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#492: I am so not into the whole dating thing. How do I talk about that with people who are?

Dear Captain and co.

This is a not-quite problem that’s separated into two parts.

I’m not interested in sex or dating/relationships. I’m not comfortable at the moment categorising myself as asexual/aromantic, although maybe at some point in the future if I find it’s convenient. Essentially I’m happy with the ‘’it happens if it happens’’ mentality, but would also be happy if it never happened. I’ve been left cold by the few encounters I’ve had in the past, and would rather focus my social attention on platonic friendships.

Basically, I suppose I’d like some reassurance that this is ok. I feel like I’m so used to hearing about being single in terms of a problem that needs fixing, a personal failure or just a transitory period, without so much of the ‘’relationships aren’t for everyone, and that’s cool too.’’ (Possibly doesn’t help that I’m female and like cats, which is another stereotype that annoys the hell out of me.) Also, any advice on how I could convince people that it’s not a problem would be appreciated.

I think partly because of this, I have trouble comforting/offering advice to single friends who want relationships. I don’t want to sound dismissive and say something like ‘’but really, you don’t need to be with someone’’, but also don’t want to fall back on determinist cliches of the ‘’it’ll happen for you eventually if you want it to!’’ sort, and because I have no first-hand experience of seeking relationships, I can’t offer up anything in that score.

Thanks,

Cool cat lady.

Dear Cool Cat Lady:

In answer to your first question, it is totally cool to not be obsessed with finding a romantic or sexual other. You are definitely pushing back against a culture that wants to ‘ship everyone and has “falling in love” as one of its most popular and prevalent narratives, so it’s understandable that it would be isolating or draining to feel like you have to defend or justify yourself. If it gets to be a bummer, think about the way the narratives & expectations have changed throughout history. If you jump back a few centuries, there was an extensive infrastructure and support in the cultural narrative for European men & women who didn’t want to take the gamble that their families would marry them off to someone non-repulsive. I think Reddit Island will not be a good place to live (it will smell like dude in there), but there’s nothing that says that people can’t band together into social networks or even communal living experiments that will provide long-term stability and community in the absence of pair-bonding. I often wish that single women would pool their resources help places like the Three Arts Club became common again.

My advice for convincing other people of the coolness of your disinterest in all things romantic is to put zero effort into convincing other people. Let them think whatever they want about your choices. Don’t explain or try to justify them. Don’t worry about categorizing exactly what you are or “coming out” about that identity. Cool doesn’t need to prove cool.

Easier said than done, but I’ve got scripts:

  • “Huh, I haven’t really thought about it.”
  • “I don’t really think about it.”
  • “It’s not something I think about.”
  • “It’s not a priority right now.”
  • “If it’s meant to happen, I’m sure it will happen. I don’t really worry about it one way or the other.”

Example: “Don’t you want to meet someone and fall in love?” “Huh. I haven’t really thought about it.” + Change subject or ask them a question in return.

If someone’s trying to convince you to be romantic because they want to get with you, you’d use the same script that anyone would use. “That’s very flattering, but I am not interested.”

A lot of asexual (+ child-free!) folks get the smug “You’ll change your mind someday” treatment.  Remember how you’re putting zero effort into convincing people or arguing with them? “Maybe I will. Life is long and full of surprises! But it’s not a priority just now.” + Change subject. I hate when people assume that you’ll change your mind about things you’ve said are important to you, and I hate it even more when the same people berate you for changing your mind about things and whip out the “I told you so” stick to beat you with. Consider this one more argument for not wasting effort on convincing people who would talk to you this way in the first place.

And then of course there is concern trolling. “But what if you DIE ALONE and your face is EATEN BY CATS?” “I’ll just have to risk it!”

With true, close friends you should be able to talk about your feelings about dating/not dating in depth. With people who are not inside the circle of trust, if you can be chill (or at least act like you are) and not really give people anything to latch on to, most people will drop the subject. Anyone who tries to push that boundary past where you’ve set it is asking for a firm, direct correction. “Sorry, maybe it wasn’t obvious, but it’s not actually up for debate. Let’s talk about (subject change).”

In the meantime, what does interest you? What do you enjoy doing and talking about? Do that thing with all your heart.

Your second question is “I have trouble comforting/offering advice to single friends who want relationships…I can’t offer up anything in that score.

People sure do like to talk about their love lives and the ups and downs of dating with their friends! If these are people you like, and you are interested in their well-being and find their company and conversation pleasing, you have plenty to offer just by being present. You can listen. You can be excited for them when they are excited. You can lend them cool things to wear on dates. You can empathize with them when things aren’t going so well. You can be the person they check in with for safety when meeting up with internet strangers. And please don’t sell yourself short. You many not know much about dating-relationships, you know plenty about human relationships, as you have many of those. You know something about what green flags and happiness look like, and you will almost certainly be able to sense when your friend seems diminished and unhappy around a particular person.

I suggest that you mentally reclassify dating from “A thing that everyone is supposed to do and know about and talk about in order to fit in” to “A nifty hobby that your friends have that you don’t necessarily share.”

For example, I know jack shit about knitting and have zero desire to create the kind of lumpen abominations I am sure I would fashion if I took it up. But when my skilled friends bring knitting to a get-together or post a photo, I can admire what they make. I can delight in the skill that it took or the softness of the yarn or the beautiful color. I can ask questions about how they chose the pattern. If my friends only talked about knitting or expected me to be some kind of knitting consigliere things would quickly fall apart. But I can be somewhat interested in my friends’ knitting because it interests them and because, bottom line, they interest me.

Some friends work on the particle collider, some are activists, some like cosplay, some are really into gardening, others are into board games, some love languages, others like martial arts, or biking, or paleontology, or cooking, or travel, or writing fanfic, or directing a production of Hamlet, or inventing video games, or singing opera, or playing guitar. I don’t have to share all of someone’s interests to like them and find something to talk about. “What’s that thing you love doing? Tell me about it!” is an endlessly interesting way to have conversations.

This has broader applications. Back in the New Parents Open Thread and the Baby Shower RSVP Thread, there was a lot of discussion about friendships changing when people became parents.Obviously taking up parenting is more intense than taking up knitting, and it will surely have a ripple effect on things like free time and money management and changing priorities and topics of conversation and where you hang out. But if your friends become parents, it would probably be pretty cool if you didn’t automatically write off all their interests as boring and assume that because you aren’t an expert on parenting that you have nothing to say to them. I say this as a non-parent: Epic poop stories are hilarious! Little milestones* of watching a baby blob transform into more of a person are fascinating! If you like the people, you will probably like their babies okay, and you will probably find their ups and downs to be pretty interesting storytelling. Give it a chance.

But it only works if you a) take pressure off yourself to be an expert, b) let go of the expectation that you have to have everything in common with people in order to empathize, and c) completely divorce yourself from the idea that people making a different choice from you are somehow judging you.

C) works both ways, especially for someone like you, Cool Cat Lady. By going against the dominant “pair up or else!” narrative, you are not criticizing other people’s relationships or desire for a relationship, and your friends aren’t dating AT you. If you can keep that in mind (and gently remind people if they overstep- “Hey, I’m happy with how my life is, you’re happy with yours, why are we arguing?”), it will go a long way toward finding a comfortable equilibrium in your friendships. You have the power to change subjects to things that interest you and to answer requests for advice with “Wow, I really have no idea! What do you think you’ll do?” You will mesh well with people when there is mutual acceptance, mutual respect, and mutual interest in the stories of each other’s lives.

That two-way street of respect entails:

  • Your friends believing you when you say you’re not that into finding a relationship and not pressuring you about that.
  • You believing them when they say they feel lonely or wish that they had a partner in their life. I think there is WAY too much emphasis on romantic love in our culture, and I definitely think that if dating feels like work and is making you unhappy it’s good to take a break from it and focus on other stuff, but I also think we should believe people when they say they want a partner. When you say “But really, you don’t need to be with someone!” to someone who is hurting from a rejection or healing from a breakup, it has the exact same helpfulness quotient of someone worrying aloud about cats taking chunks out of your dead and lonely face someday, i.e, it’s unhelpful and patronizing. I’ve fallen into that trap sometimes, and the people on the receiving end are never comforted.

Any time we treat one version of sexuality, attraction, gender, identity or orientation as the default, neutral choice and classify everything else as the “other”, we put unfair pressure on people like you and make it harder for people to speak up and claim their rightful space in the world. The scripts I gave you were all designed to get through conversations with minimal friction, but if you ever feel like pushing back against assumptions a little more strongly, keep “But not every person even wants that” in your back pocket, okay? Pushing back against assumptions when you can will definitely give you some power back. Warning: Speaking up for your desires can be habit-forming.

I hope this was the reassurance you needed. Here’s a poem about friendship.

The Seven Friendships – Erica Funkhouser

They were friends from the first look
the first day of work and friends
they would remain. Not lovers.
Never, though they thought of things
to whisper about all day.
At night, when they sat at home
hunting for something to say
to their actual lovers,
they longed to be back at work,
where the home life they described
to each other seemed larger,
funnier, more colorful.

They were playful as gods and,
at the same time, serious.
Once, in a car, on the way
to a conference, they worked out
the seven possible forms
of friendship between people
who aren’t related by blood.

First: the fortunate friendship
of two who feel equally
attached but not attracted
to each other. No desire.
Instead, equilibrium,
a reliable membrane,
keeps them wholly separate
while holding them together.
You can always tell these two
in the kitchen: they can share
a cutting board — two different
sharp knives chopping two different
vegetables, and no one gets
in anyone else’s way.

Second: the friendship founded
on suppressed desire. All
the accessorizing takes
the place of real nakedness.
The servant’s invocations
to his master; the master’s
adulation of the slave.
Michael Jackson / Liz Taylor —
yes — Regis and Kathie Lee.

Letter writers are the third,
their correspondence floating
safely above and beyond
their problematic bodies
like a vial of scented oil.
They use each other without
apology — an excuse
to shape the simplest moment
into something memorable
ending with “Write soon, write back,”
that frank plea for affection.

Then there is the electric
communion that’s awakened
between two people vastly
different in age, like the
dowager one of them knew
who’d had to wait ’til she reached
ninety to meet a young child
she recognized as herself,
the adventuress she’d been.
At long last, the right playmate!

Fifth: the fireproof friendship
that has survived desire.
This includes all the ex-wives
and ex-husbands whose shared grief
unites them as love could not.
They drift back to each other,
grateful for a cup of tea,
for someone who remembers
that their first dentist in Troy
collected brass hose nozzles.

