Q: It seems that even the “modern woman” still feels the pressures of the finding prince charming myth, if you’re intellectually committed to the concept or not. I grew up knowing the difference between wanting a wedding and wanting to get married (my very wise mother was a divorced and then widowed bridal gown designer). So I grew up, went to college to pursue my artistic goals, moved to the city, and was enjoying the adventure while occasionally being in a relationship.
Now I’ve been dating my high school crush for two years, and I just turned thirty. We’ve moved in together and have talked about getting married quite extensively. At first, there was a rush, a sense of, I’ll admit it, accomplishment, that I managed to land him after all those years of pining. However, now I’m realizing that while we’ve known each other for twenty years and we’re great friends, we don’t have common goals, we don’t communicate well, and it seems that there is little passion. While I care for him greatly, and feel that he is a good, honest, hard-working person, I don’t know if I can really commit my life to him. I feel like I would have to give up my goals, and that he doesn’t respect the ways I want to live (being green, saving our money for the big goals, creating art). Now I’m faced with a decision that I know only I can make, but I’m surprised at how much pressure I feel at the thought of “starting over.” I’m an educated, liberal individual, and I feel that I am physically attractive, but I can’t shake the idea that if we don’t get married, I’ll never be with anyone because I’m “over the hill,” or maybe too emotionally exhausted to try again. Even in this day and age. Even though my mother met the man of her dreams at thirty-seven and my sister met hers at forty and five years ago I thought that being married wasn’t a necessity in my life. Can you offer any insight on this fallacy of being on the shelf?
A: Dear Pamela,
It’s pretty clear that you know what to do here. So let’s chat about this whole “starting over” and “back on the shelf” thing and try to strengthen that resolve, girl. I realize most of this is going to be preaching to the choir, but lady, sometimes you need someone to recite the truth back to you so you can hear it and know it and solidify it in your head.
Like Meg mentioned at the start of the month, there’s a sort of rushed timeline that’s packaged for our consumption. And it doesn’t always reflect reality. It would be really, really nice if we all were paired up (assuming we wanted to be) and on solid career paths by thirty, settled into what we’re doing and where we’re going while our diplomas are still fresh and our boobs still perky. But, from my twenty-seven-year-old seat right here, that thought is straight hilarious. I can’t be the only one in my ripe old late-twenties who’s still waiting for the dust to settle. So, let’s shake that idea that thirty is “old” and that this is your last chance.
The other big thing is this false concept of “starting over.” I mean, yeah. I guess in a sense, leaving a two-year relationship means a fresh start, but that terminology doesn’t sound right, does it? You’re not really being pushed back to the beginning of some game board. You’re still moving forward in a linear (if bumpy) path. I do get it. I think a lot of us could relate to feeling like you’re “starting over.” You spend four or six (or eight) years getting a degree, and then, whoops, choose a new career path. You go back to school or leave one job for another or move across the country, and it feels like all of that time you invested in that other thing is lost. Time to crumple up all of that hard work, and start from the beginning again. Though it feels that way, you’re still actually moving forward, I swear. The question is, what’s the end goal here? Is it “settling down”? Staying at a job until you reach tenure? Is it just finding someone who’ll put a ring on it? Or, is the end goal being a content, fulfilled person? If it’s that latter one, moving away from stuff that doesn’t fit you and your life is still a step forward, toward that goal.
Same thing goes for “wasted time.” It’s not wasted if you figure something out along the way. That’s the whole flipping point of dating, right? You may have spent two years with this guy, but look at what that two years taught you about him and yourself and the fact that you didn’t click. That was valuable time, sure, but spent getting some valuable info. Now that you’ve learned what you had to learn, sticking around any longer would be a true waste of time.
Meanwhile, you know what two years is? Not a long time. You may be thirty now, but you met this guy when you were twenty-eight. If a twenty-eight-year-old can snag the hottie from back in her high school days, you know damn well a thirty-year-old can. It doesn’t feel like it, because of all that aforementioned junk that tells us people who don’t settle down by thirty end up with seventy-two cats and their own personal episode of Hoarders. Ignore it. In fact, when Maddie and I discussed this post, she yelled (or at least internet-yelled), “You don’t have a shelf date! You’re not a product!!” That’s the whole point, to me. There are a whole host of gross lies that you can buy into here—that thirty is “old” for a woman, that nobody could ever love an “older” lady, that anyone who doesn’t pair up can’t have a fulfilling life, and on and on. False. All of it.
“What if”s suck. But, “what if I never”s suck even worse. Regret comes in a whole variety of forms, and none of them are a good basis for making decisions. Even if, God forbid, you don’t find someone (and girlfriend, you’ve far from exhausted your options—bars, speed dating, websites, Craigslist personals—we haven’t yet plumbed the depths of dating possibilities), is that honestly a worse fate than being stuck with a schmuck for the rest of your life? Is staying with someone that destroys your other ambitions and negates your other interests worth the risk that there isn’t someone (or something) else out there?
I’m gonna make the call and say no. No. You are not “back on the shelf.” You’re not missing out on some rare opportunity. And you’re most certainly not better off settling for someone just because it feels like time is running out. You don’t have an expiration date, lady.
Team Practical, how do you embrace an unanticipated timeline? How do you cope with changes and “restarts” later in life? Have you ever felt like time was running out?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!