On Being Happily Single, Part II

One of the things that scared me most about getting married was knowing that I’d having to put a check mark in the “married” box for the rest of my life. It wasn’t that I was afraid of marriage. It was just that by checking that box, I knew “married” was inevitably going to color my identity in ways I wasn’t prepared for. Our culture puts so much emphasis on romantic relationships, that relationship status often ends up being used as stand-in for any meaningful exploration of each other’s identities (and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be Maddie first and married second). 

So this week, we thought we’d look a little deeper into the ways we are defined by our relationship status, starting with a follow-up post from Elizabeth of Lowe House Events on being happily single. In a culture that does an awful lot of single shaming, Elizabeth’s post is a breath of fresh air on accepting that life is not some imaginary thing in the distance that will exist once you’ve “settled down.” It’s what’s happening right now, provided that you choose to live it that way.

—Maddie for Maternity Leave

{Elizabeth at the fortieth anniversary party she threw for her parents, because she loves marriage}

I am currently nearing the end of the (so far) nine-month process of buying my first house. My twenty-ninth birthday is this month, and while buying a house before turning thirty is relatively rare in the area I live in, apparently much more surprising is the fact that I’m buying a house while single. And not the census definition of not-married single, but partner-less single. I’ve gotten some heartening reactions to this from a lot of people—women in my parent’s generation, most of whom are strong second-wave feminists (I mean, come on, I grew up and still live next to Berkeley), inevitably give me an excited hug and a “you go girl” cheer. However, the responses indicating mixed feelings about this step have been surprising—because they’ve come from my own demographic. For example, when observing [whining] how effing hard and complicated the house buying process was at one point this summer, a longtime girlfriend of mine responded off-handedly, “Well, that’s why most people don’t do it by themselves.”

That, my friends, is not only single shaming, but she actually got it totally, totally wrong. Because the truth is, many times throughout this process I have actually stopped to think how much easier it is to be doing this by myself. I’ve been able to choose which houses to bid on based purely on one set of criteria—my own. In a process with a million variables, from “Is this a good price for the neighborhood?” to “Will my life fit into this space?” to “Is the amount of work needed something I can handle?” for me it always came down to “Do I like it? And can I make it feel like home to me?” I’m a former interior designer with strong feelings about architectural styles and features. The house I’m currently in contract on wasn’t staged when I looked at it, meaning the current owner’s very-strong decorating sense was overwhelming to many people who walked in. Having apartment hunted with an ex-boyfriend who had a very hard time seeing beyond current tenant’s things to the bones of a space, I know that a partner could have (would have?) made house hunting much, much more frustrating for me.

Okay, so maybe in your head you’re thinking, “Great, so Elizabeth doesn’t like to compromise” (and somewhere behind that is a second voice saying “No wonder you’re single”). Well, no. It’s true that I am someone with very particular and often high standards—about houses, about men, about business practices, hell, about shoes and sandwich bread. Do I have some things that I won’t compromise on? Sure, and hopefully you do too (see: sorry, but we definitely can’t be friends if you’re homophobic). But I’m actually pretty great at compromising. I eat just about anything, so will almost always concede on where to have dinner. I have definite taste in music, but if you want to DJ I’m fine, as long as it’s not Death Metal. And I’m someone who is generally quick to apologize and takes constructive criticism well. I realize that I’m flawed, and that that doesn’t make me unlovable.

I’ve written here before about spending the first half of my twenties in a relationship that almost ended in marriage. I ended that relationship (despite the fact that I was terrified at the time of being single) because I realized that I was compromising so much on so very many things that in the end I was actually compromising who I inherently was as a person. And since that breakup, I have loved being single. It allows me to live my life with a degree of freedom that is just not possible when you’re partnered. That said, am I determinedly single? Not really. I date—a lot. In the last four and a half years I’ve had several long term, casual dating relationships, as well as gone on a veritable truckload of first and second dates. Dating encompasses many things that I happen to find very fun—meeting new people, getting dressed up, going to fancy (or dive-y) bars, kissing with my back pressed against a car. But I continue to be in absolutely no rush to partner up, because even beyond the freedom I continue to find life to be so full, so interesting, and so not lonely that… it’s going to take a pretty strong argument to get me to change it. And I have yet to meet the person who has been able to make that argument.

But, you’re now saying, wait, you’re a wedding planner. How can you be around weddings all the time when you don’t want to get married? Wait, did I ever actually say that? I don’t think so. I am not anti-marriage. Not for other people, obviously, but also not for myself. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky that I get to have a front row seat to the start of so many marriages. My college roommate and her long-term boyfriend got married last month in a small, home made, community driven weekend of total loveliness. I flew across the country and in the span of four days got wedding manicures with the bride, baked a wedding cake, curled her hair, witnessed for the license, took Polaroids at City Hall, gave a toast, and (slightly drunkenly) shoved the contents of my wallet into the hands of the wait staff to stay for an extra hour of cleanup at the end of the night so that we could go after-party at a bar. I flew home the next day tired, hung over, without my sunglasses, and with less cash, but on a total emotional high. It was a weekend that now ranks in the top ten happiest times of my life. It reminded me, more than any other wedding I’ve attended, why I love what I do. And it reminded me of why, while I am totally and completely happy being single, I’m also open to that kind of partnership and that kind of love. Because that kind of love is a powerful thing. It lets people be the best versions of themselves. Which doesn’t mean that they don’t compromise; it’s just that the compromises they make don’t compromise them. It’s a kind of love that infects other people with its joy. Seeing one of my oldest and dearest friends enveloped in it—how could that have been anything other than amazing for me? And how could some part of me not want that for myself?

