How do you stay happy being single in a world of families?

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Ron and Todd, congrats on your marriage! Oh look at that, my glass is empty, excuse me while I go refill it and get away from your obviously happy family moment.
Oh, Ron and Todd, don’t get me wrong, I love that you got married. Seriously, it’s awesome. Oh look at that, my glass is empty, excuse me while I go refill it and get away from your heart-breakingly happy family moment.
I’m 32 years old and broke up with a longtime boyfriend about two years ago. At the time, half of my friends were single and only a couple of them were getting married.

Two years later… all of my good friends are married or in long-term relationships and I’m still single.

I recently found out the last of my very good friends is having a baby. I’m extremely happy for her and all my friends who now have families. But my heart breaks as I so much want a family of my own.

How do you stay happy being single in a world of families, wondering if it will ever happen for you, and feeling like a sudden outsider? -Penny

Good question Penny. Single Homies, how are you dealing with your changing, increasingly more family-friendly friend groups, when you’re not even close to that lifestyle?

Comments on How do you stay happy being single in a world of families?

  1. 1) Be philosophical. Remind yourself that some of these relationships aren’t going to work out, and some people in the relationships aren’t happy. At some point in the future there will likely be divorces. Also, remind yourself of all the possibilities of being single and why that’s better than past relationships. (There were reasons they didn’t work out, right?)

    2) Be practical. Expand your social circle. Sign up for something that interests you. Try something new. Put yourself in situations where you’ll meet new people. These can all be hard work, and you may have to actively make time, but, IMO, totally worth it.

    Your friends lives are changing and yours will too. Sometimes change can be tough, but also fun and kick-ass.

    • I’m not sure I would find the thought comforting that I won’t be the only single one forever because other relationships are statistically doomed.
      Although finding more friends who live the “single” lifestyle like you is a great idea. (And if you’re looking for a relationship, may be found when meeting new people.)

  2. I am not sure if I am the right person to try help you with this as I am happily single. Most of my friends are married and settled with children and, as much as I love their kids and try to spend as much time with them as possible in a kind of aunt role, I really don’t envy them. They are exhausted and broke.

    I hear it said all the time that being a mother/having a family is the most fulfilling thing you can do and I don’t want to undermine the fantastic parents out there who throw themselves wholeheartedly into doing the best for their kids. I was lucky to be raised by such a parent.

    But the fact is there are other things that are fulfilling in life, and as a single, childless 31 year old I feel that I am living the life I want to lead, which I would not be able to do if I had a family. I have a job that I love working in international education, I have enough time to focus on my health through things like lots of exercise, and cooking healthy and delicious meals. I read a lot, and study whatever I feel like – currently I am studying for the French proficiency qualification known as the DELF. I travel a lot as well, I take about four or five holidays a year. Currently I am living in Malaysia and I am not sure where I will be living next… I dream about a year or two in South America while I am still young and adventurous.

    As the poster above said, be philosophical. I was engaged once to a fantastic guy who I am still friends with, but luckily we had the sense to call of the wedding otherwise we would be unhappily divorced by now. Since then I’ve had two fairly serious relationships of about one year each, but neither of those were the guy for me. At this stage in my life, I have a belief that things turn out the way they are meant to. Not that you should passively sit down and wait for life to happen for you, but what’s meant for you wont pass you by. So I think maybe there’s a great guy out there for me or maybe there’s not. As it is, I feel that I have been granted enough happiness and love in my life from other sources that I wont complain if there is not.

    I feel like a relationship/family should be the icing on an already happy life-cake, not the main source of the happiness. I think that if you are not content and at peace with yourself first no-one else can make you that way, and you can’t truly make them happy either. But that’s just me.

    The other thing I consciously do is I always have a goal that I am working towards. Currently I’m working towards the French exam, have registered to run a marathon in November, and have a list of countries I want to visit before the end of 2015. Being focused on goals that will enrich your life will remind you of the benefits of being single.

    I will say though that on the downside I no longer live at home in Ireland where all the married/have children people are. It’s too boring for me. Luckily, I’ve had the same best friends since I was 14 so the distance hasn’t affected our friendships. You probably will have to make some new single friends at some stage. There are times I have to remind my married friends that just because their priorities have changed, mine are still valid even if they don’t revolve around a kid or a mortgage. You probably have to make an effort to be understanding and flexible with your friends’ new situations but they should do the same for you. Don’t be afraid to tell them after 20 minutes that discussing a new water boiler on a Saturday night is boring you to tears!

    (If all else fails, have you tried online dating and those types of things?)

