Worried About Being Single Forever? An Advice Columnist Weighs In

Q: I’m halfway through my 33rd trip around the sun, and I’ve been single for two years. All of my girlfriends are in a serious relationship, engaged, married, or married with a baby on the way. I bartend, which means I don’t have “normal” availability to go out and meet people. I’ve found dating apps to be an all-around failure for me. Most of the free time I get I like to spend decompressing from my work week. I usually spend one day at home by myself and the other day off socializing, running errands, etc. I find it hard to go to my close friends’ gatherings because I’m usually the only single friend there, which often makes me slightly uncomfortable since they all tend to just converse about their spouses and those relationships. I’m definitely the type of person who’s completely content at home with my dog. But then there are times when I legit cry in my bathroom because I think I’ll never find love and/or get married because I’m hitting my mid-30s, which totally isn’t true. But I just can’t end this cycle. I don’t want to feel like I need to be on the prowl for my next relationship. Any help with changing this mindset I have is very much appreciated.

A: I get this question — or some version of this question — a lot. Almost all advice columnists do. It’s like The Question. It’s the thing everyone wants to know. Honestly I want to groan a little when I see it asked, not because it’s unreasonable or embarrassing or bad! It’s absolutely not! But because it’s so, so common and there are few good answers, and also because you’re surrounded by scads of people who feel the exact same way, even if you don’t know it. The question basically is: How do I find love and simultaneously be unbothered by my singlehood? And there so often is outside pressure or an imaginary deadline in play.

Firstly, I must remind you that your age isn’t a reflection of anything; it’s a measurement. The Internet sadly poisoned us with the belief that women are somehow “old” in their mid-30s. If you live to the average life expectancy of women in the United States, you still have 45 years left to go. Which is more time than you’ve even been alive. Think about how long ago kindergarten feels. You have two more of those to go at least! Thirty-three isn’t old, it isn’t approaching old, and it frankly doesn’t signify at all when it comes to what love is coming your way. (Also old people find love all the time, too!)

And I do think love is coming your way. I just also believe that it doesn’t have to be your focus if you’re content on the couch with your dog. Modern society has corroded the idea of familial connections as the main relationships of our lives and instead romance has become paramount. It’s become the external shorthand for our worth, our success, our happiness, and our desirability. That’s a lot to put on something that is made up of a great deal of chance and luck. It’s like if you got to play one poker hand and your boss based how much money you made for the year on that. You’d be like, “Uhhh, this isn’t reflective at all of what I actually should be paid for my job.” Dating is sort of like that. Just because you don’t have someone you’ve chosen to be a perfect, idyllic long-term match doesn’t mean you aren’t hot and brilliant and fun and interesting. It just means two people haven’t met yet, and one of them sadly happens to be you.

I want to tell you something, though, about relationships. It’s very easy and therefore very common to fall into a pattern of believing and living as if your partner is one unchanging entity and that you are also one unchanging entity. That the future is pretty set, that at Hanukkah you visit your family, and in the spring, you clean out the garage, and that in three to five years, you’ll start trying for kids, and he’ll be a banker until he dies, and you’ll be a carpenter until you die, or she’ll always be a little bit bossy, and you’ll always be a little too withholding. Often we believe we have set futures and we buy into them, and having a partner can add a sort of pressure to stay on that path aiming for that future. It takes a lot of effort as half of a couple to shake yourself out of that belief, to live as if anything could (and might) happen, as if you could make anything happen.

I’m not describing this downside to being partnered up to be like, “Oh, no, no, you don’t want this! This is dogsh*t actually and you are sooo lucky!” Love can be wonderful and transformative and there’s a certain beauty to becoming yourself with another person. Rather, I am describing this downside to long-term love to point out that you have, in your possession, a gift. Here’s what you have: opportunity. The ability to shape your life into what you and only you want.

You don’t have someone whose job requires that they live in Branson, Missouri, to contend with if you’ve always dreamed of living in Philly. You can make big moves and changes without outside input. You are without a contract, social or legal, to consider anyone else’s feelings and plans. (Of course, you still have friends and family and love and loved ones!!! I’m not ignoring them.) You get to really shape your life right now into what you want it to be. That might be sitting at home with your dog — great! But have you always wanted a garden? Plant one. Have you never been to Belize? Save up and go! Do you think you can’t pull off bangs? You can!

Do some sh*t that feels uncomfortable or scary right now that isn’t about love or impressing someone. Do some sh*t that’s about impressing you. That’s about looking back at your life and knowing you tried things that you wanted to try. It doesn’t have to be scary to anyone else. It can be “boring” from the outside. Pick three things that you really, really want to do and try to do them by the end of the year. Maybe you hate one, maybe one is simply too much work, maybe you can’t believe you waited this long to become a cheesemonger.

Imagine your life as a ship. It takes a lot of momentum to change direction and when you’re partnered up it’s like you’re a ship carrying cargo — it’s even harder to change course. Please use this time that you have not to guide the ship of your life to each and every port possible just in case there is love there. Go after things you want that you have some control over. There is no way to try really hard to find true love. It doesn’t work. Love isn’t a numbers game, it’s a waiting game. And what you do in the interim before you find a person you want to try loving matters. It matters not because it will get you ready for this person. It matters because you’re alive.

Please don’t feel the need to do activities or get hobbies that might help you meet someone, lest you be stuck playing softball twice a week for six months in agony. This is your life right now. Your worth isn’t diminished because you don’t have a partner or a baby. That’s hogwash, and the longer you believe that or allow anyone else’s belief about that to guide your actions, the more miserable you’ll become. If, however, you want to make flirty eye contact with your barista or ask a friend if they know anyone who is single, great! Just remember that effort and outcome aren’t proportional here. Take risks and be bold when you find something you’re interested in, but please don’t slog through activities in case your one-day beloved happens to show up to the same ax-throwing bar you do.

Decompress from your work week; pet your dog; save your precious energy for going after the life you really want, regardless of when love comes to you. It will come — hell, you already have it!!! Look at how many friends you have! But romantic love will come again.

It’s A Pleasure appears here every other Thursday. If you have a sex, dating, or relationship question, email Sophia at [email protected] or fill out this form.

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