The reason I even bring up my job is because society likes it when people and things fit into easily definable categories—it makes it easier for us to understand each other without having to go so far as actually getting to know someone. And it allows to us to connect with each other about shared experiences. (You’re single! Me too! Let’s talk about being single together!) But it also denies the complexity of our experiences and leaves no room for any level of nuance. So while “believes in marriage” and “loves being single” seem like they should fall neatly into separate categories, the truth is that they don’t, or at least that they don’t have to. Am I happy being single? On every level. Am I open to finding a partner to make compromises with, marry, and share a life with? Completely. And why should I have to pick one or the other? Because who knows what the future holds. I learn with every year to try and predict that less and less, because if time has taught me anything it’s that God likes nothing more than to laugh at our plans. So instead of making plans, I choose to work on preparing for variables, and focus on making things fit what life looks like right now. I choose to live every stage of my life with conviction, while not confusing conviction in the present with certainty of the future. And to not feel like I’m a contradiction just because I occupy a few measly categories at the same time.

I’m not sure why our generation seems to have reverted back to such bipartisan beliefs on relationships—where this pressure of having to pick “single” or “partnered” to permanently camp in comes from. I have a hunch that romantic comedies and the rest of popular media don’t help—there are lots of songs about love, and lots about heartbreak, but very few about anything in between. I’d also venture to say that the lack of a single strong feminist movement in our generation has set us back somewhat—the more independent I am as a single, adult woman the more my not-single female friends appear to worry about me. There seems to be an idea that by continuing to build my own life—owning a business, traveling, buying a house—I’m running out of room in it for someone else. That idea, the idea that life can ever be totally full, that there’s no room left to grow and change, is a belief that hurts everyone—married or single. (And, it has to be said, it’s an idea that can hurt marriages more than almost anything else—because after the recessional do the changes just stop? Do you stop growing because now your life is full?)

So, as I (not so) patiently wait for my house to close, am I still happy that I’m buying it by myself? You bet, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My main criteria was that I found a house that would work perfectly for me right now—where I could live, build a home, grow my business, throw dinner parties, bake cakes, and host friends who came to visit or needed a place to stay. And I am very happy to report that I found that. But a second criteria was that it would also have room for someone else—that it was a house that wouldn’t feel too big for just me, but wouldn’t feel too small for myself plus another. These two criteria don’t contradict each other, in the same way that it’s possible to love the summer with every fiber of your being and still eagerly pull out your boots and scarves when fall rolls around. Because change is the only constant, and learning to accept it with grace is one of the most important lessons of being human.

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  • PAW

    Having bought a house with someone earlier this year, I must say “YES, TOTALLY YES” to this: That, my friends, is not only single shaming, but she actually got it totally, totally wrong. Because the truth is, many times throughout this process I have actually stopped to think how much easier it is to be doing this by myself. (I would not have had it any other way, but in our case, the Skype tour of the house, the Power of Attorney, and the faxing certainly added a layer of complexity to an already-complex process.)

    And, as someone who assumed she would be single until her mid-to-late thirties, I say, “Rock on!” I really do view it as an essential precursor to a relationship that a person is able to believe, “it is not worth being with the wrong person, just to be with someone.” For some people, this could involve breaking up with the wrong person, even though you’re terrified to be alone. Some luck people seem to come born with the realization. But it is hugely important, and I wish your friends and acquaintances could sit down and realize that you’re making perfectly rational decisions!

  • Catherine

    This was a beautiful post, Elizabeth! Thank you!! OH, and I would just like to point out that the house buying fiasco is frustrating whether you are in it with someone or not. My husband and I have spent the last 8 months searching, going under contract, having to walk away from said contract against our will, searching….. it’s hard no matter what.

  • Kristy

    GOOD FOR YOU! I bought a house at 30, and had so many moments where I felt people saying/thinking/implying that somehow I’d never find a man since I’d already done this huge thing on my own. Now that I’m 34 and getting married next month, I love the rental income from my property, and love that as my new husband and I begin shopping for a house that we’ll both live in, that we can talk about our previous experiences buying and owning property.

    Best of luck with everything!!!

  • Sorry Elizabeth, but we’ve all seen the trailer for “The Wedding Planner.” Soon enough you’ll be so desperate to get married that you’ll fall in love with a client and havoc will ensue.

    Which is to say, I completely agree with your hypothesis that the current cultural narrative has a lot to do with our generation’s swing towards “traditional” ideas about marriage (heavy air-quotes on traditional!).

