Life in your 30’s is a time of major growth and change. Between iterations and evolutions of family, relationships, careers, housing, and personal development, it’s a decade spent riding life’s sine curve of growth and decay, over and over again.
For some, this decade sees the beginning of marriage or family; for others this decade marks the end of a marriage / long term relationship, and finds a whole new batch of people single again. Being single in your 30’s (and over) – and possibly with kids – is dramatically different than being single in your 20’s though, particularly because dating has changed so much since the days when listening to N Sync was considered foreplay.
Dating now is connecting with someone online, chatting a bit, trying to establish if there’s connection, getting the gumption to meet in person. It’s sitting at the cafe waiting for your date to arrive, wondering if there’ll be a spark, wondering if he’ll be tall enough for you, hoping he doesn’t have an effeminate voice, and wondering if it’s still ok to flirt with the barista or tattooed bearded guy who just walked in while you’re waiting.
Dating is believing in happenstance, and putting yourself in situations just outside your comfort zone to challenge yourself and move forward. It’s the pleasure of meeting someone who makes you laugh your head off, then challenges your views on things you never even knew you wanted to be challenged on. It’s exploring undiscovered and long forgotten parts of yourself that are triggered by a new energy in your life. It’s the awkward half hug after an uninspired evening, and it’s the sultry first kiss on the sidewalk while you’re waiting in line for ice cream and Hong Kong waffles. It’s sitting at the bar with your friend, being deliciously hit on by a (different) tattooed bearded guy, this one with a Venezuelan accent who is charming and funny and smart and leans in to whisper kiss your neck just the way you like…then casually mentions he’s married with kids.
Dating is a mixed range of emotions; it’s feeling the freedom to do and be whatever you want, whenever you like. It’s feeling extreme joy and happiness that you’re living the life you’ve been brave enough to pursue. It’s feeling extreme sadness in palpable waves as you take stock of the losses in your life that come with the end of any significant partnership. It’s lying on the floor in a heap of tissue and pizza feeling pangs of loneliness, and sometimes fear of doing this on your own with no partner to back you up, and no partner for you to lift up and support. It’s feeling the need to be held by another human and folded into their arms without speaking, and it’s also feeling the need to be absolutely taken for a ride in bed. It’s feeling lifted and elated with possibility before going on a first date, and feeling ever so slightly let down when the date doesn’t meet your imagination’s expectations. It’s feeling that you have been granted the gift of starting over, and feeling pure calm and bliss, as you sit in the quiet and appreciate the time you have to be by yourself. It’s feeling gratitude to be exactly where you are right now, living in constant anticipation of possibility, surprise, delight, and epic love.
The thing is, often, dating is all of these things in one day…am. I. Right.
But dating isn’t the only thing that’s different if you’re in your 30’s: YOU are different. YOU know so more more about yourself and the world and what you really, really want that yes, the game has changed, but so has the player. So how do you do it? How do you own singledom and appreciate its state for everything it is?
1. Check Yo’ Self
Perspective is everything, and although – especially if you’ve been in a long term partnership – you may not have envisioned your future as one that involves starting over, embrace the adventure of starting over. Unless you actively choose to be single – which many people do – you won’t be single for long. Singledom is a holding place to learn, explore, sit, listen, question, experiment, define, enjoy, and be. There really shouldn’t be a rush to jump into a partnership, because before you know it, and probably sooner than you think, that partner is going to appear in front of you and rock your whole world. In one simple act of fate, your lexicon will move from “me” to “we,” and you’ll find that there’s suddenly someone lying beside you on the floor eating pizza, getting up only to flip the record or kiss your forehead.
So enjoy this latent period for what it is, and don’t get caught up in any scary feelings of being alone.
2. Date Yo’ Self
You know who should make your top five list of Most Interesting People You Know? You, babe. If you aren’t feeling full and whole, but rather waiting for someone else to make you feel full and whole, honey, you aren’t ready for a relationship. Make a list of qualities you value in a partner (seriously – do this right now), then skim through and see which ones you actually embody. You need to model what you want, so take stock of any areas you might want to work on.
And while you’re figuring yourself out, take the time and opportunity to date yourself along the way. Be it Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, actively plan a date with yourself. This is so fun that while you may think I’m bananas now, trust me, you will thank me later.
Think about where you want to go (and eat), what you want to do while you’re there; choose a killer outfit, get your nails done, shave your legs…do all the pre date things you’d do if you were TinderElla about to meet Prince Charming the first time.
Ask yourself “if I had a sweetheart, what would a perfect date feel like right now?” And whatever the answer is? Do that. Do it often, too. Enjoy your own company, and the pleasure that comes from doing exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it, and lean the hell into it. Stop at the fruit markets en route to your hike. Get coffee at a new cafe and drink it while flipping through the record store. Check out the new art exhibit you read about. Sit at the bar of the restaurant you’ve been itching to try. Drive an hour to have brunch at the place you keep seeing on Instagram. It’s so important to listen to what your needs are, and learn how to meet them for yourself.
If you can’t, how can you expect someone else to be able to do so?
3. Surround Yo’ Self
Being single is, as we’ve established, rife with emotion. Be sure to have a really good friend or family member on speed dial to be your “person.” You might feel more comfortable having this as an actual conversation first, the “will you be my anchor talk?’ Because when it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month – or even your year – you’re going to need your friend to be there for you (see what I did there?), and you’re going to need them now. Maybe it’s a quick grounding phone call, maybe it’s a night out with a bottle of tequila, maybe it’s tea and tears and Tarot cards, who knows. But you’re going to want a lifeline that you feel comfortable reaching out to when you need help, without feeling like a burden.
As fierce and strong and independent as you are – because sweetheart you are all of those things – you’re going to need the back up from time to time. Someone to watch the kids, let the dog out, bring the milk because you forgot it, teach you how to install pot lights / build a BBQ / get the best rate on insurance, vet the dude who asked you out, share the (always unsolicited) dick pics with, debrief what “I forgot my wallet” reeeaaally means, deal with how to handle your “friend” dating your ex, and share the experience of how things are progressing (or not), in most aspects of your life.
You are strong and capable, but baby, you’re not an island; one of the best parts of being in a relationship is being able to support someone else and help push them to live their best and most inspiring life…be sure to find a person who’s there for you, and for whom you can be there too, because giving and being needed / depended on matters.
4. Love Yo’ Self
This, above all else, is the key to being single. Darling, you are made of magic. You are an intricate and complex creature and you will not be for everyone – and that’s ok. You offer a rare blend of sugar and spice, smart and savvy, sweet and sexy. You’re going to meet a lot of people who don’t quite get you, and the beauty is that they don’t have to. YOU have to get you, and you have to love the hell out of you. If that’s a new concept or feeling for you, treat it like a job, and learn yourself, know yourself, appreciate yourself, and love yourself so damn hard you just can’t get enough of you.
This is true in the literal physical sense too (yeah, we’re totally going there). Take this chance to explore yourself not only emotionally, but physically too. Strip down and admire your body in the mirror (again, seriously do this right now…unless you’re on, like, the streetcar or something. Then maybe wait a bit); get to know every curve and fold of your body and “love yourself” in any wild way you want to, learning to give yourself delicious pleasure in any way you like. (If this makes you uncomfortable check out sexual health educators like Layla Martin to get you on that path to healing the relationship you have with your body and sexual self.)
This is the foundation to any great relationship, the one you have with yourself. Make it a priority and watch how every relationship around you changes.
So how to be single? It is and will be whatever you make it to be. It’s a highly valuable part of self-discovery and self-creation, and if you find yourself in the position of being single – even if unexpectedly – take the opportunity to make it your own.