Next, a love of argument —
not bickering or nagging,
but the brainy brakes-without-
pads kind of arguing, no
attachment to conclusions,
no transparent right and wrong,
just the delirious pleasure
of competing for airspace
with someone you trust never
to take you personally.

And the seventh form? Friendship
based on the exchange of gifts,
preferably ridiculous.
Someone would get the idea
to buy odd salt and pepper
shakers, and once he’d purchased
the first set, a whole history
of silliness could begin.

That was when they stopped counting
and pulled off the interstate
on the way to the conference.
They found a small antique store,
Junkian Analysis —
really! — and in the windows
pairs of perfectly ugly
salt and pepper shakers shaped
like airplanes and bowling balls,
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
They liked the ceramic clams,
the Taj Mahal in Bakelite;
they loved the milkglass cabbage,
the jaguars, the shooting stars,
the stainless state of Vermont
side by side with New Hampshire.

*BabyLogic can smile now! It’s incredibly pleasing and addictive.

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175 comments
  1. Myrin said:

    Oh god, I think this is me (right down to the “female and happen to love cats” part).
    I already knew everything the Captain said here but it’s still so, so good to hear it and it makes me happy and damn, I think I might start crying right now because I’m so glad.
    Thanks for writing, Cool Cat Lady, and thanks for answering, Captain! *sniffs happily*

  2. Cool Cat Lady 2 said:

    Hey, Cool Cat Lady – I could’ve written your post and therefore loved the opportunity to read the response. I can’t really say anymore, because you’ve said it all.Solidarity, sister xx

  3. decembrist said:

    The poem is lovely!
    I was confused for a minute by this: “When you say “But really, you don’t need to be with someone!” to someone who is hurting from a rejection or healing from a breakup, it has the exact same helpfulness quotient of someone worrying aloud about cats taking chunks out of your dead and lonely face someday, i.e, it’s unhelpful and patronizing. I’ve fallen into that trap sometimes, and the people on the receiving end are never grateful or comforted by that genre of advice.”
    I thought, yes but, it would be good to change our culture to be more accepting of different kinds of relationship set ups including ones with no sexual relationships…
    So maybe it’s worth emphasising that in conversations that *aren’t* with someone who’s hurting from a rejection – in conversations where it isn’t unhelpful/patronising advice – it *is* worth challenging single=bad assumptions!

    • JenniferP said:

      I did some edits to the post while you were commenting that I think you will like. To sum up: I think we should totally challenge the assumption that everyone would be happier if they paired off, and challenge the assumption that that’s what everyone wants out of life. But when a friend is sad about a breakup or a rejection or is wishing they had a date to something or longing for that kind of companionship, it’s not the time or the place. Minimizing someone’s stated desire because it’s not congruent with your desires is not cool, and in friendships, that needs to be a two-way street. t’s like when someone is upset that their partner cheated on them, and someone comes in and says “Maybe you should consider having an open relationship, then you wouldn’t be sad! We should challenge bourgeois assumptions about monogamy!” NOT COOL, BRO.

      I’m paraphrasing someone’s recent comment about a hierarchy of relationships in our culture that looks like this:

      Happily paired > paired > single

      When it should look like this:

      Happily paired or single or whatever floats your boat! > unhappily paired because you think you’re supposed to be

      But the micro isn’t the same as the macro. I’m very happily paired at the moment. Should I become suddenly single, I’d be wicked sad, and my personal relationship hierarchy might look like this for a while:

      With Jeremy, When Things Were Awesome > The Time of Deep Sadness

      I would expect that my friends would honor my grief and not use that moment to sell me on the single life. “Question your assumptions, Jennifer!” “Question this Fuck You bread with Fuck You chips baked into it.”

      Questioning assumptions is more for when someone makes an incorrect assumption about you, or asking why every awesome dystopian YA novel must be ruined by a goddamn love triangle.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        t’s like when someone is upset that their partner cheated on them, and someone comes in and says “Maybe you should consider having an open relationship, then you wouldn’t be sad! We should challenge bourgeois assumptions about monogamy!” NOT COOL, BRO.

        *groan*

        This is a thing that has happened to me. And yeah – NOT COOL. NOT AT ALL.

        • Linden said:

          Me too, MamaCheshire. I feel you.

          • MamaCheshire said:

            Never mind cheating can happen in open relationships too! A violated relationship agreement is a violated relationship agreement, whether the agreement is “No sexytimes with other people!” or “No sexytimes with other people unless conditions X, Y, and Z are met!”

            Oh, and then there was my Darth Ex, who loved to pull out “At least I never cheated on you!” any time I caught him in yet another lie, like the one about how he’d applied for jobs and then I found the job applications on the floor. Sigh.

          • Linden said:

            Yes, exactly. It’s not the form of the relationship that determines happiness, but the goodwill of the people in it. Monogamous relationships can lead to heartbreak and unhappiness, but so can open ones, in my observation.

        • Badger Rose said:

          The one that I saw was an, I think, genuinely well-meaning person extolling the benefits of being childfree… to a friend who was upset that she’d recently been told she had fertility issues. I am genuinely really glad that the first friend is happy and fulfilled without children, and I think she equally genuinely was trying to help, but it was a real case of This Is Not The Time.

          • Badger Rose said:

            Wow, apparently my ‘word for overuse’ for the day is genuinely. *facepalm*

          • Amy Pond said:

            Oh, wow. That’s really… insensitive? I mean, what you want in that circumstance is sympathy, not to be told that you shouldn’t be so upset because not having kids is great – it totally denies the validity of your feelings.

          • espritdecorps said:

            i’m so sorry that happened to her.
            I think sometimes people don’t know what to say, but feel they have to say something, and just open their mouths before their brain kicks in.

            My first was a surprise, after I’d been told that my ovaries were not functioning correctly. Because I had structured my life to be one without children, quite a few people assumed I was unhappy about being pregnant, and expressed condolences on hearing the news.
            I had difficulty conceiving my second, and being told I should be grateful for the child I had, or that children were a drain on the environment, or how God had a plan for me (I believe in God, but… please, no.) was not nearly as helpful as people seemed to think it should be.

          • H.Regalis said:

            O_o Mind is blown by the flagrant insensitivity of that.

      • datdamwuf said:

        That’s just a variation on “get over it” and it translates to “I can’t deal with your shit, I want you to be fun again”

        • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

          YES! Thank you for that, datdamwuf. Exactly right. I get that from my family, along with a helping on the side of ‘you can’t have your feelings because I’M having MY feelings about your feelings!!’ …..sigh. Need to find some support, because this sucks balls. I have no useful advice to chip in for the LW, but I am in thunder-struck envious awe of her composure and comfort in her own skin. Rock on, Cool Cat Lady.

      • Jenn said:

        I gotta agree on the YA novel part. Hell it seems like every story centered around a female character must have an awkward, annoying love triangle shoved into it at one point.

    • laggedy said:

      I’m really glad you mentioned this. Somewhat related: when my husband and I started having children, we were sometimes NOT jokingly called “breeders” and some of our friends at the time made snarky comments about population control, crotch weasels, and other pleasantries. Not that Cat Lady is saying that, and in general parents get a societal seal of approval that child-free folk don’t always get, but I second the “let’s just all be happy and embrace our friends’ happy choices rather than attempt to radically alter their views of society” tip.

      • JenniferP said:

        Calling parents “breeders” is like using the word “sheeple” – it’s a good shibboleth for finding people to NOT hang out with.

      • H.Regalis said:

        I’ve had bits and pieces of stuff like that from friends with kids and friends without (breeders, life has no meaning without children, kids ruin everything in life, having kids=child development expert, etc.) and it makes me really sad. I want to hang out with my friends without feeling like I’m constantly being judged for personal life choices, whatever they are, or like having kids means I’m only allowed to be friends with other parents, because fuck that.

        • Badger Rose said:

          I have a few friends who do the “kids ruin everything” thing, and it makes me sad. I do not currently have kids. I may have them later; I may not.

          But I think it’s rude to my friends who DO have kids to act like they’ve invited plague-ridden wildebeests into their lives. If they went to graduate school, I wouldn’t go, “OH MY GOD, being a grad student is the worst, you’re going to be overworked and underpaid and preoccupied and self-centered.” If they started practice as primary care physicians, I wouldn’t say, “WHAT THE HELL, doctors are evil and narrow-minded and also have no time for anything and are so stressed they want to die.” If they decided to move to [city], I wouldn’t say, “HOLY CROW, [city] is all judgment and pollution and overwork and traffic and everyone who lives there wants to fall over dead.”

          So why would I say the same type of thing to a friend who decided to have children?

        • espritdecorps said:

          It would be so wonderful if people on opposite sides of binary choices (no middle ground/compromise choice) would be respectful towards each other.
          Even better if we could agree to no proselytizing, and that everyone makes the choice that is best for them because they are the expert on their own life.

          Parents don’t get spontaneous trips to new places or time for most of the things we used to do, but we get to help tiny humans become people, and to be an avid audience for your pictures and stories of your trip (seriously, don’t abandon us, we will find time every few months to make you feel like the coolest, most interesting person ever for having stories that don’t involve poop).

          Childless people don’t get spontaneous hugs from tiny humans who believe with all their hearts that you are the most beautiful, special person there is, but they get to choose how much they want to give to the tiny humans (you all give something, thanks for the property taxes!) and the assurance that there will still be doctors, chefs, and travel agents in 20 years (you’re welcome).

          Also bringing young children to adult places is comparable to complaining about young children in family places. Both are dick moves.

      • Ann said:

        “Crotch weasels?” That’s…swell. That’s just…I’m sorry, CROTCH WEASELS???

        I have to lay my head on my desk for a second.

  4. Can I also recommend having a look at AVEN (the Asexual Visibility and Education Network), if you haven’t done so already? I realise you’re not comfortable at the moment classifying yourself as asexual, but there are two reasons I’m recommending it. First of all, it may well help you clarify exactly where you are at the moment; there’s a particularly good (and very non-judgemental) FAQ section. And, secondly, even if you read all that and conclude that you’re quite definitely *not* asexual, it’s still a very good way to meet people who have the same kind of problem with pressure to pair up. (Of course, some asexual people do have partners, but many don’t and are in the same situation as you, so will understand exactly where you’re coming from.) You’ll also be able to spend time in an environment where nobody has that otherwise inescapable expectation that you ought to have a partner. That can be very liberating in itself. You’ll be welcomed whether or not you identify as anywhere on the asexual spectrum.

    All the best!

