I never thought I would be single at 40. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

When I was 24, I had a 32 yr old friend who was getting married. Looking up from the age of 24, 32 seemed incredibly late to be married. How scary, I thought. A common friend comforted me “Don’t worry Nupur. Her case is unique. It won’t happen to you”.

But it did.

When I moved to California, I was 28. At home, all hoped — “Maybe you will find someone at Google HQ!”. At the age of 28 — all of us, me, my friends were looking hard for a match — that’s all we did all the time, especially the boys. For them, the culmination of their hard work happened during their annual December visit to India.

It always looked easier for men — just go to India and find a girl, yes? A guy from my trekking group did — he and the girl decided to get married within 2 days of meeting. We were at an i-Hop when I first met her. It was soon apparent, that she was bullying him over the table, and he, looking small as a mouse, agreed to her demands. She even insulted him in front of all “Ya, ya before we were married I know how you used to live. Didn’t even buy a pressure cooker”. I was shocked. See, this is what happens when you marry someone in two days — you get bullied. Poor chap. The judgement, was a solace to myself.

I don’t think I was ready to be married at 28. At 28, I used to talk to random guys I met on matrimonial sites, like that one guy who worked in IT and dreamt aimlessly to pursue a math degree, and because the process was so boring (“what do you do on weekends”) I would numb my boredom by ironing my clothes while I talked to them, and I once even cried on the phone with that clueless math guy, because my mom poor thing put so much pressure on me to “choose one of these and get done with it”, that I broke down. Mom’s pressure ebbed like the moon’s gravity — increasing after a family function where relatives asked about “Nupur ki Shaadi”.

I was working so hard to find someone, that when a friend would announce they got engaged or married, my heart would sink. There was a sadness inside me that would pull me down, and then quickly change to jealousy. I hate to admit, I felt a strange comfort when someone’s engagement broke off, because that meant another person was back into the same prison I was swimming around in. Welcome back.

Perhaps, working for Google worked against me. I was on a date once — we walked on shoreline park near the Google office, and he dropped me off at my office building CL4, and voiced right before I closed the car door — “Bade log!”. I was so nice to him, and still? Working at Google made many assume I would not be a good bahu, and the reality was so far from that. I was willing to do anything post marriage. When I got engaged at 30, I overlooked all those million red flags because I so desperately wanted to be on the other side of this singleness. I am now horrified at what all I was agreeing to — Leave job? Ok. Pay his siblings education? Ok, I guess. Live in a tier 3 city? Ok, I think I’ll manage somehow.

The problem is not just about existing “alone”, it’s about what people assume about you. In the US, Indians would ask, often accusatively, “Do you even want to get married?”, to which I had to hurriedly and defending-ly answer “Yes of course I want to get married!! It’s not like I’m not trying!”, not realising I was a victim of the same judgement that I metered out to others.

Closer to now, at age 37, I had a decision to make — I could have married the man I was dating at the time. It was so tempting to check-mark the marriage box, right then. I was so close to that nirvana I had been waiting for so long, but it wasn’t right, and walking away from it was the hardest thing I could do — I was filled with sadness and doubt and most importantly the extreme fear of — will I find someone again?

At 30, I was miserable being single and I would think being dead was better than being single at 40, but I went on a decade later, to be a happy 40 yr old single.

So what changed?

I had always raced forward with the assumption that only a man can bring me happiness. I decided to own my happiness. I focused on my life, and what I want out of it. So I went and I wrote my book. I got a better job. I started to genuinely appreciate what I have. Pursuing my own dreams, without fear, made me understand that everyone has their path and I am on mine. It changed me from the core. I am still looking to get married, but now I don’t compare — I genuinely feel happy for those getting married/engaged. I have stopped judging — I realised you can’t tell who is happy and who is not. The i-Hop mouse guy might just be very happy — maybe he wanted a decisive wife? We cannot assume. We cannot decide, that what is right for me, is right for them.

I have surprised myself with the type of men I have liked — I may have swiped them left, had I met them on paper. So If you’re looking for something super specific “The girl should speak Kolhapuri marathi” you might be surprised to find yourself falling in love with maybe, a Bengali girl?

I was meant to be on this journey and I know there is a great future ahead for me. There is a plan for you too. And you too, like me, will learn, the hard way sometimes. So, married or not, you’ll find a way to be happy. Don’t fear age — there are always going to be single people at all ages — the pool may look little, but it always has fish.

So here’s me at 40. With my chubby arms and almond eyes telling you it just gets better. Don’t think you’re alone.