Single and 30: the real story

This afternoon I am beside myself with excitement to bring you a post from Catherine, one of my best friends, co-conspirator, my fellow Fanta Lemon addict; politics junkie; and would-be war correspondent.  Obscure West Wing reference here: she’d be my Chief of Staff, no questions asked. 

Catherine talks about the assumptions and expectations people make and have of a single woman in her late twenties.  It makes for uncomfortable reading; my favourite kind.  It makes me angry because I know how much Catherine has achieved over the last eleven years, it’s more than many of us will ever accomplish, and yet she has “failed” to “find a man” and it is that on which she is judged.   

Catherine also raises an important point, that this blog isn’t just a space for those with a wedding to plan, or who are married, it’s a space for everyone, single, engaged, married, or I-don’t-EVER-want-a-wedding,-they’re-a-scam.  Having said this, readers?  I can’t promise that I won’t leap in from the sidelines and join in Catherine’s first dance.  No, really. 
Over to Catherine: 

I started reading this blog when Anna joined the team. I started reading it because she asked me to, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked. Not just by Anna’s posts (although even now I like to play a game where I see if I can successfully recognise an Anna entry within the first two sentences), but also those by Clare, Aisling and the wonderful AOW community at large. There was an even an incident a couple of months ago involving a packet of biscuits and a sleepless night when I went back and read the entire archive;

Every so often Anna would ask me to write something for the blog, and I would enthusiastically agree and not write a darned thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I actually really wanted to; I’m just not married. Neither am I engaged, or pre-engaged (I didn’t even know this was a thing!), or in any kind of relationship where I can honestly lay claim to having a Proper Boyfriend. But still, I did want to write something, and the more I read the blog I realised that this was a space for every woman. So, although I can’t talk about wedding plans, except to say that I really want my first dance to be a choreographed number to Elvis Presley’s Burning Love (I swear, I don’t think this why I am single), I will tell you how I feel to be almost 30 and *gasp* not in possession of a significant other…


That word was originally FINE, but in all honesty that is what I want it to feel like, rather than what it actually feels like. I did not anticipate being 29 and single; not when I was 6 and throwing a net curtain over my head and marrying the boy from across the road, not when I was 22 and living with a boyfriend, and not even when I was 28 and single. Although I do hope one day to get married and to have children I would not change any decision I have made that has left me without those things right now. I feel strange being single, not because I don’t yet have something I want, but because my relationship status seems to be so important to everyone else.
Have you ever seen anyone look more intrepid?  Sigh. 

When I was 26, I moved from the UK to the US to begin a PhD program. Now, I know I didn’t fly to the moon on a jet-pack, but it’s an amazing experience and I’m super proud of myself. I write and present papers! I’ve visited over 30 states in three years! I get to order sandwiches using a touchscreen! But, despite all these adventures, what a shockingly large number of people want to talk to me about is why I don’t have a boyfriend.

Here are some of my favorite questions/comments I have been on the receiving end of:

You’re a pretty/intelligent/clever/funny girl, why are you still single?This is the backhanded compliment that even perfect strangers feel at liberty to pay me! The subtext here seems to be, you seem like a great catch, and yet you’re not in a relationship, so I guess you’re Glenn Close/Kathy Bates crazy.

Well, it’s not surprising is it, when you keep insisting on all that education?The breakup of my longest relationship coincided with my decision to pursue a masters degree. The two were not related except in the head of my grandmother who bluntly told me I should have been washing and ironing my boyfriend’s clothes instead of filling out application forms (the same woman who told me my graduation from my undergraduate university was the happiest day of her life!). Now, I’m in the middle of a PhD program and quite evidently educating myself out of eligibility. Lest we think this is a view solely confined to the octogenarian, a girl I knew at primary school recently sent me a facebook message saying “how will you find a man if you stay studying forever? LOL”

How is Billy/Bob/Joe/David? Are they a friend or are they a ‘special friend’?In my experience, if you go long enough without a boyfriend, family members and acquaintances will assume you do actually have one and are just being coy about it. This can be both amusing and infuriating as you are grilled about literally every male friend you have  ever had.
In general, there seems to be an alarming consensus that I must fall into one of two camps. In the first camp, I am single by design. I never want to be tied down and am probably militant something – either lesbian or feminist, possibly both. In the second camp, I am desperate. I cry myself to sleep at night as I count how many more menstrual cycles I have before I hit the menopause. I won’t be single for long because I’ll attach myself for life to the next man who asks me out.