    • “I feel like a relationship/family should be the icing on an already happy life-cake, not the main source of the happiness.”

      UGH, I love this! Very well said.

    • “But the fact is there are other things that are fulfilling in life, and as a single, childless 31 year old I feel that I am living the life I want to lead, which I would not be able to do if I had a family.”


      I’m 33 and while not desiring parenthood I have long desired marriage. It just hasn’t happened. I make the analogy that like some women have just felt all their life the desire to be a mom, I have felt all my life a desire to be a wife. It’s very painful to have that deep-seated longing go unfulfilled. But it just.. isn’t.

      A really silly turning point for me is when I was cooking something and reached into my spice cabinet. I thought, “I really like my spices arranged like this. Maybe when I’m married one day my spouse won’t like to have them arranged like this.” And that thought made me a little sad.

      I’m ashamed to admit that I have spent far too much of the past 10-15 years of my life being bitter and angry about not having the thing that I truly wanted the most. My spice cabinet epiphany led me to start looking at things – big and little – that I REALLY enjoy about my life NOW, and embracing those! From dumb things like where I keep the scissors and tape (which is weird, but works for me) to the way I spend my money (I love giving to charity) to what I do with my time (if I was married, would I still have time to travel or volunteer the way I do now? Maybe, possibly not).

      I spent so much time and energy thinking about my desired-but-unrealized future dream that I completely forgot to focus on NOW and legitimately and thoroughly ENJOY now. I still STRONGLY desire to get married, but I don’t know when or *gulp* if that will ever happen. But I have learned to be thankful and happy and fulfilled with where and who I am now. That regardless of if I ever become a wife, life can be awesome. It’s a lesson that took me a LONG time to learn.

      “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –Dumbledore

      Logistically-speaking, I have parent friends who I still am friends with and who still want to be friends with me. How we spend time together has changed, though. We need to plan things way in advance, and sometimes it’s me going over to their place instead of them coming to me. But I’ve had many great conversations with mom friends on their couches over tea and cookies at 8PM after the kiddos have been sent to bed.

  3. I’m a single mother by choice. I phrase it that I didn’t meet Mr Right in time so I went ahead without him! The definition of family is changing and our mindsets need to do so as well. Do you want the family or the relationship? I don’t want the relationship with the guy, I wanted to be a mom. Once I realized that, everything else fell into place. I’m a mom (my daughter will be 4 this month), and it’s been a struggle, but I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. We are a mom and kid family, just as there are man and wife families, same-sex families, and adult and four-legged kids. Define it and own it.

    • I am not yet a mother but I share your sentiment. At 25 I started to attend my first friend weddings (5 that summer!). The fact that it felt that many of my friends were moving to the next life stage and I had never even had a boyfriend started to really wear me down. After about six months of woe-is-me-the-single-girl feelings I examined myself and determined that what I really wanted was to be a mother. I could take or leave the wife part. I am fiercely independent and part of the reason I had never had a boyfriend was because I was happy on my own and never really went looking.

      I decided that if the partner thing never happened I would be okay and that I would do whatever I needed to become a mother on my own. I gave myself vague time-line of 35, if I had not met a partner by then I would start pursuing adoption. It was amazing how much weight lifted off my shoulders as I decided that my life goal of parenthood was under my control, that I didn’t have to wait around to be “chosen.”

      As it turned out I did meet a partner and we married two weeks ago, just shy of my 30th birthday. I am still so glad that I had that epiphany though. It made dating much less high stakes and allowed me to choose to be with my husband for who he is, not because I thought he was my only chance at kids.

  4. One of my really good friends is a single guy, and we’re in the age bracket where everyone is married & has babies. He seems to make his single life work for him by having a diverse set of hobbies and interests that involve a never-ending number of people. He’s involved in the Gay Men’s Tennis Network, plays league volleyball on Thursdays, has standing dates with many of his married friends (I’m his alternating Tuesday, haha!), and makes frequent visits out of town to catch up with friends. He lives with roommates, so that cuts down on the amount of time he spends alone as well. He’ll actually be moving in with my husband and I in a couple of months. My husband and I don’t want children and I really feel like forming intentional communities, even small ones (party of 3, anyone?), is a great way to form a family without legally or biologically binding interactions. Most of us crave lasting connections with other people, but how we do that can be different for each of us.

    • Thanks for posting this comment. My husband and I have been part of 2 intentional communities now, and I can’t tell you how important it has been. We are working on our next venture ( the first was a college thing, the second ended with the unexpected death of our close friend and roommate of three years), and honestly, we dig the communal lifestyle more than living on our own. I agree that its a great way to form family communities.