    So good for you for saying eff that and living your life.

    • Daynya

      Sure. We’ve all seen the ‘trailer’. Definitely never watched that movie in my pajamas while eating horrible food on my couch. Never.

      • Maddie


  • CW

    “So instead of making plans, I choose to work on preparing for variables.” THIS.

  • It’s yet another trap that we fall into when we paint the world in black and white. Luckily, we here at APW know that the world is full of grey. I loved being single. I too bought a house when I was single. I traveled. I grew my career. I did lots of wonderful things. Then I met a man who was absolutely right for me, and we got married. We bought a house. We travel together. We’ve grown in our careers. We do lots of wonderful things. I sometimes miss my single life but not because I don’t love married life. We can feel both! Thank you, Elizabeth, for putting it so eloquently!

    • meg

      I find it interesting that this polarity still pops up even in APW comments sometimes. I’ve commented about how much I loved being single (and hell, miss it some days), and had people respond that that couldn’t really be true, or I wouldn’t have gotten married. It’s so interesting, how we’re culturally forced into little boxes. How we’re supposed to change on some essental level when we make a life change: get all married friends when we get married, get all parent friends when we have kids, forget what other life stages were like and why we loved them. I just find the whole thing fascinating (and not so helpful…)

  • Autumn

    Love everything about this. I’m recently married, but I am still the same person I was when I was single. I just have someone I liked enough to want to travel through life with. And my non-married friends? Their lives are just as important, just as valid, and just as full of good and bad stuff. A partnership can strengthen you, but so can handling your own s*it.

    • There are so many great comments to this post. As another recently married person, I just shared this with one of my single friends who is definitely taking care of her own sh*t and I am so amazed that she does it all. Her life is just as full and capable of taking on more and becoming a multitude of things as mine. And neither of our lives are any better or worse than the other’s.

  • Joanna

    This is great! I remember when I was 20 on a summer course in Montreal, and single. The friends I had made would ask me if I’m seeing anyone, or had recently broken up with anyone. I said no, I’m just single. And that answer never sat well, they were always trying to figure me out. Similar to Carrie’s experiences in the early seasons of SATC. I loved dating, I just hadn’t met someone I wanted to be in a serious relationship with.

    And then, embarrassingly enough…. I felt a panic. I thought that all the good guys will be taken and married in a few years. That if I don’t meet my guy in university, my chances are slim that I’ll ever meet him. Which is crazy. I eventually did fall in love and am about to be married, but I often think about how my life would’ve unfolded if I hadn’t met him. How fun and interesting it can be to navigate your life without one single partner, but just with yourself carving your path.

  • mimi

    Love this post! I bought my house as a single 26 year old, so I can definitely relate. Enjoy making your house your own!

  • rys

    I choose to live every stage of my life with conviction, while not confusing conviction in the present with certainty of the future. And to not feel like I’m a contradiction just because I occupy a few measly categories at the same time…The idea that life can ever be totally full, that there’s no room left to grow and change, is a belief that hurts everyone—married or single This. I love it. And I love the message that single/married need not be a dichotomy or pair of mutually exclusive boxes into which we need to push everything. And as someone who owns a house, I get why buying solo can, in fact, be easier.

    I would not, however, say the same thing for maintenance (says she who spent Saturday fixing a leaky shower…only three trips to the hardware store required, and Sunday puzzled by how to relight the water heater. I’m ready for my journeyman plumber course now.) And this plumbing tangent reflects what is, for me, a more complicated relationship (ha!) with singleness in my 30s. I’m independent, I know who I am and what I like, I’ve cultivated habits and hobbies that connect my deepest self with others, and I’ve pursued opportunities and fostered community around me. I’m happy with my life, but I’m not necessarily happily single. Sometimes I am, but sometimes I’d really like a partner — someone to debrief with, someone to know I have New Year’s Eve plans with, someone to build life goals around, someone to share meals with, someone to tend to, someone to rely on, and someone to hold a shower valve wrench when fixing a leak.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past few months trying to figure out why this is important to me and why singleness in an otherwise fulfilling life can feel so terrible. (APW has actually been really great for this, not surprisingly.) And I think for me, part of the issue is that I’ve never had more than a 5 month long-distance relationship in college and a 10-month casual relationship at age 30. There have been dates — mostly mediocre, a few horrifying, none amazing — but never a real relationship, a sense of reciprocal interest and desire. And more than anything, I think this is why a relationship feels so important and necessary to me right now. Not marriage tomorrow, but the life experience of a relationship. I think most people have this by my age, whether because they fell into it or intentionally sought it out. And that’s what I feel I’m missing.

    • meg

      This comment is making me think. Not fully articulating everything right now, but I think that it’s important to acknowledge that while we can love a life stage at one point, we can also want a change at another point, without invalidating that experience. IE, we can say, “I’ve loved being single at times, but I really am looking for a relationship at this point in my life,” without that being some sort of a judgement on singleness.

