To My Dearest Family and Friends:
As you may or may not know, I was born on May 21, 1989, which means that by the time you read this article, I will be 30 years old. Let me say that again. I WILL BE THIRTY—AS IN, THREE ZERO—YEARS OLD.
I am neither the oldest single person that ever existed, nor the oldest single person in my group of friends. I don’t know what it feels like to be older than 30 and single. And I hope I never will know (cue the “amens!”). This article is based on my personal experiences as a single woman in the frum community. It is not meant to trump or belittle anyone else’s experiences.
In my house, we call it the “cancer stare”. The look an “older” single receives at a simcha. The look that makes you feel like you’ve been c”v diagnosed with a terrible illness and all hope is lost. The look that conveys, “Poor you.” The silent message that screams, “This must be so difficult…I can’t imagine how you must be feeling.” I know you know the look I’m referring to.
I also know you know about the forearm grab. When your mother’s friend—who already married off all of her children—sees you at a simcha, grabs hold of your forearm, makes direct eye contact and wishes you a heartfelt “Im yertzeh Hashem by you!” and then holds on a few seconds too long.
But what you may not know is that by far the worst form of dehumanizing pity comes from YOU—the people who love me and whom I love the most. You’ve been with me on my journey. You “know what it’s like”. You also got married “older”. I know you really, truly mean well, and yet, you still don’t get it. You still don’t get that trying to equalize our experiences is hurtful. Yes, misery loves company. And yes, empathy creates a sense of belonging. But your experience is not the same as mine. You actually don’t know what it’s like to be in my shoes.
In the weeks leading up to my 30th birthday, I was in a funk. It was pity-party central all day, every day, and nothing anyone said or did helped. With each invitation to socialize that came my way, I felt worse and worse about myself, because the absolute last thing I wanted to do was to be around people. Any people. Single, married, divorced. People are people, and I wanted nothing to do with people.
The truth of the matter is that turning 30 terrified me. It marked the end of a decade of youth, accomplishments, vitality, and hope, and it reminded me that I am now a ticking time-bomb who may or may not ever have children. As a proud member of the PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) community, I have no idea what my fertility-future holds.
The last thing I needed was anyone trying to encourage me that “he’s still out there!” or feeling sorry for me.
I get it. It’s uncomfortable. You don’t know what to say. You’re not sure if you should acknowledge the fact that turning 30 is significant to a woman in our community, or if you should belittle my turning 30 with the adage, “Age is just a number!”
Honestly, I don’t know what I would want you to say. I don’t think there is anything you can say that will make me feel any less sorry for myself or any more hopeful.
But I will tell you this, dear friend/relative. The absolute worst thing you can do is treat me any differently than you normally would. The moment you start treating me with kid gloves is the moment you lose me.
Because I am still a person. I can still talk to you about your children—in fact, I love talking to you about your children! I can still feel excited for you and your new home. I can still be super happy for you and your upcoming honeymoon.
I can also feel sad for myself. I can feel sad that I haven’t yet reached those milestones. I can feel sad that I don’t have someone to come home to after a long day of work. That I don’t own my own home. That I can’t afford a fancy vacation. That I don’t know if I’ll ever have kids.
Hashem created us with the capacity to experience multiple emotions simultaneously. They do not cancel each other out. Each emotion can exist on its own.
So yes, I can be happy for you and sad for me.
I do not want you to hide things from me. I do not want to be the last person to know about your engagement. I do not want to find out you’re pregnant because I see you wearing maternity clothes. I do not want you to apologize for your success and happiness.
Please, dear friend/relative. Include me in your life. And let me worry about my feelings. Let me carry my own self-pity without adding your own. Let me be happy for you. Let me be me.
Your 30-year-old friend and relative, Tzipora