35 years old + he broke up with me, now what?!

QUESTION FROM A GREEK TRAGEDY READER: I can imagine you must get hundreds of emails a week from readers asking for advice, so I don’t expect you to have the time to even respond and I wouldn’t be remotely offended. But I thought I’d at least give it a shot.

First off, my college girlfriends and I take an annual weekend trip each year to hang out, properly catch up with each other and just have some good girl time. Each year we choose a different city, and this year it’s Austin! So being a fellow foodie and very intuned with the social scene there, can you recommend some places to go? We’re all in our mid-thirties, some married, some divorced and some single, so we’re looking for places where we don’t feel like we’re a bunch of cougars out on the prowl. Just places that have great food and fun atmosphere that aren’t too college town young.

Secondly, I was dumped by my boyfriend of a year just 3 weeks ago. I was devastated. I had just met his parents and he was supposed to meet mine soon. But then he decided that he loved me as much as he could and realized that he couldn’t take the next step with me. I was shocked because I thought we were going to keep moving forward. I never pressured him into anything and actually never brought up the ‘where is this going’ conversation. I took the breakup hard and was a mess. But I’m on the road to recovery and have enough perspective to realize that he was never going to be the right life partner for me and that all of the tiny red flags that popped up in our relationship starting from day one added up to some major problems for us long-term.

Anyway, to get through the breakup I read a self-help book, leaned heavily on my family and friends for support and started therapy. I am surviving but what I fear most, and what I imagine everyone fears most when unexpectedly single again, is meeting someone else. I am freaking out. I’m 35, feel like I look older every day and worry that I’ll never meet someone that I could fall in love and get married and start a family with. I live in NYC so you can imagine how hard it is to date since you used to live here. There’s a hot, younger girl on every street corner and I feel like I can’t compete anymore! So I’m feeling very sorry for myself, feeling very unattractive (my ex never told me I was pretty the entire year we were together, major problem and self-esteem downer) and that I will be single for the rest of my life. Sadly I think I would’ve stayed with the ex forever because I was so happy just being in a relationship and having someone just be there. Pathetic I know.

So do you have any words or advice for this down-in-the-dumps, 35 year old Asian girl living in NYC who feels like no one will ever love her?

straight up advice

Part One: Go-to Food Move
La Condessa. I could give you many others, but why bother. This is where you should go (there’s also a bar upstairs). It’s not a discussion really. Another thing you ladies should do? Get thee to either Gold Class Cinemas or Alamo Draft House, to see a late afternoon movie before hitting the town. Order sangria or a bottle or four of wine, then rage against the dying of the light.

“I was dumped by my boyfriend of a year just 3 weeks ago.” There, my sweet Asian twin, is your problem. Your attitude. This missive of yours ought to begin, “The man I was dating for the past year just did me a rock-hard favor by giving me the information I needed.” Be thankful that things didn’t drag on longer. Be thankful that you got the information you did, now, not a year from now. I’m serious. And be thankful you’re Asian! Hello, know how many men have an all-out, no compromise, Asian fetish?

Okay, I know it’s hard to conjure up gratitude when you’re feeling like a wounded schoolgirl (another fetish!), that you don’t want to look on the bright side. That, quite frankly, you welcome the pity party, and you want to sulk.

So sulk. Play your Air Supply and cry. Out loud. Turn the music up, lady. There’s no cause for liquor, ice cream’s a cliche, and sex with your neighbor–it doesn’t even work out in romantic comedies. Instead, wrap yourself in a blanket and let it go. Limit your mourning. I’m serious; set a timer. Set your mind. “I will feel sorry for myself for the next half hour, but then, that’s it. The second half-hour is reserved for watching The Real Housewives of Wherever…because then I’ll, for sure, feel better about myself.”