I am neither of these, but where is the space for the currently single woman enjoying her life as it is life, while looking forward to a possible future of married bliss? If you spend more than 30 seconds poking around the internet for ‘single and 30’ you find a plethora of confident, vibrant articles and blog posts sullied by disparaging comments about women who are ‘too picky’, ‘not as attractive as they think they are’ and who possess rapidly withering ovaries (just because I understand biology it doesn’t mean I throw my better judgment gets thrown out of the window). Why do people (because depressingly it’s not just men, but women too) want to tell those of us who are single in our late 20’s and 30s (and beyond) that we are doing it wrong?
It goes without saying that my single male friends and family rarely cop this attitude. Being a single guy in your late 20s or 30s is not only fine, it’s often seen as responsible! Men are praised for “not rushing into anything”, for building a career, and investing in mutual funds (is that what people do with mutual funds?). I am rarely praised for biding my time, for being unwilling to settle when it comes to something as important as love.
Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience, Our Favourite Posts, Travel, Uncategorized
16 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted November 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    You all are on fire this week! this is so true, and representative of so many people I know (myself included until a few years ago, although in some ways I often forget and still think of myself as single)

  2. Posted November 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Catherine…I adore you. In a girl crush/deep admiration/huge respect/awestruck wonder kind of way.

    'where is the space for the currently single woman enjoying her life as it is life, while looking forward to a possible future of married bliss?' THIS is what AOW is about, for me. Getting these spaces established and recognised-whatever it is that you need a space for.

    And to be quite frank, if and when you do ever 'settle down' (euch-what an expression!) the fellow in question is going to have to be pretty freaking special.

    This is the PERFECT post for AOW and for Being a Woman week-and I'm delighted you've written it for us. And when you become some frighteningly incredible figurehead of American politics, I can offer wardrobe advice. I know my place.


  3. Posted November 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Good on you for not only being true to yourself but for speaking out about it. I have a friend in a similar situation to you and her take on it is the same as yours.

    Ignoring the negative connotations of being single = sitting on the shelf, I'm a firm believer that it's better to be on the shelf than in the wrong cupboard.

    I do have a friend who is mid thirties and single. She's very bitter about it and that's hard to hear. It stems from other issues but it's definitely my most trying friendship. Sadly, many of my male friends think she's representative of the 'late 20/30 something' single woman. I shall be directing them towards your post.

  4. Posted November 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Ah yes. In a related note, I've always noticed that to many of my family members, especially the man ones, what I look like seems to be way more important than what I'm doing. For instance my weight tends to fluctuate a lot and when I was thinner, but not up to much they had a much more positive attitude towards me than when I was overweight and running my own successful business. It's crazy making. Looks, relationships, and baby making is still what so many people think that women are for. Way to spit in the eye of that bs.

  5. Posted November 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Its so exciting to see myself on these pages! I woke up this morning like it was Christmas!

    Lauren, I had a similar experience at a recent family gathering when a male relative said something along the lines of "well, didn't you turn out to be a looker?" Yes, because although you haven't seen me in a few years, that is the thing to concentrate on!

    Sarah, as you know by now, I love the cupboard metaphor; so perfect!

  6. Posted November 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I've got a similar but different thing in that because me and the boy have been together so long (9 years) and are of that late 20s/early 30s age people (aka everyone) feel justified to continuously ask and judge me about why we're not married, so far I've had 5 years of this and it's doing my head in! And I know at least some of them think I must just not be marryable enough.

