Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Single at 27. My Rebuttal to Julia Shaw

You got married at 23, so what am I waiting for?!

So asks Julia Shaw in a recent article “I married at 23. What are you waiting for??”

I read the title and cringed. It pained me to read the next two pages. I knew what was coming. A whole lot of “we didn’t need money to be happy” and “barely making the electricity bill for the month brought us closer” and a few “sex is so much more specia’s”. I suffered through the overwhelming self proclamation of maturity and commitment, the self righteous prophesy that growing up together as a married couple is better than establishing a personal identity first. And in between the bragging about making it through a year of law school together and their undying commitment for each other and the joys of shared phone service plans, I began to feel bad for this girl.

From the age of 18 until I was about 25, my main priority was being someone’s girlfriend and eventually, wife. I had no sense of self, no sense of who I was alone, even though I had been basically single for a while. My sister was married, my friends were all in relationships, and here I was, bartending my way through life, traveling, having fun and writing hoping to hit it big. I’m pretty sure today, my extended family thinks I am both asexual and sterile.

The last breakup I had almost killed me. I was 25 going on 26. The depression that set in from my inability to separate my self worth from the feeling of someone else admiring me and needing me lead to a case of depression that was so bad, I almost committed suicide. I had spent so many years focusing on one thing; Marriage. I was determined to get married by 27, be someone’s wife, be the other half of someone. Couple that desire with the rat race that became my friends and cousins who were not just getting hitched but popping out kids at an alarming rate. I was falling behind. Why didn’t anyone want me? What was wrong with me?

When the last guy I loved – a baseball player in the MLB – ended things, I fell apart. I began to think I would never get married, and thus, my life would have no meaning. Who was I if no man was telling me he wanted me to be his other half? What good was I if my life wasn’t worth sharing? There was no ring on my finger to let the rest of the world know that I was SO great that someone actually wanted to spend the rest of their life with me.

I tied a noose with a belt and I sat in my exposed bricked room in my upper east side apartment and wrote a suicide note. I was going to hang myself from the pipe that ran across my ceiling.

I don’t know what exactly stopped me from doing it. Fear that it would hurt. Concern about my mother and sister. The need to see my best friend Karl again before I went. The guilt that my roommate/best friend would probably be traumatized when she found me. I dont know. I was scared, and I was alone. But I couldn’t step off my window ledge. I unhooked the belt and stepped down.

I didn’t kill myself. Obviously. Instead, I booked a trip alone to Charleston South Carolina. I dipped into my savings account and treated myself at a five star hotel. Every day I wrote. I laid by the pool, went to the beach, ate the richest, fattiest foods and then I went jet skiing.

It was when I fell off the jetski – flung myself 10 or so feet off the side and lost my bikini bottoms - that I finally laughed for the first time in months. I got back on, sat in the middle of the ocean, watched the sun go down behind the marsh, took a deep breath and felt alive. This was life. This was how it should feel. And I didn’t need the baseballer or any other man to make me feel this way.

I went back to my hotel room that night, drank an entire bottle of Firefly vodka and I wrote a script. I looked back over the life I had lead the past six or so years and picked out the stories that mattered most, threaded together by the common theme that I had tended to date athletes. I hashed out the story line, the characters, my life in a treatment. The best trips, the biggest fights, the hardest parts, the greatest loves.

I sent the script and other material to an agent at William Morris Endeavor. They liked it, but had been representing someone similar so they passed. Knowing it had appeal, I kept going. On the third day of my trip to Charleston, I sat by the pool, again drinking sweet tea vodka and lemonade in my bikini and I Facebook stalked 50 agents from five agencies. I sent long, honest messages detailing who I was, where I was, how drunk I was, and why they should read my script.

Five agents responded. One changed my life. I signed with United Talent Agency a month later after I sat down for coffee with a partner of the company. I am now pitching my show in LA. I am a represented writer and whether I ever make it big or not, no one can ever take that feeling away from me.

Julia is sweet. She says, “the stability, companionship, and intimacy of marriage enabled us to overcome our challenges”. That she learned to be strong “for her husband”. What about strong for herself? Her husband was there for every problem, every hard time. She had someone, always. What would she do if she suddenly didn’t? How did she ever learn to cope alone if she never had to? She says people shouldn’t wait for their soulmate – they should just get married and hope God takes care of the rest. Marriage. Marriage. Togetherness. Two. Together. Companionship. Blah blah blah.

The real question is this – had she not met her husband, what would have gotten her through whatever challenges she faced in her future? To me, it appears that the only coping skill Mrs. Shaw has is the ability to cleave to her husband in a time of crisis. Try coming back from suicide watch on your own. Then we’ll talk overcoming challenges and what enables you to do so.

If I married the boyfriend I had when I was 20, I’d be divorced today. I am not the person I was at 20, now at 27. Had I married him at 21, as I planned, I would have missed more opportunities in my life that that marriage would have ever afforded me (or him). Writing that script gave me that clarity. Putting my life on paper and realizing how much I had done, seen, grown and lived through regardless of the fact that the majority of that time I was single, put my life and its meaning into perspective. I learned to suffer alone, I learned to grieve alone, and most importantly, I learned how to live alone. How to truly live, happily, without being someone else’s “other half”. I learned to be my own other half – I learned to be whole.

