In my very first article on this blog, I asserted that Single is NOT a Dirty Word, and I still stand fully by that sentiment. In fact, I’ve come to think of myself as something of an advocate for singlehood and single ladies everywhere.
I’ll go ahead and own that I am biased. At 27, I’m single for the first time in my life after marrying my high school sweetheart at 21 only to have that not work out, so I’m still basking in the novelty of my independent lifestyle. I’m also childfree by choice and intend to stay that way, I don’t buy into the idea of “The One,” and I’m not convinced that a lifelong monogamous relationship is right for me. This makes it easy for me to embrace singlehood, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me – if kids, marriage, and monogamy are important to you, I totally get how being single is more frustrating than liberating.
You know what else makes it hard to enjoy being single? The world around us. There’s nothing like Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, or your best friend’s wedding to make you feel like the last single person on Earth. (Rest assured, you most certainly are not.)
In recent years, the media has given a little more attention to nontraditional lifestyle choices like deliberate single parenthood, polyamory (open relationships or “swinging”), delaying marriage and childbearing until later in life, and choosing to be childfree. It’s not like these ideas are unheard of, and in fact, the current Millennial generation is known for being pretty darn accepting of whatever you want your life to look like.
But by and large, even the most “progressive” of us grew up with the same social expectation: at some point, we will meet our Person, fall in love, and find some version of happily ever after. We are surrounded by this template on a daily basis – books, TV shows, and movies show it to us, we watch celebrities do it over and over, people in our families and friend circles do it, and it’s a Golden Rule of advertising. It’s so normal, most of us barely question it.
As women, the pressure is even more intense. Society assumes we’re the ones who want the whole marriage-house-kids shebang the most. We’re the old ball and chain, remember? The ones pushing for engagements, planning our weddings since we were little girls, and dealing with the ticking time bomb that is our baby clock. Or so the story goes.
Society would have you think that single women are somehow incomplete. And if you’re single by circumstance, rather than by choice, you might feel that way too. Nobody likes to be lonely, or to feel unwanted or unattractive.
As much as I want to pep talk you, let’s be real: it’s not always easy to meet other singles, let alone find one you connect with romantically and sexually. Once we’re out of high school and college, meeting new people isn’t something that happens every day – you have to actively seek it out. If you’re lucky enough to live in or near a big city, you’ll likely have more options than someone living in a small town or a foreign country. And you just might not have the time, or the energy, or you might be shy about putting yourself out there. Unfortunately, the older you get, the more you might find yourself in the company of those who have settled down already. Couples tend to hang out with other couples; same goes for families with kids. The last straggling single friend often ends up unintentionally elbowed out.
Then there are the extra complications. If you’re gay, you face the challenge of finding others like you. If you are trans*, you’re in an uphill battle against a society that’s still uncomfortable and ignorant about transsexuality. Disabilities, language barriers, racial & cultural barriers, economic barriers, you name it – there are a lot of factors at play in the dating world, and not all of them are going to work in your favor.
It’s a cold, hard fact of life, one that’s pretty much glossed over by the narrative of “anyone can meet someone and fall in love, just like that!” It’s just not going to come that easily to everybody – and there’s nothing wrong with you if that’s the case. It is what it is.
So if you find yourself feeling bitter about being single, here’s my advice to you:
Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
Your relationship status is just one part of your life. Take a moment to reflect on the rest of your life, the other things that you find fulfilling – career, friends, family, hobbies, causes, pets, travel, whatever it may be. It’s easy to forget that coupled folks don’t have all the freedoms you do. Their lives are full of compromises to accommodate both partners’ needs. You, however, get to be selfish – so let yourself enjoy that while it lasts!
Get out there.
Difficult though it may be, it’s on you to be proactive. That means you, introverts and wallflowers! Go to events. Go to the gym. Network. Introduce yourself. Ask your friends and coworkers if they know other single people – and keep asking. Join a club or group (I love MeetUp.com for this), find a church or organization, or sign up for classes that get you outside your normal social circle. Online dating has its place here, too, but don’t use it as an excuse to not get out there in the flesh. Yes, it takes effort; yes, you’re risking awkward moments, disappointments, and rejection. That’s life. Your Person is not just going to fall in your lap, so put on your game face, gird those ovaries, and just do it. If you don’t, you have no one but yourself to blame.
Be honest with yourself.
If you’re already doing all of the above and still not having any luck, it’s time to self-reflect and see if you might be self-sabotaging somehow. Do you have unrealistic standards? Are you clear about what you want? Are you dating people who are wrong for you, just because it beats celibacy? Are you giving off vibes of desperation? Do you have baggage from past relationships that’s getting in your way? You might consider getting a therapist’s help working on you before you try adding another person to the mix. (Remember, there’s no shame in therapy! Everyone can benefit from it.)
Let yourself be lonely sometimes.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool optimist, but I still have my down days. Everyone does. Go ahead and wallow if that’s what you need to do. Enjoy your comfort food and Netflix binges and bubble baths. Just don’t linger in that mindset for too long, because it’s a slippery slope to legit depression. If you’re in a position to do so, you might consider getting a pet. It’s no substitute for a boyfriend or girlfriend, but at least you have someone to snuggle with and talk to, even if they don’t talk back.
Got your own advice for single women? Questions or comments on dating, society, etc.? That’s what that comment box down there is for! Bring it on, even if you disagree with me.