Baggage, biological clocks, and boundaries, oh my!

Far and away the best thing about being in my thirties is how sure I feel about myself. I’m finally starting to get this whole career thing figured out; I know how to manage my strengths and weaknesses with friends and at work; and I have a pretty good idea what I want out of life.

I also happen to be single, and one of those things I know I want out of life is a partner and a family. There’s a lot of talk out there about how hard it is to date in your thirties. One article I read likened it to “sorting through a bargain bin of damaged goods,” and pretty much every single article harps relentlessly on the whole biological clock thing.

As a woman with a uterus, I know that it’s true, but I also find it a bit reductive. Women are complex and we come to different milestones in life from just about every angle imaginable, with different stories, different baggage and different goals. So, in an effort to sort through some of my own feelings about being 31 and single, and to offer an “I’m with you, sister!” to everyone else in my boat, here are thirty truths I've learned about dating in your thirties.

01. It’s easier because you’re pretty much the fully formed version of yourself. The more you know yourself, the easier it is to recognize compatibility and potential in another person.

02. It’s harder because you’re pretty much the fully formed version of yourself. The more you know yourself, the less willing you are to change, the “pickier” you become with your partners—and the harder they become to find.

03. You take dating more seriously, which is both good and bad. It’s good because you want avoid game-playing and wasting your time; but can be bad if the pressure to settle down leads you to force a relationship that isn’t working.

04. The, “Why are you still single?” question becomes particularly frustrating. Guys, do not ask me this on a date. Aunt Janice, please do not ask me next Thanksgiving.

05. The “deal breakers” of your twenties become negotiable. Bald? Shorter than you? Hates sushi? Didn’t grow up with dogs? Take a cue from Frozen and let it go.

06. A whole new set of deal breakers come into play. Will you want to spend your free time doing the same things? How important is fitness and healthy eating to both of you? Will you want to move back to your hometown eventually? Will he?

07. Reentering the dating pool after a years-long relationship feels like landing on another planet. Getting back in the game can feel particularly unnerving after the age of 29. (This handy guide to the best dating apps should help, though.)

08. Hiding your anxiety about being single becomes a top priority. Who, me? I’m breezy as they come! Not at all wondering if I’ll ever get married or find true love or have children of my own. Hadn’t even crossed my mind. Can you pass the salt?

09. You sometimes lie awake at night thinking about that guy you went on four dates with five years ago and wondering if he was actually the one. What was his name again? John? Or was it Jim?

10. You eventually fall asleep because you remember that the guy you went on four dates with five years ago got married two years ago and his wife has been posting baby bump updates on Instagram for months now. I wish you well, John/Jim.

11. The possibility of meeting and falling in love with someone who has serious emotional baggage becomes very real. At this point we’ve lived a lot of life, and serious baggage from past relationships is unavoidable.

12. Whether you want to or not, at some point during a first date you’re going to look across the table and think to yourself, “Could I see myself marrying you?” You just will.

13. You’re way better at the “I’m not feeling this so I’ll just have one drink and leave” first date. You do not have time to stick it out for three hours just to “be polite.”

14. Your biological clock will announce itself when things start to look promising. Out of nowhere you’ll be reverse engineering your timeline with a fresh round of, “So if I want to have a kid by this age, we’d have to...”

15. You start telling your parents about every date you go on so they don’t lie awake at night worried they’ll never have grandchildren. Anyone else a thirtysomething only child? I know you feel me on this one.

16. It feels weird to compare your milestone timeline to that of your parents. My parents got married when they were 24 years old. At that age I still lived with them, so… I’m doing great?

17. You spend a lot of time deeply considering your preferred age range on dating apps. Is 26 too young? Is 48 too old?

18. You consider circling back to the guys on Tinder who just said, “Hey.” What if he’s just shy? (Spoiler alert: He’s not.)

19. Chance meetings are romantic, but dating apps are practical. If you’re serious about meeting someone, you can’t dismiss the literal thousands of opportunities in your phone.

20. Your red flag radar has never been more on-point. At this point you’re able to swiftly identify and say goodbye to dead-end guys who are emotionally unavailable, wishy-washy, and commitment-phobic. (Thank goodness.)

21. Not every single woman over the age of 30 is dying to get married as soon as possible. It can still be casual!

22. Not every single woman over the age of 30 is dying to have kids as soon as possible, either. The biological clock is real, but the ticking affects everyone differently.

23. It’s easier in a big city. The numbers are on your side obviously, but there’s also much less of a stigma around single thirtysomethings in places like New York, San Francisco, and LA.

24. Being single is fine, but all that cooking for one really starts to wear you down. When will Blue Apron start selling single-serving meal prep kits?

25. It’s totally acceptable as a woman to still have roommates, but dating a thirtysomething guy with roommates gives us flashbacks to fraternity houses. Is it a double-standard? Yes. Is it still true? Yes.

26. You’re better at everything than you were in your 20s. Like, you know, cooking.

27. Sometimes you’re alone, sometimes you’re lonely. We all falter in our attempts to remain positive and optimistic from time to time when we’re single. That’s okay, as long as you can find your way back with the help of friends, family or a therapist.

28. Boundaries become crucial. You have to decide for yourself how much time you’ll devote to work, your social life, your health and your relationships. Now is the time to take ownership of what you want in life and commit to getting it.

29. The push and pull of wanting to be in a relationship but being “set in your ways” can be tough. Once you’ve crafted a pretty great life all by yourself, you realize that anyone who comes into it in a big way better be worth it.

30. You have a very visceral and profound understanding of how rare it is to find someone who likes you as much as you like them at the exact same time. It’s kismet, baby, but it also takes some effort.

Photo Credit: William Stitt