In my practice, I have worked with my fair share of single women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Most of these women express a desire to be in a long-term relationship and eventually married. Not every woman desires relationships or marriage, and many are content to remain single. I want to be clear that single women are not damsels in distress waiting to be rescued. However, I want to speak specifically to those who desire to date, be in a committed relationship, or be married, and for whom it’s currently not happening.
Singleness can be particularly difficult for women over age 25 as they watch their friends marry and have children. They often ask the question, “What’s wrong with me?” while simultaneously listening to media that proclaim they should be “independent” and that they “don’t need anyone.” They may feel torn between these two messages of finding a lifelong partner and feeling the pressure to “fly solo.”
It can be tempting to minimize this desire with platitudes such as: “You’ll find someone,” “But you’re so young!” and “Don’t worry so much about it.” These do not often give voice to the single woman’s experience. For clinicians working with this population, it’s important to remember the following.
Reflect the pain and loneliness you notice and make space for the sadness, as it may have often been minimized by others.
Acknowledge the Pain and Sadness
The pain and sadness of being single is real. It may be difficult for these women to discuss this with friends who are already married because they feel their experience won’t be understood. It may be difficult for them to discuss this with their single friends, as they are in the same situation.
They may feel silly for wanting a life partner or feel as if they should be more independent. As their therapist, you can offer compassion for their painful experience. Reflect the pain and loneliness you notice and make space for the sadness, as it may have often been minimized by others. You can also offer validation for their current experience, as dating and not finding anyone can be its own set of discouragements.
Discuss the Practicalities
Being in a relationship has some tangible advantages. From finances, to chores, to emotional support, you have someone you can lean on. Talk through the practical side of things with your single female clients. They may not feel they have someone they can rely on if they have to go to the hospital in an emergency. They may be wondering if they lose their housing whether someone will take them in. This is only compounded for single women who do not have family they can call upon for help.
Help them build upon their support network. Ask them questions like “Who can you call on in times of trouble?” “Where can you find like-minded people to form a ‘family’ with?” Consider the adage, You cannot choose who you’re related to, but you can choose your friends.
Encouraging single women to live their lives as fully as possible will allow them to build the support network they need. This might include things like joining a club, church, or religious organization, playing sports, or traveling. Talk with your clients about what they enjoy and how they can connect with others in an effort to build upon their supports.
Process the Pressure
Single women feel a lot of pressure to be in a relationship. It’s possible their families are constantly asking them, “When are you going to find someone?” or “You’re such a catch—how come you’re not married yet?”
These statements only serve the purpose of making women feel worse. They look inside and ask the question “How come I haven’t found anyone yet?” which only induces more shame and guilt. They watch on social media as their friends pair off one by one, and the same is true for television and movies. Shows like The Bachelor have become incredible main stays because they highlight this very notion, that life should end in some kind of lavish engagement. This creates an incredible amount of pressure for single women who want to be married.
Explore with your clients what this is like. What kind of messages are they receiving about being single? What do they do with these messages? Are there people in their life that pressure them in a way that is unhealthy? Can they set boundaries with those who are constantly asking about their marital state? Help them develop an inner voice that is able to connect with what it really wants.
Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in the messages that media and friends are setting, and the single women forgets to listen to her own voice.
Explore the Significance of Being Single
Singleness is not just about not having someone in your life; there is meaning behind not being in a relationship, and this is necessary to look at. For many single women at a certain age, it means not being able to have children. This is a reality for women who are not able to freeze their eggs, do surrogacy, and do not plan to adopt or foster children. There is grief that goes along with this reality.
As a therapist, it is important to validate the sadness that goes along with this loss. Likely, these women may feel uncomfortable broaching the subject with their parenting friends, and it can be helpful when a professional wants to know more about their experience.
Explore the loss with your clients and allow them to talk about the other losses connected with it, such as not “providing” grandchildren or not having someone to carry on their family name. Providing a safe space to process loss that may seem confusing to others can be incredibly important.
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