Being 41 is not easy. I have gotten to an age where I realize I have wasted a lot of my time; time doing nothing that has gotten me anywhere in life. One of those aspects, where I have wasted, is in the relationship department. Not that I am ashamed at being this age and single without any children. But today, it seems we are defined by our marital status and/or starting a family. Seems like those are the only things that matter in life. That is not true.
At my age, what most people I meet for the first time ask me is “Why am I single?” It is such a loaded question. Is the expectation in life to be with someone to have a sense of fulfillment? Why does my relationship status have to define me as a person? I have lived most of my 41 years without a meaningful relationship. In my teens, I was extremely socially awkward and shy and filled with anxiety that I mostly kept to myself. I had some friends, mostly guys. But with girls? Not a chance. I couldn’t talk to them or with them. I always felt that I was going to say something wrong or embarrassing. I didn’t have the self-confidence to approach females, much less strike up a conversation with them or ask them out. I did go out on one date with a girl in 8th grade, went to see the movie Dick Tracy. I was so nervous, I didn’t know what to do. We only went on that one date and, due to me anxiety, I never asked her out again. Such a huge mistake. I had a golden opportunity at that time. I mean, she was the one that approached ME and asked me out. I was just a scared kid and blew a chance at a relationship. Sure, I was 13 at the time. But it could have been a stepping stone for me for future relationship.
All throughout high school, I never dated. For the first two years, I went to an all boys’ high school. The final two years, I went to a co-ed school. My first day there I was so filled with anxiety and shyness, I didn’t talk to anyone for months. I sat by myself during lunch. Even though there was a group of girls that welcomed me and invited me to sit with them during lunch, I regressed into my shell. I just didn’t feel I was worthy of socializing with them. I was beneath them and I punished myself for it. Even for the Senior Prom, I was approached by a girl and was asked to go. I said yes. But if she didn’t ask me to go, I never would have gone to the dance. My mom would have been a mess comprehending why I wasn’t going. She made it a bigger deal than I did. For her, all she wanted was for me to be out and about, socializing and dating. But it was just not my personality. Not what I was comfortable doing.
In college, I knew some people on campus. But, again, I mostly stayed to myself. In my senior year, I was (again) approached by a girl for a romantic relationship. And, once again, I dropped the ball. I just didn’t know how to act or what to say to be interesting and engaging. Another lost opportunity.
Then, over the ensuing years since college, I always had this inner yearning to be with someone. To date and be in a relationship. Movies and TV shows made it out to seem that was the only thing in life to be happy. Especially when growing up in the 80s (such as me), where every teen movie was about guys meeting girls and living happily ever after. Growing up, I found out that was not the case. It is hard to be in a relationship. I dated one girl for about 2 months before she moved on to someone else. I also missed opportunities. Opportunities staring me right in the face. There for the taking. And I fumbled every single time.
Eventually, I ended up taking medication and going to therapy for depression and social anxiety. It has helped off and on over the years. And now, with the holiday season in full swing, relationships are the core of this time of year. I know my mom encouraged me to be more social. I just couldn’t do it. And it killed me to be single at family gatherings and social events. Seeing my sister, brother, cousins, friends, and so forth being in a relationship and having kids. That is what life is all about, right? Extending one’s life through their spouse and offspring? That is the only way to find contentment in life? For me, not really.
I have gotten accustomed to being single. I had some (very) brief relationship over the years, but nothing that would be considered serious or lasting. Being in a relationship, from my perspective, meant going out and being social. Going to the movies. Going out to dinner. Seeing a ball game. Visiting another state or country. Or whatever else couples do. But there is another aspect of being in a relationship. The arguments. The compromising. The endless conversations. Meeting her side of the family and being accepted. Meeting her friends and being social and accepted with them. Really, just being interesting enough and tolerable to someone else. Something I was never comfortable being.
The other aspect is having kids. I never desired kids. Especially when I started seeing other family members having kids. And people I went to school with. And kids I knew from around the neighborhood and grew up with. Seemed like everyone around me was having kids. Starting their families. Enjoying life and feeling fulfilled. Not me, though. And that really bothered me. Made me feel less than an adult. Like I was stuck in childhood and everyone else grew up around me. Certainly, it bothered my mom before her death. That is a regret I still have, not being able to be in a relationship and providing grandkids for her before she passed.
Nowadays, the more I am single and childless, the more comfortable I have become with my status. Yeah, there are times I wish things were different. In the past, I used to cry about being alone. Felt something was wrong with me, embarrassed even. That society looked down on me for being single and childless. Not anymore, though. There is an empty void in me that yearns for something different. And if it happens, it happens. But I am not going to push for it just because that is what society dictates I should be doing. Being single is a choice for many, as is having children. It doesn’t make them right or wrong. Just their choice. I am not sure how much of my life was decided by choice or my personality dictated how things were going to turn out for me.
There are a couple of movies that really hit home for me over the years. One is The 40-year old Virgin. When I first saw the movie, I was in my early 30’s. I thought that type of person was not going to be me when I reach that age. A 40-year old man, no serious relationships, being a virgin, and over compensating his feeling with action figures, video games, etc. Well, I almost fit the mold. I did have sex. Once. And though I am not as serious a collector as the movie character, I do have figures and toys lining the selves in my room. Still, the more I think about the movie, it is clear to me that being forced into a relationship to fit in societal norms is not the way to be. Being single can have a sense of fulfillment. But being in a relationship, or being forced to have the urge to have sex, should not be the goal for everyone. To each their own, and people should not be ostracized for being single.
Another movie that really hit a chord with me is Jurassic World. Besides the dinosaurs, the movie centered around a working woman who has her nephews visit the park with her. She is too busy to be with them. While talking with her sister, the sister makes it out as having kids and being in a family is what life is all about. After over two hours of carnage and running around, the working woman seems to come around and realizes that she does, in fact, need to be in a relationship and have kids to have fulfillment in life. The same theme can be said of every Christmas and Lifetime channel movie ever. At the end of the day, their message seems to be, is that being in a relationship and having kids is all people need to be happy. It is the know all and be all of life. It is the only thing that matters. If you don’t have either of those two things, then your life is meaningless and is not accepted by society.
Now, I am not knocking relationships and kids and families. I wholeheartedly believe people need to find their own happiness and fulfillment in life. If that happens to be in a family environment, so be it. For many people, however, we don’t desire that life goal. We don’t need a family to be accepted in society. If we are single and without children, so be it. For many, it is a choice. For others, it may not be a choice due to their personality. But they should not have to be looked down upon. People can find fulfillment in life in many ways. Money. Professional. Spiritual. Collector. Family. Everyone has their own path in life. Being in a relationship and having a family, shouldn’t be the only thing that counts.