Then grab a pen. Or a keyboard. And make your list. That’s right. You mentioned little red flags had popped up in the beginning of your relationship. And they eventually bubbled to the top. You need it in writing. Where is your line in the sand? If you’re not sure, ask yourself this:

Would my younger self, the girl I used to be, would she be proud of where I am now? Where would SHE draw the line? What would SHE tell me to do right now?

You really should be thankful. Thankful that life’s an adventure (it just is, don’t blame or thank me). Realize that you will one day look back at this time of your life, bitch-slap your husband, then yell at him for taking so long to find you, and you’ll actually smile. Because honestly, I know exactly how you feel. I’ve lived it, in a one bedroom apartment, for one. And her dog. And I miss her, miss the life she had spread out before her. And I’ve learned enough to know that one day I’ll even miss the life I have right now. You will, too.

That said, I hope you’ve learned not to brush aside the beginning red flags. Because that’s what dating is all about anyway: the process. It’s all data. You’ll meet people, you’ll freak, you’ll over-analyze emails and texts, and talk it over 5 x twice with anyone who’ll listen. But I’m telling you, watch how people respond to you, to situations, to stress. And take it all in as a scientist would. It’s all data. And it’s your job to collect it, to assess it properly before diving into the next relationship. So if a guy doesn’t call when he said he would, when he acts like an ass and a half over something trivial, take it in as information. Is this something I can live with? And that’s the trick…

People will ask you what you’re looking for in a partner, but they’re asking the wrong question. The right one:

What flaws are you willing to live with?

And, uh, no. An abnormally large monkfish does not a flaw make.

We all have our flaws. You, and every guy you’ll ever meet. So make this easy. Figure out which flaws you’re willing to live with. Then sign yourself up for an online dating service and under “my perfect match” list everything you’re willing to put up with. But don’t include a word you don’t mean.

As for this 35 age issue, of being surrounded by “er,” I suggest you read me, when I was you (or at least in your space and place). This bit, the “what I fear most is meeting someone else,” that I don’t get. Do you mean you’re afraid you won’t meet anyone good-looking, wealthy, smart, funny, kind enough? That you’ll have to settle for some guy you’re not attracted to, or that looks great on paper, but you’re just not feelin’ him? Is that the fear? I’m guessing in the dark, but I’ll guess yes. You worry that someone you’d be into couldn’t possibly really, deeply, want you back when he has so many younger options. Well, here’s what they don’t tell you…

The younger models are usually a wee bit crazy. I’m not being insulting here. Just calling a spade. I was, in my twenties, a wee bit crazy. Because I loved like a romantic comedy and had an emotional RPM that could roar from 0 to 180 as fast as that. Because I wanted what I wanted, so damn badly, that I never saw anything as “data.” I wasn’t an information collector. I didn’t take the time to assess, to stand back and observe a person while taking myself out of the equation. I didn’t ask, “Is he like this with everyone?” And I think that’s what differentiates a woman in her 30s from a woman in her 20s. At 30+, we’re able to take a step back and really look, observe, not take it personally, just see… oh, this is who you are. I get what makes you tick, why you do what you do, independent of ME ME ME. That’s the differentiating factor. Any 20-something’s reading, study up. Grab your highlighter. I’m givin’ you pearls here.

Also, in terms of the existence of hotter and younger, I offer you this: there’s only ONE you. You are special, extraordinary, not because of your achievements, your job, your salary, your bedroom technique, your upbringing, or where you went to school. You’re special because you were born that way, just as you are. And you don’t need to bend over backward to try to prove that worth. And just because a relationship ends, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you haven’t found the right person yet.

Now, then. What are you waiting for? This is your life. Jump in, both hands, lady.

 go ahead, ask

If you have questions or need advice on anything from where to eat to how to get over the bastard, just email your question to my advice email address. Am I a doctor? I don’t even play one on TV, but people keep asking, so I might as well air it and share it.



  1. “You are special, extraordinary, not because of your … bedroom technique….. And you don’t need to bend over backward to try to prove that worth. [But I repeat myself.]”

