Help me enjoy 34
August 5, 2014 10:47 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop panicking about turning 34 and still single?

My birthday is coming up in September, and I'm just dreading it. Logically, I know it isn't a big deal. Emotionally, I'm worried about my dating prospects. I already found it to be difficult now while I'm still 33, and it seems like it'll be even harder as I get older. I have done online dating, but haven't had much luck on it. I look a LOT younger than my actual age, but once guys find out how old I actually am, they always called me "older", even the guys who were just a year younger vs say, the same age.

I wish I could enjoy this time and be happy being single. But. I'm not. I do want children, and with every year I worry about not being able to find someone. I've considered becoming a single mother when I'm 38, and I won't lie--even just thinking about it makes me cry. There's something really scary for me about being single and alone. I've been single now for about 5 years...I never got used to it. I wish I could be the strong independent single woman that I'm supposed to be, but I am not.

But I want to enjoy this last month of 33 and look forward to 34. How can I stop panicking?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
hmm... ill go out on a limb here. do you enjoy yoga? if not, maybe start there, it helps a lot with things like panic to level set. From there its provides a path where being single is entirely OK as well as a path to a lot of very cool fellows (and women) who do yoga and become friends with, then see where things go.
posted by specialk420 at 11:13 PM on August 5, 2014

Plus - yogis age quite beautifully. Theres lots of other stuff to worry about besides being 34, check out Seane Corne
posted by specialk420 at 11:15 PM on August 5, 2014

Just because you're single right now doesn't mean you will be forever. But not having a relationship is better than being in the wrong relationship.

34 is not old, truly. There's a lot more time for the right relationship to come along. It doesn't always come when it's convenient or expected, but it will definitely come.

On preview: What specialk420 said about yoga is great advice, too. It may be able to help you stop these thought patterns and gain control over your anxious mind.
posted by fireandthud at 11:31 PM on August 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know how old I am by the calendar; I won't lie and say I never think about it in terms of possible outcomes in later life, finances, choices narrowing down, etc., because I do. And yes, if you want to meet someone within the next few years, it's useful to think about the implications of prioritizing some choices and situations over others (e.g., big city or small).

But I kind of decided to opt out of connecting with the number in a personal way day to day. I mostly try to treat age-related if/thens as information points to guide decisions, and then leave them to one side*. Partly because around 35, I started regularly forgetting how old I was (34? 36?), and it had no bearing on my love of tomatoes or the things I found funny. There's no categorical difference between the way life feels at 33.9 or 34.5 or 37.6; if you celebrate your birthday a week late, the same songs will make you want to dance.

My experience has been that people don't treat you differently, either, or get hung up on age, as long as you don't make a big deal about it. They respond to the energy you project and the quality of the connection. I haven't tried online dating (yet) though; meeting in real life probably helps inasmuch as age almost never comes up in the first instance, as it does online, so the interaction is framed by more important things.

*Mostly, I'm not saying I don't occasionally get blindsided by worry about this or that. But as far as going through my days, it's much nicer to just be "cotton dress sock" and not "3x yr old cotton dress sock". There's a bit of denial going on, it's true, I've clearly not put my actual age there, but I'm kind of ok with that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

I was you in my early 30s! With every birthday I panicked more and more...but try not to. Try to have faith that things will work out. If you want something put it out in the universe, have faith, pray, whatever, and just *try* to be patient. Enjoy each day. Because one day, you will wake up married and with a baby on the way (which is me at 38). I dated a ton, had no luck with online dating, took up running and met my husband at running club. I was 36, almost 37. He lived two blocks away from me for ten years. I'm really glad that I did all the things I did before meeting him (yoga retreats, lots of travel abroad, salsa dance lessons for years, team sports, lots of time spent with family and progressed in my career). only regret i had was that each day was tinged with a bit of anxiety over my dating prospects and yearning for marriage and family. i did have this positive feeling that it will work out - deep down, but not knowing for sure did cause me lots of angst. I also spent time in therapy which was useful too. good luck, try not to worry too much about it. but it is good to goal set (i.e. try to keep online dating, or doing meetup groups) and take a break from dating when you need to.
posted by dmbfan93 at 1:21 AM on August 6, 2014 [10 favorites]

It's okay to dislike being single. Make your peace with that: noted: this is an aspect of my life that I am not enjoying; don't feel bad (am I reading too much between the lines?) about not thrilling to it. You are allowed to be frustrated.