      Sometimes we’re shamed into not being ok with asking for what we want. And that always seems to lead to not great places (at least for me).

    • Jane

      I think this is the harder question. It’s awesome to start with how to LOVE being single, and be happy with yourself, but the more complicated question comes when you feel like you love yourself plenty, but still want that lifetime partnership and haven’t found it. So much in life, we feel like we can attain if we just try hard enough (career, travel, etc) – but the same can’t be said for finding love and a forever kind of partnership. I’d love to hear more on this subject, I certainly don’t have the answers

      • I absolutely agree that you can be both happy and fulfilled in singledom, and actively looking for a change – wanting that life-partner. Neither negates the other.
        I’d like to add that the reason it can be harder to find a life-partner than to create a fulfilling single life is that it involves another person, and their choices.
        While single you can create and follow interests and travel and career without consulting someone else and their desires and timelines, you cannot go on a date/be in a relationship/get married without another person choosing to do that with you.
        There is another active participant – with their own wily ducks included.
        And you can’t anticipate or control what they want or how they behave and the choices they make. Finding a person can be hard enough, but getting on the same page as one another takes time and work. And possibly magic. And definitely hope, and affection, and patience, and, well, attraction/pheramones/hormones… :)

    • Sara

      {{And I think for me, part of the issue is that I’ve never had more than a 5 month long-distance relationship in college and a 10-month casual relationship at age 30. There have been dates — mostly mediocre, a few horrifying, none amazing — but never a real relationship, a sense of reciprocal interest and desire. And more than anything, I think this is why a relationship feels so important and necessary to me right now. Not marriage tomorrow, but the life experience of a relationship. I think most people have this by my age, whether because they fell into it or intentionally sought it out. And that’s what I feel I’m missing.}}

      This explains exactly where I am in life. I’m relatively happy being single, and my life is pretty great. It’d be nice to have a partner, but it isn’t necessary and my life functions well without. But I’ve never had a long term relationship, and my dating life is somewhat sparse. While I’m not necessarily looking to get married at the moment, I do get…anxious? yearnings?…I don’t know what word I’m looking for. But I feel like maybe I’m missing an important part of life. It doesn’t keep me up at night or distract from my wonderful friends (who are mostly married and never treat me as a third wheel), but occasionally whatever that feeling is will catch me off guard in a silent moment.

      • rys

        I just want to say “yes” to all of you! I think articulating the duality of being happy but wanting more (and I think this could happen in a lot of life stages with many things — relationships, but also jobs, homes, kids, hobbies, travel, etc) — is incredibly challenging because, as Meg says, it’s not about invalidating one option (be it the one you’re in or want to be etc) but noting that there’s something else out there desirable (which may or may not be easily attainable).

        And Sara, absolutely! It’s those moments when it catches you off guard which can be trickiest.

    • I was similar in my dating story. My longest relationship before my husband was a 9-month long-distance relationship. Besides that one (which was quite serious), there were some dates over the years but nothing I felt was going to be long-term. I enjoyed those single years and tried to travel and do things that can be more challenging at other stages (live abroad, work for little money, etc). At the end of my twenties, I felt ready to find the person I liked and loved enough to want to spend my life with. I had a few years of feeling that way before I met my husband when I was 31. So I loved being single (while, at times, also feeling very ready to no longer be single) and now I love being married.

  • “These two criteria don’t contradict each other, in the same way that it’s possible to love the summer with every fiber of your being and still eagerly pull out your boots and scarves when fall rolls around.”

    That is such an important take-away for me, not necessarily from a relationship perspective, but just in accepting life as it is right now and loving it, even though you know the next season will be exciting and new is so so close.

    In the same way that enjoying summer does not detract from enjoying winter, someone else’s joy and happiness (like your married friend’s) does not detract from our own.

    • meg

      “Someone else’s joy and happiness (like your married friend’s*) does not detract from our own.”

      I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately. How envy is corrosive (though we normally dress it up as something else in our heads, “I’m not envious, I just think they are making bad decisions.” to make ourselves feel better). How someone else’s good things (success, happiness, fill in the blank) really should make EVERYTHING better, in a, a rising tide lifts all boats way. Or in a: the more joy in the world the better way. But we tend to think of it as a zero sum game: if you’re happy/ at a job you love/ coupled up/ buying a house/ having a kid/ whatever, that means there is less to go around of me.

      *Or your single friend’s

      • For me, it’s easy to intellectually understand that one person’s joy increases the collective joy of the community, and at my best moments I can feel that.

        I often fall into the trap, however, of thinking that if someone else found their joy in one particular path, that I was supposed to go down that path too- and that results in the unhealthy thought patterns that I missed a zillion opportunities or that I’m lacking in some important personal qualities. I’ve been working on remembering that just because someone else finds joy – say, working insane hours at two jobs while doggedly pursuing their dreams (cough,cough)- or any other career moves/lifestyles choices, doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to find joy. You can accomplish the same goals via different paths. In terms of relationships, it’s totally possible to find security, support, and fulfillment in any number of having/not having a romantic partner pathways.

