When you're single in your mid-30s and early-40s, you have some variation of the following conversation a lot.
Well-Meaning Person: You're single?
You: Yup. Single.
Well-Meaning Person: But you're so great!
You: Yup. Still single.
Well-Meaning Person: Well, you're still so young, there's time.
You: I guess.
But what you want to say to them, is this: Here's the thing, Well-Meaning Person. I don't feel "so young." See, pretty much every one of my friends is partnered or married with kids in the mix or on the way. And seeing how, at my age, my chances of meeting a viable partner and getting to the baby making stage before my ovaries close up shop forever are about as good as my chances of getting hit by a car, it's not really helpful to point out that I'm so great or not as old as say, Jane Fonda. Yet. Someday, god willing, I will be that old. And the way things are going for me, I'll probably still be single as fuck.
It's bad enough when, as a chronically single person in your 30s and 40s, you're forced to have this conversation with some rando. But when it plays out amongst friends, it's particularly excruciating.
Especially when they're partnered or married.
Especially when they've been so since college.
Especially when they have a brood of children, and all you want is just one.
Because to be single and childless in your 30s and 40s, when you want to be partnered and parenting, is torture. A place where you are paralyzed between the terror of an uncertain yet certainly lonely and dissatisfying future, and the regret of the past which keeps distracting you with festering thoughts that maybe you really could have made it work with that guy you dated when you were 29.
Love may know no bounds, but fertility certainly does.
And each birthday that creeps by without coupledom firmly in your sights feels like a death sentence to your dreams. Like you're being dragged down the green mile from the life you always envisioned for yourself, towards certain death at the hands of biology and bad taste in men.
Even if you don't prematurely mourn the lost opportunity to be mom, because you know you don't want kids or you already have one from a failed relationship, the sting is the same as you watch your friends get married, have babies, set up house, make plans for the future. Every tender moment witnessed between a loving couple -- a gentle hand on the small of the back, a kiss atop the head, smiles and whispers exchanged on a crowded subway -- feels like a punch in the face. Not for you. Sorry Charlie.
You might not be hearing the death knell of your biological clock, but you feel like all your good years are slipping away, and your only option may be a retirement home romance at the ripe old age of 84.
So don't tell your single friend that you just can't understand why she's still single, because she's just so awesome. She knows she's awesome. She doesn't understand it either.
And don't tell her she's so young, she'll meet someone eventually. Because her loneliness and singleness thus far is, to her, only evidence contrary to that opinion. (And it is an opinion, unless you're a fortune teller.)
For the same reason, don't tell her you "just know" she'll meet someone. She doesn't give a shit what you "know." What you "know" doesn't kiss her sweetly or take her out to dinner or plan vacations with her.
Don't tell her she just has to fall in love with her life, without a man, or learn a few more lessons before "the universe" will deem her ready for true love. Because she may be totally in love with herself and her life. Happy in every way, just really fucking tired of sleeping alone, or desiring the additional happiness of having a family of her own.
Don't tell her she might be wrong about that. That kids are tough and parenting is overrated. While 98 percent of parents might agree with you, not a single one would give it up.
And don't tell her that the married feel just as lonely, especially if you're married. Some married women might envy the freedom of her single friends, but that's just a grass is greener situation (and really, it stops being "freedom" and starts being a sentence when your late 30s roll around and the pool of potential mates starts to dry up like your lady parts). The married could stay or go. They have a choice. Your single friend? No choice. They don't have any grass. They don't think married people's grass is greener, they're just tired of dirt.
Don't suggest where they might meet guys. "What about online dating?" I know you know this friend of a friend of your cousin who fell in love with the first guy she went out with on match.com, but did you meet your husband on OK Cupid? No. Shut the fuck up.
Similarly, don't tell her about this single guy you know... but who you'd never introduce her to because he's a player/narcissist/felon. You also can't tell her that you know so many great single girls but not a single eligible guy. Imagine that! That just reminds her that she is, in actuality, stranded in a dating desert, an age bracket in which the perceived scarcity of available men is as real as the cobwebs growing in her uterus.
If it's feeling like there's nothing you can say, you're onto something.
Sometimes the truth of our circumstances is like a brick wall that we come full stop against, again and again and again. It hurts, it disappoints, it angers. We own the feelings and give voice to them and try to make peace with the hard edge of our reality. And our well-meaning friends try to soften the blows, try to pretend the wall isn't there, because it's all they can do to tend to our hurting hearts.
It's how we deal with profound sadness in the ones we love. We try to fix it.
But you can't fix your friend's single status and its accompanying loneliness, short of introducing her to the man of her dreams.
You can't troubleshoot it or minimize it or feed it platitudes.
So when she is crying into her wine about being the only person at a wedding without a date or her very real fear that she will never have children, let her tell you what she feels she's missing and what she wants. Let her get it all out.
And then tell her you want that for her, too.
That's it: You want that for her, too.