Women in their 40s speak about the highs and lows of being single

What you need to know:

  • Being unmarried at a certain age comes with many labels—mostly negative. But, is everything all bad for women who hit their 40s while still unhitched? 

She exudes an air of confidence. She is seated at a table at an upmarket restaurant as she sips her caffe latte and speaks on her phone animatedly. 

Looking at her, with her well-put-together look, you would not easily guess her age. But perhaps if you drew closer, and looked deep inside her eyes, you will notice that she is a woman who has seen both the jolly and gloom of her life. 

Jasmine (let’s call her that), is a woman in her prime, in her mid-40s to be precise. Besides her litany of accolades, she has nursed a breakup or two.

But despite the mounting pressure, that she is ‘becoming an old maid,’ she refuses to settle into the wrong marriage.

Can you be happy and single in your 40s? That’s the question many ask. The jury is divided.

You see, the fourth decade for a single woman is marred by expectations and labeling. In Kenya if you are above 30 and single, you will be judged harshly, and memes will be done to vilify you as a hard-nosed feminist who is past her shelf-life.

“You felt sweet when you were younger, now all the good ones are gone. Kula ujeuri wako!” social media posts will taunt.

If you are divorced, tags will be attached to your personality, and brutal judgment will be meted on your ability to keep a man and maintain a man. The same goes if you are a single mother.

Almost every book, film, and magazine is backed up this message.

Often, marriage is the validating metric for women. And anybody who is living outside of marriage or in advance of it is made to feel somehow incomplete.

Yet, statistics continue to show that the number of single women continues to rise, beyond the ‘marriageable’ age.

According to a 2021 World Bank report four out of 10 households in Kenya (36.4 percent) are headed by women. These women are classified as single mothers, divorcees, widows, and, wives who take charge because their men are constantly away. This is an increase of 32 percent from 2014.

The Kenya Bureau of Statistics, social and marital status of citizens data, indicate that divorces had risen from 10.5 percent in 2015, to 17.7 percent in 2019.

Psychologists affirm that dating in one’s 40s can be a wonderful time, sometimes more than at earlier ages.

“As one gets older, you become wiser, have realistic expectations, and are focused on what you want. By 40, most people have a variety of experiences in relationships and this gives them an opportunity to reflect on healthy patterns,” says Ann Muthoni Ng’oi a counseling psychologist and relationship coach.

But while these sentiments and the numbers point to a shifting change in gender norms, as many women point out, there's still that lingering pressure.

“Most single women in their 40s and above feel insecure and displaced in their families especially in instances when parents and siblings make sarcastic remarks about their singlehood. Mainstream media also enforce these ideas for example in shows like the popular sitcom, ‘Sex and the City’ which represent female protagonists who are hyper-focused on getting married,” says Florence Wairimu, a life coach.  

It unpicks the question, “If a story doesn’t end with marriage or a child, what then?” Here are just a few insights about being a single woman in your 40s.

‘I rediscovered myself in my 40s’

Zawadi Safari, 41, an entrepreneur

Businesswoman Zawadi Safaris during a Photoshoot at her residence in Kilimani, Nairobi on August 25,2022 Photo | Pool

“I spent most of my early 30s being in an abusive relationship that left me depressed. There was an incident where I almost lost my eye due to physical abuse. Depression had caused me to gain over 40kgs and when I got out of the union, I made a complete turn in my life, and in a period of six months, I lost 38kgs.

I refused to be among the statistics of those who die in toxic relationships and hence, I am enjoying my time and living life unapologetically. At 40, I can execute my plans without having to consult anyone. I also spend quality time playing golf which plays a vital role in my mental health.

On the flip side, one of the challenges I face is that sometimes I miss companionship which is a big reality I have to deal with. There are so many expectations from society, but I have learnt to keep boundaries from the external world by not minding what people think or say.

One regret I have is settling into a relationship because that was what was available then. Once in and had children, I was stuck because I feared raising my three boys alone. I am wiser now and I’m not ready to compromise on whom I date.

