I’m 37 years old and single. That was not my plan. Like all of my friends, I assumed I’d get married sometime during my early twenties, have children, and live a life similar to the one I saw growing up. There was no reason for me to think that I would be different from anyone else. I was pretty “typical,” if there is such a thing.
However, G-d had a different plan for me, and here I am. I worked very hard over the past 15 years or so to live a productive, satisfying life. Some women I know hesitate to make life plans that don’t involve marriage and friends. For most it works out. But some believe that their life will only begin once they have a wedding ring, and so they put off enjoying their “single” years. Often it’s a big mistake.
I have always been able to live in the moment. I pursued a profession in law and have a very good job. I’ve spent serious time in therapy, which helped me accept my situation (always with the hope that it would change one day), but nevertheless understand that however my future plays out, I have so much in my life to be grateful for and happy about. I’ve done a lot of traveling and I make sure to keep up with my friends, almost all of whom are married.
All told, it doesn’t sound all that pathetic. Then why am I writing to you? Because despite my growth and healthy mindset, I find that just about everyone I meet seems compelled to see me as a “neb.” When they learn that I’m not married, they start acting concerned, apologetic, uncomfortable, etc. They suddenly see me through an entirely different lens — one that does not accurately capture my true essence.
I am not a “neb.” I am happy despite not all my dreams coming true. I suspect that I’m probably a lot happier than many women out there in bad marriages or suffering from other challenges that can be horrific. My life isn’t perfect, but whose is? My question is how to enable people to see me differently. I feel that I carry myself with confidence, I don’t shy away from social situations that are comprised mainly of married couples, and yet I still sense the “tsk, tsk” so often, and it drives me crazy. I want to get on a soapbox and scream out to everyone that I’m OK. You don’t have to feel sorry for me. See me as a fulfilled, happy person.
How do I make some progress in this area? Is it even possible? I don’t want to be pitied!
You raise the topic of a very interesting dynamic that exists all around us. It probably exists in the world at large, but it is certainly much more obvious within our community and can have very disturbing results. There’s a phenomenon called “group think.” Not everyone is susceptible to falling in line with this type of mindset, but way too many people are. Basically, most people don’t feel confident enough to figure things out for themselves completely. Rather, they feel comfortable jumping on board with the way the “group” thinks, thereby absolving themselves of the responsibility of doing some individual introspection. It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s limiting.
Relating it to your particular situation, you have been experiencing the emotional fallout from people who have just assumed that a single woman like you cannot possibly be happy and is deserving of pity. Furthermore, this mindset encourages many to believe that you actually want their compassionate pity. You and I both know that nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, meeting Mr. Wonderful would be great, and I’m sure you haven’t given up on that hope. But whether or not he shows up one day on a white horse with a stunning ring, we both know that you are engaged in living a fulfilling life — a life that you have molded in a way that serves you well and offers you much satisfaction and happiness.
So what to do? My guess is that you’re doing it already! Everyone gives off a vibe. Our very essence is something that we all put out there, though we usually don’t even realize that we are sending out specific messages to those we come in contact with. I would be surprised to learn that you don’t already walk into a room with your head held high and a smile on your face. Sensitive people who are capable of looking at you in an honest way, so to speak, probably realize that you are living your best life and that pity should be reserved for those individuals who actually need it and want it.
We can’t control other people’s thoughts. But we can decide to reject their small-minded perceptions and inappropriate reactions. We can also decide who we want to spend time with — people who actually “get us” and understand what we are all about, rather than those people who seem to need to put us in a little box of their own creation, unable to see past it.
Finally, kudos to you for all the tremendous work you’ve done on yourself. No matter what people are dealing with, and yes, we are all dealing with stuff, what defines us is not our specific challenges but rather how we embrace life and choose to react. You seem to have done a magnificent job when it comes to acceptance and joy. Many people can learn a great deal from you.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295.