Most people find being alone to be something less than a natural state of existence. It's reasonable to not want to be alone.

"Anecdata": I am 39. In recent years a whack of people roughly my age have, as observed through Facebook, gone from years of singledom to couplehood to engagement to marriage to kid; at this point some have even acquired a baby and a toddler. And, personally, I don't seem to have a shallow pool from which to draw dates from. Despite the flurry of new marriages and babies going on.

One thing an extended period of 30s celibacy did for me was to prod me to pay more attention to friends. This was a terrific thing to have happen, and it makes me a far, far better potential girlfriend sort, to have solid non-romantic social connections. Looking at past dating mistakes I keep seeing a common thread to the bad choices: either they didn't have friends, or they were a poor friend (and/or, at some points, I had that problem, and I was the problem in the relationship). You might find it helpful to contextualize your being currently single as a useful thing that needs to happen for you to get right with you so you're right for somebody else, too, if that follows. Which is not to suggest that you're any flavour of intrinsically flawed; it's just that there's never a bad time for self-improvement. If you fetch up at a stage where you can't help yourself (in this case, by finding a just-right partner ASAP) -- help somebody else.
posted by kmennie at 4:50 AM on August 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you're putting your life on hold while you wait for Mister Charming to come into your life.

I totally agree with dmbfan93 that you need to get your fine self out there and start creating a life that a man would love to be a part of. I tell my male clients this all the time; that if they build it, she will come into their life. I am sure it works in reverse as well.

As you start building and living this life, you'll smile more, be happier, healthier, be more approachable, just have a glow of joy about you that you will sweep a man off his feet at the proper time.

Remember what Lennon said? Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. Quit making plans and enjoy the fuck out of your life.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 5:03 AM on August 6, 2014 [13 favorites]

Partly because around 35, I started regularly forgetting how old I was (34? 36?)

Ha ha! Ah, so true. Said the venerable old 39 year old. Wait, no. 38!

OP, I didn't really start hitting my stride (dating, career, etc.) until my early-to-mid 30s. After years of short-term, mostly-dysfunctional relationships, I finally found someone who was good for me at around your age. And then another someone, after that didn't quite work out. I don't think I'd quite started despairing, exactly, but I had been looking at my peers -- and the places they were at in their lives -- and wondering if I would ever be there too.

How can I stop panicking?

Well, the simplest answer is to stop struggling. These sorts of things are like erectile dysfunction; the more you worry about them, the worse they get. I know, you've probably heard this already, but you've actually got to do it. Like, really, radically let go of whatever failed/failing dream you have that's residing at the core of your panic. For me, this meant dating a bunch of people and breaking the pattern of taking every new person too seriously; avoiding fantasizing/worrying about our "future" together, immediately cutting things off if I wasn't feeling right about them, etc.

Think about it this way: Even if you met an awesome co-parent like, tomorrow, the two of you probably wouldn't really be in a mutual position to have kids by 38. This sort of thing usually requires a lot of coordination and negotiation between partners. What if Mr. Dad is dead set on waiting until he's 45, for instance? Consider that arbitrary deadline to be irrevocably blown. Grieve it, if you need to, but assume it to be dead.

At the least, stop putting emphasis on your dates' Mr. Dad potential. Concentrate on finding someone who's just really a good man, rather than a dipshit who gives you a hard time for being "old." Because -- unless you're misreading some good-natured teasing -- that's just absurd.
posted by credible hulk at 5:23 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

they always called me "older", even the guys who were just a year younger

Maybe they were just being factual? But it sounds like their statement of fact comes across to you as an insult? So you could try saying "it hurts to be reminded that I'm older than you. Please don't say that."

I have noticed in my 30s that people tend to ease up on rigid rules about who they can date. Probably due to the shrinking dating pool, possibly because of greater maturity in looking past shallow stuff. But when one partner is significantly younger, thinner, taller, wealthier, or when the match goes counter to hetero stereotypes, it can feel weird unless you're ready to be radically accepting and/or brashly confident about who you are and who he is and who the two of you are together.

I wish I could be the strong independent single woman that I'm supposed to be

"Supposed to" is one of those negative self-talk red flags I've worked on in therapy. No wonder you're feeling anxious. Society is putting all kinds of pressure on you to get yourself coupled and childed asap, so in one sense you're "supposed to" get married when your friends do, or be sad and pining until Prince Charming comes into your life. Meanwhile, alternative Metafilter types are telling you something incompatible: you're "supposed to" not be married for a while yet, and live a fulfilling single life. So which is it? What are you "supposed to" do?

