What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Mary.

I’m a single, childless woman in my thirties. If you had asked me ten or fifteen years ago to describe my future, I would have told you that I’d definitely be married with a couple kids, just like all my cousins and childhood friends currently are. Despite the change in plans, I lead a full and wonderful life but so many people, including some of those childhood friends and cousins, insist that I must be either sad and lonely or terribly selfish.

Life on my own is pretty fabulous. I have a demanding career, where I go in every day and help save lives. Yes, I have long hours that often bleed into nights and weekends, but I can do that guilt-free, since I’m not neglecting a husband or children. And when I’m off work, I have time to pursue my hobbies, like running and hiking, or I get to hang out on my couch in my underwear where nobody judges me for having popcorn for dinner. I’ve been able to buy my own home, decorated to just my taste, and travel regularly, both with friends and by myself.

Despite spending so much time on my own and living far from family, I’m never lonely. Between work, church, and community theater, I’ve developed a large network of friends. At least once a week I have people over for dinner or to hang out and several times a week find myself out with friends. Many of these friends have become like family: I’m the cool aunt to their kids and if I can’t make it to my home state for the holidays, I have half a dozen invitations for alternate celebrations. A few years ago I needed emergency surgery, which required several weeks of recovery under the watch of home healthcare. During that time, I had more meals dropped off than I could ever possibly eat on my own, friends to keep me company for an afternoon, daily walks for my dog, and people dropping by to weed my garden or fold my laundry. And as for my parents and brothers, we stay in touch at least weekly with emails, texts and phone calls, and we make a point to get together at least twice a year, sometimes with our parents, sometimes just the “kids.”

While I have the luxury of spending a lot of time focusing on my own needs, being single also gives me a plenty of time to spend on others. A friend and I developed a hands-on science program for inner city teens and I really love sharing my passions with them. Most of them go on to college, many of them the first in their families to do so, and I feel so honored to have had the slightest part in that. On a smaller level, I’m always willing to babysit if you and your spouse want a night off or to be a safe adult for your teenager to talk to. I take in Fido for a weekend when your pet sitter cancels and drop off my fair share of pots of soup and casseroles for new babies, illness, or loss. The other night, a friend got bad news while her husband was out of town, so I came over to feed the kids pizza and put them to bed before settling on the couch with her and breaking out the chocolate, talking things out until she felt calm enough to be on her own.

What does all this come down to? It means, please don’t pity me for not leading a more traditional life. Please don’t ask when I’m going to settle down, because I am settled, or why a girl like me doesn’t have a boyfriend, because there’s nothing wrong with me besides not having met the right guy yet. Does all this mean I’ve given up the dream of getting married and having kids? No, but if neither of those things ever happen for me, I’m still going to be really happy with the life I already lead.