Middle-Aged? Single? How to Cope with What You Might Be Feeling

Three friends sit outside talking and laughing while eating in late afternoonWhen we think of developmental milestones, we often think of children. But a lot of people aren’t aware that we continue to experience change points in life as we grow and age. As part of these changes, we may face both internal and societal pressures to meet certain “typical” developmental milestones.

One of the expectations society tends to place on us during middle age is that we have reached the peak of our careers and the arc of our relationship and family development.

If you are reading this blog, then there is a good chance you are already all too aware that this expectation can leave many middle-aged single people feeling lost, isolated, and left out of the “race.”

It is easy for me to say things like, “We don’t all experience life in the same ways,” and “There is no one right way to live life.” But it’s not always easy to hear things like that when you’re the one who is single and looking all around you at social media posts and community members who seem to have it all. Seeing others succeeding in their relationships when you are single and don’t want to be can leave you feeling isolated and grossly left behind.

3 Feelings You May Have

1. Confusion

Maybe you are a person who, by most standards, has your life together. Maybe you are gainfully employed, social, reasonably attractive, and willing to put yourself out there. But you still don’t seem to be meeting the right people, including someone who could be the true love mate you’re looking for.

You see all the people in your inner circle moving forward, buying second homes, and sending kids off to college. But you haven’t even met the person you are supposed to be with yet.

Your friends may boast about how amazing you are. They tell you how sure they are you will find the person who will love you until death do you part (if you are into that sort of thing). But their reassurances may actually make you feel worse.

If all the above variables are true, of course you are confused. Why wouldn’t you be? You are confused because you have done the work and put in the time. But you still feel, for some reason, it isn’t happening.

I want to validate for you here that feeling confused about why everyone around you seems to be “getting it” when you aren’t is normal. It’s human. And anyone else in your shoes would likely be confused, too.

It can help to lean into the confusion without judgment. Sometimes we simply don’t have the answers to why we are going through something in life until later down the road. By simply allowing the questions, without needing immediate answers, we can take some of the strain we are feeling down a few notches. Doing so can also help us have more compassion for ourselves. Confusion is valid, yes. Beating ourselves up for it is not likely to be helpful, though.

2. Fear

Fear is a part of life. We all experience it from time to time. You might fear never finding someone to date, let alone spend the rest of your life with. You are not alone in this. I have often heard people I’m working with in therapy and middle-aged friends who are single report fears of being alone forever. Some also say they have spent so much time alone they are afraid they’ve forgotten how to date or be in a relationship.

It is normal to feel disappointed and afraid when life lands you in a spot you hadn’t expected. But it can be a good rule of thumb in these moments to take stock of the positive things you do have in your life.

It is normal to feel disappointed and afraid when life lands you in a spot you hadn’t expected. But it can be a good rule of thumb in these moments to take stock of the positive things you do have in your life. In some ways, your single status (while it may not be ideal) may have freed you up to do any number of things your partnered friends don’t have the financial freedom or time to enjoy.

The more you focus on the gifts of your current situation, the more likely you are to attract a partner. But not just any partner, the right partner—a person who will meet your already situated and joyful life.

The ideal relationship isn’t born out of desperation or fear. But one can certainly develop from the self-love and self-growth that stems from that initial fear.

3. Left behind

If you are middle-aged and single, it is likely that many of the people you know are in relationships or married, often with children. When a person has a partner, children, and a career to focus on, they may spend less time with their friends as a result. They might check in with their single friends even less. You may feel lonely as a result of these changes. But the changes don’t mean your friends with families have stopped caring about you. It just means their availability has changed.

But this type of relationship change, especially when it seems to happen with a lot of people at once, can leave a single person feeling forgotten, left out and sometimes even all alone. Even those who are fiercely independent and love their own company may find that over time, going to parties, baby showers, and weddings alone can become draining and exacerbate feelings of fear and confusion.