The answer to "supposed to" is "but wait, what do I want?" The anxiety will be reduced when you identify what you really want and take active steps toward making it happen. Maybe take it piece by piece. It sounds likes it's couplehood that's key for you, because when you think about the "kids" puzzle piece by itself you get scared. So start getting strategic about it. Make a plan to go on four first dates this month, and attend two new mixer type activities (meetups or similar). Track your progress. I think this will reassure you that you're doing what you can.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 5:50 AM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

There are three answers to this, really.

1. Your fears are legitimate. It's okay to be afraid of not getting what you most desire.

2. Plenty of women in your shoes go on to find love, get married, and have babies. (It's true!)

3. Neither of the above is really important to dealing with your present. You can fret, but there's no point to fretting. What is, is. Accept where you are. Acknowledge that it isn't ideal. Acknowledge that you have very little power to change it, because you lack the ability to summon an ideal future husband to your door. Let yourself off the hook for this. You've done nothing wrong. It just is what it is. This is how it happened until now. (Happily, the past has no real power to predict the future.)

Ask yourself what you DO have the power to change. Can you move to a larger city? Tweak your online dating profile, or chuck it and start from scratch with a new one? Join an intramural dodgeball club, or a running club, or a craft beer club? And so on.

Promise yourself to do ONE of those things each month (and, once the novelty grows less novel, once a WEEK). Be open to new possibilities and opportunities and connections, but don't judge your actions by whether or not they yield these new connections. Undertake these changes without intent or an end goal, doing them merely to know you are DOING something. That you are not passive in the world.

This is all you can do. It's also enough. You'll look back on 34 and know you put yourself out into the world in a way that felt healthy, invigorating, and hopeful, regardless of the outcome. In short, you can be assured of, at least, knowing that you did good things and lived well. (But I do hope that the outcome also happens to yield the result you most desire.)
posted by artemisia at 6:05 AM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

FWIW, I'm 42 (a guy) and my partner is 43 - we had both been in casual / short-term relationships in our 30s, met 6 years ago, and now have two kids. I *never* saw it coming, and had stopped expecting it to.

All you can do is stay engaged, get out there, and see what happens - we're living proof that these things do happen for many people later in life. And that you can have healthy children in your late 30s / early 40s.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:24 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Life is full of possibilities, yet at the same time, we can't predict the future. An exhilarating and terrifying truth. Maybe you'll meet someone grand, maybe you won't. I think your fears are valid, but since it's really beyond your control, the best thing you can do is make a resolution to, as I read somewhere, Play the hell out of the cards you're dealt. Enrich and enjoy your life to the fullest, so whatever happens in the future, you can at the very least wholeheartedly say "I did my best" and (hopefully) "No regrets."
posted by tackypink at 11:49 AM on August 6, 2014

I got married for the first time, and had a baby, at age 44. Until then, I was just .. busy. I worked hard, went on ski trips, spent lots of time with my family, was an awesome aunt to my beloved nephew, and just pretty much did as I pleased. I was lonely sometimes, and wanted very much to be a parent but after a lot of introspection and consideration, decided the single-mom route wasn't for me.

So yes, I wanted a relationship and a child but while I was hoping they'd come, I had a lot of fun and had a pretty fulfilling life.

I like being married and I like being a mom. I consider myself very fortunate. But both are very hard sometimes. Our child has special needs and his future is uncertain. This can put a big strain on a marriage. I tell you this because the state of being in a relationship and having a child didn't magically lift all burdens. There are challenges. Sometimes I miss those single days when all I had to worry about was me and what I wanted to do. That's gone forever. One stage of life isn't necessarily better than another. They're just different.

Worrying about something doesn't keep it from happening. It just robs you of today's joy. Forget about the "last month of 33". Satchel Paige once said, "How old would you be, if you didn't know how old you was?" Who the hell cares whether you're 33 or 63 or whatever? Give yourself more credit than that. Your value as a human does not diminish with age. Go forth and be awesome and enjoy your life at all ages. We're only here for a staggeringly short time.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:02 PM on August 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Please try to be less ageist to yourself... it helps others too.
posted by yoHighness at 3:59 AM on August 7, 2014

Sorry - what I meant was I found that seeing this as being ageist to oneself can be helpful. YMMV.
posted by yoHighness at 4:02 AM on August 7, 2014

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