Dear Sara: I’m two months away from turning 35. Despite my trying to stay away from depressing media and articles, I find myself getting sucked in anyway. What would you tell yourself as a single 35-year-old, knowing what you now know? —R
Dear R: When I turned 35, I had been unattached for four years, and that birthday hit me really hard. I had spent age 34 in a state of panic, thinking I just had to meet someone before this looming deadline. After my 35th birthday, I thought, “Okay, game over.” I bought an apartment, but also sleepwalked though the process and didn’t even bother to paint it. It didn’t feel like a happy occasion—it felt like a declaration of my lifelong spinsterhood.
So here’s what I would say to that woman: You think you know the future, but you don’t. You think that you will always be stuck in the same place, that the story will never change, but it will. And the reason it will change is because even though you sometimes get very, very down you never actually give up. You say you’re giving up, but you’re full of it because what actually happens is you mope around your apartment for a bit, and then you go out to brunch with friends, and then you make plans to visit someone in California, and then you sign up for a meditation class, and then you swap homes with a friend in Seattle.
That’s why you’re going to be okay–why you’re already okay. Doing these things won’t guarantee that you’ll meet the love of your life, but staying committed to making your life as rich and interesting as possible will give you power.
Gradually, you will start to see that all this work you’re doing is paying off—you’ll feel a lot better about yourself, and you will be better able to see through all the crap that we put on single people and not be so affected by it. You’ll still want a partner, but you’ll stop hating yourself for not having one (or for wanting one). You’ll stop caring what other people think and just know that you are lovable even if you don’t have a dapper man by your side. This power will serve you extremely well for the rest of your life–in your marriage, your career, and everything else.
The point is not that there is a husband at the end of the rainbow. It’s that when you look back on your life ten years from now you will see that it was incredibly rich and meaningful and your one-and-only regret will be that you wasted so much time worrying about the future. Seriously, that will be the only thing you regret: all the time you spent fretting about finding someone and letting the scolds and scaremongers get under your skin. Don’t waste another second on those people. You don’t have everything, but you have some things so enjoy those things because one day you’ll have different things. You’ll like those things, but you’ll also miss what you have now.
The great irony of worrying about the future is that I don’t think it leads to a better future. You make smarter decisions when you aren’t beating yourself up over things you can’t control. In fact, you will never once make a good decision out of fear. And of course, it is those daily choices that determine what our futures will be.
So have fun, do your best, take care of yourself, and be nice. The future is always uncertain, but you’ve got your best shot at a happy one if you can stay grounded in the present.
Oh, and the apartment? Buying it won’t seal your fate a single person, but it will have a profound effect on your future: One day you’ll sell it for three times what you paid.
What would you tell someone facing a milestone birthday — and feeling inadequate in some way?