The Real Problem With Being Child-Free and Unmarried In Your Mid-30s

Happy woman holding glass while standing by friend at log cabin during summer party
Happy woman holding glass while standing by friend at log cabin during summer party

It was a glorious day. In fact, it was so glorious that I couldn't help but wonder whether I'd accidentally gate-crashed a film set. The warm spring sun was shining, the flower arrangements were delicately fitting. And my friend simply looked stunning. In her wedding gown. She seemed so happy. And I was so happy for her.

Just before the ceremony was about to start, I lined up with my friends at the bar to get some bubbly. I started chatting to another guest. We talked about how we got to know the bride, and how beautiful the venue was. Then suddenly she asked: "So where did you get married?"

I said: "I'm not married."

You know that split second when someone hesitates in responding to something you said? As if you just told them you kill kittens for a living? Yeah, that. She gave me that.

And then she just went: "Oh." And wandered off.

And I was left standing there, prosecco in hand, stunned.

Then I realized I had a problem. A huge problem. I'm in my mid-30s. But I'm not married. And I don't have kids. So far I haven't felt so bad about that... But maybe I was wrong.

I realize I should probably sound more apologetic when I tell people I'm not married. Perhaps I should try a bit harder to make those around me less embarrassed when they meet me. I'm a disgrace. I'm a single lady. I was about to get drunk on lots of prosecco. I'm always the wedding guest -- not the bride. And I don't even own a cat.

What is the world to do with me? What shall I do with myself?

At the time, I just shrugged and went back over to my friends. I told them about the "oh" incident, and we laughed about it.

But the next day, with the wedding over and the world appearing without that romantic filter again, I got angry. Because that "oh" wasn't just the careless "oh" of some thoughtless person. No. It was a little more. It was not the first time I -- or some of my girlfriends -- had come across that "oh." We've all heard it plenty of times. That slightly muted expression of pity, of concern: She's not married? What is wrong with her?

Let's see. I'm happy. Some days more than others. But I'm generally happy. Never before in my life have I so truthfully felt that way. What a gift. Also: I'm healthy. And I feel loved. My family is there for me. Always. I have good friends who would do anything for me, as I would for them.

I like my job. I enjoy what I do every day. Some days more than others. And I meet men. I go on dates. I enjoy this. Some days more than others. I'm in sync with my age. I'm grateful for all the experiences I've had -- good and bad. I feel like a stronger woman because of them. Dare I say it? There's probably nothing seriously wrong with me.

But thinking this through, I'm realizing I might actually have a problem after all -- albeit a different one than people think.

I do in fact have a problem with people assuming that there is something wrong with me. Because these are mostly people who blatantly do not live up to their own standards.

Many of us like to see ourselves as very liberal people.

We accept sexual relationships before marriage; we admire independent and successful women. We know that you can have kids well beyond the age of 40. We fought for same-sex marriage.

We know that monogamous relationships are not the be-all and end-all of a life filled with love. We know that "forever and ever" should maybe not be taken too literally in a country that has high divorce rates.

We are accepting -- and in fact, encouraging -- of so many different lifestyles, like never before. Which is great. Would anyone wish to live in another decade? Didn't think so.

Yet we still have a problem with unmarried women. Because a society in which an unmarried woman in her 30s seems worthy of an astonished "oh" suddenly doesn't seem so liberal after all. Which makes me wonder how liberal we really are towards all these different lifestyles.

When that wedding guest gave me that pitiful look, I could almost sense her scanning me for some fault. What's wrong with her, she seemed to be checking.

Nothing's wrong with us single ladies. We are fabulous -- that much Sex and the City has taught us. And being fabulous has nothing to do with being in a relationship or not.

A relationship, a marriage even, is not the ne plus ultra of all lifestyles. On the contrary: I've never been as unhappy as I've been in an unhappy relationship. Loneliness in pairs is the worst kind of loneliness.

Mid-30s, female, single. I'll tell you what I'm really missing. What I'm really missing is a society that stops telling me what I lack in happiness. This, it seems to me, is the true problem.