Are You Where You Thought You’d Be?

November 17, 2014


Here’s something you should NOT do if you’re in a low and vulnerable position: set up an online dating profile.

“It’ll make you feel better to see what’s out there,” said my friend. Lies! This might be true if you’re in your early 20s and live in a city filled with kindly souls who are looking for love. (If so, please let me know where that is, because I’d like to move there.) If you’re me, however, you should stay the hell away from dating sites.

To be clear: I have nothing against online dating. If you’re currently Tindering or J-dating or e-Harmonizing (does anyone still do that?) I harbor no judgment. I’ve been there! I just can’t go there right now.

Setting up a profile comes with many decisions: the dreaded username, which photos to choose, how to market oneself in an honest yet appealing way. For today’s purposes, I shall focus on the series of probing, inappropriate questions that apparently lead to an OkCupid match:

How many dates do you wait to have sex?
I don’t know because I haven’t been on a date IN THREE YEARS. This is not one of the choices, so I leave it blank.

How often do you bathe or shower?
Um, what? Does anyone EVER choose “rarely/never”? Is that kind of person trying to date people? Why is this an option?

How long do your romantic relationships usually last?
If I’m being honest? Longer than they should, but not long enough to count. I choose “12+ months” which is, coincidentally, the lengthiest option. Thanks for reminding me of my past failures, algorithm!

This continued for far too long, until I felt too old and weird to continue. Zero actual dates transpired. But I had newfound clarity about my life. And it wasn’t pretty.

Here are the facts: I am thirty. I am single. I do not have kids. I live with my tiny dog in a tiny apartment that sometimes plays host to creepy bugs and weird smells. Late at night, when I have trouble sleeping, I convince myself it’s haunted. I am wealthy, but only in spirit.

If this sounds like a laundry list of complaints, it isn’t. All things considered, my life is good and I am grateful. There are times—walking my dog or sitting across the table from a person I love—when I feel immeasurably lucky to be at this exact place in my life.

But I can’t escape the fact that it looks nothing like I imagined.

Do you ever feel that way? Are you where you thought you’d be?

When we “take stock” of our lives, what are we really doing? Comparing ourselves to some larger societal metric? Measuring our own successes against those of our peers? So many things are beyond our control. So why should we feel bad about them?

I read a quote earlier this evening that managed to soothe my anxious spirit: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” It made me realize: So often, taking stock of our lives boils down to listing what we have or what we’ve accomplished. But what happens if, instead of asking ourselves where we are, we ask ourselves who we are?

Have I become who I wanted to be by 30? I think the answer is yes. That person will figure out the rest; I’m sure of it.

(But I think I’ll take a pause on setting up that profile… just to be on the safe side.)

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  • I really like your perspective, since so much of one’s time in this meritocracy we have in the US (which is not necessarily a bad thing) is spent on reviewing and presenting every thing you’ve done (e.g. in resumes, applications , and proposals.) How much time do people actually spend thinking about who they are, outside of what they’ve accomplished? I don’t think the two are necessarily separate, but it’s important to separate the two sometimes…though I think it can be difficult. After all, what would distinguish all the people who would say that they are smart, or a thinker, or a joker, etc.?

  • This could not have been a more fitting post for the day/weeks I’ve been having. I’m 29, nearing 30 and I had anticipated an entirely different direction for my life. I was in a 5+ year relationship that ended and now I’m back in school pursuing a new degree in an entirely different field from my undergrad. I’m constantly questioning if I’m making the right life choices and can’t help but compare myself to my more successful, married friends. I had expected so much more for myself by this age, but as you mentioned it is just as important to be who you want to be, as it is to be where you want to be.

  • 2 things: I think your blog is beautifully written.
    And, if I may, I have found one particular observation by a friend to be incredibly enlighting: F**k them. You’re perfect.

    I felt like sharing this with you. Hope it made you smile.

    • This is a really good point. Essentially you’re supposed to set the entirety of your life in stone between the ages of 22 and 29. God if I let the 22 year old me decide what the 28 year old me would be happy with, I would be so miserable today.

  • You materialize in words what I cannot. I get you girl. It’s sometimes impossible to avoid the dreaded supposed “American dream” of a timeline. College, boyfriend, dream job, husband, beautiful home in a beautiful city, babies, joy. BY 30. The way I see it is that it’s mathematically unbalanced…that’s not fair! You live until you’re 80 and you only have about 10 of those years to be single and free and figure it all out at the same time?! Absurdity.