  7. Posted November 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully written, Catherine. I have a few single female friends who are in their 30s and they are so much more than their single status seems to indicate to too many people. And you're right, thinking of a woman in those terms does undermine her achievements.

    Just one thing that needs clearing up – what is this new-fangled ordering sandwiches via a touchscreen of which you speak? I obviously have not lived…

  8. Posted November 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    oh my god, Emma, the sandwich touchscreen! When I moved to Pennsylvania, I found a chain of convenience stores called Wawa, and one of their many delights is their deli where you use self-serve computer touchscreens to order your food (the food is made by real people, not robots). This and fountain soda are two of the best things about America!

  9. Jenny Lane
    Posted November 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    This is such an amazing article, and such an amazing week of reading on AOW. I know it is not quite the same but I feel I am being pigeon holed into when I can have babies. I am 27 and getting married next year but "you want to leave it a little while, you know have a couple of years being married, but don't leave it too late, you know 35 is too late" so essentially I have to have a baby by 30 or my time is gone. How ridiculous! I want to do some more travelling, I like going to the pub on a Friday, I like my life and have things to do!!!! But no, the condescending looks of "you'll have one by 30" continue. Why must women be pigeon holed in all aspects of their life, not celebrated for the amazing decisions and achievements they make.

  10. Anita
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    Oh thank god, thank god, thank god for this post. Over the last 10 years I have been single, in a moderately-serious relationship with someone who turned out to be a nutter, briefly single again, rebound fling with a lovely guy who remains a friend (not that anyone believes we're just friends), single for a while, brief relationship with a commitment-phobe, single for a year again, then met the man who became my husband…who I am currently divorcing. I am single again and happy to be so -in the past 6 months I have: spent ridonculous amounts of money on shoes, got embarrassingly drunk on nights out, got my hair cropped short, and am moving to a new city. I am going to live, not just survive.

    You go, Catherine.

  11. Posted November 16, 2011 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Jenny: Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed this.

    Ah, the baby expectation. So many people assume that now I am 29 and not married I mustn't want kids! I understand the biological imperative to have children earlier rather than later, but I do hopefully still have time, even if some people want to cart me away to the spinster home!

    Anita: Your comment makes me so glad I wrote this! Aside from the marriage and divorce it sounds like your last 10 years have been quite similar to mine.

    I cut my hair short almost two years ago and I swear, it's one of the best decisions I ever made. Just the simple act of not being able to hide behind my hair has made me so much more confident.

  12. Zan
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Oh thank god. This is it, this is what I spent YEARS trying to explain to people. That I was a perfectly normal woman in her 30's who happens to be single and actually was pretty happy about it. I was fine with myself and not looking to jump in a relationship purely to have someone becauase 'ohmygod I'm heading into my mid-30's ON MY OWN'.

    Catherine, you've said everything I wanted to say but far more eloquently than I ever could have. I may be in a relationship now, but my experiances have meant that I would never judge/make assumptions about my friends who are still single and in their 30's. Because after all, why is that a problem?

    And this – loved this:

    I am rarely praised for biding my time, for being unwilling to settle when it comes to something as important as love.

4 Trackbacks

  • By The Ex Files: Kazakhstan on February 29, 2012 at 9:17 am

    [...] ten years on.I left said ex-con after a few weeks to go Interrailing around Eastern Europe (with Catherine). When I flew back to the UK I got a call from him. “Send me a picture of you”, he said. [...]

  • By Pick your battles. on February 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

    [...] forearms sweat and where exhaustion by heat caused me to nearly get run over by a horse (with Catherine) to minus double digits where the wind whipping your face makes you cry constantly, and when [...]

  • By Choices: The Woman-Hating Sh*tstorm (Catherine) on March 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    [...] knew as soon as I finished reading that Catherine’s post was the one to finish on, today.  The right to choose to exercise birth control is arguably [...]

  • By The Books That Made Me Me – Catherine on March 28, 2012 at 7:05 am

    [...] know Catherine.  She wrote about people’s attitudes towards being single and 30, and she wrote a storming piece (that my dad mentioned, twice) about the right to contraception [...]

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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