[MidlifeCrisisfilter] Help me help my friend who is turning 40 and is very upset about it.
February 12, 2011 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Please help me think of new ways to help a friend cope with turning 40. This friend is really upset about it, especially because she is single, has no prospects, regardless of how hard she tries, and feels despondent over it.

I'm looking for some out of the box ideas, or even just some very practical ideas on how to help a friend of mine who is turning 40 and extremely upset about it. She's a single woman, who I think is really unhappy about still being single at 40. She tries to date, she gets out there and tries to do things that typically put you in situations to meet people, but doesn't get asked out a lot. What does one say to someone who has tried everything but hasn't succeeded to make that person feel better about turning 40 and still being single? I can sympathize being in a similar boat but I'm more at peace with it and am at a loss.

A few more pieces of info: she's smart, very cerebral, intellectual, appreciates humor, big reader, not very athletic, an introvert, and not really open to new situations. more of a homebody. attractive in an exotic, yet cute way. holds an office job.

any ways you can think of that I can be more of a good friend to her, to help her be more at peace with accepting the situation or even trying to improve the situation would be nice. everyone goes through some freak out as they age, regardless of status or not - but i think its made much worse when you're alone and wish you weren't. your thoughts and suggestions are appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 41 and am delighted to be in my forties. My off-the-cuff suggestion is to remind her how awful it is to be in your 20s. Maybe she can practice being grateful for knowing herself as well as she does, having a settled life and a direction and (I assume) confidence in being able to run her own life.

About meeting a partner: I notice you say that she "doesn't get asked out a lot". Straight-up tell her that it's time for her to start doing the asking. Life doesn't happen to people, people make life happen. If she meets someone she's interested in she should ask him out. This is not a sign of desperation; this is the action of a confident woman who's in charge of her life, taking charge of her social life too. This goes for online dating too--don't be afraid to make the first move.
posted by Sublimity at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could encourage her to get involved in volunteer activities. To help her put her troubles in their proper perspective, she could volunteer at a hospice or a soup kitchen, help with a grief counseling organization or answer a crisis hotline. It would get her out more, she would meet a range of different people, and she would see that being single is not nearly as bad as it gets.
posted by Houstonian at 11:22 AM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest that you propose some activity for the two of you to do. It should be something fun and new and get her out of the house, and she'll have company doing it because you're doing it with her. You could, for instance, offer to go on a trip with her, or to take a course with her in something new like ballroom dancing or pottery or Vietnamese cooking or some such thing, anything that the two of you would enjoy.
posted by orange swan at 11:25 AM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding the idea to have her try something new. Aging can feel like a never-ending series of closing doors; learning to dance, or to cook Vietnamese food, or whatever is a way of reminding yourself that even though some doors are closing, you can open new ones.
posted by chicainthecity at 11:29 AM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a little bit younger than your friend, but I have very similar experiences on the dating scene and doubt it will change much by the time I'm her age. It used to bug me, but it doesn't anymore (except for friends and family always wringing their hands and asking why I'm still single). I think it's awesome that you want to help your friend through her despondence, but it's something that she's going to have to face herself, ultimately. She has to decide that being partnered up is really not so important, that she can have a full life in which she is loved and valued without a partner.

What got me over my disappointment was 1) having a demanding career in a field I feel very passionate about 2) having awesome friends 3) knowing that there are a lot of women cooler than I in the exact same situation 4) reminding myself how miserable it is to "settle" in a relationship (I tried that once with a great, wonderful, lovely man and it was awful). Now, I am not your friend. If she's really this bummed, maybe she *does* need to settle a bit--I'm a really, really independent person and very happily live alone but I know many, probably most, people are not like this, introverts or not. She needs to really do some thinking about the prioritization of her needs.

In the meantime, what you CAN do, awesome friend, is do stuff with her. You say she's smart & cerebral but works in an office, so I'm wondering if she has an outlet for her smarts? Helping her find something that she can really look forward to, invest some serious thought & work energy into will help take away some of that time and energy she uses to feel despondent. Maybe it's just me, but I feel much better about my day (and myself) if I know I did a little something to try to fix the brokenness of the world. I'm thinking about a steady volunteering gig, a class, etc. This will also help her meet new people, make new friends, and maybe, just maybe meet someone. But really, it's best if she consciously tries to move this down the priorities list. Not as a sign of giving up, but so that she can start feeling good about herself, with or without a partner.

tl;dr: Keep her busy and help her feel good about herself as she is, right now. Merry spinsterhood can be awesome!

I so want to start a band called The Merry Spinsters
posted by smirkette at 11:36 AM on February 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm smart, very cerebral, intellectual, appreciate humor, big reader, an introvert, and not really open to new situations. More of a homebody. Attractive in an exotic, yet cute way.

When I'm not very athletic, I don't get a lot of attention.

When I'm fit, everything changes. Immensely. Doors fling open, music plays, flirts everywhere.