    • Katamari said:

      My thinking was similar to this, in that I think one of the biggest favours you can do yourself is to find some webpages and forums made by, and for, people like you (i.e. people who are happily single and possibly asexual/aromantic ). The more you find and connect with others who are similar to you, the more you can dilute those nasty implied messages of “there’s something wrong with you” and “you must change”. Don’t be afraid to take all the affirmation and reassurance you want. Here is some more – you are totally ok!!! And you are absolutely doing the right thing by being honest with yourself and living your life according to who you are and not what others expect of you. So keep it up!

    • Tired Caregiver said:

      I actually have to kind of disagree? I know this will be unpopular, and I’m trying very hard to phrase it in the best way I can.

      I’m as asexual as they come…I’m 33, and I’ve never been in a relationship or had sex. The desire simply is not there. I’m quite content with it…perhaps because I grew up with very supportive parents, I never had an identity crisis or moment of regret. Being asexual is just one part of who I am.

      And frankly it’s a very small part because being asexual is just about some stuff I don’t do. As JenniferP says, it’s much more fun and interesting to have conversations about all the stuff I do instead of the stuff I don’t!

      The forums at AVEN and some of the other asexual communities online are all about discussing to death the stuff people don’t do. Which can be important when you’re young and unsure and trying to figure yourself out. But it can also create this circle of thought where asexuals absolutely start to feel like their friends are dating AT them. It gives people more tools to resent the world than live in it, I guess is the best way I can explain. I’ve had friends get caught up in this mindset and it’s really not pretty. I guess I might feel this way because I hang out on tumblr, and the asexual community there is pretty much toxic with this kind of mindset. These communities push the idea that asexuals are OPPRESSED. We’re erased, sure, and forgotten, but we’re not oppressed, and I get very uncomfortable when that becomes part of the asexual ‘identity’. I honestly feel that young people coming into themselves are very vulnerable and can become easily swept into this mindset that makes ‘being asexual’ the start and end of who they are, instead of just the very beginning.

      • Toestands said:

        I’m sorry your experience of the Tumblr asexual community hasn’t been very pleasant. :( I think we must hang out in very different circles, because my experience of the asexual parts of the site is nothing like yours. In fact, I think the majority of my acquaintances from that sphere are happily paired…

        LW, as the others have said, whether or not you ever identify as asexual, the community is generally quite welcoming to anyone who has (had) similar experiences. Whether participating in such a community is something you would like to do is, of course, completely up to you.

        (Sidenote: the simultaneously funniest and most bizarre of-course-you-will-have-children moment I’ve ever had was when my sister-in-law thrust her newborn baby into my arms without asking and, when I protested, told me “Oh come on, it’s good practise for when you get your own.” At the time, I was too young to legally have sex – and I prefer women, anyway.)

        • Yet Another Mary said:

          >> and I prefer women, anyway

          Your sister’s assumption was definitely cheeky as hell, but liking women isn’t a disqualification from having kids!

          • Toestands said:

            Certainly not! It does make me accidentally getting pregnant that much more unlikely, though. :D

        • Yet Another Mary said:

          (Oops, sorry, sister-in-law!)

      • JenniferP said:

        I don’t want to discount your experiences, but I definitely do not want this thread to become a referendum about the usefulness of AVEN vs. ace-Tumblr dramz. Linking something and saying that it might be a useful or relevant read is not the same as endorsing every thread/post/aspect of it. I tend to assume that people bring their own critical thinking skills to any advice they read and can decide what’s useful to them. The worry that reading AVEN will somehow send the LW into a toxic identity spiral is kind of on the same level as “concern” that she’ll die alone if she doesn’t pair off.

        • Unrelated side note: Every time someone types ‘dramz’, I always read it ‘drams’, and I think, yes, your life probably would be calmer if you cut down on consumption of things that are traditionally measured in drams.

        • Jennifer, with the greatest of respect, I have to disagree about the usefulness of warning people about the downside of particular online (or offline) communities. I have no experience whatsoever of asexual communities and this comment is not directed at them – it’s a general one about the issue.

          From my experience on parenting communities, I know how problematic it can be when the whole atmosphere of a site is subtly pushing a particular way of looking at things. When all your new friends are voicing views that come from one particular skewed perspective, it is scarily easy to get caught up in that perspective without stopping to think “Hey, maybe there’s another way of looking at things”. It can be very helpful to have someone stand up and point out that this is happening and that it’s a problem, especially *before* you get sucked into it. It’s possible to have excellent critical thinking skills, yet not realise that you need to use them in a social setting. Isn’t that how people get sucked into toxic relationships?

          So, if Tired Caregiver did have this experience of the asexual fora, I think that’s valuable information to for someone considering these fora to have, and I don’t think it’s at all on the same level as the “but what if your face was EATEN BY CATS?” One is a blatant attempt at scaring the person and actually *bypassing* their critical thinking skills. The other is raising a point that someone might honestly not have thought of, and I think is aimed much more at alerting someone to the fact that those critical thinking skills might be needed. I mean, fine, I get not wanting this to spin off into a debate about who’s ‘right’ about the communities when in fact it’s clear that different people have simply had different experiences of them, but that’s not the same as implying that the concerns Tired Caregiver raised about the site are just concern trolling.

    • ellex24 said:

      AVEN was very useful for me – for the terms and definitions it provided. AVEN gave me the term “aromantic”. I knew I wasn’t asexual, but I’d never heard of aromantic, and it was wonderful to read what it meant and realize “Hey, that’s me!”

    • Carpe Librum said:

      Okay, wow. I had a look over at the AVEN front pages and FAQs, mostly to just get a better understanding of asexuality and where the OP is coming from, and… Well there’s plenty in there that suddenly explains a lot about me and why I never seem to be ‘in the mood’.

  5. I am single (and not inclined to working hard at dating) and relatively happy with life and my 2 cats. When the face-eating-cats question (or joke) comes up, I respond that my cats have explicit permission to eat my face if I’m dead. (But y’know, be sure.) After all, it’s my job to feed them. That tends to close the topic in a hurry.

    • I have had some of these conversations before Mr. Wit, and I was into dating and finding a long term pair bond. You get “cats eating faces” if you reject people, too, sometimes. Also, I was very unhappily single and would joke about it.

      I am the sort to proceed into wondering about the mechanics of it and whether my cat would actually do so or just meow at my corpse. Being prepared to take conversations to disturbing new levels, as a kind of cheerful thought experiment, has won me friends and ended awkward conversations and derailed attacks!

      • I am pretty sure that our cats certainly would eat our dead bodies once the kibble runs out!

      • Impasto said:

        I have learned through professional experience that cats and dogs will indeed nom your corpse if they’re locked up long enough. But my reaction to that is still, “Yay, caring for my pets in the afterlife!” And all of the animals in those cases have been adopted by their owners’ friends or families and gone on to live happy, non-face-eating lives. :-)

        • Rachel said:

          I have woken up during the night to find one of my cats nibbling on my fingers. I assume she wants me to wake up and feed her, but I’m not certain. I’ve told her to wait until I’m actually dead.

      • I am a major fan of Matt Paxton, an extreme cleaning specialist who has regularly appeared on “Hoarders.” I love his 5 Decisions Away podcast. He has had many bad cat hoarder cleanups, including one with a dead hoarder, and he states with authority that cats go for the lips first. And if “my cats have permission” doesn’t end the face-eating convo, the “did you know they go for the lips first?” definitely will put an end to it.

        Someone tweeted a question to Matt about the best way to start a huge cleanup, and he said, “Get rid of your first 50 cats,” and I responded with “You can have my first 50 cats when you pry them from my cold dead lips.” It was a highlight of my week that this amused him.

        • JenniferP said:

          Is it weird that I find Matt Paxton to be hot?

          • You’re not the only one, though I feel a little guilty that I watched enough of Hoarders to form an attachment.

          • He’s just so competent! That’s sexy.

          • And it’s not just the competence that gets me, but how real and compassionate he is with the hoarders. On 5 Decisions Away he talks a lot about his own history, which makes him the non-judgmental good guy he is.

    • I like that!

      I used something vaguely similar when I’d get the “but don’t you want BAYBEEEES” line – “Only if they’re kittens.” That, too, was handy for closing down conversations.

      • Dane said:

        Yes! This response is even more useful if you happen to be a Reptile Lady like myself. The idea of giving birth to snakes tends to shut down that conversation quickly, haha.

        • Reptile ladies unite!

          I sometimes inform the baby-pushers that I would be more likely to look kindly on the idea of personally reproducing if the method in question was laying eggs.

    • That’s exactly how I feel about my cats eating my face. It is my job to feed them. I have accepted that job. I am willing to take the consequences.

  6. Manatee said:

    Speaking as a sexual and romantic person who loves relationships, I would like to say that I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with you and the choices you are making about your own relationships, and if people who are sexual/romantic think there is something wrong with you it isn’t just because they don’t understand or are misguided about what’s best for you, it’s because they are controlling asshats. Please don’t feel that you should ever settle for less than 100% respect for your own autonomy to love or not love, to shag or not shag, as you see fit. This is a respect issue, and it is a consent issue, and if anyone makes you feel somehow ‘less than’ for not being in or wanting a relationship then that is not ok.

  7. hypermobility said:

    Hey Cool Cat Lady! I am kind of where you are – the ‘kind of’ is because I would quite like to meet someone who adds to my awesome, but good LORD do I have no interest in the kinds of dating options that are available to me so I choose not to engage in them, and I am very certain that my life and I will be absolutely, perfectly fine if I am single for the rest of my life. (I am in the process of trying to get more comfortable with this middle ground of “would quite like it to happen but will be just fine if it doesn’t, and REALLY reluctant to do the sorts of things that would increase the likelihood of it happens”, because it feels like it would be much easier if I was at either end of the continuum, either actively wanting to meet someone and taking active steps to do so, or actively wanting to remain single – as I was for a while – and perfectly content that way. But I digress.)

    ANYWAY. What I wanted to say was that you really, REALLY do not have to have relevant experience of advice to offer to be a worth friend or listener to someone. In fact, I think that sometimes we overvalue the ability to RELATE to someone directly, rather than just listening and taking in what they have to say. For example, because of my area of work, I have quite a different set of life experiences from many of my older friends – and sometimes, when I am telling a story or enthusing or ranting about something that is very different from anything they’ve ever experienced, I can almost see them paging through their mental rolodex for a comparable experience that they can offer in return – AND of course I have been on the other side of this, when a friend was telling me about something which I knew nothing about. But! Conversation is not a game where you have to match your friend’s card with one of your own! The best conversations I have ever had with friends about my work have been those where they’ve said things like “hey, I can’t even imagine what that would be like. How do you feel about it / what will you do about it / what shoes were you wearing at the time / some other question that showed that they were interested and paying attention and didn’t necessarily know much about what I was talking about?” And vice versa.