    I love the ending. It’s not where we are but who we are. And that’s what matters. If nothing else, you inspire others! The rest will fall into place (I’m telling myself that too:))

  • I am a 26 year old teacher from the South, and most of my acquaintances and people I work with are married by now. I remember writing my best friend a letter in college that outlined my life. I seriously thought I would have baby #2 on the way by then. I think sometimes our experiences are so limited by what we have known and therefore we don’t take risks to explore what other kind of lives are out there. I still put a lot of pressure on myself to be married, by a house, have children, but sometimes it does seem limiting.

    I could have never imagined who I am when I was 18 because I was so limited to the suburban humdrum life around me. I can imagine in NYC it’s different, but maybe not so much.

  • I’m Bea and I’m reading you from Italy.
    Thank God I’ve come to ‘know’ you through a Cup of Jo, because you’ve just expressed so properly something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. So thank you, it’s been sort of cathartic!

    • …and I am Camille from Paris (France) and I would not change a word to what Bea wrote !! so happy that I have discovered your blog through a cup of jo. Love it already 🙂

      • reading you from Romania..also discovered you through Cup of Jo..

        what you have written above is what i 33..recently kids..i have thought about not being where i thought i would be at 33…but actually…i am EXACTLY WHO i wanted to be:)maybe better:)and still a work in progress..

        the fact that this is exactly how a lot of women are it quite reassuring:)

  • Caroline, I am 33, single, with a little dog in a little (not NYC tiny) apartment also. I just started dating someone who I am really excited (and him about me, it seems 🙂 about after two years of being single and lots of dates with men who are not right for me or didn’t treat me well. Hang in there, it gets better. There is something that I pinned last year that said “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be” and I agree with this. No one’s path is right or wrong, enjoy your journey. I know how you feel and I hope I am not sounding too preachy or weird because I know how much feeling alone can suck. Hugs from Chicago. 🙂

  • Hi Caroline! Found your page through Cup of Jo and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoy you perspective and I hope you continue to post these insightful articles (hopefully as often as Joanna does -that’d be awesome) I’m a kid in college and if it helps, you epitomize everything I hope to be when I reach your age. It sounds like you have such a calm and balanced ambiance surrounding your life and I hope to be as well-read, insightful, sharp and as good a writer as you are by the time I turn 30. I thought of an Anna Quindlen quote when I read this ”People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely.” Judging by this metric, I think you’ve done a great job crafting both.

  • Yes! You have figured out the right question: “Have I become who I wanted to be?”

    I’ve just turned 43, and I have most of the things I’d thought I’d have in my life at this age (married with kids, full-time professional). But that question – “Am I who I want to be?” – is as relevant now as it was when I was 29, single, unmarried, and living in a tiny apartment (with a roommate I barely knew and her big fat cat, so consider yourself ahead of my curve, at least.)

    Hang in there. All is well, even if its not comfortable.

    • I completely agree! I just turned 40 and have three kids. I’m asking the same questions you are now- not because I’m lost, but having been a stay at home by choice the last 8 years, I have realized there’s no Golden ticket of where you are supposed to get to. Life is not a linear path with a singular destination. It is a bunch of figure 8s, sometimes a straight path, and sometimes moves in waves. You are so asking the right questions- as women we are now taught we must accomplish a,b, and c to be successful. No our success can be claimed as our own, and in the experience of coming into our own, even when we are old and fabulous. That’s the golden ticket. Keep asking these wonderful questions!

  • You’ve posed the most perfect question: “Have I become who I wanted to be by AGE”
    When I was 18, I thought I would be engaged or married moved out of my parents or getting ready to move in with a significant other by the age 24. But here I am. Single, living at home and feeling like I am a failure because of years and years thinking I would be somewhere different by now. My friends are getting married, they’re having babies (that was a BIG eye opener, that one) and I am working hard at a 9-5 (sometimes 8-6) job that’s great, spending my Friday nights catching up on social media and reading and new episodes of all my beloved shows I no longer have time to watch. Some think I am weird…I need to get out more…and I do. But there’s not enough time.
    Anyways, I am rambling. But the “singleness” of myself weighs heavily on my shoulders. I feel alone, oftentimes, and many people just don’t get it. Dating sites are crazy. I applaud anyone who has gotten through it alive and with an amazing “I found my husband on so and so dating site.” For a homebody, it should be perfect for me. But you’re right…you have to go through so many IMPORTANT decisions when setting up your profile that by the time you’re done, you’re exhausted and you haven’t even been on a date yet.
    Thanks for your writing. I needed it and needed to be reminded to ask myself that question you posed more often.