  5. I love the advice given so far! If you are plan-oriented, I would suggest making a 5 year plan. You can accomplish *almost* anything in 5 years with a very reasonable amount of effort towards that goal each day/week/month. So if what you want is to have found your life partner in 5 years, make a plan for meeting lots of new people and making lots of new friends who might be able to (once they’ve known you for a year or two) introduce you to someone. List out all the ways you might meet people, and commit to trying a new one every week (or month, or whatever, remembering that if you don’t put your plan into action, it’s not going to happen). Cultivate new friendships by making the effort to stay in touch with interesting new people, or by minimally showing up for monthly get-togethers. Strengthen old friendships by figuring out stuff you can do together that is fun for both of you, and making those activities happen. Also make a list of all those self-improvement things that you’ve been thinking about (just because, or because they’ll make you a better life partner for someone else)…maybe it’s flossing or meditating every day or learning how to cook the most amazing pulled pork recipe with which to woo your future partner. Put them on your plan, schedule them into your calendar, and make them happen. Ditto a plan for your finances – is all your debt paid off? do you have an emergency fund? Are you maxing out your 401k? if you want to own a dwelling in the future, are you saving for a down payment? etc, etc. Plan out how to increase your income or decrease your expenses to get to the point where you are financially stable in 5 years. Schedule your plans onto your calendar, and start working on them.

    If what you want is to have kids in 5 years, add the relevant stuff to your list of plans (including, perhaps, research into becoming a single mom by choice). Research how to get your body ready for conception – add the tasks to your plan and calendar, and get to work. Strengthen your relationships with friends who have kids, and strengthen your relationships with those kids so that you can learn as much as possible about how to take care of infants and kids. Schedule this stuff in so it’s sure to happen. Really focus on your finances – how much time would you want to take off work after your baby is born? Calculate how much you’d need to have in savings and make a plan for saving that much in the next 5 years. Figure out if your job is where you’d want to work as a new mother – is it flexible and supportive of families? Do they have good maternity policies in place? If not, make a plan to find and get a job that will be a better fit for where you want to be in 5 years. Start building the office political capital now to request flexibility then. Add all the tasks for that plan to your master 5-year plan, schedule them out, and work on them.

    Make progress on each of the facets of your plan (body, job, finances, partner, baby, etc) every month. Review your Master Plan every 6 or 12 months to make sure that you’re still moving in the direction you want to go, and to rearrange things as needed/possible – maybe you’ve reached an interim goal sooner than expected so you can dedicate more time to some other part that you’ve been struggling to make progress on.

    So yeah…so my advice basically is to be a busy as possible working towards your personal goals so that you don’t have time to be sad about the fact that you haven’t reached the goals yet. That said, I really do think that the amount that you can accomplish in 5 years is staggering. Hang in there! (and get to work! 🙂

    • I love all the stuff about planning, but would shy away from a goal of “find life partner in 5 years”. I think personal goals should be for me alone and not require another person. So, a personal goal to “do X number of things to meet new people” is achievable, but “find life partner” isn’t because it requires another person (potential life partner), and I can’t control their actions. Make sense?

  6. My parents were married for 12 years before deciding to have kids. My mom gave me some great advise. She told me to enjoy whatever stage of life you’re in fully because life doesn’t move backwards. You can only be single and young for a certain amount of time. You can only be DINKS (double income, no kids) for a short time (if you want kids) but that ‘mother’ and ‘father’, ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ are permanent. Even if you divorce you were still a wife/husband and even when your kids grow up you’re still a mom/dad so don’t rush it because you can’t backtrack

  7. What a timely post. I’m going through the exact same thing, and really struggling lately. Whereas I don’t have a whole hell of a lot of advice (but am relishing reading the advice of others), I can share one thing that’s helped me. I realized that as each of my friends were getting married or having a kid, that I was starting to not be happy for them, because I was so focused on it not happening to me. And here I’ve always thought I wasn’t the jealous type. So now whenever I feel like that, I stop and remind myself “same team”. We’re all in this together, trying to be happy. So my friend wanted to find the love of their life and get married, and they did! We’re not competing, we’re on the same team, and my teammate scored. When I remember that, then I’m able to be genuinely happy for them.
    And as far as feeling like an outsider with friends with kids, just remember that you are the cool “aunt”. Not being a parent cements this quality, and those kids will totally respect. So, until you have kids of your own (if that’s what you want), enjoy the hell out of that role for friend’s kids while you can. Oh, and, I second what was mentioned earlier- wait til the kids go to bed if you want to have an uninterrupted conversation with your friend ever again.