        • meg

          “You can accomplish the same goals via different paths.”

          And totally different goals too, right? I think part of this complex might be that when we someone says, “XXX has made me really happy,” (marriage, parenthood, singledom, self employment, working at a big law firm, staying home, traveling, keeping a super frugal budget, going back to school, etc.) What we hear is often, “I should do XXX to be happy.” Or “I’m failing because I’m not doing XXX.” Or “Maybe if I were doing XXX I would be happy.” And that’s where the death spiral starts. Which usually ends with us being unkind to ourselves and other people.

          • Very true. I think that’s all part of self-discovery and growing up. Not so much that you “discover” what makes you happy, but you can name it, layer by layer. “Flexibility makes me happy” could eventually turn into “Self employment makes me happy” or “Renting my home makes me happy,” as long as all the other layers of those higher-order things fit in our lives as well. I think it’s easier to name the abstract concept, but much more difficult to find how that fits into practical life. In keeping with Manya’s paradigms, for ex: flexibility seems abundant, demand for self-employed businesses or services seems scarce.

          • Sarah, I’m not able to reply to you, but I really like your idea about layering things you learned about yourself. I have never thought about it this way. You’ve given me something to think about!

      • Yes, Meg, I agree. There seem to be two fundamental paradigms that people subcribe to (sorry to bring in a duality, but this seems to be one of those legitimate situations where “There are Two Kinds of People in this world”): 1. The universe is one of abundance, or 2. The universe is one of scarcity. I find the former to be a much more peaceful paradigm to inhabit.

        • meg

          But the latter is the one we’re all taught on our parents knees, I think. It’s tough to work your way out of that one, sometimes…

          • Indeed. Part of our cultural narrative and subsequent drive comes from there being winners and losers–and if you are winning, somebody else must be losing (and vice versa). The zero sum game vs. a rising tide lifts all boats is one of those profound philosophical (and personal) debates.

          • meg

            YES to this. Which can be terrible for everyone. It feels terrible to think you must be loosing if someone else is doing well. But also, way to strip the joy out of good things if you have to keep thinking, “Well, I’m happy right now, so that must be causing someone else to suffer.” Instead of, “I’m happy! Which means I have extra energy to spread good in the world.”

      • My life mantra: Abundance is a renewable resource.

        Repeat until it sticks.

      • JES

        Meg, I struggle with this. I am entering my 30’s and have found my life partner, and we are definitely looking at the next step, but he’s not quite there yet. In the meantime, my friends are mostly married and moving onto the baby stage in waves. I’m thrilled, absolutely THRILLED, to meet these presh. little guys and gals that I will get to see grow up, but an ugly part of my brain says “great, how can they be excited for me when I finally get to go through all of these life moments that they have now moved so far past?” Where is my bachelorette party going to fall on the list of priorities when they are struggling to start a college tuition fund for little ones.

        And the completely ironic part is that I’m the one diminishing my excitement for them by anticipating that they will have a “been there, done that” attitude when my time comes. And they won’t. My friends are awesome. Looks like I’m the one who needs to make peace with the present, huh? Well, baby steps (no pun intended. Okay, intended).

  • I love this post. When I went to Europe with two friends at 26 and single, a (married) woman said, “Good for you! A lot of women would wait until they’re married to travel.” Wait, what? It had never, ever occurred to me that I was supposed to wait until I was married to start having an interesting life. And thank goodness, because I’d have had to wait another nine years. I love that we both had full and interesting lives before we met each other. It can be challenging at times since we’re both so used to being independent and not needing to consider someone else’s needs and wants, but we’re learning. It’s nowhere near difficult enough to make me wish to change one minute of having lived life on my own terms for all of my single years. My one regret is not having bought the toile curtains before we met. He hates toile, so I’ll never get them now. Or I’ll wait until I have my own home office and not give him any input. See, no regrets at all!

    Congratulations on your house! I hope it works out quickly and you have so much fun making the space your own.

    • In my experience, it’s typically the opposite reaction. “You’re getting married? There’s so much I want to do before I get married. I want to travel…” I’ll travel if I want to travel, regardless of my relationship status. I don’t know why people think that marriage turns you into a different person. If you can’t pursue your goals while married, then you married the wrong person.

    • meg

      Yeah, I was going to say! Since when is the message that married women travel? (NOT denying your experience, more pointing out how much the message is always that there is a better time to do something good for yourself than now). In fact, in the past few years of international travel, David and I found that the only other Americans were usually: single, on their honeymoon, or retired. Which? Makes me sad that our culture just doesn’t encourage that kind of world exploration, at any point in life you can make it happen.

      • Yes, I’ve found this as well. As someone who has racked up thousands of miles exploring Central Asia and beyond before meeting my FH, I’ve always been quite chagrined by the idea that my adventuring days are over now that I’m getting married. If traveling is something I highly value, why would I not partner with someone who wants to share those adventures with me?
        I too wish that our culture placed higher value on discovering the many wonderful places beyond our borders.

