Is It Hard to Be Single in Your 40s?

This question was recently posed to me by a 20-something woman on my blog. Having been single and not single in my 40s, I know that each side comes with its own unique hardships and pleasures. It's life that's "complicated", not being married or single.

So my answer? No harder than being married in your 40s and probably easier than being single in your 20s.

From interviewing over 150 "40-something" women for my blog, I've heard the good and the bad. One of the hardest things about being single after 40 is the stigma.

Otherwise happy single 40-something women tell me it would be easier to say they're divorced than never wed (try telling that to anyone whose been through a divorce). "Never married" means you must have some neurotic trait that makes you impossible to live with and love. Families think you're too picky, friends say your too career-focused and dates assume you're high maintenance. It's sad that having a marriage under your belt is considered a sign you're not damaged goods. The same goes for men to some extent.

I don't want 20-somethings today to feel that stigma at 40. As women, we finally can enjoy choices previous generations fought for. Getting married isn't a forgone conclusion or a result of a pregnancy test. For my mothers' generation, it was just expected that you marry and have kids. If you weren't happy with that, then there was something wrong with you. Today we know in theory at least, that marriage and baby is not an automatic "pass go" to happiness. But on a personal level we keep feeling it's somehow better.

I don't dismiss the powerful effect that societal messages about "wedded bliss" have on young women. The coverage of the royal wedding did nothing to dispel the fantasy that happiness comes in twos.

However, I think some of the judgment is in our own heads. It's another case of thinking other people are spending way more time thinking about you than they do. Yes, we are fascinated by the Cinderella stories (and their break-down) but that doesn't apply to real life where we are caught up in our own issues.

Think about your friends that are single vs. married. Do you like them any differently because of their status? Probably not. Other lifestyle constraints may get in the way of spending time with them, but your connection likely goes well beyond their marital status. So single people of the world, relax. You're probably putting more pressure on your "status" than anyone else is. And really, if someone does judge you for that, they probably aren't worth being friends with or dating.

I'm not pro marriage or single. I'm pro figuring out what makes you happy. Trends show that more people are staying single. But many 20-something women still think marriage is their happily ever after. In a study by TRU and Oxygen Media on young women in transition, 40 percent of the single women envy their married friends and 50 percent say getting married is a priority. Many of the young women I speak to say they want to marry "to experience it."

But marriage isn't one of those things on the list of things you need to "experience at least once in life". I read a stat in Marie Claire magazine that 30 percent of now divorced women knew it wasn't right when they walked down the aisle. But down they went for fear of disappointing others or self-doubt. This mirrors what many of the women I've talked to have said. Their wish for women in the same situation... "trust your gut":

You have to trust your gut when it doesn't feel right. I called off the wedding 10 days beforehand. As painful as that decision was, I'm so glad I made it. I had a lot of people tell me 'I would have just gotten married and then gotten divorced.' Coming from a divorced home, I can't even imagine how much more painful that would be. (40-something woman, now married)

My thought, let's not propagate the stigma so we don't continue to make the same mistakes. Here are a few things we all can do, starting with ourselves:

1) Stop looking for reasons why single = something wrong

When you or one of your friends date someone seemingly amazing and unattached, there's this tendency to wonder why they haven't been "snapped up". Stop dissecting that and start thinking how great it is they're available. The more you look for a skeleton in the closet the more you waste time not getting to know that person now. When you focus on that, you'll be able to notice if there's something that doesn't work for you in the relationship... rather than if there was something that didn't work for someone else.

2) Start relishing why single = something right for you, at this time.

Again. Stay present. Being single in your 40s can be very fulfilling. It's like being single in your 20s with less stress. By 40 you likely have more disposable income than at 20 and less responsibility than a couple. Once you get past the judgment, there's a lot of freedom.

You can pick up and travel or pursue your passions on your schedule. No roommates needed to share expenses or washing machines. You can enjoy the paper all to yourself, eat what you want and control the remote. You can spend time with your friends or on your own without feeling selfish. You can choose to stay in Friday night and go out Sunday night. You still have first kisses in front of you. These are just a few. Feel free to name yours.

I'd be remiss not to say it's easier in urban areas or cities. But with a little effort you can take advantage of the joys of being single and spontaneous. It could be planning regular trips with friends in other cities, traveling on your own or networking with singles in your area to plan weekend adventures. You don't even have to limit yourself to single friends. Get rid of the phrase "third wheel". Couples wouldn't invite you to things if they were secretly craving a romantic evening. You're invited not because you are single or married. You're invited because they enjoy your company.

Of course there are tons of benefits to being married as well but just remember, it's your choice. Don't be so hard on yourself. Your friends and family are most likely going to be there to support you not judge you. In the end, your happiness lies inside you.