The biggest challenge I face is that there are fewer avenues to meet potential single and available partners with similar values.  Often, I meet younger and married men but they are not my cup of tea. I hope to settle with a single man, preferably in my 50s who is mature, responsible, and who is not intimidated by a woman's success.”

'I have found a great support system'

Jennie, Wachira, 46, the Founder Sadref Africa is a Divorce Recovery Coach and Counselling Psychologist

Jenny Wachira in a conference giving hope to the divorcees. Photo | Pool

“It’s been over a decade since I got divorced. Being single at 40 has been a challenge for me because there have been societal expectations that I need to be married, and since I’m not, I have been judged and looked down upon by some people.  I have learnt to mind my own business and having gone through counselling when my marriage went sore, I have learnt to take things positively.

By associating with people facing the same challenges, know that I am not the only one facing issues and I have created a strong support system. Having gone through an abusive relationship in the past, I am enjoying my life. I love the freedom to pursue my purpose.

Though my experience hurt, I learnt to pick my lessons and I have been reaching out to people who have gone through similar ordeals and are still hurting.

There are lonely moments, especially now that I am parenting a young adult and teenager as they are engaged with their own lives.  Parenting is tough when you are single. I remember an incident, I needed to drop my daughter off at the University and I had an appointment with a client, and I wished I had someone who could step in and support me.

Sometimes, I wish I had someone when making significant decisions and other times is for a partner to confide in. As a woman, you feel safe when you have protection. At 40, I feel exposed and since there is no one to protect me, I am exposed to criticism that could be otherwise avoided if I was married.”  

‘People think since I don’t have a child and family, I don’t have responsibilities’

Eunice Waithera, 47, Business Woman

Businesswoman Eunice Waithera. Photo | Pool

 “I am born-again and lack of social platforms is my biggest challenge. I don’t go out clubbing and the truth is, very few churches remember to hold seminars to those who are older and searching for love. I have seen incidents whereby the singles have been denied opportunities for leadership in churches and this is a big disappointment considering this should be the place where people should find refuge.

People’s expectations are that since I don’t have a family I can take on extra financial responsibilities and many end up disappointed when I don't meet their demands.

Sometimes I meet widowers with children and since they don’t want to introduce me to their children, they prefer to come to my house, which I find very uncomfortable. I regret having rejected men at my younger age whom I should have settled with.

But, I have learnt to live with the reality of embracing every day as an opportunity to improve myself and not to settle for less. There is so much freedom in being single. But, this is not compared with the strong desire I have for marriage. I hope to meet a single man who is God fearing preferably one who is 45 and above.”

‘I have not met my match yet’

Joyce Kimani, 46, businesswoman

Joyce Kimani aged 46 years old during a Photoshoot at Jubilee Christian Church in Nairobi. Photo | Pool

“I was once in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic who took advantage of my kind heart. I stayed with him for five years and every day hoped that things would improve but matters only got worse. Since then, I have never found my match, but I have no regrets.

I have had financial difficulties raising my teenage daughter and I have faced so much loneliness and I miss companionship especially when making decisions in life. I have faced discrimination in meetings where there are couples and sometimes when I visit the village, many people ask me, ‘why are you not married, and yet you are a good woman?’

I ignore anything that affects my peace of mind. In some instances, I avoid meeting married couples because some women fear that I might end up snatching their husbands. I have learnt to be bold and not mind what people say especially when there is societal judgment and expectations that I should be partnered up by now.

At my age, you meet men who have been through it all, trust issues, painful breakups, and grief, especially for the widowers. I fear that this carry-over emotional baggage may affect our relationship.

I am very careful because I know not everyone is looking for the same thing in the dating scene. For instance, I meet younger men between 25-35 years who approach me and I am aware most of them are looking for financial stability which I am not ready to give. For me, companionship and security are key, and I hope to meet a God-fearing man between the ages 50-5of 5 years.”