    And keep on being your awesome single self!

    • “But! Conversation is not a game where you have to match your friend’s card with one of your own!”

      oh man, i’ve been trying to explain this concept to some people in my life, and you just summed it up perfectly. mind if i steal your analogy? :)

      • hypermobility said:

        You are super-welcome! :)

        • Manatee said:

          It is a brilliant analogy. This is something I’m working on breaking the habit of myself and this way of thinking about it will really help to remember in the heat of the moment. Thanks!

      • espritdecorps said:

        I am stealing as well.
        I have problems with doing this, as well as being on the receiving end.
        As you say, conversation is so much better when you actually listen to each other instead of trading anecdotes.

    • Jane said:

      One of the things that I have really enjoyed about this thread is finding out that there are a lot more people in the same gray space that I am — as in, “An awesome partner would sure be nice, but I like being single and would rather eat a Vaseline sandwich than invest lots of time in people who are Not Right For Me just for the sake of having a partner, any old partner.”

      Somehow I had gotten the impression that if you are Sexual and Romantic, then finding a partner MUST be a huge priority for you! (!!) So I thought I couldn’t be those things, because for most of my life I’ve had no desire to be in a relationship, and, when I did start wanting that sort of thing, it still wasn’t as pressing as OH MAN I WANT TO VISIT EUROPE! But if you are Asexual and Aromantic, then I thought you wouldn’t fantasize about living with someone who you can cook with and get daily hugs from and maybe even have sex with, and also get painful crushes than make your stomach do high-kicks. So. . . I couldn’t be that either. Which just left me feeling stupid and defective. But, lo, it turns out there are other folks who are swimming around in the middle sea, and they are neither stupid nor defective! Yay!

      And the problem of conversational card games is one I have played too, with wild abandon. Actually, sometimes I think it’s actually better to discuss an issue with someone who DOESN’T have a matching experience — I feel like they have to listen more carefully to you in order to parse the problem, as opposed to thinking back into their own experience and trying to jam yours into that template. (Not that I have ever done that while talking with a friend. . . cough. . . ahem.)

      • AMM said:

        …, then I thought you wouldn’t fantasize about living with someone who you can cook with and get daily hugs from and maybe even have sex with, and also get painful crushes than make your stomach do high-kicks. So. . . I couldn’t be that either.

        I can relate to this, even if I’ve never thought of myself as “asexual” or “aromantic.”

        Around 10 years ago, I extracted myself from a marriage that was killing me (not exactly abusive, but the effect on me was similar), and swore I’d rather die celebate than put up with a relationship like that (my version of a “vaseline sandwich”) again. For me, it’s the “someone to snuggle with and share daily joys and sorrows with and whose face will light up when I come home” that I miss. (Rereading this, it sorta sounds like what I really need is a cat :-s . I’ve had a cat, though, and it’s not the same.) But the few demi-relationships I’ve had since my divorce have been so demoralizing that I can’t face the idea of “dating.”

        Maybe it’s my age (I’m pushing 60), but it seems like most of the women I meet who are really interesting and have their lives together have decided they are much happier and better off _without_ a man in their lives. At the same time, many of those same women are saying to me, “there are so few men at your age, you must have your pick of women.”

        On the other hand, I don’t have a lot of people telling me how much better off I’d be if I had a wife/girlfriend.

        I say to myself, Oh well, it’ll be as FSM wills it.

      • jorden said:

        Yes! Word to this. So not interested in dating-as-it-exists-in-modern-USAmerican-culture. Only baaaarely interested in sexytimes. But definitely wouldn’t mind having a life companion to cook with/support/be supported by etc. It’s nice to know that’s not totally OUT THERE RIDICULOUS NO WAY.

      • annejumps said:

        “Somehow I had gotten the impression that if you are Sexual and Romantic, then finding a partner MUST be a huge priority for you! (!!) So I thought I couldn’t be those things” This is a good point. I’ve had similar thoughts but hadn’t really put it in those terms.

  8. I am so happy to have seen this post! I am in a similar boat, but perhaps with slightly more animosity (I am less like “If it happens it happens” and more like “The three relationships I’ve been in were the three biggest wastes of time in my entire life, including the depressive spells where my main hobbies were sitting on my bed doing absolutely nothing, and I hope I never end up dating again because I have shit I actually want to do in my life and boyfriends are waaaaaay too much work”).

    I strongly second the Captain’s advice about mentally reclassifying dating as a (mystifyingly popular) hobby that is not your hobby. It was very helpful to me when I did this. It was also helpful to me when I decided to treat it this way when talking to other people as well. Especially when dealing with dudes I just met that I suspect are trying to find out if I’m seeing anyone else so that they can determine whether or not to hit on me, I very politely treat it as if *of course* everybody knows that not everybody has the same hobbies. Usually I answer with some form of “It’s not really my thing,” and respond to all nosy follow-up “But don’t you…” questions with “Not particularly!” or “Not really, no” or some other sort of casual negative. The trick is to be willing to stonewall absolutely every question with this answer even if you think it makes you sound weird, because some people ask really inappropriate questions. (Someone once asked me “But don’t you like sex?” and I was like “*shrug* Not particularly” and they were surprised into shutting the fuck up, so that was nice.) Anyway, the point is to go into all conversations where this is brought up projecting the rock-solid expectation that adults understand what “not my thing” means, and act politely baffled if they appear to have never been exposed to this concept before. Make them be the ones who feel awkward.

    • Yeine said:

      It baffles and horrifies me that you would be asked this. Great answer, though.

      • I knew a lot of “sex-positive” people in college who were.. bad at it.

        I am also a magnet for creepers, Nice Guys, earnest-but-awkward-dudes-who-spend-too-much-time-thinking-about-how-smart-they-are-to-actually-think-about-other-stuff-and-therefore-have-worldviews-about-as-sophisticated-as-a-very-bright-five-year-olds, and other sorts of Dudes That Ladies Complain About On The Internet.

        • ldubs said:

          It is super annoying when people think “sex-positive” = “sex-evangalist”. I feel like college is the time when people figure out what they’re into and get really excited about it and then think everyone in the world needs to know what they know because it is the greatest thing and will change your life!!!!1!! (see: paleo diets, polyamory, yoga, etc). They usually calm down eventually, but man are they annoying in the meanwhile.

          And I am living for your “earnest-but-awkard-dudes……” description. We need a shorthand term for that guy, because he is everywhere.

          • JenniferP said:

            Well, so often the Sex Evangelist would really like to be your Sex Prophet who personally leads you toward “enlightenment,” and it’s so awkwardly obvious and weird.

            We used to talk about Painfully Literal Dudes way back, might fit the bill you’re talking about.

          • Manatee said:

            Wow, loving the terms Sex Evangelist and Sex Prophet! Recently had a spate of emails from a guy who wouldn’t let my ‘no’ lie. One particularly delightful sentence ran, ‘I know life’s too short to let anything get in the way of having fun’. Apparently that included my desire to be involved, which was clearly only absent because my desires and personal ethics were FACTUALLY INCORRECT.

          • UnsuckableButtercup said:

            We call them “UnSmiths, after the hilarious Twitter under that handle (haven’t been there lately, but it amuses me how he has thousands of followers, but only follows himself.)

    • Kaz said:

      Anyway, the point is to go into all conversations where this is brought up projecting the rock-solid expectation that adults understand what “not my thing” means, and act politely baffled if they appear to have never been exposed to this concept before.

      This is pretty much my strategy! It’s been my experience that the more you act as if not wanting sex/relationships is perfectly natural, not a big thing and really on the same level as not enjoying knitting or something, the more people will respond to you that way and the easier it is to choke them off if they don’t. Which isn’t to say that you don’t get the ridiculous reactions, but in my experience you get *more* of them if you treat your lack of interest as something weird, unusual or possibly-objectionable when you talk about it. I think a lot of the time people take the cue for how to react to something from how you’re framing it.

    • ellex24 said:

      Oh, I know those conversations so well: “Don’t you want to date/get married?” No. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll be lonely?” I’ve never been lonely in my entire life. It’s really not a concept I understand. “Don’t you want someone to do stuff with?” No. I like doing things by myself – for things that require company, I do actually have a few friends. They seem to understand that I require a lot of alone time.

      “Don’t you like sex?” Sex is fine! Sex is lovely! It’s people I have a hard time dealing with. And thanks to the magic of manufacturing, batteries, and internet shopping, I’m perfectly capable of having great sex all by myself, thanks.

  9. Jane said:

    By going against the dominant “pair up or else!” narrative, you are not criticizing other people’s relationships or desire for a relationship, and your friends aren’t dating AT you. If you can keep that in mind (and gently remind people if they overstep- “Hey, I’m happy with how my life is, you’re happy with yours, why are we arguing?”), it will go a long way toward finding a comfortable equilibrium in your friendships.

    Okay, so this is a bit of a tangent, but I feel like people in the commenting crowd probably have experience with this. . . what methods do people use to catch themselves when they notice themselves falling into this mindset of feeling like other people are judging them for making different choices? I can often look back at a conversation and say, “Ah, I was snippy and unpleasant to that person because I felt inadequate or insecure about XYZ choice I have made,” (generally to do with not prioritizing finding a boyfriend, not spending enough time on personal upkeep, not spending enough time cleaning, etc.) but generally in the moment I just feel anxious and upset and can’t calm myself down fast enough to avoid making the conversation uncomfortable.

    Do you guys have mantras you repeat or thought exercises you do to remind yourself to not make comparisons, feel good or at least neutral about your own choices, and not feel threatened by other people’s?

    What about feeling calmer about choices you wouldn’t have made voluntarily (like spending a lot of time going to therapy/getting drugs/sleeping instead of being social or doing more work because you’re mentally ill? or sleeping under your lab desk because you were too sad/tired/confused to get home?)

    I mean, when you sort of wish things had worked out differently (example: I wish that I had the experience of being in a great romantic relationship, or at least more than one crappy short relationship, but I do not) how do you own what did happen as your life and not something you are embarrassed or ashamed about, particularly in comparison to people who you feel didn’t mess things up the way that you did?

    • Manatee said:

      Hey Jane, I hear you!

      Something I’ve had success with is taking control of my own narratives and presenting information in a more positive light.

      Other people will usually follow your lead as to whether it information is positive or negative and respond accordingly, and positioning myself in a positive frame of mind/tone of conversation means I’m less likely to sink into a negativity spiral. Rewriting narratives for yourself is actually really important because most of the time you are feeling judged it is not because the other person is judging you, but because YOU are judging you.