    • So true, thank you. I do very much love being auntie to my brother’s children and to all my friend’s children as well. I get to spoil them and then claim innocence when my friends and brother “yell” at me for it. Like “I did not just give your child all the frosting off my cupcake” I swear. : D

  8. You all have such amazing advice and beautiful outlooks on life. I have so many thoughts on what you’ve all said that don’t think I can acknowledge all of them but I will try my best. I think the advice given is something really important for people, single or partnered, friendship or family, to think about. Making sure that you have hobbies, learning what makes you happy and what is important to YOU, spending time doing things you care about and spending time with people you care about, all of these are really good to think about no matter your relationship status and will only make your relationships better.

    I spent five years with someone that I loved deeply but we didn’t want the same things (marriage and family among them) and finally I had to acknowledge what was important to me and leave that relationship. In the years since I’ve thought a lot about what I want for my life and what’s truly important to me. Marriage, companionship, with someone I love and family definitely big on that list of the many things I want for my life. That has not always been the case but has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older.

    Several months ago when I submitted this question I was going through a difficult time thinking this wasn’t going to happen for me. 3 of my best friends were pregnant within a few months of each other and I, I was going on a series of bad dates, needless to say I felt like I was running in sand while everyone else was moving forward. I was happy with who I was as a person, had a great family and friends, a good job doing what I love but I still felt lonely. However silly you might think me, that was how I was feeling.

    I ended up joining a social group for people my age to meet new people and try new things outside of my close group of friends and family. Which is not always the easiest thing to go out alone and socialize with a group of people you don’t know. On a night I almost backed out of going to a Halloween party (feeling nervous and dorky) I ended up meeting a really amazing person. I don’t know yet where it’s headed but he’s been a great addition to my life. Many other things, like almost losing my mom to a heart attack a couple months ago, have made me more conscious of trying to appreciate every day, spread more love, and (still a work in progress) not to worry so much about the future.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, I hope they help others no matter what kind of relationships they might have.

  9. The thing that always helps me with jealousy of any sort is that if I’m going to be jealous of _anything_ I need to be jealous of _everything_. So that I can’t be jealous of someone’s huge house without also being jealous of the crazy hours they work to own it. Or I can’t be jealous of someone having another baby unless I am also jealous of the sleepless nights. To take it to the relationship place, I couldn’t be jealous of someone getting married because it means that they don’t get their own room anymore. (As a married person, I so wish I had appreciated my own room more).

    Yes, there are still some things that I want but don’t/can’t have, but it does help put those things in perspective for me. Any of those things that I covet come with a downside, and therefore none of those things are a magic train to happiness.

  10. I’m a married person, so my advice is something more general. I think if you’re feeling poorly about your situation, you should take some time to examine what your feelings really are. Journaling is a good option to explore your needs. What do you feel isn’t being fulfilled emotionally for you?
    Your friends are still the same person, they didn’t go away. Life changes all the time, and adapting to the changes can take time. I would give yourself a break and not feel pity for your current circumstances. You can empower yourself by seeking to fulfill those missing needs you’ve identified.

  11. I wholeheartedly suggest reading any books or articles about the practice of Mindfulness, particularly how it helps people live in the NOW rather than always looking to the future and “waiting” for happiness. It has helped me immensely in relation to my anxiety and depression, but also in just being happy where I am right this second.

    Who knows! I might be married with babies in a few years and be all like, remember that time I could just pick up and move half way around the world and not plan anything? I miss that! When right now the temptation is to feel like I have no connections and am lonely. It helps seeing the upside to things.

    I joined a bunch of groups to meet new people since moving to a new country, and that has helped heaps 😀

    I LOVE the suggestion about intentionally forming little communities. Like saying to friends “let’s do dinner and a movie every 3rd tuesday night” and totally making it a thing. I want to try that!

  12. I’ll be the brave one. I’ll say it out loud: it sucks. It sucks really bad. And the platitudes don’t make it suck any less. In fact, I think, they make it worse. I dreamed of having a “real” family since before I can remember. It’s all I ever wanted. I’m now 52. I’ve done everything anyone has ever recommended, including waiting and not waiting, but it just never happened for me.

    Truth: I was–I AM–a kick ass single mom, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t miss out on a lot of my dreams that were/are specifically tied to my lifelong wish for a traditional family unit. This thought continues to make me sad. It invades my dreams, my poetry, my writing, even my everyday thoughts when I least expect it. I don’t obsess on it, but I feel a level of wistfulness that I will never fully be able to convey to people who haven’t missed out. I can’t “own” being a kick-ass single mom because it has absolutely nothing to do with my not getting to experience having a “whole” family. Heck, I’ve had phases where I’ve even been jealous of divorcing friends, not because they were divorcing, but because they had something I wanted so badly to begin with. One friend said to me that nothing was worse than divorce and I silently thought to myself, “At least you got to experience it, even if it didn’t last.”

