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So You're Getting Asked Why You're Still Single and Haven't Procreated...

Here's a response even your most judgmental aunt can’t compete with.

A smiling woman takes a picture with her black cat.
Danielle Page celebrates singledom with her furry companion, Nightmare. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

Why are you still single?


I'm not a gambler, but if you're a single woman, I'm willing to bet you've been asked some iteration of this question before. And if you're in my boat: single for a handful of consecutive years and nearing 30, I'd wager that you’re hearing this question more often – and that you're running out of things to say. 

For a while, my survival tactic when asked "Do you have a boyfriend?" was to counter, "I have a cat." Not that they’re mutually exclusive, of course. But responding this way got the person off my dating life and on to a topic I'm much happier to discuss at length. Simply saying "no" left an awkward silence that felt like it needed to be filled — typically with a well-intended, "You'll meet someone when you least expect it." As if I'm eagerly awaiting some guy to ride in on a white horse and rescue me from singledom.

There are plenty of reasons why being asked this question feels frustrating. Even when it's meant as a compliment, it still insinuates that I must be doing something wrong – or that there's something wrong with me.

But what really bothers me is that I have no answer.

I have no control over when, if ever, I'm going to meet the right person. Sure, there are things I could do that might increase my chances of meeting someone. But there's no guarantee that any amount of swiping left or right on dating apps or spending a certain amount of nights out will absolutely result in my finding someone I want to be with until one of us kicks the bucket.

Try telling that to whoever's asking you, though, and they're sure to have suggestions for how to make it happen: Expect it less. Stop being so picky. Let me set you up with Aunt Nancy's neighbor's nephew from next door (whom you have nothing in common with aside from the fact that he is also single and has a pulse). Or, what about the new dating app that matches you up with people based on what you both hate? That seems right up your alley.

"Control is an illusion," says psychiatrist Dr. Victor Fornari from Northwell Health. "Part of that has to do with the fact that we have our own ideas of what we'd like, and then depending upon our flexibility and a certain amount of luck, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t."

Ironically, the things in life that we can't control are the ones that tend to cause us the most stress. The catch -- whether we stress out or not, the outcome will typically be the same.

"Uncertainty in our lives is uncomfortable," says Amy Kirschenblatt, a licensed social worker from Northwell Health. "The things we can't control cause us angst and discomfort, which is unpleasant. We live in a world where there is so much 'unknown.' Anything that we can wrap our head and hands around brings about comfort. When we don’t get that, we feel stress."

People asking these questions are (usually) just trying to help. But ruminating on why you're single ends up doing more harm than good. "When you’re obsessing over things that are out of your control, there’s no timeline of when it's going to end, and it's exhausting," says Kirschenblatt. "It fundamentally affects your ability to enjoy things that you would take pleasure in. Whether that's a good meal, a good conversation, a TV show – nothing feels good because you’re worn out." And if the stuff you actually enjoy doing doesn’t feel good, that blind date probably won’t either – even if he’s cute.

“Dating becomes a job in itself. Cut yourself some slack. Be fair to yourself, be forgiving, stop setting the bar so high.”
Amy Kirschenblatt, LMSW

For a while, I tried to create the illusion of having control by imposing quotas, like making myself go on one date a week. But even that felt forced and exhausting. Why was I doing something that didn't make me feel good? So I could look the next inquisitor in the eye and honestly say that I am trying? There had to be a better way.

"Dating becomes a job in itself," says Kirschenblatt. "Cut yourself some slack. If today is a day where you’re feeling tired and you were supposed to go to some singles event and you don't want to, don't. Be fair to yourself, be forgiving, stop setting the bar so high. Talk yourself through what’s reasonable."

And speaking of stressing out over things you can't control…

Being a single woman who's butting up against the end of her prime reproductive years makes attempting to answer “Why are you single?” even more uncomfortable – especially when followed with “Well, you’re not getting any younger.” But the runway might not be as short as people think it is.

"There are a lot of patients that are getting married older, in their late 30s, and they're able to get pregnant on their own and have healthy pregnancies," says Dr. Gianni Rodriguez-Ayala, an OB/GYN at Northwell. "Thirty-five is the age where we know that you’re at an increased risk of having a fetus with a chromosome abnormality, but most of my patients that get pregnant after 35 end up having a healthy pregnancy."

Not to mention, advancements in science and technology are opening doors for pre-emptive fertility procedures. "The best option for reproductive-aged women who want to preserve their fertility and secure their reproductive future is egg freezing," says Dr. Avner Hershlag, chief of Northwell Health Fertility. "We’re now able to freeze eggs that can be fertilized and used to produce embryos when the patient is ready to do so." 

It’s not news to anyone that the reproductive playing field is uneven for men and women. But hearing a male doctor who specializes in egg freezing not only validate this, but preach about how it’s changing the game for women, made me want to stand up and slow clap by the end of our interview. "The initial starting point for men and women has never been equal," Dr. Hershlag told me. "Men can delay having children in order to spend time developing a career, and can put parenting wherever they want on their list of priorities. Historically, women have never been able to enjoy such a luxury. But now, women can take a little extra time, rather than being pushed to hurry up and get pregnant."

Tell that to your mother the next time she gets grandma-hungry over your cousin's new baby. Real talk: I might invite Dr. Hershlag to my next family get-together.

Even with time and science on your side, are you being too picky about what that “right person” looks like? I've had the “Why are you single?” question quickly turn into an interrogation about my potential partner parameters, from whether or not I've considered dating shorter guys (I have) to if I'm looking for a partner who brings in a certain salary (I'm not) to whether I'll only date men who love cats (strongly preferred but not necessarily a must).

“Being single isn’t bad for your health or happiness. What is harmful is the stress surrounding your relationship status.”
Danielle Page
Danielle Page enjoying life. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Danielle Page

I'm aware that basing my dating decisions solely on superficial factors would be setting myself up for disappointment. But choosing someone to marry is arguably the most important decision that any of us will ever make – one that's most directly going to impact our overall happiness and life trajectory. We can and should be diligent about this. 

"Being in an unfulfilling relationship infiltrates all aspects of your life," says Kirschenblatt. "It affects all relationships outside of the one that is leaving you unfulfilled.” There's a long-standing belief that people in relationships are always happier than single folks. But the truth of the matter is that those who find themselves in marriages that aren't working are much unhappier in the long run.

Being single isn’t bad for your health or happiness. What is harmful is the stress surrounding your relationship status – both self-imposed and the kind that comes courtesy of constantly being put on trial about it.

So the next time someone asks why you’re still single, say this:

I'm single because I haven't met the right person yet. I know it will happen eventually when I least expect it (they’ll eat this up). I've stopped stressing out about it, and I feel happier and healthier for it. I know that I'm getting older, so I've been looking into options that will help preserve my fertility. (Your ovaries are already on the table for discussion – why not talk about this huge opportunity for women?) Speaking of which, I would love to see those pictures of your baby / niece / grandchild / etc.

Works like a charm.

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Published November 21st, 2018