      So to use an example I used just last week, instead of saying in a really glum, downbeat voice, ‘Pretty shitty, but I’m in therapy again cause I suck at life’, I told some family in a fairly upbeat voice, ‘Well actually I’m back in therapy at the moment. It’s really great that I’m getting some help and I’m looking forward to being able to deal with my shit better in the coming weeks’.

      Now my family does not like therapy. I could see from their faces they were a little confused about this positive portrayal of something so TERRIBLE, but guess what? They followed my lead, said ‘That’s great, good for you’ and that was the end of that.

      So ‘Not looking for a boyfriend/taking care of personal upkeep/cleaning’ becomes ‘At the moment I’m putting a lot of energy into my career/school/self development/underwater basket weaving'; Sleeping instead of being social becomes treating yourself so a night of precious downtime and self care; and a crappy relationship becomes a crappy relationship from which you learned valuable life lessons, etc. Hope this helps!

      • Badger Rose said:

        Love love love the advice about taking control of your own narrative. To use one of my several personal examples of this: I used to get REALLY tied up in knots about my housekeeping–my mom kept a beautiful house when I was growing up (while working full-time and raising two children, so the ‘oh, she could do that because that was her whole job’ thing wasn’t relevant), whereas I am one of those people whose default is ‘kick it into a corner and deal with it later.’ Eventually I just gave up and started hiring someone to clean twice a month… but I still felt guilty/defensive about it.

        It made an enormous difference to stop thinking of it as “I’m such a terrible cleaner/housekeeper that I have to PAY someone $X to com in and clean up after me, woezzzzzz” and to start thinking of it as, “I have certain priorities for my energy, and not spending X hours on cleaning means I can spend it on [hobby].” But the important part wasn’t that I was saying that to other people, it was that it I was consistently saying it *to myself*. If I noticed myself thinking, “Oh god, I should be able to do this myself, I SUCK,” I’d catch that thought right away and reframe it inside my own head: “I spent the weekend reading an exciting new book that I might not have been able to get to if I’d spent the day cleaning, and that’s worth it to me.” Over time, the negative thoughts became fewer and fewer, and I became better and better at catching and reframing.

      • THIS! I spent some time in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy about five years ago and credit it with a lot of my ability to do things like rewrite my narratives from: I am terrible and lazy and Bad At People to I need a lot of sleep, I’m introverted so people tire me out and I am actually pretty good with people. There’s a lot of focus in CBT on listening to your internal narratives and critically assessing them which I think you would find helpful. If therapy is not a thing you want to commit to right now, there are online courses and I recommend the book Feeling Good wholeheartedly.

        I still find it hard to remind myself in the moment to take a step back and not assume I’m being judged. My standard response is to try not to worry about stuff that happens in the moment. Instead, I focus on going through things that upset me, letting myself really FEEL my feelings, then assessing what I could do next time. The feeling stuff bit is important: feel shamed and angry and useless because otherwise it’s hard to release those emotions.

        Vocalising things helps me too. ‘I feel lazy for sleeping too much’ or ‘I feel judged. X is so ANNOYING when they start talking about Y’ is all a ton easier to process than amorphous bad feels!

        Tl;dr – CBT rocks, feel your feels and also try and say what you’re feeling and why even if it sounds petty, stupid or irrational.

        • Jane said:

          I am in therapy, just not CBT-style. Mine is talk therapy focusing on overall patterns and beliefs, but sadly tends to leave me flailing on specific things I can do to deal with the day-to-day jerkbrain. . .

          • Badger Rose said:

            I Am Not A Therapist, so I’m not going to go any deeper than this, but: it might be worth asking your therapist for tools for dealing with specific situations, whether CBT tools or something else. (They can be used with talk therapy too, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’ve done both talk therapy and CBT myself.)

          • ashbet said:

            Jane, I felt the same way about my therapist (she was lovely, and helped me work through some stuff that I needed help with, but I needed a little bit more structure in terms of things I could do during the week to feel like I was making positive progress.)

            I’m disabled due to a degenerative, painful condition, and it’s easy for me to slip into kind of a passive mode when I’m fighting depression, especially since I LOVE THE SWEET SWEET INTERNETS and I don’t have the schedule of a work week anymore to kick me into gear, and my health isn’t predictable from day to day, so it’s hard to make a lot of advance plans . . . all of which can lead to spending the day online and then feeling bad at night because I haven’t accomplished anything.

            What I wound up doing was asking her for “homework” — about ten minutes before the end of each session, we’d brainstorm some stuff that I could do during the week to come. It felt really good to be able to report measurable progress between sessions (even if it was just “take a walk, if you can walk that day”), it gave me something to feel proud of at a time when I was floundering, and it provided just that little bit of structure that I needed to kick myself out of drifting.

            I read the “CBT for Dummies” book — I’d recommend checking it out of the library and seeing if it’s for you (it didn’t wind up being for me), but some CBT techniques that I read about online were helpful. I’m going to have to check out that “Feeling Good” book, too!

          • espritdecorps said:

            I have asked for specific strategies for day-to-day problems from my talk therapist ,and she has been very enthusiastic about providing me with printouts, links, CBT techniques, and doing role-play to practice how to handle difficult interactions.

            A good therapist will have more than one trick in their bag, and will be excited to pull them out. A less good therapist might meet your request with a derail that brings you back into their comfort zone regardless of what you need. I’ve had that experience too.

          • Mood Gym (https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome) can be quite a good place to road test CBT techniques and see if it’s a road you want to go down. It’s not for everyone – certainly didn’t work for me – but there are enough free resources out there that you can make up your own mind.

            As for my personal “changing the narrative” success story, I tend to get angry and frustrated very easily, especially over things that I can’t control so well. Recently, I’ve been getting in the habit of saying “This is not a catastrophe. Something annoying has happened” out loud, where normally I would be swearing and cursing. I don’t always catch it, but it does make a difference when I do.

        • the invisible one said:

          “I still find it hard to remind myself in the moment to take a step back and not assume I’m being judged.”

          Yeah, likewise. Especially since I have been judged. Extensively.

          Crappy ex did a bunch of it; crappy MIL did just as much. Some of it was to my face, such as correcting my table manners to the point where I wanted to say “I get the hint, I was born in a barn” and leave, only that would be RUDE and I was already being judged for how rude I was. Some was behind my back, such as when very nice aunt to crappy ex said to one of my relatives “I don’t know what crappy MIL is talking about, I think Invisible is a nice person.”)

          • Unless you were serving yourself mashed potatoes and gravy with your bare hands, your ex-MIL was way ruder for correcting you than you were for doing whatever you were doing!

      • olivia0330 said:

        Manatee, I absolutely LOVE this advice, and thank you so much for posting it. I tend to be apologetic about every move, every thought, every breath, and it’s exhausting (to me and everyone around me). I plan on copying this down in my journal and doing my best to memorize and implement it. THANKS AGAIN!

        • Manatee said:

          What a lovely comment, thank you Olivia. :) I’ve had so much help from this site it’s nice to be able to put something back in to that pool. *Jedi hugs*

    • Badger Rose said:

      And to add to what Manatee and TheOtherAlice say (which I agree with in a big way), one of the ways I’ve found to avoid getting blindsided in the moment is to *practice*.

      This can be by thinking through the conversations that tend to upset you beforehand and thinking of the kinds of responses you want to make. (So that if someone says, “Aren’t you dating?” you already know that the answer you want to make is a cheerful, “Nope!” or whatever, instead of scrambling for an answer on the spur of the moment, which is much, much harder.)

      It can also be by noticing your own judgmental thoughts and “responding” to them inside your own head. Like if you catch yourself thinking, “I suck so much, I never go out and socialize,” you might respond silently to your own thought with, “That’s not ‘sucking,’ that’s mental illness,” or “That’s not a problem, that’s just because I’m an introvert,” or “Yeah, I’d love to see people more, but that’s a goal, not a stick to beat myself with.” Or whatever else is true and relevant and kind for you. Practicing a response to those inside-the-head comments can actually be excellent practice for responding to out-loud comments from other people.

      • Knights Who Say Knit said:

        “that’s a goal, not a stick to beat myself with” is a phrase I am now stealing and incorporating into my daily self-talk patterns.

    • staranise said:

      For myself, I use the shame de-escalation method used in Brene Brown’s I Thought it Was Just Me and The Gifts of Imperfection, since she studies shame specifically. I’ll admit it: I’m an unabashed fangirl of her work. I think her basic research on shame and connection is amazing and transformative, and I’m the kind of person the methods and attitudes she recommends really resonate with.

      Her first step is to recognize a shame state. The big thing about in-the-moment is, it’s really hard to feel something, recognize it, and instantly repress it. A major skill is mindfulness–just being able to catch yourself in the moment and be aware of what you’re experiencing. It means deliberately thinking to yourself: “I am anxious and upset right now. I feel inadequate and like I’m being criticized. I’m afraid this person will judge me. It makes me want to be snippy and mean.” It’s not about judgment or changing: it’s about fully accepting that this is how you feel. What you do in response to that feeling is a separate question.

      Then there’s practicing critical awareness: asking if the evaluations being made on you are reasonable, if they come from a reliable source, or who benefits from you feeling ashamed. This doesn’t always mean you feel good about what you’ve done. Sometimes I really have fucked up and hurt someone, and I have to own it.

      When you have an understanding of what’s going on, reach out to other people and talk about your shame. This means finding safe people who have earned the right to hear your story and talking to them about shame instead of letting the shame build a barrier between you and others. I phone my mom about being unable to look my professor in the face when I haven’t handed in an assignment, tell a colleague about how awful I feel when I’ve messed up at work, let a friend know how judged I felt when a restaurant hostess gave me a weird judgmentalish look when I asked for a table for one. Good people to tell your story to don’t try to diminish what you feel or convince you that you’re wrong; they’ll empathize and support you even when you’re not even close to the person you want to be.

      Then as you move forward with your life, learn to own your shame and incorporate it into your public narrative. Don’t keep your feelings of inadequacy as a deep dark secret–allow the facade to crack a bit. This can mean admitting that personally, sometimes I’m afraid I’ll die alone and my cat will eat me–not that I’m doing something wrong or need someone to fix it, but just that life means uncertainty sometimes. I’ll admit that I regret that I didn’t have a real social “university experience” and sometimes blame myself for not getting out more, because it’s hard to remember that I was fighting unmedicated illness through most of it. Owning the shame blunts its fangs, because if shame is the fundamental fear of being disconnected from other people, this means having the courage to connect anyway.