  • I can definitely relate to you Caroline, as well as some of the commenters. I’m 32 and was in a year and a half long relationship that ended during the summer. Prior to that, I was in another long term relationship. And when that I ended, I went back to school. I’m only a year into my second career. It’s tough. I’m not where I thought I would be, but at the same time, I don’t think I would’ve grown as much if I hadn’t ended up on a completely different path.

  • Absolutely love this post. Such perfect timing for me, and all of it resonates deeply.
    Afterwards, I read the rest of your blog and now I’m totally hooked! Love it. Thanks for being so unique, genuine, and thoughtful!

  • I second a fellow commenter when I say this post could not have been laid at my computer screen at a more opportune time. I am nearing 30, in just about 48 days (but who’s counting, eh?) and I find myself feeling that I haven’t accomplished anything. Then I go even further down the rabbit hole and say to myself, I don’t even consider myself exceptional at anything. 30 years so far and I’ve mastered nothing? It seems like when you’re 20 you feel like you have all the time in the world and now, on the doorstep to 30 I am seeing the flip side of that coin: time is flying by and now I’m paying catch up. When I scroll through Facebook and see all my friends and acquaintances having beautiful babies and engagement photo shoots, weddings, bridal and baby showers it’s easy to override your happiness for them with your own questions of when will that happen for me?? My last post on Facebook was about how great Taylor Swift’s new album is. But I find comfort in this fact: I still have those special moments to look forward to and that gives me hope. Love your blog by the way!

  • Caroline, I’ve silently read your blog for a while. I wanted to finally express something to you that would be as helpful and thoughtful as what you always write, but in reading this beautiful post, I realized that you are already your own strength, whether it actually feels that way or not during the daily struggles, and nothing I say will be better than that! Your perspective, and just by asking the question of who you want to be rather than what, makes it clear that, even though you’ve ventured onto a new path, you haven’t become lost. I might even dare to say, maybe things have become clearer. Many people never feel the difference in the questions your asking. It’s inspiring that you’re asking them at all and sharing your discoveries.
    So, while friends, real life and internet ones alike, are precious and necessary for the highs and lows, you’ve shown me that the possession of an inner-core that is steady and thoughtful and honest is the most reliable compass. Every path is is different after all, and if it isn’t right, you can turn left 🙂
    ~Hugs from Scotland via NYC 🙂

  • Hello hello,

    I NEVER leave comments on blogs but your post was so timely and so apt that I feel as though I have no choice.

    I literally JUST finished putting myself on tinder, and then immediately deleting myself from tinder. Well, you got me, that’s a lie; I of course browsed what was on offer first. I’m recently single. Actually, that’s a lie too; it’s been about a year but it still, somewhat depressingly perhaps, sometimes still feels recent. Everyone seems to be talking about online dating and i think i imagined it to provide one with a smorgasbord of eligible males to choose from if only i’d show willing. Hell, my best friends met on and now they’re married! I was surely missing out. After absentmindedly sideswiping to the left for an hour whilst watching tv, however, i realised this simply isn’t the case {or that i’m just crazy picky?}.

    I turn thirty in a few weeks time. I live on my own in a small flat {granted, it has some nice period details – some pretty sexy Victorian tiles, actually}, i have a pretty respectable grown up job, i don’t have an overdraft but also spend too much money on good food so i always seem to be broke, i have a handful of really great friends & always seem to be busy, but i’m single for the first time since i was, like, oh…, fifteen?
    And i’ve had the inevitable oh-shit-i’m-nearly-thirty-so-shouldn’t-i-have-my-shit-more-together-by-now freak out. Why does turning thirty do this to us women?

    You know what? I think our life lists aren’t looking too shabby. I think we just need to readjust our {mis}conception of what thirty looks like and to embrace it!
    Go. Us.

  • Oh my gosh, this post resonated so much! (almost as much as the picture you chose to go with it). I feel like the past year the saying “If you make plans the universe just laughs” has been proven to me time and time again. Especially as a fellow New Yorker I find this city has such a pressure to succeed in all aspects of your life at all time. I keep trying to remind myself that feeling lost and not always having a plan is totally normal, but it’s hard to keep that perspective. Thank you for this post!

