Somewhere around our mid-20s, single women start feeling shame about our relationship status.
Since the ripe age of 22, I’ve been asked about marriage at each and every family function. Family members and strangers would greet me with “you’re next” every time I attended a wedding — even when I was entirely single with no boyfriend in sight.
For the most part, I was very content with my life as a successful career-oriented woman. But, anytime I spent time around family, I struggled with this tug-o-war between the career expectations I had for myself and the shame I felt for not reaching the wedded expectations that my family had for me.
It seems I’m not alone in this struggle.
Whether it’s stems culturally, socially or is self-inflicted, shame is very present for ALL women. One study found that 96 percent of women feel ashamed or guilty at least once per day about their friendships, relationships, work and body.
And though this research seems in direct conflict with current facts about women and marriage — statistically, today more women are likely not to marry until later in life (if at all) than ever before — doesn’t mean we don’t experience shame about it.
Shame isn’t about the action we take, it’s about what we believe we’re not doing. Shame is the guilt we feel over what we feel we “should have” done, what we’re “supposed to do,” and the expectations we set for ourselves.
The expectation of the modern woman is to have it all. We’re told we’re “supposed to” achieve and effortlessly maintain a superwoman identity, at all times; society expects us to uphold our image as independent and career driven women, while being a sexy wife and a Pinterest-perfect mother. When striving for this impossible standard, you ultimately feel shame when you don’t achieve it.
So, how can you let go of shame and live a fulfilled life you love regardless of your relationship status? Here are 4 tips to get you there:
1. Let go of “shoulds” and embrace what is
You have to stop living your life based on what you or others believe “should” happen or who you should be and, instead, begin to unapologetically live into your current reality. Comparing yourself to others or trying to live up to other people’s expectations only breeds self-judgment and guilt. There is no ideal version of your life. Instead, accept that everything in your life is exactly on track. It’s OK to love your life now and move toward your future at the same time. That acceptance will give you peace.
2. If you don’t like how it is, DO something about it
Maybe you’re feeling shame because being single isn’t what you want. It’s OK to want a relationship. But instead of beating yourself up about it, do something about it. Figure out a vision for your life, ask yourself who the person you want to end up with is and seek him with determination. Set goals in your dating life and take action, because it’s only through action that things ever change.
3. Have amazing relationships — with everyone
The key to a fulfilling and happy life is often tied to a relationship and most people believe that relationship is only found in marriage. Research shows that having strong, profound relationships in all areas of your life is what ultimately leads to fulfillment and happiness.
So nurture your relationship with your bestie. Take your mother out to lunch. Spend more time with the co-worker you adore. Do whatever it takes to have amazing relationships, platonic or otherwise.
4. Surround yourself with empathy
The struggle of being single is very real, so you may as well surround yourself with people who understand. There’s comfort in talking to someone who can say, “me too.” Make sure to spend time with your other single and positive friends. I stress positivity because you want your friends and relationships to inspire you and bring joy into your life.
Letting go of shame takes practice. It takes noticing when we talk down to ourselves, and instead being kind to ourselves. There’s no shame in being single and there is no ideal. There is only how we choose to perceive our experiences.