      • Tallulah said:

        This is really good – I like how it’s admitting both the feelings and the legitimacy of whoever/whatever’s producing them. But I mainly wanted to comment because I didn’t have a super-awesome university social experience either, and I’m finding it really moving and powerful that someone else is admitting this. It’s making me feel really moved. So, thank you!

      • Jane said:

        I just bought the first of these books on Nook. We shall see what I can learn! (Just watched her TEDTalk on vulnerability. . . hmm.)

        I think I have always kind of assumed that being upfront about the things I’m embarrassed/ashamed of in myself (fatness, bad skin, mental illness, the fact that university was not “the best time of my life,” blah blah blah, examples) is something to be saved for people I know well and trust. I mean: that has been sort of my litmus test for friendship, you know? “Here, let me tell you this thing about me that I’m afraid of letting other people know, because I trust you not to judge me for it.” And it’s very hard to separate “I feel insecure about this thing,” and “I think this is something really wrong with me,” when you are talking to yourself and with other people — body weight is a good example. I don’t think I should lose weight, but I’m very afraid of how people see my body. In another subthread was commenting that people tend to assume that your discomfort in singledom can be assuaged by just finding a Person With Whom To Have Some Sort Of Romantic Relations [For Some Value Of Romantic]. I don’t think you need a romantic relationship to be fulfilled (and frankly my terror of having a bad, soul-sucking relationship has kept me from looking much at all) but it’s hard to say “I feel lonely and uncomfortable with my social life,” and not accidentally imply to yourself or others “I feel like I am a failure because I do not have a partner.”

        Of course, in other contexts, I “own” my shame as a way to deflect people . . . “Ha, ha, I’m so shitty at doing whatever I’m doing, no need to criticize me, look here I will criticize myself for you! These are not the droids you are looking for!”

        This stuff is all very tricky to balance, in my opinion.

        • staranise said:

          The secret is: it’s okay even if something really is deeply wrong with you and you really do feel like a failure. This is not just a theory/technique for lovely people with charming quirks; it’s also for addicts who have driven their lives off a cliff, and convicted felons, and parents who have messed up their kids’ lives. And, y’know, people with disabilities or fat people or mouthy feminists. These are perspectives and techniques that will work even if things really are that bad. When it is that bad, yeah, you want to be super-selective about who you tell if you’re going to be hurt by a bad reaction; but at no point, actually, does someone stop being worth love and belonging.

          Which is one of those things that I did not really believe when I started working through living around shame. I was always sure there was going to be some little nugget of awful that I was always going to have to keep hidden. Finding out that there isn’t is an ongoing revelation, like stepping into open air again and again and again and still finding yourself aloft. I don’t expect you to believe me about this–I just want to encourage anyone who’s thinking, “That’s all very well for people who have their shit together, but I’m so awful, it doesn’t apply to me.”

      • espritdecorps said:

        Thank you for this.
        I struggle everyday with the certainty that I am not doing enough and that my facade of competence will come crashing down if anyone looks too closely.
        I’m never entirely certain what ‘enough’ is but it’s always more than I’ve done.

      • Jane said:

        Whoops, today turned into I Thought It Was Just Me reading day.

        • JenniferP said:

          Welcome! :)

    • Jane said:

      Wow, well, this turned into a really rich and helpful subthread. Manatee, BadgerRose, TheOtherAlice, ashbet, StarAnise — thanks so much for your thoughts and advice!

      • ashbet said:

        Aw, you’re very welcome! My pleasure, and best wishes! :)

  10. “For example, I know jack shit about knitting and have zero desire to create the kind of lumpen abominations I am sure I would fashion if I took it up.”

    Ha, I was reading a book on knitting today and you should just see some of the fashion designers’ *cough* creations *cough*. Lumpen abominations would fit right in … you could make a fortune, Captain!

    /knitting derail

    Cool Cat Lady – I haven’t any advice to offer, just a high five (paws, of course) as another cat lady who’s never dated and never wanted to. Not exactly similar, because I’m not so much asexual as single-target, and it’s Complicated, but these days I’m partnered in a curious way. TL:DR suffice to say I’ve had the same pushiness and nonsense (including “but don’t you want a baby?” from someone who knew I was 47!) forever. I tend to the derisive approach, but that’s me.

    Anyway, good fortune!

    • Yeine said:

      Oh goodness yes on the knitting front. There’s some amazing innovation out there, which is creating items/garments which are… exceptional. And not in a good way.

      • Exceptional in the sense of “I really hope this is a unique exception!” :D

        ::ducks under desk to avoid the Captain’s wrath for derailing::

        • Yeine said:

          Exceptional as in, ‘there’s a reason nothing else is like this’.

          (Is this derailing? Oh dear. I’m sorry.)

  11. oregonienne said:

    Just adding to the comments in the vein of “that’s me, too!” I’m single and perfectly happy living by myself with my two cats. For me, various forms of art take the place of a relationship. I’m an actor, and the short but intense friendships that can develop in a cast take care of a lot of my social needs. And the best part is that if you work with old castmates again, you can pick up right where you left off, and there’s facebook in the meantime. When I’m not in a show, I can devote all the time I like to writing, drawing, and making my own cross stitch designs.

    I’m fortunate not to have had to deal very much with people asking me about dating. I figure if I find some lady who can really fit with my life and, like someone upthread said, enhance my awesome, I would totally be down for that. But in the meantime, I’m just fine on my own, and it’s really nice to know there are a lot more people like me!

  12. I just wanted to add that you are entitled to follow your instincts on this even if it does not make you happy!

    I think a lot of people are willing to recognize another person’s right to make the choices that feel right to them if that person is exuberently joyous all the time. It’s kind of a “can’t argue with success” thing. I mean, if someone is single and not interested in sex/relationships but is blazingly, blindingly happy, it’s harder to argue that they should change that (though yes, some people still do).

    But be a little down, and deviate from what’s expected, and people will all assume that it’s that deviation that’s causing the problem. If you’re feeling unhappy and are single by choice, they’ll assume it is that choice that is making you unhappy. It couldn’t be that you are dissatisfied with your work life, that your sweetest, snuggliest cat is getting old, or that you’re feeling kind of disconnected from the people you love because they care more about their idea of what your life should be like than they do about your idea of what your life should be like. Or that you struggle with clinical depression, fallout from trauma, etc. Nope. It must be that one choice they disagree with on your behalf!

    But frankly, how many of us are exuberantly happy all the time? I, for one, am really, really happy sometimes. And reasonably content a bunch of the time. And yet often have a serious case of the blahs. And even when I’m feeling pretty good overall by day, I still have moments of existential loneliness lying in bed next to my husband who I am happy to have in my life.

    This choice to be single does not bear the weight of all your happiness — any more than a particular romantic partner should have to bear all the weight of your happiness! (Even the best partner does not fix everything else that is out of whack). It does not have to make you happy to be valid. It just has to feel right, and not make you unhappy, and YOU are the best judge of that.

    • V said:

      THIS. I’ve been single by choice for seven years, and any time I express any dissatisfaction with any part of my life, my friends chalk it up to my singleness. But, even when I was married I wasn’t 100-percent happy with everything all the time – I still had financial worries and got frustrated with my job and felt like I didn’t have enough free time, etc. (In fact, one of the ways I knew I was getting better after my partner died was that I *could* care about those “little” things and be bothered by them again.) And, the same people who think a boyfriend would solve everything that’s wrong with my life also complain to me about their own relationships for hours on end, so they’re not doing a great job of advertising for the cause.

    • hypermobility said:

      This is SUCH a good point, and I feel like one’s relationship status is particularly vulnerable to these kinds of assumptions. It’s much easier to have a moan about why your job’s sucking because of X and Y without it being seen as an indictment of your entire career trajectory, but it feels like the second I complain about ANY aspect of being single it’s interpreted as THE TRAGEDY OF THE SINGULON writ large. Whereas actually maybe I just wish I had someone to help me carry the shopping home for once.

      • datdamwuf said:

        yes, like right now I really wish I had someone around to help me get meds into my sick cat, sometimes being alone has downsides that have nothing to really do with being in a relationship. In fact this one is because I haven’t got enough friends to get the help I need is all.

    • staranise said:

      Making mistakes and fucking up is such an invaluable part of a well-lived life. Which is so not helpful to the person in the middle of the mire, but is a good perspective piece. I HATED living with a mistake that I’d made (hello failed courses! Hello years in the wrong job! Hello totally ill-advised hours on Couches of Plausible Deniability, and love letters I wish I could take back!) and yet, those taught me so much. Both what happened, and the experience itself of living through my fuckup. Being able to say, “Yeah, I’ve been there too/I can’t say I haven’t made that mistake as well,” has completely expanded my ability to be a better person.

      • At first I wasn’t sure how this was a response to what I’d said, but then — click! — yeah, you have a right to experiment, to decide for yourself whether you’re happier single, without other people rushing your conclusion-drawing process.

        You also have a right to say “yeah, I think my singleness may be contributing to my unhappiness, but being with the wrong person can actually be lonelier than being single, because (time and energy being finite) it actually interferes with my connecting with those people in my life who understand and support me, so I’m not going to try to force this,” and/or “yeah, I think my singleness may be contributing to my unhappiness, but not nearly as much as my job (or living situation) is, and since there are concrete steps I know to take there that will definitely move me toward a happier place, I am going to concentrate my energies there, thanks.”

        Your life. Your choice.

        • staranise said:

          I’ve been thinking about how to reply and expand. You’re on the right track here. I had to sort out my thoughts about why I want to go even further.

          I think when we say that someone “has the right” or is “allowed” to do/experience a certain thing, we mean that they should be able to do that thing without being subjected to ridicule, censure, or criticism, and that they are not obliged to feel remorse, guilt, or shame about it. Because I think a lot of people feel that if a person you know is making a genuine mistake, you should inform them that they’re doing something wrong and work to make them feel that they should change their ways. And furthermore, many of those people consider it okay to cross social boundaries to do that–wheedling, threatening, criticizing, all the stuff people have been talking about here. The kind of stuff a parent has to do with a small child who just won’t put on their snowsuit when it’s below freezing out.

          It’s my perspective and way of dealing with the world that between adults, that obligation doesn’t exist anymore. This is partly based on the experience that between adults, it doesn’t work. I can say, “I think that what you’re doing is a mistake, for x and y reasons,” but that person has the right to say, “No! I’m gonna keep doing it!” and once they’ve set that boundary, I have to respect that. I can’t twist their arm or somehow bully them into doing what I think they should.

          And then I have two choices: put up with their choices, or decide I can’t and stop seeing them.

