I'm 40, unmarried, and not looking for anyone's sympathy

I'm 40, unmarried, and not looking for anyone's sympathy
Christina Pensa at her desk in Midtown Manhattan.Christina Pensa
  • Christina Pensa is an unmarried real estate professional in New York City.
  • Questions about her choice not to get married come up often in the workplace and her social life.

Heading into my third round of interviews for a high-level position at a commercial real estate firm in 2019, I was excited and meticulously prepared. I had analyzed market trends for weeks, brushed up on recent trades, and reviewed industry affairs.

I wasn't prepared, however, for the covert line of questioning into my personal life.

Glancing at the top of my résumé, my interviewer made note of the Manhattan neighborhood I lived in.

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"Nice area, my wife and I just had dinner there last night. Do you live alone?" he asked me.

Suddenly my mind was racing: How do I answer this? I'm already feeling juvenile compared to the family photos, #1 Dad mug, and framed accomplishments displayed around his office.


If I say I live alone, I'll sound behind in life, or worse, bankrolled by my parents. Should I admit I can only afford it because I also work a night job waitressing and occasionally rent out my second room? If I say I live alone, do I seem like a lonely spinster or an unstable party type? I did have a serious boyfriend at the time who stayed over most nights. Should I stretch the truth and say I have a steady live-in partner to give assurance that I have my life together?

My mind raced until I caved and said, "Yes, I'm fortunate I got a great deal on an apartment, but my partner and I will be consolidating housing in the near future."

Why I felt the need to offer disclaimers in my answer may have had more to do with societal conditioning than my own personal neurosis, but nonetheless, now I was berating myself for opening a new can of worms. Now I would run the risk of being considered a soon-to-be maternity leave liability. There was really no winning here.

I was 36 at the time, and felt that women of a certain age are either perceived as severely independent and abrasive or high-risk for personal leave absence.

Women get asked loaded questions

I recently turned 40 and have called New York City home for the better part of my adult life. After graduating from college, I spent a few years working as a chef and took on various roles in the hospitality industry before transitioning into a full-time career as a luxury real estate broker.


These days, I manage several large-scale projects and find myself facing a slew of loaded questions regarding my marital status. I'm not alone in this. My fellow single girlfriends agree that questions we receive are out of a playbook, and depending on our answers, we are often met with conciliatory patrimony or harsh criticism.

Being single can be a mixture of freedom and frustration all at the same time. A survey of 1,064 singles in the US conducted by the Thriving Center for Psychology in 2022 found 69% of those surveyed were content with their singleness and 91% said they were enjoying their independence.

I'm 40, unmarried, and not looking for anyone's sympathy
The author wants to see the narrative change after women say they're not married.Christina Pensa

Recently, I received an unoriginal yet perplexing question via Instagram. A man who had tried to ask me out several times over the years resurfaced after recently divorcing. The message read: "Hi Christina, I have always had such a thing for you, and I hold you in high regard. I am recently separated and would love to take you out. One thing I just can't seem to understand is, how on earth are you still single??"

How did he expect this to be perceived? Is this a compliment, a question, a judgment, or all of the above?

I decided to make things clear on social media

It was the third message of this nature I'd received, and I decided to take to the internet with a public reel rather than respond to his poorly received DM. It was not directed at this particular individual, but rather, all men and individuals who invade women's space with these questions and inferences.


I received applause from various friends — mostly female but a couple of my more supportive and progressive guy friends as well. Then I received quite a defensive and angry response from the man who had messaged me several times questioning my single status.

The underlying message is that women are damsels, pretty flowers just waiting to be plucked. Those that are seemingly single, are the unchosen ones, and there must be some derogatory explanation as to why they are still on the market.

I'm 40, unmarried, and not looking for anyone's sympathy
Author just returned from a two-month trip through Patagonia.Christina Pensa

It doesn't seem to occur to many that there are women who are thrilled to be single and happily choose to stay so. The happier the woman, the more we prefer our own company rather than compromise our happiness to meet a status quo.

Some of us who choose not to get married, or to not marry until a later age, do so because we hold life to a certain standard and are not willing to conform due to pressure.

I would love to see the narrative change in the coming years. If a woman says, "No, I'm not married." Instead of a sympathetic look, how refreshing would it be to hear, "That's awesome," followed by a new question about our interests?


Let's celebrate the other accomplishments in a woman's life — because we have many. And one of those is choosing to prioritize ourselves every single day.

I also chose to turn down the job offer.