Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we're considering what it's like to grow into adult responsibilities as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience. The married woman's essay can be found here.
When I was growing up, the idea that I’d never have my own room was a big concern for me. I remember wailing to my parents about how I lived with my sister, and then in college I’d have a roommate, and then I’d get married and have a husband!
I’m sure my eleven-year-old self would be relieved to hear that I now have my own room, and in fact a whole apartment to myself. But while that part of it is bliss (especially with a fluffy little cat as a snooze buddy), it’s interesting to think about how I never really prepared for this phase. With parents who met, and married, in college, I never envisioned myself navigating my early twenties by myself—well, if I’m honest, I never envisioned myself “navigating” my early twenties at all. As it has been for many of my peers, the post-college phase has been a bit of a rude awakening, from taxes to laundry to meal prep. I might have vaguely known these things were coming, but I didn’t envision myself going them alone.
While many people associate the “mental load” made famous in this viral cartoon with the plight of married mothers, I’ve found that the single life, while it might be in some ways more simple, involves taking on this entire mental load as one person. Sure, I don’t have to make a husband dinner or think about filing our taxes jointly or run our clothes to the dry cleaner . . . but I do have to make myself dinner, file my own taxes, and run my own clothes to the dry cleaner. There isn’t someone cooking for me while I mow the lawn, or vice versa, and we’re not pooling our resources (for the most part—I’ll get to that later!). I don’t have the mental luxury of anything being someone else’s responsibility: from doing the dishes to filing taxes to taking out the trash, these are my responsibilities, and if they don’t get done, it’s on me.
Living in a world built for two
In many ways—from taxes to healthcare to restaurant layouts—the adult world is built for couples and families. Eggs mostly come in dozens, and recipes are mostly written for four. Granted, some of these things are insurmountable. It’s just more efficient for two people to share one bed, bedroom, and kitchen.
A seemingly simple way to solve this is through roommate situations, but as anyone will tell you, roommates aren’t as committed as spouses. Roommates get married, move away, get new jobs—leaving us back at square one. Plus, occupancy limits in cities can set the allowed number of unrelated adults in one dwelling as low as 2, posing a real challenge to those who want to live in a household-style environment while minimizing costs. Not to mention that roommates can’t share their healthcare with you. While I’m not overworked by any means, maintaining a job that can fund a single lifestyle while keeping up with the inevitable mental load of adult responsibilities like taxes, home maintenance, errands, and housekeeping means that I sometimes feel very similar to the woman in the comic—without a husband to ask for help.
Even some things that aren’t intentionally built with couples in mind are just easier with two. When I’m dating someone, that’s when I have a consistent ride from the airport and someone to feed the cat while I’m gone. Taking the car to the mechanic is a bit less formidable when you can just hop in your spouse’s car and drive away; long road trips are easier (and a wee bit safer) when you have a navigator instead of an iffy Walmart phone grip.
But while life as a single person has many challenges, life as a single person with many close friends is much easier. While they obviously help with the emotional load, my friendships have really helped to alleviate the mental load for me, as well.
For example, at some point my friends and I observed that cooking a nice meal for yourself as a single person is a double-edged sword, since it means that you’ll probably have to eat that same meal for the next four or five days (at which point it will certainly not be as nice). Instead, we meet on Monday evenings with a few filled meal containers, and exchange meals among ourselves, so that with the same amount of work we can share one another’s cooking and feel more connected as friends. I’ve already saved a lot of money and time with this method, and I don’t have to meal-plan anymore! In many ways, from rides to the airport to navigation on long drives, my friends fill the “holes” in my life that a romantic relationship may someday fill.
I’ll admit that I sometimes wish I had a husband to bounce my big career ideas off of, or to help me get out of the grocery store when I’m spending way too much time deciding between organic pastas. Whether they’re big or small, decisions have never been my strong suit, and all too often I find myself trying to embrace both alternatives at once, overstretching myself mentally, logistically, or emotionally.
But being single during this time of many decisions has actually been really good for me. I have to face my personal decisions on my own, really confronting myself and coming to understand what I really want without the opinion and influence of a significant other. Plus, it inspires me to reach out to the person most qualified to advise me in each particular case—the person with expertise in the field I want to get into, the friend with more dating experience than I have, the parent who’s known me since I was born—meaning that I find myself the grateful recipient of a lot of great advice and empathy. While I’m sure my eventual husband will have lots of good advice to offer, I think I’ll be more realistic than my college self would have been about the dangers of relying on one person alone. I’ve learned essential lessons about seeking and taking advice—and especially about asking the right person for help.
Getting to know myself
Of all the pieces of advice offered to single people, I used to think this was one of the silliest: you learn more about yourself. What more can there be to learn? my nineteen-year-old self would think. I want to get to know someone else!
But, over the years, I’ve realized that there’s still so much to learn. We have this idea that once we’re twenty, or twenty-five, or whatever, our growth has largely stopped, and we’ve “arrived” as human beings. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve experienced my twenties so far as a period of blisteringly intense growth, and while it’s been painful, it’s all been so much more than worth it.
I’m also thankful, in some ways, that I’m doing some of this growth without the complexity of being with another person growing through the same stage of life. From working through issues in therapy to putting together a skincare routine, the time that I’m growing in my twenties has to happen—and I’m thankful that it will have already begun by the time I meet my husband. I’m getting to know a bit more about my quirks, issues, and foibles before they come back to bite me in a relationship. As I learn about who I am and what I want, I realize how much there still is to know, and I am thankful for the time I’ve been given to start this journey.
Do you have an experience of 'adulting' that you'd like to share? Tell us here and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.