          So to my mind, people are “allowed” to make genuinely bad decisions that genuinely hurt them, whether they’re too prideful, too stupid, or just too poor or scared or hurting to choose otherwise. If they want to ask me for help, I’d love to give it–but I don’t have the right to use extra-powerful force to make them change. That’s even if they’re in a relationship I think is making them unhappy, or I think they’re messing up their kids’ lives, or missing out on having a great career. I have to respect their choices. (Except as stopped by law and professional obligations, like those around child abuse and suicide)

          • I wholeheartedly agree with all of that!

            When I say “you have a right to” etc., what I’m saying is “when your people come at you on that subject, know that you have me, at least metaphorically standing beside you saying ‘this is LW’s decision to make!’ even if your people are not being obnoxious about it, not crossing those lines of nagging, wheedling and manipulating (or the ever-popular refusing-to-accept-your-decision-as-final-and-gently-raising-the-subject-ad-nauseam-until-you-make-the-one-they-want-you-to).

    • Kaz said:

      This is a very good point! I’d even add on – it’s possible that part of what’s making you miserable is the singlehood, but that *still* doesn’t mean you ought to give up on it and go date. I’m kind of in the same boat as Cool Cat Lady (asexual and wtfromantic – I basically want a Boston Marriage :/) and I have definitely had my periods of angst a la oh woe I will die alone eaten by cats, oh woe I will be unable to hold a job and spiral into abject failure because of horrible intersections between disability and not having a partner, woe is me! Woe! (I like to think I’m better about this now). The thing is that even though my relationship status was making me unhappy, I was and am very very certain that dating would make me even more unhappy, so “but romance will solve all that is wrong in your life” = STILL not a helpful response.

    • miss_chevious said:

      This point is soooo important! Just because you’re not 100% Happy all the time, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

      Likewise, even if you did something/chose something/wanted something that turned out to make you unhappy, that’s okay. You don’t have to suffer for it (whatever it was) for the rest of your life.

  13. Hazel said:

    A complex issue, no doubt. Sometimes I struggle with my perrenial singledom and associated disinterest, and the vague feeling of being constantly, silently judged. With professionals I’ve found it best to adopt a company line along the theme of, “That’s not a priority.” I get a bit anxious about professional health judgments based on a position that lack of intimate partner monogamy is mentally abnormal. Mostly I try to redirect conversations to more interesting subjects.

  14. Beth said:

    This post was great. I ended up relating to it way more than I thought I would because, even though I am happily pair bonded, Partner and I do. not. want. kids. I am super excited for my friends and family when they have kids, and other people’s kids range from annoying to fine to amazing, depending on how they behave and how well I know their parents, but it’s just not something either of us want for ourselves. Some people are like “oh ok, yeah, whatever” when it comes up and then we move onto talking about more interesting things. But some people seem personally offended by my choice to not do something that I have no interest in and think would make me pretty miserable. I have had at least one friend tell me that, especially since my partner is older, if I don’t have children I will die alone and no one will go to my funeral. My face: O.o
    Anyway, sorry for the OT rant, but the point is this gives me a much better perspective on how to deal with people who want to force their life choices on me. Thanks, LW and Captain :)

    • JenniferP said:

      I keep trying to think up responses to the “no one will go to your funeral” worry. That is one party where you won’t be refreshing the Evite to see who RSVP’d.

      • Perhaps, “That’s great! The kitties don’t really like crowds.”

      • ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’m going to hire paid mourners to pretend to be my kids!’

      • charmed.omega said:

        I might go with the equally-uncomfortable “You don’t care enough about me to come to my funeral? Wow, uh, okay”, at least to anyone you care about in your life. If they’re not, and you have the [genital-based euphemisms for confidence] to do it, I would just turn and walk away wordlessly — go find someone better to talk to.

      • Badger Rose said:

        My first thought was, “I hadn’t assumed that I was going to have to personally manufacture all my funeral attendees.”

        • MargoVictorious said:

          Holy crap. You are my hero. I’m stealing this line and crafting it into all my responses ever. Thank you.

        • coyotiemountian said:

          This comment is just, beautiful. I love it.
          It does sound insulting doesn’t it? That a person assumes that no one will go to your funeral unless you personally create them with your loins or adopt them.

          • Badger Rose said:

            It is pretty insulting, isn’t it? The implication is that none of your friends, coworkers, nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, etc. would possibly want to attend your funeral.

            And beyond that… I generally try not to judge the reasons people choose to have kids, just as I try not to judge the reasons people choose not to have kids. But I can’t help but feel that “ensuring pew warmers for when I die” is a dumbass reason to reproduce.

      • The Grouchybeast said:

        Just tell them that you’ve already arranged to have your body fed to vultures, so you’re guaranteed a good turnout.

      • ‘Are you under the impression that I don’t have friends?’

      • You could also just go all Bukowski on their arses:

        ‘I don’t want a long funeral procession when I die.
        I want to move on without weight or obligation.
        I want just the sullen darkness
        I want a tomb like this night now:
        me here undiluted — solid, cranky, immaculate.
        I hold fast to me. that’s all there is.’

      • Ann said:

        I always steal a joke from the MTM episode with Chuckles the Clown’s funeral: “We don’t really have funerals. We’re more a ‘stand me out in the garbage with my hat on’ kind of family.”

    • manybellsdown said:

      My father’s funeral was last week. One wife, one ex-wife, four children, and one grandchild. And 150 friends. He had plenty of kids and we were the minority in the standing-room-only service. Who’s going to go to your funeral? All the awesome friends you make.

    • Jolly said:

      haha WHAT. What is with this person? I probably would have said something about how creepy it seems to me to have kids in anticipation of the guest list at my death party.

      Or more likely just, “Good thing I’ll already be dead, then.”

      Or,
      “Good to know I can count on you to be there for me.”

      I just don’t understand how people let these things come out of their mouths, good looooord.

    • mintylime said:

      0_o … o_0 … 0_o

      1) I don’t care who goes to my funeral … I’ll be dead then.

      2) So, the main reason they’re having kids is to ensure attendance at their funeral? That’s kind of … creepy. And I say this as someone currently engaged in the process of having a kid.

      • datdamwuf said:

        I hate funerals, so I’m not having a funeral, already arranged to have my ashes strewn across Orient Bay in Saint Martin.

    • miss_chevious said:

      That’s just…a really odd argument in favor of having kids. My personal response to the “aren’t you afraid of dying alone?” angle on having kids is an existential expression and a solemn statement that “WE ALL DIE ALONE.”

  15. They probably mean well, due to what I call “The Transitive Property of My Personal Opinion.” I.e. I can only be happy in a relationship. OP is not in a relationship. OP must be terribly unhappy!!

    Still, annoying as hell. I didn’t date for five years, simply because I wasn’t interested and had other stuff going on, and I got this from almost all quarters. Only thing that got me through it was to pity them quietly for not being able to distract themselves with anything but another person.

    • JenniferP said:

      Their failure of imagination does not constitute your life crisis.

      • Preeeecisely! It is a mark of maturity to accept that one’s own opinion of Life Being Good cannot necessarily be applied to the rest of the populace with a brush and tray.

        Or I tell myself that while wearing footie pajamas and watching cartoons.

    • CCL said:

      LW here, can I just say I love love love the phrase ”transitive property of my personal experience” and might have to steal it.
      Thank you for the response! I hope I didn’t come off as someone who would respond with ”Eh, you don’t need it anyway” to someone who was sad about a breakup/rejection. I do get a bit uncomfortable/uncertain around grievances of the ”I can’t find a date and I’ll probably end up as a Sad Single Person with a living-roomfull of cats, etc.” variety, but the ”other people’s grievances don’t have to be applicable to you for you to sympathise” and ”thinking of sex/romance as a hobby which is awesome for some people but doesn’t interest me personally” mentalities are very helpful and ones I should remind myself occasionally to put into practice

  16. Badger Rose said:

    Regarding the issue of “what do I do when my friend talk/complain about their love life?” — I agree with the Captain that, *even if it’s true*, telling someone “You don’t need a relationship! You’re fine like you are!” is not very useful if they’re hurting over being single. One thing that I’ve found really helpful is remembering that when a friend is talking about something that hurts them, it’s totally okay to just be sympathetic. No need to provide advice or whatever. It can be difficult because in a lot of ways our culture pushes Saying Something That Will Make It All Better (especially for women–the caretaker thing again), and so it’s tempting to try to either provide the piece or advice that will solve the problem (“let me set you up with my friend! have you tried online dating? perhaps this meetup will have a guy at it!”), or that will convince them it’s not really a problem (“oh, you don’t need a partner anyway.”)

    But it is perfectly acceptable–indeed, often preferable, because unwanted advice/”perspective” is often annoying–to simply say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting. That sucks,” and so on. It’s sort of like, oh, how you can detest boats and boating and secretly think that everyone should just stay on dry land and still feel bad if a tree falls on your BFF’s canoe. (And on the flip side, you can go, “Yay, I’m so happy for you!” if a friend meets an awesome new partner, just the same as you could do that for your friend who just saved up for their awesome new boat.)

    (If someone straight-up asks for advice about something like that, it’s also fine to say, “That’s not something I can really speak to” or whatever. Again, same as if you were the boat-loather and they wanted advice on what color to paint it or what type of weatherproofing to apply.)

    • coyotiemountian said:

      This, exactly.

      I think that a lot of the time, venting people just want to be heard and have someone acknowledge their hurt.

      They may just want to hear that you care about them and think that they have value.

    • Jane said:

      Oh yeah, that’s one thing I’m working on in a lot of my relationships — we all tend to spring into advice-mode without really thinking about it, without assessing beforehand what the other person is really asking for.

      And with some bitterness I say, it’s _also_ important to ask if what the other person wants is just sympathy and a listening ear to prevent your own burnout — I have lost friends who thought that me telling them a problem in my life was a request for them to fix it, and got overwhelmed. (I base this assumption on the helpless waving of hands and repeated, “I don’t know what you want me to say/do!”)

    • Toestands said:

      Yes, this is so very true!

      I have a slight practical problem, though: for various reasons many of my friends currently Do Not Live Close By, so most of our communication (including any voicing of sadness) happens via Skype. And the problem is, at some point I tend to run out of ways to say “Aw, that sucks, I’m sorry you’re unhappy”. And that is when the urge to start solving the problem or convincing them there is no problem strikes, because I don’t want to start recycling “Aw, I’m sorry”:s for the fear that my friends might think I’m insincere and/or uninterested.

      This is far less of a problem when we meet in person thanks to the wonderful thing that is facial expression. Still, most of the time we communicate via text, so if anyone has any advice I’d be very grateful.

