I was single for most of my adult life—I met my husband at 39—and I experienced the usual rewards and frustrations of living on my own. There were glorious times—late-night dinners with the girls, solo hikes through the high plains of Wyoming—and there was also a lot of heartbreak, loneliness, and self-doubt. But what I failed to appreciate was how even the difficult times—maybe especially the difficult times—made me the woman I am today.
You build strength when you gracefully make small talk with your ex and his pregnant wife while seated next to them at a wedding. When you figure out how to fix the leaky faucet in the upstairs bathroom. When you refuse to let the car salesman intimidate you. When you tell a man “I’m sorry, but this isn’t clicking for me” and when a man says it to you.
Mostly, you gain strength when you learn to listen to your own voice and live life on your own terms. There is so much out there that tells single women there’s something wrong with them. But there is so much right with single women today, and I’m not just talking about how great they look in stilettos or rocking their careers. Sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian found that single sisters aren’t just doing it for themselves, they’re also essential players in their communities. In an article in the journal Contexts, they wrote that single women attend more political meetings, sign more petitions and raise more money for political causes than married women do; and single men and women spend more time taking care of parents, siblings and friends than their married peers.
And like my busy friends, singles just get out of the house more. In Going Solo, sociologist Eric Klinenberg notes that singles spend more time at public events, have more friends and take more art and music classes.
I’m not saying single people are better than married people—that’s silly. I’m saying that it’s time we start treating the single experience with the respect it deserves. Because what is perhaps most impressive about single women today is their ability to build rich, meaningful lives without any sort of blueprint. It takes courage to stay true to yourself when so many voices are telling you to follow a more conventional path. It takes mental agility to hold two ideas in your head at once: Yes, I would like to meet someone someday; yes, I am fine right now as I am.