Zama Ndlovu

Successful, Single, Over 28 and Misunderstood

2012-08-01 08:38

Zama Ndlovu

A fascinating article titled "Why you don’t want to be a single woman over 28 in China" caught my attention just the other day. The article describes the social pressures faced by single, successful Chinese women over 28 who, despite having achieved great career successes, are placed under immense pressure by their families to find a nice man and settle down.

“The story of my life in China,” I thought to myself, so I continued reading.

It seems that just like me, these young women who were initially encouraged by their parents to pay no attention to boys and to study find that as soon as they had achieved their academic goals, parents and society expected them to quickly find a candidate and mate before they reached their sell-by date - their 28th birthday.

The article goes on to imply that these women's unnecessarily high standards played a major part in their loneliness and that by demanding a man with “a car, a house, and money” they were effectively pricing themselves out the market.

In response to these upwardly mobile and unrealistic women, men preferred “teachers and nurses”, who could teach their children while retaining those wholesome feminine virtues that the career women are losing with every promotion. The article does hint, however, that homeownership in China is still greatly skewed in men’s favour, which may affect the materialistic approach women may have to potential partners.

Lonely life

There has been a lot of attention paid to the phenomenon of Successful Single Women Over 28 and the terribly lonely life we lead, but there’s been less attention paid to our male counterparts. Society is concerned for us, from Cape Town to Shanghai and although it’s all quite sweet, I do think our side of the story is often misrepresented.

Just before my 27th birthday, I found myself experiencing anxiety and self-doubt regarding the direction my life was taking. I had recently been promoted at work, had bought my first apartment and to the outside world (and my mom), it seemed as though I was unappreciative of my fortune. When I finally approached my boss about it, she promptly diagnosed me with a severe case of The Quarter Life Crisis, and ordered me to switch off my laptop for a few weeks and think about what I want with my life.

In my research I found an entire website dedicated to consolidating a list of all sources that discuss this modern day phenomenon and to summarise the many books and articles I read; a Quarter Life Crisis is a time when 20 somethings to 30 somethings question their current paths and commit to a personal vision of themselves.

Personal journeys

Back to all my single ladies. I find it quite amusing that the Successful Single Women Over 28 phenomenon is rarely ever juxtaposed with other modern social observation in that group such as The Quarter Life Crisis. An assessment of single women over 28 often leads to the conclusion that these women want the same thing as their younger counterparts, just bigger. A bigger house, a bigger car, and more money, simply because they earn more. It’s a rather linear valuation of women that does not take personal growth into account.

While society embarked on an international programme of joint concern for whether or not young women will mate in their lifetime, we are embarking on personal journeys of our own, and we often come out on the other side very changed people, with a dramatically shifted set of priorities.

Not all women expect men to display their assets like peacocks, hoping that their bank balance is enough to spark an interest. Security looks different for many women today, many women want to be assured that they’ll be accepted as they are, and not panel-beaten into versions of people’s mothers. Parents pay for an education, often discounting the effects it may have on the grandeur of our personal goals, and the effect this will have on our plans to find a mate

The perks

Believe it or not society, there are some great perks to being single, even as a woman over 28, in fact, especially as a woman over 28. Now I don’t deny that there can be sudden bouts of loneliness, especially in winter, but on the whole being single can be great. There’s no greater sense of freedom. No parents to answer to, no man to answer to, no children to answer to.

When I came out of my Quarter Life Crisis, I realised that the financial means of a man didn’t matter to me as long as he could feed, clothe, bath and move himself around without using my car (Destiny’s Child taught me that). I just wanted to be myself, to grow in whatever the direction I let the winds of life take me.

Accepting anyone entirely for all of who they are, dreams, ambitions, habits, is much harder than buying a bigger house, bigger car and earning more money. But no amount of stuff will ever make up for not being able to be myself.

So while society speculates on just how much more stuff a man must have because I also have stuff, I get to arrive to a home full of personal choices every night. While they assume a German car will win my heart, I know that I am not one who fusses what with sleeping in the next room to avoid his snoring..


While they assume he must own a big house, I’m grateful for a man who can still say “Thank you” when we’ve both lost count of the number of times I’ve cooked.

I want to be left alone when I write; I want to make two minute noodles when I feel like it. I want to read until I finish the chapter, and I wake up the next day to save the world, as myself.

Now people may think the life is lonely, but there’s nothing lonelier than being in a room full of people who don’t like the truest version of you. Maybe women all over the world are realising it, and we’ve all just been misunderstood.

- Zama Ndlovu is a management consultant, managing director of Youth Lab, writer, activist, and anything else you'd like her to be. Follow her on Twitter: @JoziGoddess

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