I turn 42 in a few months, and I’ve been single for a long time, despite efforts to find a mate. I used to frequently get asked whether I am dating anyone, interested in someone or plan to get married. But it’s been about two years since I was buttonholed by an acquaintance who wants to set me up, or heard a speech on the merits of Match.com.
Did I expire at 40 and just not notice? I suppose I should be grateful that folks stopped poking their nose into my business, but I have to admit that I miss it.
While my family and friends tend to be discreet, I have vivid memories of older ladies at my church asking, hopefully, whether my visiting (gay) male friend was a new beau. Or my parents’ former neighbor, who once asked when I was planning to start having kids. (At the time I was unmarried and in grad school, so … no time soon.)
Perhaps the cringe-worthiness of these interactions — plus the countless advice columns suggesting the nosy among us back off already — is the reason I’m no longer subject to inquisitions about my love life. Most people know — or should know — that you don’t ask if a woman is pregnant, whether a couple is planning to have a baby, or if a single woman would like to meet your co-worker’s sister’s cousin.
Generally, I am a happy person, with a fulfilling career and a loving circle of friends and family; so, to the outside world, my life sends the message that I’m fine the way I am. I’m glad about that, because I am fine with my life, and I don’t want to undervalue solo happiness. It is hard-won, and I’m grateful to have it.
But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t mind meeting someone fantastic to partner up with. Does the reality of my solo happiness mean that any regrets or hopes about finding that partner can’t be discussed? Will my contentment fall apart if someone challenges me a bit? Is it necessary for everyone’s equilibrium that I not express a single emotion more complex than unadulterated, constant joy?
I’d like to think not. I’m strong enough to shut down someone if they’re snooping around in my personal life with the intent of making me feel bad, or stupidly trying to show me how much it upsets them that my life doesn’t match up with their own expectations. I can handle ambiguity and complexity in my life. Can anyone else?
How do we know when it’s okay to ask about someone’s personal life and when it might come off as prying? Unless I see a clear sign of need — an upsetting diagnosis, a grim status update — I assume my friends are just as fine as I am thought to be. Even when I sense a problem, I sometimes assume my partnered or married friends don’t want to talk to me about it. Why would they, after all? They’ve got a close partner to talk to.
And that’s the other side of it: If I’m so worried about being pushy to ask my friends, it’s asking a lot for them to inquire about my happiness when I also seem happy on the surface.
Perhaps I need to let my friends and family, and even the ladies at church, know that I’m open to talking about life’s rich choices, about what I’m trading off, missing out on and realizing I won’t have — but also about the opportunities, experiences and unexpected joys of a single person’s life. And to hear similar things from them.
I’ll try to find ways to ask my friends — married, partnered, solo, widowed — the real questions we need to be asking each other: “Are you happy?” “Is there anything I can do to help you be happier?” and “Can we find time to really talk?”