  2. Stephanie- I loved your advice SO much- this has got to be one of my favorite lines of yours that you’ve ever written:

    You really should be thankful. Thankful that life’s an adventure (it just is, don’t blame or thank me). Realize that you will one day look back at this time of your life, bitch-slap your husband, then yell at him for taking so long to find you, and you’ll actually smile

    You rock. I love your blog, love reading your advice and love you for having “been there” and worse… and love you for pointing out the infallibilities of the 20 year old models!


  3. Man I wish I’d read this blog when I was in my 20s. Thank GOD a friend gave me a copy of Straight Up And Dirty. It’s seriously highlighted and dog-eared. By the way, how’s Linus?

  4. I don’t know — don’t you have to go through the 20s “me me me” phase in order to get to the 30s perspective?
    I think this is why most intergenerational (or however you want to look at it) advice doesn’t really work, even if the end-result-advice is spot-on, it’s not the kind of thing you can short-cut without losing something along the way.

  5. To the woman who wrote for advice: LISTEN to Stephanie. She is spot on! I only wish I knew this before I was in my 40’s, but then again I wouldn’t be where I am right now and right now is fabulous.

  6. For some practical advice, I would say that a woman of 35 who knows that she wants to meet someone and be in a relationship needs to actively make that happen.

    The 20 somethings, crazy or not, are doing 20 something activities, like going to bars or intramural softball or whatever, and it’s not random that they are meeting people.

    I think as we get older and have more responsibilities, we don’t have as much time for these things, so we don’t meet as many potential mates. As my friend says, “you’re not going to meet Prince Charming on your way from the couch to the refrigerator.” That friend met her now-husband when she joined a running club. (She joined a bunch of clubs when she decided to do something about it.) I met my husband on match.com. Both my friend and I were in our mid to late thirties. Both of us had been in relationships that ended in our thirties. My other girlfriends who didn’t actively pursue opportunities like this are, I’m sorry to say, still single and not happy about it.

    I’m not advising you need to do this right this interest (though if you do post a dating profile that says ‘I’m recently out of a relationship and not looking for anything serious’ you will have responses than you can throw a stick at) but keep in mind that, unlike the movies, you probabaly will not meet Mr. Right in an elevator or in a crosswalk.

  7. Where would the 20 year old you draw the line? The 20 year old doesn’t draw the line. Neither does the 25 year old. The 30 year old, the 35, 40 year olds – THEY draw the lines. They lived and learned through their 20s. Look at who you are NOW and make a list of what you won’t put up with.

  8. I love this advice so much. I’m a happy single 20-something and not necessarily looking for the One at this point in my life, but this post is definitely one I’ll come back to before entering another serious relationship.

  9. I’ve gotta say, I don’t always agree with what you write, but when you give love advice, you’re always so spot on. FWIW.

  10. Linus is good…he’s crying right now…probably because he wants to go out and poop.

  11. This is by far the best advice that I have read online regarding breaking up. I am 37 and my boyfriend of 2 years just broke up with me, saying he kept thinking I would change. Interesting, because I kept thinking that he would change. He said that he knew we were going to break up but actually went through with it when he met a 25 year-old girl who he thought was cute and she was flirting with him and that he was going to “make this happen” with her. Painful that I feel sad and miss him even though I know that he is already hanging out with 25 year-old girl. I am just sorry that it dragged on for 2 years! This made me feel better thanks!

  12. I can’t tell you how much reading this post has helped me to see the big picture. The red flags were there from the beginning. He wanted to be exclusive within 2 weeks, was talking marriage and gave me a key within a month. We regularly attended family events, he met my parents who live in another state, THEN things became a blur after a lie he told, a rather innocuous lie. As quickly as he decided I was “The One”, he decided just as quickly that he couldn’t stick around anymore when the stress of life got to be too much. I’m still hurting, but I am thankful that he has shown me that he is not reliable, not steadfast and therefore someone I can’t depend on and wouldn’t want to marry.

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