When you’re feeling left out or left behind, it can help to realize your friends have reached a phase in life where spending time with friends is no longer a priority. They are still your friends. But it might be time to consider taking steps to make more friends who are aligned with your current life path. Even a simple step, like joining a local group, taking an art or exercise class, or spending more time at your local coffee shop, can make a difference. It can also help to spend more time in places in your community, where the faces are familiar and new friendships can blossom.

Tips to Cope

Surrounding yourself with other people who are living a shared experience may help you feel better about your current situation. This shift alone can help alter the feelings of being isolated or “different” that can come up as you go through a phase of life that is not the same as that of the people around you.

It can also help to keep the following in mind:

  • Remember that social media isn’t reality. People may post pictures and weekly updates detailing how amazing their lives and families are on social media, but these photos don’t always tell the whole story. I know many people who have difficult living situations and still post happy pictures on social media. It can help to remember that you probably don’t know anyone’s full story.
  • Remember you aren’t alone. You aren’t the only person who has been in your situation, and you also aren’t the only person in a similar situation at this time. While it is entirely normal to feel alone if your current life experience isn’t the majority experience, it doesn’t mean you are actually alone. Just remembering that can have a big difference on your current feelings and future outlook.
  • Remember we all go through difficult periods in life. All of us face challenges. These challenges may differ from person to person, but everyone experiences times in life when they are up and times when they are down. Going through a down cycle today does not mean your time isn’t just around the corner. Stay positive, but stay grounded. The best time of your life may be waiting around the corner.

If you struggle with working through concerns related to relationships, singlehood, or aging on your own, a compassionate, qualified counselor can provide support and guidance.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Blythe C. Landry, MEd, LCSW, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Rostenka

    January 20th, 2024 at 2:42 AM

    I am single and 54. I have searched for a companion for four long years. I have searched for work for five. I did not think I would be alone at this stage. I have experienced unfathomable loss. My children do not understand why I have not moved on with life? I have tried all I can – no work, diminishing funds, no single friends my age and no company, but a lot of practical problems in my house I cannot deal with alone and what do I do with my time? I am made for more but cannot find out what? Wanting to connect, laugh and live…but can’t seem to find where and nobody is helping, except saying “I will pray”. I never see them again.

  • Susanne

    February 22nd, 2024 at 5:11 AM

    This article is so painfully middle-class – ‘circle of friends buying second homes’? Most people I know are in their 40s and are barely able to pay rent or insane mortgages. Many of us don’t have stable jobs (nor the notion of ‘career’) because of the way most sectors have become precarised – even those of us in typical middle class jobs (academics) are ultra precarious. Please pitch these articles in more inclusive ways (even the picture).

  • Tony

    April 22nd, 2024 at 11:50 PM

    Susanne & Rostenka, you’re both 100% correct. This article, like the majority of the endlessly rehashed advice online, is so completely disconnected from the reality of everyone except the top 10% of Americans. Is it good advice? Probably YES, we all need to be reminded to think of the positives. But the reality is many of us are just struggling to survive and not be cripplingly depressed over the lack of decent jobs despite a plethora of credentials/education/experience. Meeting someone during that struggle, affording money/time to go out, is an insurmountable task because we feel like we have to pretend to be happy to “lure” someone into our struggle. And at that point theres the potential to look at a relationship like a magical solution, because we know just having a roommate would help so much with that burden. But we do have to remind remind ourselves its not the solution… and then we reach the problem of, if it’s not a solution, are we supposed to wait till were stable to fall in love?! Heck no, love should not be a privilege of the wealthy…. but maybe it’s quickly becoming that? I don’t have the answers, but there’s people are failing to grasp the whole problem or ignoring it for cheap rehashed advice. Most people are single because they’re struggling with more complex situations. Those situations most often include financial desperation. If this is the case, then maybe people, maybe we, are setting our standards for a romantic partner too high? Please give us advice on how to navigate the search for love within the confines of a NORMAL person’s life and not a Hallmark movie.

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