Once in a while I have these conversations with younger friends or the daughters of my older friends who will say things like, “When I feel sad about still being single at thirty (thirty-three, thirty-five, thirty-seven, or thirty-nine) I think of you Moe, and how happy you are now. You’re an inspiration to me!” The words meant as a high compliment always kind of stick with me in the wrong way. Is it really so inspirational that I got married for the first time at forty? My close friend’s sarcastic retort went something like, “You know Moe, you really are an inspiration. Let’s be honest, most women would have curled up and died instead of being single at thirty-nine.”
I know what these younger women are referring to. I should have gotten married out of high school, or out of college, or at age twenty-four, twenty-seven, twenty-nine, or whatever prime age is being published in the latest news article. Then when the appropriate amount of time passed I should have given birth to my first child, then a second, and perhaps even a third. I should have purchased a home with my loving spouse in the ideal perfect neighborhood located near a good school. There are some variations to the timeline, but the sequence of events is roughly the same.
When I grew up with my friends as teenagers, we speculated about the future. I grew up in a conservative Christian church and the narrative for young girls was the same. You would marry young. (Because it was better to marry than “to burn with passion.”) As a young married couple you raised your children “in the way they should go” and volunteer to teach Sunday school. If you were really devout, perhaps you would dedicate your lives to church planting in another city or country. This ideal timeline was taught to us as young girls. The highpoint of our young lives would be the day we walked down the aisle as brides. So it was a sad surprise to me when I found myself still single at twenty-nine and the last girl standing at the end of wedding season. To be single at thirty was the stuff of horror stories that struck fear and pity in the heart of every God-fearing girl at a slumber party. Life had not turned out for me as I had been told it would.
So my journey from age twenty-nine to thirty-nine was a long one. I left the church for a while. I went back to school. I changed jobs. I moved to a different city. I dated. I dated the wrong people. I dated a lot of wrong people. As I lay awake at night I could sometimes hear the ominous tick-tock of my biological clock reminding me that I was still very single at thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-five, and thirty-seven. I finished school. I got a better job. I traveled. I had a lot of single-girl adventures, and at times I was also very lonely. I went to therapy. I stopped dating. I took time to think.
When I met my soon-to-be husband for our first date, I was tired, jaded, and had almost given up on hope. Because of all the bad relationship experiences I had, I concluded that a healthy relationship was not ever going to happen for me. But he was a really kind and thoughtful man on that first date. To be honest there were no sparks or chemistry. I just remember looking at him over my bowl of pho and thinking, “He’s so nice. I would totally be friends with this guy.” Ultimately we got married, and that looked nothing like the big church wedding I imagined for myself when I was younger. (But that’s another story.)
It’s been almost two years now since we got married. We sit and make plans for the future and sometimes even talk about retirement. I guess that’s what forty-somethings do. I don’t know if children will be a possibility for us, and I regret that I didn’t meet this loving man ten or fifteen years ago. I think of all the wasted years I spent without him. But we both agree that if we had met then we would not have been ready. I would not have been mature enough to be committed to him. He would not have been ready for me either. Our paths crossed at the right time. The years I considered wasted were filled with experiences and heartache that prepared me to recognize how wonderful he was for me.
When my younger friends lament about their fears of never finding “the one” or how they’re too old to still be single, I sympathize, and I also want to shake them a little bit. Fuck the timeline. Seriously, let it go. Your life’s journey will not look like any other. In fact, I can almost promise that it’s not going to look like what you think it should! You are not living your Plan B life because you didn’t marry your first love or whoever it was you broke up with. (The same is true if you haven’t finished school yet or achieved some other milestone.) If you continue looking at life thinking, “But I could have had…” or “If only I had…” you will never fully enjoy what you have right now.