The Stupid Advice We Give To Single Women Over 40 (from the Current Conscience Blog)
I have no idea if this is a Christian blog or not. I only looked at this one post. There are many replies in the comments from people of all ages saying they related to the post.
(Link): The Stupid Advice We Give To Single Women Over 40 (from the Current Conscience Blog)
– that link, the original, no longer works.
Please try this on, on the Internet Archive (updated Feb 2016)
(Link, updated): The Stupid Advice We Give To Single Women Over 40
….“It’s hard being 40 and not married,” she responded with a mix of sadness and anger.
You may think of someone in your life who fits the description of the woman in the title of this column or of the woman I met last week, in that hotel lobby.
What comes to your mind when you think of such a woman?
If you’re like so many people, your initial reaction might be to think of this woman as lonely, sad, maybe even pathetic–an old maid.
Whatever you may think about this woman, it’s rarely something positive and liberating, but it’s not exactly negative either–it’s just sort of lonely.
This woman I speak of and that you are imagining in your mind is most likely very hardworking, probably has a great job, good friends. She’s generally satisfied and settled in many areas of her life, but she doesn’t actively date, she’s never been married, or if she was previously married, it was for a short time and many years ago.
She may be perfectly content with her life, happy to be free of the structures of marriage and a long-term relationship, or she may be happy with the other parts of her life, but longs for companionship.
We don’t need to victimize these women, not at all. And in this column, I’m not trying to destroy the happiness of those who are single and 40 and perfectly content.
So, even though I am writing in a different time and culture, where we are all getting married later and later and where we are inching towards some version of gender “balance”–the number of single women who buy homes has almost tripled since the late 90’s–our antiquated thinking about women and marriage still carries over from decades of imbalanced conditioning.
But that’s the burden of social conditioning. Times may change, but old conditioning dies hard.
I know many women over 40 who are unmarried, some of them are happy and satisfied, others would like to be in a long-term relationship, still others are desperate and unhealthy in their approach to relationships. The point is, women who are 40 and over come in many stripes and types.
Hmmm…does that sound familiar?
Oh yeah, it’s just like women in their 20’s and 30s and just like MEN in their 20s and 30s.
But somehow, we’re only giving single women over 40 one identity: they’re well past their sell-by-date, they’re lonely, sad. Things are getting rough sister, you’re gonna be living with and taking care of your parents in their old age if you don’t find a man soon.
While many single, 40-year old women may be perfectly content with the lives they live, when they step out in the world, there seems to be a constant reminder that they are “failing” because they are not in permanent relationships. Often times, it’s this external pressure, not any internal anxiety, that instigates their feelings of frustration and anxiety about marriage.
Imagine having to constantly to reassure people, “I’m happy, trust me. I swear. I really am.”
Let’s leave the women who are incredibly happy and don’t see or need a relationship, and consider the women who have a desire to get married and are seeking a partner.
There are certain things we may assume about this woman.
We assume they are picky, stubborn, set in their ways, and frigid. There must be no other reason that they’re single, right?
And how do we support these women when they express their frustration to us about loneliness or their struggle to find good men to be with?
We give these women the same, stock, stupid, overly-prescriptive advice:
“You’re not getting out enough.”
“You need to broaden your horizons, you’re too picky.”
“You’re not giving online dating a chance. So and so met their boyfriend/husband online.”
But we never make a real attempt to understand what they’re facing, which is the only way we can truly support them.
And then there are the broken promises, when we first meet a woman who is 40 and single, we often go into a tizzy, “I gotta set you up!”
We usually don’t.
And let’s just be frank, when we do set them up, we don’t reserve our best men for these women, because they’re over 40 and single. They should take anything and anyone, right? They should be grateful!
And then when they don’t like the person we introduce them to, we give them a hard time, “But he’s so nice, give him a chance.”
We would rarely make such a statement to a younger, female friend, but when it comes to addressing a woman who is single and over 40, we simply refuse her the room to choose what feels right for her. Her judgment must somehow be clouded, and that’s why she’s single.
Sure, some of these women may be stubborn, set in their ways, but men that age are set in their ways too. That’s what happens when we get older, we often become more rigid as a consequence of realizing what works and what doesn’t work for us.
It may be cliche to bring up this idea that an older man is a catch and an older woman is an old maid–but this standpoint remains an accepted stance from our cultural perspective.
Things have definitely improved in terms of how women and men are constructed in terms of their gender identities, but I’m not talking about a cultural examination as much as I’m talking about the personal message that we give to our single, 40-year friends, and how that needs to change.
This column isn’t about removing personal responsibility, or placating our women friends by hiding our honest advice. Instead, I want to consider how we can deepen the way in which we support our friends, or in some cases, how we can stay out of their way. Our job as friends, isn’t to tell someone to stop “being picky” or to “get out more.”
That’s just lazy advice.
The way in which we can deepen our support to these smart, thoughtful, successful women is to ask, “You’re over 40 and single and you say that you don’t want to be married. How can I support you? How can I be a better friend?”
