocate for yourself over and over and over again and fight for that balanced life." (Pomona College)
  • Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO: The "right" choice doesn't always exist.
    Facebook/Johns Hopkins University
    "Life doesn't offer you the perfect opportunity at the perfect time. Opportunities come when you least expect them ... Rarely are opportunities presented to you in a perfect way. In a nice little box with a yellow bow on top. 'Here, open it, it's perfect. You'll love it.' Opportunities -- the good ones -- are messy, confusing and hard to recognize. They're risky. They challenge you. But things happen so fast because our world is changing so much, you have to make decisions without perfect information. You have to make decisions based on the fact that the world is going to continue to change -- on the belief that the status quo will be supplanted by something better. " (Johns Hopkins University)