Recently, during a phone call, my mother brought up the subject of an acquaintance who is going through a second divorce. “Oh poor thing…,” I said. “Well, at least she managed to get married…twice! You haven’t even been married once,” was my mother’s cutting response.
This conversational detour – turning someone’s acrimonious separation into a referendum about me – didn’t surprise me in the least. Because, there is no history, family gossip or world catastrophe that my mother cannot attribute to the butterfly effect of my being single at such a “mature” age.
Climate change, war in Ukraine, collapse of the Sri Lankan economy…my family will manage to find a circuitous path between these disasters and my (seemingly equally disastrous) decision to remain single.
I’m 40 and single. It’s a simple fact of existence for me, but a source of horror, pity, frustration, amusement and endless childish requests from my family, loved ones, less close friends. , neighbors and domestic help.
Marital status, or lack thereof, is not a deliberate choice. It is a combination of events and factors. Poor relationship choices, unrequited love, personality traits and personal failures, but above all, a determined inability to settle down. But I certainly hadn’t considered how much energy I would put into responding to comments, suggestions, or questions about my childless, husbandless life.
“So if you don’t have family, what do you do on your days off?”
“Aren’t you afraid of getting old? Who will take care of you?
“You should get married because even if you hate your husband, there will be another hot body in the house.” (Seriously, what?)
“Why do you put your career above your personal life? (Ha, the joke’s on you! I don’t have a personal life or much of a career.)
Whenever I’m faced with a comment that seeks to reinforce the idea that my life is incomplete or somehow inadequate, I want to say, respectfully, that I disagree. It’s not the life I would have chosen or even wanted for myself at 25 or 30. But that’s the life I have now, and it’s a good life. A life that I have built for myself and of which I am proud.
Frankly, after living with a large family, then hostels and roommates for over 30 years, I revel in the solitude of my existence.
I love coming back to an empty house, even though Hollywood romantic comedies tell me that shouldn’t be the case. I like to walk alone in Old Delhi, or go to see a Marvel movie, or just buy groceries or cook, by myself. I don’t have those “Oh fuck, I wish someone would carry my groceries or hold my hand when (spoiler alert) Iron Man dies”.
It is of course not about sleeping in, sunsets, long walks and marinating in happy detachments. There are significant episodes of craving for companionship. Who doesn’t want to find true love or be loved unconditionally?
On bad days, I wish there was someone to vent to. From a crudely pragmatic point of view, I would like not to have to assume enormous financial responsibilities alone.
And I worry about old age. Who will take care of me when I am old and infirm? But what’s the point of worrying about something that may or may not happen two or three decades later? I’ll walk through that particular nursing home when I hobble to her.
Overall, though, hand on my heart, I love my life.
People often tell me that I don’t know what I’m missing and that I will soon bitterly regret my life choices. Maybe I will, who knows? But as I see so many friends’ marriages implode, as quite a few exceptional (female) friends settle for “endurable” spousal options because being single after a certain age is apparently worse than the plague, and as many (male) friends pursue extramarital affairs, I want to ask them: “Do you know what you are missing?
I’m not asking that. Instead, I brace myself for the next assortment of questions about my heretical status. As always, I’ll try to explain, “I don’t think my life is inferior to anyone else’s. Thanks for asking the question.
Now if only I could find a way to convince my mother.