Does the thought of having to ask these questions make you uncomfortable? Well, that’s your ego talking. If you don’t make an authentic effort to understand and appreciate someone’s personal experience, your own pride or point-of-view is what really leads the advice you offer, rather than the best interests of the person you care about.
The deepening of support I speak of is about not applying a template to every single, 40-year old women.
It’s called empathy. We all need empathy, without it, we feel alone. Without it, we get defensive when dealing with our problems.
We often pity women who are single and 40-years old. Pity veers on the border of patronizing women. It means making statements like: “I feel so bad for her, she doesn’t have anyone, she’s lonely.”
Empathy is about understanding the why, how, and where. It’s about appreciating someone’s experience and honoring it, while trying to support them.
Empathy is about making someone who is made to feel abnormal by our culture and their family and friends, to feel perfectly normal.
We have to ask ourselves: What is it like to be her? How would I think if I were in the same position?
Telling the 40-plus, single woman what she’s doing wrong and expecting her to be with someone she doesn’t want to be with; or telling her that the solution to her problem is going to a bar or a spinning class to meet her potential partner; or telling her that no man wants a woman so set in her ways, doesn’t do a damn thing to make that woman happier.
Our responsibility as their friends, colleagues, or relatives is to reinforce the path these women have and are choosing for themselves…that’s it.
Anything else is frankly about our own ego.
(Link): Click here to read the rest – original link no longer works. Please try
(Link, updated): The Stupid Advice We Give To Single Women Over 40
A reader comment or two from the bottom of that page:
comment by Truth Bunny
January 12, 2013
As many have said in the previous responses to this post, THANK YOU! I couldn’t have said it better myself! I just turned 40 and even though I am the same attractive, intelligent, stable woman I was a couple of years ago…
my “well meaning” friends and family have taken it upon themselves to offer unsolicited advice in the attempt to rid me of the tragic social curse they believe I might fall subject to as an over 40 single woman.
Half the time I can’t tell if I should laugh at their weak, half-hearted advice or be offended at the level of desperation to ‘save me’ from eternal singledom.
According to some of them, my prudent, high standards at 30 have suddenly become far too choosy and nit-picky at the ripe old age of 40. Some have ‘given’ up on me and practically offered to buy me a half dozen cats so I can clearly define my crazy cat lady role in life.
I truly don’t think that they actually… think when they begin the endless condescending lectures that are essentially the equivalent to a pat on the head.
I suppose as I write this, I realize how aggravated I’ve become … I’m not an angry person, just tired.
Yes, I am aware that my window of opportunity to have a child is practically sealed shut at this point. Yes, I am also aware that men my age tend to seek out women 10 years my junior. Yes, I realize that most women start to lie about their age around this time in life so remain in the age bracket that seems more socially appealing. I choose to stay true to myself.
I’ve had many great relationships (I was even married for 7 years) and a few disasters, but collectively they make me who I am and helped me understand what I want (and don’t want).
I’m pretty damn special and I don’t believe it’s a sacrifice to stay single until I’ve met someone as amazing and as equally flawed as I am to share my best years.
I don’t believe it’s impossible, so why should you? Just trust me on this one.
comment by bluecandles
August 6, 2013
This all happens to women under 30, too. And everyone is so damn patronising about it.
‘Try internet dating/ going out more/ taking up a new hobby/ kayaking/ etc.’ My god, why didn’t I think of that? My single problem is now solved. Except, obviously, I did.
I haven’t just been sitting in my home, wondering why eligible bachelors weren’t knocking away at the door. It’s often by people who met their significant other in Uni, barely out of their teens, and have never had to try dating out of that social cocoon.
Then they say that they’re jealous of my ‘single social life’ as I’m out a lot meeting new people. Yeah, I’m out, endlessly making small talk with people I’ll never see again, hoping to find someone.
And, yes, the total “I gotta set you up”… and then, they don’t. I’ve called a few matchmaker’s bluffs on this & the reaction is priceless.
I recently received a horrified reaction on remarking I was planning to travel abroad alone – “what, no one, not even a friend?” Because I need a chaperone in my 30s, it seems.
The worst part is not other people calling us single women ‘picky’, it’s the conditioning that means we do it to ourselves.
My single friends & I will berate ourselves for being ‘too picky’ for having ‘too high standards’, and after unsuccessful dates, will tell ourselves we should have been more attracted, we should have looked past x/y/z, we’re too shallow & so will be forever alone.
Even now, I can’t bring myself to not feel that my standards are way too high.
comment by A. Ponderer
April 24, 2012
This article hits home for me. I’ve heard these lazy suggestions from ‘friends’ for years & years,… long before I hit 40.
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve also heard… “Why AREN’T you married???” very shortly after meeting some people. And it’s said in a very accusatory way, as if somehow surreptitiously implying / underlying… “what’s wrong with you???”
Sure, it’s then sugar-coated with,… but you’re so attractive, smart, independent, financially stable,.. yada-yada-yada.
The question is always put to me with an undertone “as if”… it’s all my choice.