    I’m not being confrontational or Debbie Downer, I’m just trying to be really honest here. It’s not always easy to be single in a world of marrieds and it may have absolutely nothing to do with how happy you are with yourself or your abilities as a mom or your relationship with your child(ren), friends, etc. When you’re surrounded by marrieds, you will be excluded occasionally (sometimes more than occasionally), based solely (pun intended) on your single status. And, you’ll often feel like a third wheel when you’re not. I hope this isn’t in your cards because the bottom line is: you may always dream of the picket fence and never actually have one to call your own. If that happens, you know what, it’s okay to say that it sucks.

    • Amen; thanks for being brave, Kirsten. It does suck. A lot. I think it’s been helpful for me to realize that I’m not alone in unfulfilled hopes or dreams. That there are many many many many people out there who deeply desire something and don’t have it – maybe now, maybe ever. That could be a spouse, children, health, a fulfilling vocation, healthy family relationships, a supportive community, whatever. That thought helped me learn to be thankful for what I do have (which sometimes helps take the edge off the suckiness) and also to be aware that everyone I meet is fighting some personal battle I know nothing about, so to be gentle and kind.

    • Kirsten,
      I’m sorry you missed out on an experience you very much desired, and I admire you for being so honest about that here.

      I am married, but for a long time, I thought I would miss that, and it was an experience I wanted very much. I always struggled with the conflicting and useless advice people provide. I also find it worse than annoying that so many people act as if not being married means you weren’t willing to compromise or weren’t happy and secure enough in your own identity.

      I think it is important to be able to grieve for the life that wasn’t. I still feel a bit traumatized by the years I spent in a coupled /married world as a happy single woman who nevertheless desired marriage. People who didn’t have that experience simply cannot understand it, and many people seem to forget it the moment they end up in their relationship.

      Thank you for posting.

  13. For the past 16 years I’ve been a member of a singles Toastmasters club. It’s been comforting being around other interesting, intelligent singles and many members have become long-term friends. The beauty of a club like this is that there are always new people joining so that my pool of friends keeps regenerating.

  14. While it doesn’t seem like I would be the best person to give advice on happy singleness (I’m married and I have a kid) I will say that it was very much something I stuggled with before I met my husband. I made some pretty terrible choices because of it and went through a lot of short, turbulent relationships with not so great or straight up bad guys because I so badly hated singleness. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing that and that’s really great. But something to keep in mind is that marriage and family and even relationships won’t fill the empty spaces in your heart. My husband is a good man, and our marriage is a good one, but it isn’t everything in my life. A lot of the time it is hard work and we mess up. Our son is wonderful but he is also a contant source of exhaustion and frustration. I’m not trying to trash marriage and family, but I do want to say that they aren’t a magic fullfillment box.

    Learning to be content with where you are in life is important. It isn’t even a tiny bit easy but it makes a big difference. I don’t mean pretend to be happy about things that you aren’t, and I don’t mean to just let life happen without taking a hand in it. What I mean is learning to say “this is how life is right now, and it won’t be like this forever.”

    If you are religious or spiritual or anything like that, this can be a really great resource in times of discontent. Personally, I have a strong faith and that was part of what helped me. Speaking with other people of faith in my life, praying with them and praying alone, and trying to determine what the next step in God’s plan for me helped me focus on the things I had not thing things I was lacking.

  15. A good solution to this would be a really great job. I work in child care, and have been completely dedicated to several little person’s lives the past ten years of mine. Even during my – what should have been – “lonely and miserable” teen years, I never felt empty. There is something about a child clinging to you and needing you, and being a key provider to them, that fills your heart in ways you can’t imagine. I’m going to assume any job that requires 100% of your emotion and time is equally “distracting”. I shouldn’t be able to relate to this question considering my age, but a lot of my friends are progressing in this area and I can easily see myself becoming the one that just missed her window and 20 years from I’ve become “that” friend. You control less of your life than you think, and falling in love and having children is one of these things.This is something that, I hate to exclude men from this because I know they feel this to but, literally tears women apart and can destroy women’s relationships because of jealousy. It’s a constant, “Why not me?” battle. I feel it. But you just have to fill your voids you were reserving for something for something else. Plot twist.

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