It's biological.
posted by krilli at 12:36 PM on February 12, 2011

Wait - let me clarify what I meant: There's a very significant biological aspect.

The good thing is that this is easy to work with.
posted by krilli at 12:45 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

If we define "lonely" non-judgmentally as "having less companionship than one personally needs to be happy," than, hell no, you shouldn't help her accept that as her lot in life. Loneliness-by-one's-own-definition is absolutely the worst -- the misery that no amount of health, wealth or stimulation can remedy.

If you want to help your friend, you need to be able to be blunt with your advice -- and certainly notably more clear than you were in your post if people here can help you with the blunt advice you should give.

When you say she's "very smart ... holds an office job" does this mean she's got a well-paid, respected executive position, or does it mean she's miserably stuck in a clerical position far beneath her abilities?

When you say, for example, "not very athletic ... exotic, yet cute" you could mean she lives in Nebraska, looks like Padma Lakshmi, but hates to play sports, or you could also mean that she's overweight, with a fashion sense which is way outside the norm but still strikes you as charming.

Once you get down to what her actual challenges are for the dating market, you can help her recognize what of those challenges she can overcome, and what of them she simply needs to accommodate. From that you can help her identify what set(s) of men are attainable for her (after the overcomeable challenges are overcome), and how they can be pursued. The beauty of the Internet is that the means of pursuit have literally never been easier, especially for people who have a statistically small pool of reasonably likely matches.
posted by MattD at 1:20 PM on February 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you are in a similar boat, maybe you can organize something for you to do together to 'get out of the box'. Maybe a big trip somewhere, an adventure that she (and you) can remember as a turning point for turning 40. Sometimes even just being away for your birthday is a good thing. She can also do outward-bound-y things/trips for adults, anything to recharge, re-prioritize and to get a bit of enthusiasm to get out of the rut. I don't get chased up escalators by people carrying flowers either but on the odd occasion I do end up out with someone it helps to have awesome and happy memories of things and places to talk about. (It helps when you are home alone too!).
posted by bquarters at 1:23 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well... 40 and single (I'm assuming that the reason she's unhappy about it is the usual "I want a man and a baby" thing) is about the point where you have to realize that the odds of finding a husband in time to have a baby with him are pretty slim. And thus... well, she needs to get used to the idea that it's probably not going to happen. It could, but if she's been living on that hope, that may be what's breaking her heart now. And she needs to stop putting life on hold until a man shows up. If she really wants a baby, she needs to decide on adoption or sperm donation. If she doesn't want a baby unless she has a man to raise it with, then she needs to mentally adapt to the choice of "all or nothing" and probably dealing with nothing. She's probably had "find a man" as her priority for years over everything else that might make her happy. She needs to adjust to "if I never ever find anybody, what will I do with myself?" Basically, deal with all the big mental stuff she's been putting off in hopes of being rescued by love.... same reason a lot of people get bummed out at 40.

It is a good point that if she's in a boring office job, that might be a factor too. Having more to occupy her brain after 5 p.m. beyond "I have no husband here" is probably a good thing. She might have limited her ambition because she wanted a family... that's a possibility.

What can YOU do to help her make this mental adjustment? I'm not sure, a lot of it is going to be on her. If you are okay with your own situation, how did you become okay with it? What did you do or think to get yourself there? Is there any way you can apply it to her? Can you both take up something interesting and involving to do?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:14 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just turned 40 a few months ago, have been single for a few years, and here is my perspective:

I loathe dating. I greatly regret that in my twenties and thirties, I got with people, so often, because I was a) lonely and b) Felt bad about being single. Like I wasn't good enough for the universe because I was single.

I think this is what you should tell your friend: She is allowing society's expectations to dictate her happiness. She should tell those expectations to fuck off. She wants a kid? Fine, she should get in a place where she can do adoption or insemination. The idea she needs a partner for this? She should tell that idea to fuck off.

Ask her: Does she have her health. Does she have a roof over her head. Does she earn more than a few bucks a day. Yes? Then she's better off than the majority of humanity.

But sometimes this shit needs more than tough love. Tell her that she'll get through it, and get better. Tell her that there is much in life to be enjoyed, and that she doesn't need a partner to enjoy these things. Tell her that she IS loved -- family, friends, etc.

And of course, if she is showing signs of depression, she should get MD treatment. Good luck.
posted by angrycat at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

angrycat and others in the thread are saying what I am thinking. Get out there and get busy. Take on volunteer work, some adult ed, go out and sit in the coffeeshop on Wednesday nights, something, anything, but something active, get out of the house.

That's it. She'll either be too distracted to worry about it anymore, or it some endeavor will bear fruit. The former doesn't sound very healthy, but honestly, it's part of training the mind to work a certain way.

Think positively, make it a habit. Be active, make it a habit. Total cliches, but effective.
posted by Xoebe at 10:06 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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