I am 27. In the last year since I had my breakdown, traveled to Charleston and wrote my script, I discovered this feeling that no man – no matter how much I had loved them – ever gave me. A sense of self. A sense of self that depended not on how someone else viewed me or felt about me – things I couldn’t control – but built upon my need to find something within myself worth living for. I built my self worth on a stable base of the abilities I knew I had with writing, my personal relationships with my friends and family who were the reason I didn’t hang myself that night, and the value of something I was able to create independent of someone else coddling me, catching me if I fell. I took risks that had no safety net, no husband to pick up the pieces. I spent so many years looking for a husband, my other half. What I ended up finding was me. Stefanie. And whether I meet my soul mate tomorrow and get married next year, or I am single until I am 90 having sex with athletes until I die, I have found a sense of purpose that does not revolve around someone else – it revolves around me. That life is invaluable, and yes, Mrs. Shaw, I will wait for a soul mate who is worthy to come into that life I’ve created. I am not taking the first penis who will have me just to have a warm body at night. My life is too important to risk that. I’m sorry yours was not. But hopefully God is in the details, eh?

I am 27. I am single. And I am about to embark on the most amazing journey of my life in the next year. I have traveled, laughed, loved, had my heart broken. I have fallen off a jetski, hit rock bottom, and climbed my way out. I have found purpose and enjoyment in things other than a husband. It took being single for so long for me to live a life worth writing about. It took a journey of God knows how many lonely nights, to figure out what was worth filling my days with. I have found a sense of self now that no man can ever break up with, no guy can ever walk away from, no husband can ever divorce from me. I will never lose this identity because it is not two halves, it is one whole. I do not regret being single at 27. I no longer feel a need to fill a void in my life with a man because I filled that void with my own accomplishments and experiences. And I do not mind being on my mother’s family Verizon plan.

At 27 I have lived a life. It isn’t a life I expected at 20. But it took being alone to truly understand how much it was worth. I could not have arrived here if I had gotten married at 23. I don’t envy a life filled with nights without heat or internet just to share a bed with someone. I do not envy a life lived untraveled just so I can share health insurance with a man. I do not envy not being forced to find strength within myself to pick myself up when I fell down, because I didn’t have a husband who did it for me. It made me stronger, better, and if and when I ever get married, it will make me a more capable, more independent, more in tune wife

My greatest hope – for many reasons – is that her husband never dies nor leaves her. She is a woman who clearly is so self conscious – despite her desperate bid for self confidence and maturity – that without the approval of a man – any old man, no soul mate status required – she does not feel life is worth living.

Life is worth living. And I am happy to be living it at 27 for myself and no one else.

I was not married at 23. What was I waiting for? Life. And it’s all happening now. Don’t ever settle. You will find it when you least expect it. And it comes from no one but yourself. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this Stef, takes a lot of guts. xoxo

  2. I am 31 and happily partnered, but it took until well into my 28th year to meet him. The years between 21 and 28 were filled with misadventures, black-out nights, and rollercoasters I can laugh about now, even if my friends/family back at home thought I too was asexual and sterile. :) Now, many of those people stalk ME online, while I stalk agents and clients, myself. I'm thrilled that I met a man to share my life with--but I'm thrilled that I found me, first.

  3. You got to the heart of the issue, which is that true growth/independence/confidence takes emotional trauma and the shittiest sort of existential crisis where you finally face the maddening realization that though we may live together, we die alone and the only truth you can ever be sure of is that your journey in this life is uncompromisingly solitary.

    You figure that out and either a.) kill yourself or b.) decide to create the best, most kickass life no one else ever needs to validate.

    And yea, having a SO to coddle you through life starting from college is like hitting cruise control for your entire bullshit Stepford life.


  4. beautiful and full of truth. liz gilbert calls it the need to "make my own bones" -- this path of self-discovery & self-love that mrs. shaw missed out on. i differ from you in one respect. and it's not that i want something bad to happen to her husband, but i do hope she gets the OPPORTUNITY to learn herself and love who she is-- i don't know if that's possible within the context of a relationship.

    & p.s. you are very brave and strong for being alive today. :) thanks for sharing your message with the world!

  5. I found this off the Slate article. Apparently you and I are living very similar lives because you basically described my life and especially the past year and a half minus a few details, change athlete to successful career guy and creating a script in South Carolina to getting accepted into a medical field I want to be in. Either way, hitting rock bottom and being forced to find myself helped in a way that no relationship ever could have. I have since found a guy, but I feel a deeper sense of me in the relationship and more secure in who I am and would be if the relationship ended than I ever have in the past.
    Sorry for the long drawn out comment, but what I mean to say is, you put it extremely well. Marrying someone at 23 isn't the end all be all of being an adult. A sense of self can't be found in another person, and thank God I didn't marry the guy I was with at age 20.

  6. First off, I came across your blog a couple of weeks ago and have been reading it non-stop, going back to the origins. I cant believe it's now basically on permanent hiatus.