  • Franziska,

    Hey Caroline – thank you for this post! It was so good to read somebody being that open about what often seems like a taboo topic. Altough I am only 23 years old, I am very anxious how my life will look like at 30. And to be honest – your life sounds great to me! I know, you must be thinking I am crazy but I guess I have given up on ever marrying or having children, since I don’t see how that is supposed to work when I also have a job. Anyway, I’m rambling. Thank you, again, for this lovely post. And know: you’re not alone. I’m lost pretty much every day 😉

  • If it doesn’t make you feel better don’t do it. I recommend alcohol, sex and the city, a good laugh, dog cuddles. Being who you really want to be is a really big accomplishment already.xx

    dreaming is believing

  • I love your blog!

    And I turned 25 yesterday and I’ve had this conversation with myself for the past week.

    I finished my Master’s this year, so that box is checked. But I haven’t found a steady job and I moved back home to my parents. Also, it feels like there are no men out there. I live in a semi-big city and I loathe dating. I just despise it. So I’ve just been waiting to bump into that great funny sexy nice guy. Hasn’t happened so far.

    Me and my friends talk a lot about who’s going to have kids and all that first. We’re more or less all single and have never had a long relationship. We’re all focused on career and traveling and guys just seems to be less important. But I have to say, I know time flies and I do really want to find a great person to have a family with. But in the mean time, I think I’m just going to continue my life. 🙂

  • Hi Caroline, thanks for this article, I love your writing style. I’m 33 and single, without kids and in need for change in both my private as professional life. My life did not go how I thought it would go and I don’t know where it is still going. I can just hope it is to a better place and I hope the same for you. I took a break (final or not) on online dating as well, it just didn’t work out for me. Good luck an stay positive! Thanks again for sharing.

  • Very inspiring! One should not care about what others might think. We all have our own stories to be proud of and to inspire others. Just like you do by writing this post 😉

  • Hi, I am Laila from Indonesia
    This is the first time for me reading your blog n I like the way you present yourself as who you are.

    We are the same age as I am also 30. Althought we came from different cultures and living our lives differently, I do honor you for happily live whatever you have now. I never had boyfriend before m husband now. And life was so miserable for me back then. Now I am sorry for my past self. Why couldn’t I enjoy my life when I was single and free like what you do now. Now, that I have two daughters and pregnant of the third child, going around for fun is something difficult to do.

    So, enjoy your life. I think you are on the right track

  • Caroline, I really like what you’re about. Mainly because I’m 24, and like/dislike all the things you do (social media, blogs that remind you of how shitty your life really is etc). So being that we’re this similar, I can only hope that by 30 my idea of ‘who I am’, is as figured out as you seem to have it. I mean who really needs kids or a husband when you have SATC repeats, wine and pasta.

    From your soul sister in Australia who will buy you a drink when she eventually saves enough money to move to NY next year.


  • Hi Caroline, I’m from Portugal, currently living in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia ….and following your blog – found you through cup of Jo.
    Look, I’m 38, I have an 18 months daughter : my first child. I always thought I’d be a mother much sooner, I never thought I’d be living and working in Asia, there have been so many things in my life that never turned out the way I planned, yet here I am. You are obviously not alone on this one. I find the times my life didn’t go as I expected it was when the most interesting things happened.

  • Hi from South Africa!

    That was a great post! Thank you for so openly describing what you feel. I am 28, married to an amazing man, I’m healthy, I’ve got 2 dogs that I love more than words can express and we bought a cute little house this year. I should be happier than ever and I guess I am most days BUT it seems that our generation cannot help but run after something. We never reach it and we don’t even know what it is. We always want more, we always compete. We are never in the present moment. We are constantly thinking of tonight/tomorrow/Friday/next year.I think we’re all a little bit lost and clueless as to what it is that we ultimately want. Our thought keep on contradicting each other. And we focus too much on others. Sorry for the tangent, nothing to do with dating sites really but just thought I would share my thoughts on us and what we all go through. Please write more often!! xxx

  • This is one of the first posts I’m reading on your website (I’ve been reading you on Cup of Jo and I’m glad you’re there!). These questions are SO strange and make me giggle. As for where I thought I’d be: I’m only 24 and feel like I live the life of a much older person. I have a 6 year old son, I just finished my undergraduate degree last May, I’m working a slightly above minimum wage job struggling, finally getting the gumption to pick up my skirts and seek after what I want. I just went through a break up and lots of emotional things that came with it. I’m completely off track. But I’m grateful to be here.