      • YES! To travel. Full stop. Travel is one of those things you spend money on, yet come away from enriched.

        • MDBethann

          Wholeheartedly agree Manya. My DH and I enjoy traveling and plan to keep doing so, even once we have small children who might complicate international travel. I have no qualms about going on adults only trips with my DH and doing a family-friendly trip at a different time with our kids. What else are grandparents for? I personally LOVED spending a week every summer with my cousins at my grandmother’s house and hope my future kids get to have the same experience with their grandparents and cousins.

  • Love it! Happily, healthily single is a beautiful place to be, and I love how you articulated it.

  • Kashia

    “Because change is the only constant, and learning to accept it with grace is one of the most important lessons of being human.” THIS

    What a beautiful post. Thank you.

  • Marguerite

    I liked this post. A year ago, I ended a decade-long relationship and it’s been an interesting experience since. So much that you said resonated with me (being single is different than but not better than being partnered, I have a full and rich life, am more connected to who I truly am than ever before, the INSANE amount of singleness-shaming that happens in our society, etc) but… like another commenter mentioned, my relationship with my singleness is more complicated at 37 than it was at 27. I’d love to hear how women of different ages experience it. What is it like to be happily single at 40 or 50? Or to be 70 and happily never married?

    • rys

      I had 2 great aunts who never married, but both unfortunately died before I really knew them and before I was old enough to ask these questions. I wish I could ask them now — I honestly have no idea why they never married (never found anyone, didn’t find the right person, were lesbians in an age and culture where that couldn’t acknowledged, never felt the need, didn’t care, who knows why) or how they felt about it, and I’d be fascinated to know more.

      • Not Sarah

        I have/had three great-aunts who never had children. The one who never married is still living and I kind of want to ask her, but I’m not super close with her and don’t know how to approach the subject.

  • Jo

    Yes, great post, this was certainly me for most of my 20’s before I met my husband at 28. And I was so happy to be single that it took some very deep breaths to give it up when I realized that he was worth it.

    The only thing I never could have done was buy a house by myself. [I’m sure a lot had to do with the fact that I lived in NYC at the time, a place where people don’t buy homes single or not until they’re in their 40s unless their parents buy it for them or they work for Credit Suisse.] And having recently bought our first house together, we didn’t have any of those drawbacks that you fear. It’s totally cool for you to buy your own house, but I want to say to those of you out there who are anxious about going through the process with a partner that it might not be so bad if you have a healthy relationship. Like the writer, I have a strong opinion about design and architecture (I work in the field). Because of this, my husband let me run the show. He trusted me. The house we ended up buying, I actually saw by myself and we put a bid in before he’d even seen any info on it. We went under contract before he’d even gotten to view it in person. But I got to benefit from having a partner because he took care of figuring out the mortgage and bank stuff, an area he’s well versed in but that seriously intimidates me.

    My point being that I agree with the writer that you can embrace everything in your life as a single person and you don’t have to wait to be partnered to make big moves. But to say that doing something (like buying a house) when you’re single is a BETTER experience, when you’ve never experienced it with a partner and don’t actually know what it’ll be like, isn’t a fair way to look at things. And for those of you out there anxious about going through things like that with a partner, fear not, there’s no rule out there that says it has to be a big trying compromising experience.

  • KK

    Heck yeah!

    I actually purchased a house at age 25 on my own. It can be a pain in the butt and I was actually in a relationship at the time, but we weren’t there yet and it was my house. 3 1/2 years later it’s kind of a pain since I recently got engaged and have moved into my fiance’s home but I really don’t regret it. I could have stayed in an apartment knowing that I was hoping to find someone to build a family with (and as it turned out was already dating him), but I wanted my own home.

    I will say having gone through purchasing alone and with a significant other, there are pros and cons to both. Having salesmen or repairmen just assume my boyfriend/husband/whatever would be handling everything annoyed me to no end. I even had one window salesman pretty much refuse to leave my house because he thought he could just bully me into buying things. But picking and choosing what I wanted only on the basis of my opinion was fun. I also felt ridiculously empowered by simple things like, I’m going to paint my ceiling blue and I don’t care if anyone else likes it (and my boyfriend/now fiance really didn’t). I’ve really learned how to take care of things on my own. In fact, yesterday the washer broke (I have a friend renting the house) and I was in there taking it apart and diagnosing the problem (the drive belt needed to be replaced).

    I will also say I was never alone during the process. The end decision was mine, but I had a real estate agent, friends, family, and a boyfriend to discuss the process with. My parents even drove 5 hours to help me paint before I moved in. And 2 years later when my older brother bought his first house on his own, we had a lot to talk about.

    While I have been trying to sell it for financial reasons, I will really miss it. That’s the kitchen floor I helped install (even if they are just peel and stick tiles), over there is the outlet I shocked myself with my second day in the house, that’s the blue ceiling I painted, those are the bushes that I accidentally trimmed all crooked my first year in the house and to me, they are all priceless.

