Last Shabbat I sat around a table with 6 women. Two were in relationships and the rest of us were single. All of us are accomplished women. All of us have jobs, are healthy, seem stable and are doing things in the world. And all of us felt the pain of being single and in our late 20’s and early 30’s.
The topic of the holidays came up and everyone spoke about the pain that it was to go home. Of the looks that they would get in shul because once again they are still single. Or all the other people their age in shul are married or have kids with them. Or the conversation with people would be filled with looks of pity, because even though they are accomplished women, they are still not really accomplished because they don’t have a ring on their finger.
There was the pain that goes on when they go home. One woman saying that she has to give her bedroom up to her younger married sister- because she is married. That her parents refuse to buy another big bed, and that the other rooms in the house are ok for all the guest, including grandparents, but when her sister comes to the house she must get her room. She has tried talking to her parents and even to her sister and they don’t listen. They think she is over reacting. They think that it is a crazy idea to buy other big beds or to rotate space in the house. They think that only her sister and her husband need privacy, because why would a 32 year old single woman need any privacy.
We spoke about the pain of once again being in shul and praying that we would be able to get married. That we should be able to find happiness in ourselves but at the same time we also want someone else there. That we are tired of being treated as little kids, just because we don’t have a ring on our finger – and how even though we know we are not little kids, but we hear it enough, so maybe it is true, and maybe we fall into those pattern.
This past Friday night I was at my friend’s house. I was away for chag and for the most part it was great. Yes, I did not choose to go home for the holiday. A bit because three days with my parents would be hard. But a really large part is that I feel very uncomfortable in their shul – it is clear that I am the older single. That people don’t know how to interact with me. That most of the members are younger than me and are running after their children.
So there I was sitting on my friend’s couch talking about life, and the topic of singlehood came up. I tried to explain the great pain that it causes me. The pain of feeling unwanted. The pain of feeling that I am able to accomplish so many great things and unexpected things in my professional life, but when it comes to my personal life I can’t even get a date. The pain of desire that can’t be filled. The pain of wanting just to be held, not even marriage, but even that I can’t find. The pain that comes with the vulnerability to tell everyone I know that I am single and looking, and for people just to tell me ok or that I am special.
My friend was no helpful to me. She told me that I was exaggerating and that “it will all happen at the right time.” I am told on the one hand that I need to make sure to be in the place where there are lots of singles (I have been- and haven’t dated). And that I need to do what my heart tells me to do, and it will be there that I will find someone (also hasn’t happened yet). She told me that she knows what it is like to be single and “older”- she got married at 26- I told her that she doesn’t know what it is like to be single at 32. She tried to tell me that it can still happen – but she just doesn’t know guys (also something I hear often, ‘I just don’t know any good guys’).
And then tonight I sat with my friend as she cried because being home was fighting to be seen and heard. Because there are only so many times you can be asked if you are dating anyone and for the answer to have to be no. Because there are only so many people you can see with partner and children before you start to feel like that only one that is single, and so there must be something wrong with you.
I wish there was a real way to explain how painful being single is. I also wish that I was strong enough for it not to be painful- that I can take to heart that I don’t need a man to “complete me” or that I can find full happiness in myself or that I am able to stand up to social pressures and do the best I can do in the world even though I don’t have a partner…
But the pain is there not only because of social pressure. I do know that I am capable of great things and I am not letting it stop me. The pain is there because it hurts. Because it feels lonely. Because people treat you poorly. Because it is something that I desire but feels unattainable.