  • Caroline! I’m 30.5 (I’ve just realized this. The .5 hurts) and I’ve been single for a year. This is what I have learned- we must take care of ourselves. Take some time to stop dating altogether. I mean for real. Don’t even think about it. Don’t size up every new guy you meet (a tough one). I only just started feeling like a person that is not sad all the time and I feel comfortable now being by myself. Only do you, girl! Do things that bring you joy. I buy flowers every week. I go see whatever movie I want and I eat all the candy. I dye my hair weird colors because mine is the only opinion I listen to. I have started listening to Roald Dahl audiobooks (listen to Matilda on youtube) because they’re magical and completely take me out of watching sitcoms about relationships. I make time to paint and draw and write. I buy myself presents which make me happier than waiting around to find someone else to buy me presents. Make 2015 the year of Caroline and only focus on the wonderful things about you. Cherish your friends and family. You won’t be single forever and the single life is a gift of endless freedom. Let all your preconceived notions about where your idiot 20 year-old self decided you would be by now. She didn’t know anything. Enjoy everything that comes your way. <3

  • Hi Caroline

    I just wanted to write to say that 18 months ago I went through a tough break up with my live in boyfriend, after we’d been together for 5 years. One day my life felt on track then the next day…not so much. Speaking from the other side – although it doesn’t feel like it for a while, the future is exciting!

    You’re beautiful and smart and soon you’ll be married with kids so enjoy this short period in your life when you get to make decisions just for yourself and your adorable dog!

  • Great post. Right there with you on the ‘who’ you are as opposed to ‘where.’ Made me remember that it’s important to be comfortable in yourself as a person before looking for someone to share your life with or in this case setting up an online dating profile. Although I never take my own advice – onwards and upwards with the one love of my life – Tinder.

  • I loved this post, Caroline, and I love all of the comments. (I realize you wrote this a month ago, but I am re-reading some of your previous posts.) I can *so* relate – I will be 30 this Summer and my boyfriend and I broke up 2 months ago; we were dating for 2.5 years. I just had that conversation with my Stepmom at Christmas, that my life is not what I expected it would be. By 30, I thought my ex and I might get engaged, or at least move in together and make some stuff towards commitment. But that didn’t happen. And I downloaded some online dating apps just for something to do, but I am not ready yet to get back out there. I am just trying to “do me” and I think that is exactly what you should do too. There is nothing wrong with your life! Don’t compare yourself to the girls on your Facebook and Instagram feeds. It is *so* not worth it. That is what I tell myself every day. Hugs from Washington DC!
    ~ Christina

  • Dana Johnson,

    As many of said, I may as well have posted this myself! New Years’ Eve, 29, single, have awesome friends….I’m cracking about online dating- I decided to log on to Tinder, partly to humor myself and partly to…well who knows really (that’s what that second glass of wine will do!). So I stated chatting with this guy and he wanted me to meet him on a date the next day. I politely responded saying, “sorry, my best friend is in town visiting and I’m unavailable”. So his response? “Ummm I’m about to go out of town and I won’t be back in a few days so I prefer that you move your schedule around.” Seriously? I replied simply saying, “who in the right mind would cancel plans with their BFF for some guy she has exchanged 3 sentences with??! Bon Voyage!” While it felt good to say that, it also totally dented my faith in my future! Well, not really, but for a second it did. Oh well! My best friend and I sure got a good laugh out of it!

  • I completely feel you on this. All of my friends keep pressuring me to make a twitter and I keep coming up with different excuses and timelines, but what it comes down to is until I stop having dreams with my ex in them, I’m just not there yet! And I agree, when you actually take the leap it’s just depressing when you realize what the pool is….

  • I just want to say that you’re such an inspiration to me and this post is my favourite.
    I’m a new blogger but not a great writer and since this post means so much to me as it does to you, I wrote something referring to it.
    Here it is:
    I hope you’ll check it out and let me know.

  • I’m not one to leave comments on a blog post, but these were words I can really relate to. I’m 34 and recently went through a devastating break up with my (ex) boyfriend of 6 years. In retrospect I can finally say the break up was a good thing, but I can’t help but feel a little….behind. I’m not where I thought I would be. I’m not sure where those pressures come from and when/if they will ever go away, but I felt comfort in reading your post. Thanks so much for your honest words.