    • I am looking forward to this – to having the experience of both – of homemaking on my own, and eventually, homemaking with another. I start serious house hunting in the spring! So excited, and the whole post really just captured a lot of my feelings about it. It seems that people really don’t expect you to buy a home on your own. It’s a settling down, baby family kind of thing – which is fine, but I’ve always wanted to be a homeowner – regardless of whether I’m ready to get married, have kids, be responsible to others… I don’t see how the two are mutally inclusive or exclusive. You can have a house befor you’re married, and you can be married and rent… where does the “poor you” sentiment come from?

    • Kat

      The house buying for myself at age 25 while in a relationship sounds exactly like me!

      It apparently really freaked out an ex that I was both wanting and able to buy my own place and also at that point in my life where I could “settle down” if that’s what buying a house means….which to be clear, it doesn’t.

      Owning my own place at such an early age DEFINITELY had a lot of interesting effects on my 20s, but now that I’ve lived through all my 20s I don’t regret the choice, although different days and at different times then I would’ve told you differently.

      I found having my own house tended to weed out a lot of potential bad dates, but so did telling them my dad was an ex cop. In the end though it has given me stability, and now it will give an almost mortgage free home for my fiance and I, which let me tell you at almost age 31 is a very cool thing to be able to say!

      • Weeding out bad dates sounds like a feature, not a bug.

        I’m buying a house as a quasi-single person– 24 and engaged here with the guy I’m marrying still in school– and I would like to +1 the complicated process. Also, +1 to the expectation of men taking care of things. Even though I don’t even own the house yet, some of the real estate professionals involved in the process didn’t take me as seriously as I would have liked until I brought him along. (Then, they were much more helpful.)

      • Not Sarah

        Interesting thoughts from the other side – thanks Kat! I just bought a condo earlier this year at 23.

        I’m pretty sure I freaked a guy out who was almost 30 and was apparently a mess at 23. I’m also pretty sure I confused some guys by my owning a condo, when one of them turned out to have a TON of student loans and be a year older than me. I think it also made the answer to the question “Do you plan on living in Seattle long-term?” on early dates almost unnecessary. I think it will make moving in with someone more complicated, but if it’s the right person, the conversations will end up working out and things will be fine.

        An ex from before I bought my condo was so not ready to settle down whatosever, yet he had a house, so you’re right, having a house doesn’t mean you’re settling down unless you want it to.

        Props on the almost mortgage free home! That’s pretty awesome :)

  • Elizabeth! You are the best. Perhaps counterintuitively, somewhere between the lines in this post about singleness you have managed to articulate the reasons why (1) I got married young, and (2) I was totally terrified to get married young and still mourn my single times. Your wisdom regarding growth, change, and adventure are so universally applicable – I am taking pause on these thoughts today. Thank you.

  • Diana

    I just cried over my lunch, so beautifully written and so unbelievably true in so many ways. How did you break it off with your serious boyfriend you lived with? It’s so much better to cry a little now than cry ALOT later and I admire people who realize that and make a decision for themselves based on what they want, even if that means moving out, splitting furniture, and not settling on a marriage that it not for you.

    • Elena

      Oh, I so agree with this. It’s so hard to let go of an existing relationship, even when it’s making you unhappy. It’s so scary to re-join single-hood after years of being with someone. But in the long term, looking back, that crying over a break-up is all worth it!

    • Aw, thank you. I broke it off with a lot of tears and a lot of time – all in all the breakup process was about seven months long (three months of wrapping my head around what it was going to really mean while slowly pulling away, a month for him to move out, and three more months before all of our stuff and all of our bills were disentangled – we’d been living together for years.) Hands down one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but also one of the best, for both of us.

      • Diana

        I can’t imagine. My heart hurts thinking about it. I am 22 and I live with my bf so for me I know there could be a reality of me having to do that at some point. I guess we will shall see what happens.

  • Elena

    It’s funny that people assume that buying a house as a couple is easier. I got my house 4 month ago (also at 29). Granted, I was already in a committed relationship, but not yet engaged. The whole paperwork was in my name and done by me, and let me tell you – I saw all the extra papers I’d have to deal with if I was buying together with someone else. Buying a house on your own is MUCH simpler than with someone else :)

  • You’re so awesome Elizabeth. Also awesome were those Polaroid’s you took of your friends wedding. Holy cow.

  • “I realize that I’m flawed, and that that doesn’t make me unlovable.”

    This is something that I still struggle with.

  • Jaime

    Excellent post! What this has really brought up for me though is that no matter what you are doing in your life or what choices you are making, there is a constant need from others to defend our choices and the pressure to be ecstatic with said choices. Shouldn’t we strive to accept the choices of others without having to push them into stereotypes of little “acceptable emotion” boxes?

    We need more acceptance!

  • Hmmmm… I Love this post. Makes me feel a little dreamy. My husband, who I love All The Lots, is supporting me go to London tomorrow, alone, to see the matinee of Wicked and feel that expansive feeling of everything being possible that you feel when single. Just a beautiful essay all around–thank you.

  • Amber C

    Yes. Just yes. Thank you for beautifully articulating this.