    As for this post, my experiences and yours couldn't be more different. I am 30 and have been in a relationship with my partner for 10 years. Won't get married, don't believe in it. And I agree with you. Would I recommend getting into a serious relationship super young? No. Am i and have I been happy all these years? Absolutely. But do I think I missed out on stuff? Yes.

    But most importantly, would I preachily recommend my experience as the best way? No! Why would I? This is what annoys me most about this article and what I enjoy most about your writing.

  7. Thank you. Thank you so much for this article and the others you've been posting. I found you through your piece on the Huff about being a Slutty Slut. One Google search later and here I find somebody talking about the things I've been trying to explain for years. To find you. What persecution really is. That sex, god forbid, is OKAY.

    So thank you. Thank you for reminding me I'm not entirely insane for believing in this.

  8. Your article is really interesting because somehow, I really agree with you! I've always tried to find my self, to build my own personality, to not rely on other people too much above all things. When in some situations (e.g living in a different country), people are just afraid to be on their own, I am just happy to experience something new and to meet new people, to broaden my mind, that kind of thing..In the end, I was happy to know my real self and to be able to cope with my personal issues without somebody by my side.
    But the strange thing is:
    -No matter how far I went deep inside of me, this is never to be taken for granted. I now only remember those times I felt good with myself, and it seems I am not able to go to those times anymore..
    -I used to feel pretty independent because I didn't need anybody in particular to be happy. However, I now miss the presence of somebody I can really share everything with, and also real love...I knew it once (a really long time ago though), it ended up badly and yeah, I am afraid to end up without knowing it again (in a proper way)...

    So basically, I was the kind of independent girl who did not believe in "eternal love" (let alone marriage!!!) and would not start a family before turning 30, and look at me now...I haven't reached my late 20s yet and the only thing I want now is getting married and having children!!!! (Well I have to say that I really don't understand how I got here)..well just saying...Sometimes, it's the other way round...

  9. Good points all around. Have you ever noticed that there are articles about how married women, women with children, stay at home moms have it harder than you think and their life is so much more rewarding that anyone else's....But what about the single women in their late 20's and early 30's...I rarely see articles from these women talking about the positives of being single in their age...or "shocker" how much freedom, money, and love they have for themselves...It's like the other women(one's who are settled in with kids) are constantly trying to remind themselves of how much better they have it than single woman...Hmmm...maybe trying to convince themselves, with a life they will never have again...a freedom they will never taste again until their kids are old and off to school & then they will be too old to travel much anyways. I STILL have NO urge to have children...I am engaged and love my fiance, but sometimes I wonder if I will miss my freedom, freedom to do whatever the hell I want. Then i think about how nice it is to have someone to sleep next to every night and really to never feel lonely.... It seems like the perfect scenario for me and for you maybe, would be to have a boyfriend/fiance/ maybe even husband...but kids....uh....ehhh i don't know about that one... I am so tired of seeing fbook status about how wonderful peoples kids are...they NEVER post the bad parts about being a mom, it is almost like they are trying to convince themselves that they made the right life choice, but I do love when I meet MOMS who are honest and tell me....I don't know if I would of had kids when I did if I could go back...or don't do it unless your ready to give up everything you ever wanted for yourself...

  10. I guess it's really late to post a comment here and that nobody will even see it? But I still want to comment? Yeah, so...thanks for this post, and a warm round of applauses for you. I am sorry to read that you went through such an awful period in your life, but you made it back, and for that, I feel really happy, even though I'm just this random stranger who barely found your column in the HuffPo. You go, girl! This one piece of writing here hits really close to home because, oh well, I am part of your team. Oh, boy, am I part of your team. I am 25, and I have NEVER had a boyfriend. Never. I've never dated anyone, nothing, zero, nil, nada. Hell, all I've ever done with boys is 'feeling something', then realising it is impossible, then feeling miserable, then shut the freak up and never say anything. Because I couldn't afford to. People say, you have to change. Be kinder (even to total jerks!). Don't ask for so much, why didn't you settle for and try your luck with A/B/C, since they were wonderful people (they were! But I was not interested in them, not in that way!)? It is like I am the one who is ultimately wrong. I mean, I must be. But I always thought I would be able to choose somebody and that he'd choose me back. Not always, and indeed not forever, but long enough to make me happy. So far, it just doesn't seem like that. And I feel miserable and worthless at worst, and really confused at the very best. I have a life of my own! A pretty good one, one that I'm grateful for, one that I wouldn't probably had if I was dating somebody. I travel quite a bit, have a lot of really great experiences, work towards gaining a full, great education. But still, there's this awful feeling. Nobody will ever come, or else I'll have to settle for somebody that I don't really like, because I'm what it's left in the barrel. That's what I think, even though I know better, even though I do not buy into any of that mysoginistic bs, even as I type this. So, yeah. I have never really thought of getting married and I still don't, perhaps partly because while (some) girls my age start wondering about that, I still have to figure out how to get to date anybody and do all those things that I was supposed to at least start doing during my teens.

    End of rant, I guess. I just wanted to say thank you, because as much as I agree with you and oftentimes think about this sense of self that I too have, sometimes I hurt deeply. Thanks. I will keep reading your posts!!