When I mention that there are not loads of men out there “absolutely dying to get married or even have a long-term relationship (of shared partnership, based on shared truths)”… I too, get the response of “you’re too picky” or “you need to go to a bar or internet dating.”
I’ve stopped replying in the way I used to, if someone now asks me why I am not married.
I simply reply with….
1. how many men over 40, or of any age, do you put that same question to???
2. how many absolutely fantastic and wonderful men do you know, that you’d feel completely happy and content to marry your own daughter off to, that you would like to introduce me to, right now?
Usually…. I get a blank stare as a result of question #1.
And,… generally a similar result from question #2. — they DON’T know of any men that THEY think are good (read as ‘honest’) from a male perspective, (that they would personally want to vouch for and stand behind). THAT… says a lot.
comment by Susan
And what about never married men who are over 50 or even over 60 who still talk of marriage and children with women who are half their age?
Comment by Kymberlee
April 24, 2012
I am divorced, over 40 and love my life. I date when I want, do what I want and have deep intimacy with my friends and, when I choose, with my lovers.
Some of the most unhappy, lonely people I know are married. Most stay in their marriages for security and spend the majority of their time tuning themselves and each other out by watching endless hours of tv.
The number of almost sexless marriages stuns me. Both sex and money get used as weapons to gain power rather than as ways to build trust and intimacy. I find it very sad.
Marriage and/or coupledom does not equal happiness and fulfillment, sovereignty does.’
comment by keygirlus
I think a lot of that pressure comes from people who have made poor bargains for themselves.
As a 39 yr old never married woman, I listen to these advice givers, look at their spouses, and promptly ignore everything they said.
If ‘being too picky’ means being unwilling to sacrifice my independence and self-determination for someone who doesn’t add joy and interest to my life, then you are right, I’m too damn picky.
I feel a lot of people ‘need’ a mate, for financial reasons or as some form of validation. I just happen not to be one of them.
Would I enjoy a long term relationship with someone who loves me and who brings new experiences to my life? Sure, who wouldn’t?
But I’m not willing to accept just anyone in order to be part of a ‘couple’. I would also love to see you write an article on the discrimination single people of both genders face. It is real, pervasive, belittling, and difficult to combat.
comment by Nenamatahari
April 23, 2012
I am 39 and just found somebody nice.
Before that I had an abusive boyfriend who nearly killed me. Literally.
One “friend” chewed me out for breaking up with him because I’m “getting older” and am “too picky” even though there was severe abuse going on.
I asked her “Oh, you want to come to my funeral then so you can wear your fancy black dress and show off?” I then told her I never wanted to speak to her ever again.
I guess in her eyes and most people’s eyes it’s better to have someone who beats you, cusses you out and even threatens you with weapons than to be *gasp* single after 30 or 40.
No thank you. I’d rather be single than abused and murdered.
— end comment —
As to this next commentator – classic Narcissism. The guy “love bombed” her while dating but dropped the “nice guy” mask after they got married – that is what a lot of Narcissists (and regular, entitled abusive) men do:
comment by Lazy L
I was a very happy, single, 50 y.o. woman, never married, my own writing business, owned a lovely small ranch, lots of friends, happy, when I met a very nice man. I wasn’t looking at the time; I had made peace with being single and was very happy at it.
We married four years later, during which he became my best friend and I thought I had finally conquered all my dysfunctional early-life lessons and found my true mate.
Sold my ranch with my self-designed dream home, bought a smaller place, and we married. His youngest son and he moved in.
He changed almost immediately into a very nasty person: yelling, ridiculing, criticizing me. His son was nasty to me as well, with no support for me from dad. Now it’s been four more years.
The son is gone, at least!
My husband dealt a lot with his issues through counseling, and the yelling, ridicule, and criticism has largely stopped.
He still loses his temper over stupid things a lot.
I stayed because I said the “death do us part” words, and couldn’t see myself giving up on my commitment.
But now, even though he more or less resembles the man I dated all those years (without one incidence of yelling, criticism or ridicule, BTW, while we dated), I find myself longing for my old single life.
I’m still reeling from the hurt and disappointment that a seemingly trustworthy man transformed into a nightmare as soon as he “got” me.
I totally agree with the last sentences of this essay. Compromising couples — and that is most of them — stay together because they give up key parts of themselves. They gave me bad advice. Now I’m trying to find my own advice, the best I can.
I don’t want much in life: to express the joy and wonder I feel at the world, to have some fun, to feel emotionally connected to my partner.
I’m now living with a very nice roommate who wants “benefits” he isn’t getting. The future? will have to sort itself out as I sort this experience out.
If I knew then what I know now, I would never have married.
I’ve come to see marriage as an institution created by men for access to sex. It doesn’t do women all that much good, especially women who have created a financially stable life.
I do wish I had my best friend back. But I don’t know that I can travel down that road anymore.
(Link): Number of ‘Lonely, Single’ Men is on the Rise as Women with Higher Dating Standards Look for Partners Who are ‘Emotionally Available, Good Communicators, and Share Similar Values’, Says Psychologist (2022)