  • This one definitely hits home as another unmarried planner. (Though I’m in an somewhat easier boat being in a long-term relationship that I do believe will become a marriage, but not this-very-moment as I’m sure many assume it must be… =P )

    I love your willingness to compromise, while making sure not to compromise on what’s most important. And “I choose to live every stage of my life with conviction, while not confusing conviction in the present with certainty of the future”? You are amazing, and I may have to steal this motto, because it cannot be said better. Thank you.

  • Class of 1980

    As someone who experienced the frustration of people assuming that because I didn’t want children, it automatically meant I didn’t like them, or even worse, that I knew I’d mistreat them … hell yes, lets break down the stupid mental polarity our culture is stuck in.

    It’s simpleminded, and we really need to grow up.

    As far as the post itself, I can’t add a thing to it. It perfectly said exactly what I feel myself.

    • Claire

      Yes! I’ve had more than one person assume that since I’m not planning to have children myself, I must hate kids or be totally disinterested in anything related to kids. Not true. I think your kids are adorable and yes, I’d love to come to that birthday party. And, yes, I am perfectly capable of handling young children and actually enjoyed the hell out of having my nieces living with me. It is, in fact, possible to genuinely enjoy kids and still not feel the desire to become a parent.

  • Jess

    Your story resonates so much with me. I was engaged to a lovely but not-right-for-me man in my early 20s and it took all my strength to break it off with him and then as if punishing myself moved out of the city where my family and friends were to a place where I knew no-one to pursue a degree at university. Turns out bravery is rewarded because that move got me a bunch of the most awesome friends who have shaped my life over the last 5 years, I have become myself, learnt to be bold and ask for what I want and now this much more healthy version of me is getting married to a very-right-for-me man in a month!

  • Amy March

    is there a story on being unhappily single coming? On having the family, friends, education, job, apartment but feeling trapped unsatisfied and scared of running out of egg time? I can’t write it but I sure would like to read it

  • Julia

    “But, you’re now saying, wait, you’re a wedding planner. How can you be around weddings all the time when you don’t want to get married?”

    Meh, you can’t win. If you were married, those same people might cock an eyebrow and assume you were a wedding-crazy bridezilla who hadn’t had enough from one wedding and wanted ALL THE WEDDINGS. Living with conviction, as you put it, is the best you can do.

  • Sam

    “Which doesn’t mean that they don’t compromise; it’s just that the compromises they make don’t compromise them”
    Just… This.
    You go girl!

  • I reckon being happily single (which I am) to being happily without child (which I also am). I love being an auntie to my niece and nephew. I am a badass babysitter (and girlfriend). But I don’t HAVE to have a child right now (or a boyfriend/girlfriend) to make me happy. However, if life changed and I became a parent or a wife I wouldn’t run from that either.

    I worked way to hard to like myself as is to start judging what the “is” is.

  • Not Sarah

    I bought a condo earlier this year with many, many of the similar thoughts that you explained about your process. When things went wrong, it was so hard not having someone there who also equally cared about the process to work through the problems. When things went great, there was no one to celebrate with. BUT, I didn’t have to consider anyone else’s needs in choosing a place.

    I had similar criteria and ended up with a 1200 sqft 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo. The one catch is that it only has one parking spot, but requiring two would have narrowed my search far too much. I ended up choosing a condo because at 24, I simply have no interest in living in a house by myself. Plus, less maintenance!

    Kudos and good luck on your path to closing! Homeownership is such a wonderful, wonderful place. (5 months in!)

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  • Laura

    Thank you so much for this, Elizabeth. This article, and your previous post on singledom, are really helping me feel less alone. I recently ended a 5 year relationship with someone who isn’t right for me, and it’s terrifying. But hearing your story and reading the comments of others who have done the same and turned out happier for it reassures me greatly. Thanks again!

  • Sara

    I’m married now, but was single into my early 30s before that. I have to say that I actually don’t find major life decisions as a married person more or less difficult simply by merit of my being married. They’re just different. The quality of one’s partner *can* affect the relative ease or difficulty of the decision–if your partner loves, supports, and actively works toward a life together with you, then, while a decision can entail some compromise, it’s way less likely to be difficult than if you partner is not engaged in one of those areas.

    I agree that there is an incredible degree of single shaming that’s seen as “normal” out there which is not ok, but I don’t reckon that that is necessarily tied to one generation or another. It’s deeply engrained in us culturally to the point that while you’re completely able to make decisions about square footage and neighborhood as a single person, acquiring the mortgage necessary to pay for that lovely new house can be quite a bit more difficult as a single person than as a married person for a number of reasons. It isn’t right, but it’s there, nonetheless.

    Honestly? And I’m just going to be honest about what my gut hit here is–it felt to me on first, second, and third readings that the tone of this article is fundamentally uncomfortable with singleness and is attempting to justify single as a valid way to be. It totally is. So is being married. So is anything else. You’re not ahead or behind–you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be right now. Stop sweating it and enjoy your house (Congrats!)