I'm smiling as I write this, which is a good sign. I certainly had never expected to be single in my 40s. Still, I find myself remarkably happy most of the time. There are moments, of course, of frustration and grief over not having love, marriage and children. But I have come to realize that I'm happy despite the fact that my life did not turn out as expected. Here are some of the reasons why:
I've learned to enjoy dating, no matter my romantic feelings for my date.
In my 20s, I put a lot of weight on dating. I was ready to get married and become a mother in my early 20s, so I dated to find "the one," and not simply to enjoy the date come what may. In my 30s, after a decade of disappointment behind me, I bemoaned dates where there was no attraction or shared values, feeling like I had wasted a night I would never get back. But by age 40, I let go of what the date might mean for my future, or what it meant for my near past. I learned to enjoy the moment. I learned to enjoy the man and his company, whether or not there will be a second date.
I've learned that every connection and every moment, has a purpose. And while I may not recognize that purpose in that very moment, I know that I will learn something about someone new and probably something about myself. Plus, with that attitude, I often have a great time regardless of how I feel about the man I'm with. It's a night out, drinks, maybe dinner, maybe a movie, maybe more... what's not to appreciate?
I've learned to forgive myself for being single.
I've made mistakes, I'm sure of it. In my 20s and early 30s, there were times when perhaps I wasn't always mindful and sensitive to the men who courted me unsuccessfully. I also held on too long to men whom I courted who were not mindful of and sensitive to me. I painted a picture of what my life should look like, and tried to force another person into my picture because I believed he was the missing piece. I tried too hard. I held on too tightly. And it was never meant to be.
And at times, I didn't try at all. I'd get tired of going to singles events without any dates to follow and so I'd opt out of the next event. I'd go to the movies with a girlfriend instead of a bar where I might meet someone new. And I'm sure my dates and friends from 10 and 20 years ago can point to other things I said or did, or thought was right, or believed was wrong…and I forgive myself.
We believe that after graduating college and getting a job and paying the rent and all the apparent milestones of adulthood, that we are fully ripened adults. And yet, at age 40, I think many of us can cringe at the immaturity we showed. Forty is when I began to feel humbled by life. I realized that while I may be the captain of my ship, the ocean rules. I have learned to forgive myself for ever believing I was the ocean.
I've learned to immediately forgive the men.
Everything is going great. He appears really into me and I'm charmed by what seems like his sincere charisma and attention. I eventually let down my guard and believe he's genuine. He's doing all the right things, after all. He calls when he says he will. He plans fantastic dates and makes me feel so appreciated. And I appreciate him. He's unabashedly talking about how he's waited for me all this time. "Where have you been all my life?" he asks. And so, after three dates, and a fourth set on the calendar, I breathe easy. He's fun. He's smart. He's decisive. He's generous and kind. And he's into me. He likes me. He's told me several times.
And then he breaks the date.
He has to move it because [fill in the blank] and I say, "Of course, I understand. No, it's not anything to do with us, I know. Yes, I believe you. Yes, sure, next week. You'll call me. Great."
And that's the end of that.
And I let it go. Every time it happens—and it happens more often than I'd like to admit—I let it go. I remember how fortunate I am to have had those great dates, with a man who makes me feel special, and beautiful, smart and fun and…well it doesn't really matter, does it? Because while the situation is disappointing, the reasons for the disappearances are irrelevant. It's possible they have nothing to do with me. And if they do, it's not anything I did that another man would think twice about. And I am grateful that these men didn't just one day disappear further down and further in. So I move on.
I've learned that I'm optimistic, but not naïve.
Based on the previous point, you may think that I'm naïve or too much of a romantic. You may think I'm easily taken advantage of or unable to read "the signs." But that isn't so, and I'm sure of it now that I'm in my forties. I've experienced too many disappointments, too many curious events, too many heartbreaks to know that my experience guides me well. But I haven't ever lost my optimism that my love is out there, his own experiences and learnings behind him, too. I am optimistic that we have both learned enough to be vulnerable to the possibility of love this time around. I don't second-guess my hope. I don't apologize for my optimism. I simply enjoy each experience, each short or longer relationship, knowing they get me one step closer to the next.
I've learned that being single is not the same as being alone.
I can't remember the last time I felt lonely. Sure, I've had summer weekends where I was home alone working on my next book or my business, when it felt like everyone else was at the beach. And I've spent my share of holidays preparing a three-course dinner, pouring myself a glass of wine, only to enjoy it all by myself. I've walked into an empty apartment after receiving incredible news, with no one there to greet me and hear about it first-hand. And I've been in a room full of people, feeling like I just want to be home, by myself.
But lonely, truly lonely, I haven't felt in a long time. That's because, as the saying goes, wherever I go, there I am. And I've got a full, rich life, one I've created for myself. It is by no means the life I expected to have at age 44, but it's an abundant life in its own magnificent way. It's a new kind of happiness I'm quite proud to have achieved and call my own.
My friends are the family I choose.
I have the love of a father and step-mom, a brother and sister-in-law, and a nephew and nieces I am besotted by. And their lives are filled with responsibilities and obligations and happy choices and endeavors that are not mine. But my friends are there for me in the worst of times and the best of times and more importantly, in all the times in between. I've learned in my forties that being single is rarely lonely when you've cultivated strong relationships with others. My friends are indeed the family I choose.
In my 20s, I never imagined I wouldn't be a mother in my 40s. In my 30s, or at least until my late 30s, I never imagined I would be single in my 40s. But here I am, single and childless in my mid-40s. And while I would be so grateful to find a for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of love (and with God's help, motherhood) without delay, I'm right here and right now, single and in my forties. I choose to accept and appreciate my extraordinary life, and continue to live my life to its greatest potential.
Of all the things I've learned about being single in my 40s, this is what I know for sure: Love is still ahead of me and I won't settle for anything less. And if I'm lucky, neither will he.
Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, Melanie Notkin's second book, is lightly based on some of her posts here on PsychologyToday.com. (Seal Press / Penguin Canada.)
Notkin is also the national bestselling author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins)