“Can’t believe you are taking this on!” That’s a direct text-quote from my friend Anne after I told her that I was writing this story and asked her — a fellow single woman over 40 — if she wanted to chime in. I shrugged off the response with a nonchalant “eh, it’s fine” and a silly face emoji. After all, despite my tendency to text like I’m in seventh grade, this is a topic of which I’m a grizzled expert.
I know exactly how it feels to regularly have the whole bed to yourself and show up solo to some fancy milestone event. During the pandemic I’ve been cooking dinner for one … that is, when I deign to turn on the stove. Maybe in my 30s, I would have pulled a regular “what’s the matter with meeeeee?” crisis of conscience. But one of the benefits of reaching a certain age is a diminished capacity for self-judgment.
Of course, that doesn’t mean being single after 40 is as refreshing as an ocean breeze. There are still certain issues that only members of this club would understand. (We don’t have a secret handshake; it’s more of a sympathetic nod.) Let’s take them on together, shall we?
- Holidays are not a big deal. Sorry, not sorry!
First, let’s strip away artificial dates like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day — i.e. occasions that exist only as financial windfalls for restaurants and Lifetime Network programming executives. But even the A-list holidays come and go without registering high as major annual events. I’ve aged out of Fourth of July barbecue blowouts and St. Patrick’s Day 2-for-1 drink specials. With no kids in the picture for prolonged Christmas or Hanukkah festivities, Decembers are usually reserved for juicy book reading and Netflix bingeing (or, in better days, skipping town to someplace warm). In 2020, I didn’t get on a plane and visit my family for Thanksgiving for the first time ever. And though I was disappointed, I managed to wake up that Thursday and go about my day. But I do covet all that Halloween candy.
- Retail therapy: It’s not just a cliched theory
I’ve never felt more seen as when single Carrie Bradshaw vented about all the gifts she had to buy for her new married and mom friends (“I am Santa!”) with the promise of nothing in return. When you’re unattached and want to celebrate a special accomplishment, it’s up to you to treat yourself — whether it’s a new purse or a venti Starbucks hot chocolate. In fact, money itself is a delicate issue: You need to save because there’s nobody else to lean on, but you’ve also earned it fair and square so why not spend it while you have it. Might as well splurge on that fancy flatware for the new place. You can’t take the cash with you to the grave, my friends.
- Sex is still on the table (Not literally. Maybe.)
Speaking of Carrie et al.: Remember how fun and freeing it was talk about sex back in your 20s? I feel like even my pedicurist knew what I was up to after-hours. So transfixed by the topic, I used to loiter inside my local Borders bookstore and read the new issue of Cosmopolitan in a feeble attempt to memorize all the tips. After my friends paired up, sex talk was eventually phased out of conversation. I learned later that it was because, um, sex was eventually phased out of their busy and exhausted lives. (Plus, kids sleep in the bed!) This is not the case when you’re single. We’re still game for gabbing about it and still want it. Plus, the whispers are true: Certain things get better with age.
- Shhh … “lonely” is a dirty word
Admitting that you’re lonely is the verbal equivalent of plopping down on the couch with a pint of low-fat Ben & Jerry’s and a Kleenex box. Hello? Single women over 40 are strong-willed with decades of professional and personal experience. We’re not supposed to stay home (in pre-pandemic times, that is) and long for companionship. I have an OG spiral-notebook planner, and filling in the white spaces with to-dos and to-sees empowers me. But I admit there’s a bit of classic defense-mechanism psychology that goes into stating that I’m too busy to ever ruminate on my single status. Of course I think about it. Sometimes the most trivial moment — a friend’s family photo on Facebook, a bad 4 a.m. dream — can trigger me. It’s OK. Accepting it is key.
- A 24/7 friend is a must-have essential
My friend Anne may have begged off from contributing to this story, but I don’t care. What really matters is that when I got a gnarly flu two Decembers ago, she was nice enough to stop by the local deli to pick up chicken noodle soup and drop it on my doorstep. When you’re on your own, a friend who shows up for you in sickness and in health is the ultimate must-have. Single girlfriends need each other for both support and Sunday brunches. No hours or topics are off-limits — and best of all, there are no “I have to check with Jeff!” or “I have to take Lily to soccer practice!” excuses/alibis. And, guess what? We can spend holidays together, too.