      • Manatee said:

        Maybe try waiting until your friends start showing signs they think you are uninterested before you worry about it? Sometimes it’s fine for the other person to just punctuate a narrative with ‘oh that sucks’, ‘oh no’, ‘ go on’, ‘oh i know’ etc. Just think Sybil Fawlty’s phone conversations!

      • BayTree said:

        Well, there’s always skype video chats. Then you do get facial expressions. But if you’re like me and hate hate hate video calling, you’ll need something different.

        I just outright say “I really am listening/sad for you/sympathetic, I just sound like an uncaring parrot because of text. Have an internet-hug.”

        • Toestands said:

          ‘I just outright say “I really am listening/sad for you/sympathetic, I just sound like an uncaring parrot because of text. Have an internet-hug.”’

          That’s a good idea, I think I’ll do that! Thank you!

          And Manatee, I do try not to worry about it. However, my friends have asked whether I’m interested several times now and I don’t want it to become a pattern where they feel like they need to stop once the second “damn, that’s not fun” comes around. :)

    • clodia said:

      http://www.girlswithslingshots.com/comic/gws745/

      I make it a habit to ask people “Advice or Sympathy?” when they are coming to me with complaints. It keeps me from guessing which one they actually want, and I suspect it helps them better define what they’re wanting out of the interaction.

  17. Jolly said:

    I am not super in the same boat, but I have not felt interested in any specific person in the last year and a half (post-shitty breakup). My favorite part is being told by a kind-of-friend who wanted me to go on a date with him that I was just scared because I had my heart broken, etc. I think he thought that he was being a sensitive, insightful dude, when really he was being patronizing, disrespectful, and absolutely infuriating. Luckily, I feel like it ended up being a defining moment, because I got so fucking grossed out by this person trying to tell me how I felt, that his behavior like his went on my “automatic shutdown, no discussion” list.

    People who tell you how you feel about things are being disrespectful to you. It is fair to tell them so. For me, it would look something like, “I understand that you want what is best for me, but I need you to not try to tell me how I feel about things from now on. I find it disrespectful and it makes me extremely uncomfortable, so please stop.” If they try to argue, I would just ask redirect back to it a couple of times by repeating the request/restating that you need them to be willing to not treat you in a way that makes you uncomfortable. And if they can’t, they are a shitty friend.

    Then I would go with one reminder before extraction from now on. “Soandso, you are trying to tell me how I feel again, please don’t.” “Being single doesn’t make me unhappy. Friends trying to dictate how I feel DOES make me unhappy. I need you to stop.” If they defend it, excuse yourself from the conversation.

    I may be reading my own life into this, but is your second problem less that friends are legitimately confiding in you about deep sorrow or specific sad events, but more that they are doing to whole “let’s have a big bitch sessions about how ‘woe is me I am single?'” If not, ignore my next response.

    I think that saying “…m-maybe being single can be okay?” is a fine response at a point. It is one thing to be hurting from a breakup or whatever, where listening and being there for friend is the goal of the day, and you would be coming off a way oblivious/calling the kettle black if you were like HOW ABOUT YOU JUST STOP WANTING TO BE WITH PEOPLE?? WORKS FOR ME!!

    But going through life constantly whining about how I’M GONNA DIE ALONE WHYYYYYY CAN’T I MEET ANYONE gets really goddammed annoying, even to people who DO relate to that feeling (coming from a person who feels that way A Lot Of The Time, but still doesn’t think it’s a fun or productive topic of conversation). Having had a couple of friends who spent Way Too Much Time trying to tell me how terrible their life is because they are single (which, thanks friend! I’m single too and you are making it sound like you think my life is meaningless! stop doing that!), I think there is definitely room for the “or we could… try to enjoy being single? do you want to go to this [taxidermy class] [dance lessons*] [film series] [whatever] with me?” Then at that point you can just talk about the pros and cons of taxidermy classes or whatever, and not talk about how terrible life is when you aren’t getting it on the regular.

    To me, the UGH, STILL SINGLE conversation feels a lot like an extension of “let’s complain about our bodies!” time, where it is just focusing on things we feel are wrong with us, that aren’t really that wrong with us, and listening to this echo chamber of negativity is depressing and useless and just extremely uncomfortable. Like that situation, you are not obligated to really involve yourself, but it will also be tiresome for everyone involved if you try to turn it into a teachable moment all of the time about how great your friends are and how we should be positive about things and the media is just telling us blah blah whatever. I think that being like WELL I MAYBE THINGS ARE NOT SO BAD, [HERE IS A NEW TOPIC OF CONVERSATION] will be your friend in this scenario.

    *dance classes are also not a bad place to meet potential mates, but I wouldn’t bring that up in the “let’s love single” conversation

    • JenniferP said:

      Jolly, this comment is outstanding, especially the female bonding dynamics stuff on the back end. Awesomely stated.

    • Leonine said:

      Oh my gosh yes this. My new year’s resolution this year was that I would not participate in two types of conversations: those of the oh-god-why-are-we-single variety, and the competitive body-snark/ diet talk variety. Not in a dramatic way; mostly, I either just stay quiet, or quietly leave the room and come back in ten minutes when things have moved on. Opting out of the negativity echo chamber has been one of the best things I’ve done for myself this year.

  18. BiancaSnoozes said:

    I could have written this as well. I’ve never dated, never had sex, and am not looking to do so. I also feel like characterizing myself as “asexual” is kind of…well, unnecessary. How do I know how I am going to feel in 10 years? I might feel differently. I don’t know. All I know is that I do not want a partner right now, and that has always been true up to now.

    I can totally sympathize regarding friends. I’ve gotten a lot of flack and anger about this. I’ve lost friends. I’ve heard everything from “But you’re such a great person, it’s selfish to not be with someone” to “You’re just afraid of intimacy. If you had any balls you would be in a relationship.” And of course, “Oh, we all know you’re gay and just not out of the closet.”

    Also, from another perspective, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of anger when friends in relationships are having trouble. I totally agree that it is not OK to say “You don’t need to be with anyone!” to someone who is hurting over losing someone. However, I do realize that these conversations can easily turn to angry feelings of “You have no idea how I’m feeling!”

    The best thing I can come up with for this situation is “You’re right. I don’t know how you’re feeling. But I can see that you are really hurting, and I’m really sorry that you are going through this. I’m here to listen if you need me.” Sometimes there’s nothing you can say to someone in pain, even if you had all the sexual experience in the world. It wouldn’t make you suddenly able to solve all of their relationship problems. And it wouldn’t make statements that essentially boil down to “If you were like me, you wouldn’t have these problems,” any more palatable.

    I guess my point is–someone who is going to not “believe” you about your sexuality or lack thereof, or someone who thinks that they know you better than you do, probably isn’t that great a friend. It is not a “problem” that you have that you have to ask your friends to tolerate or convince them of. Someone who does not listen do you when you say that their comments are disrespectful probably won’t be respectful of you in other ways as well. When a friendship is working, you give and receive support from each other, and if this is not happening, the friendship is probably not working.

    • coyotiemountian said:

      ““But you’re such a great person, it’s selfish to not be with someone””

      …What?
      Not to you Bianca, but whoever said this seems to be implying that great people MUST give their love to someone and not hord it all to themselves.

      I have no words.

      • V said:

        I have had this one said to me before. “But you’re awesome, and if you stay alone, you’re depriving someone of the chance to be with you.” There are lots of people in the world, I’m sure whoever might otherwise have been with me will be just fine with someone else.

        • Aris Merquoni said:

          Cue Tim Minchin’s “If I Didn’t Have You”.

          • Play it as you walk backwards and peace the fuck out from that conversation.

      • unlurking said:

        >““But you’re such a great person, it’s selfish to not be with someone””

        Chilling, and gross. And not even logical – is it less ~selfish to not be with 7,000,000,000 people than not be with 7,000,000,001 people? OR MAYBE your life is your own.

      • Brooks said:

        Indeed. Of course, if that’s the axiom a person is working under, why limit that to being with one person? A snarky comeback of, “Guess you’ll have to be polyamorous to make up for me. Sorry about that!” might be in order.

        • ashbet said:

          Brooks — it’s okay, I’ve got you covered. I’m taking up three people for myself (because I couldn’t be so selfish as to share my awesomeness with only one), so that gives two uninterested-in-dating people a pass! ;)

          /totally kidding

          (I’m amused by the retort, and I like the cut of your snarky jib!)

    • Manatee said:

      ‘someone who is going to not “believe” you about your sexuality or lack thereof, or someone who thinks that they know you better than you do, probably isn’t that great a friend. [...] Someone who does not listen do you when you say that their comments are disrespectful probably won’t be respectful of you in other ways as well.’

      THIS. So hard. Every single person I’ve known who has had the ‘my version of sexuality is correct/superior’ attitude, has also been super sketchy about consent and boundaries. It is now on my list of red flags.

  19. Evenstar said:

    I think this also applies to people who have or have had a desire for romantic relationships, but choose to remain single during a certain period of their life. I am currently a happily coupled het female in my twenties, but I did not date in middle school or high school (I was committed to remaining a virgin until I was 17, and had no real motivation to be in a non-sexual relationship with someone I would have to break up wth as soon as I moved and/or graduated, mixed with too little available boys and none I was that interested in, except the wrong ones of course). I got a lot of s&!# for this at various points, such as “but you must like someone” and “why haven’t you had a boyfriend?” It’s a shame we put so much pressure on romantic relationships so that even those of us who want them, but choose to focus on our friendships/studies/hobbies/cats, are gonna get pressured to be in mediocre relationships with people we don’t like much, which can really just be a waste of time. On another note, I am not Christian and don’t believe in waiting until marriage, but luckily my Christian friends criticized me the least for wanting to focus on non-romantic aspects of my life for a while. Among its faults (like when you do want to have sex), the Christian dating model does have some strong points (like waiting until you’re ready, which can be never if you choose).

    • espritdecorps said:

      I was in my early 20’s when I started dating, besides having some catch-up to do on the social cues and needing some extra kissing practice (my first GF was happy to provide that), I don’t seem to have missed out on anything.

      My friends in high school acted as though I was stricken with the terrible disease of VIRGINITY. They kept getting me drunk and leaving me alone with guys who had been given the impression I would have sex with them. Which was awkward, until the time it got rapey, after which I had to be very firm about my boundaries around alcohol.

      Surprisingly their efforts did not make sex feel like something I needed to do RIGHT NOW, and ultimately led to me finding new friends.

  20. coyotiemountian said:

    My best platonic-lady friend is a lot like cool cat lady. She is an introverted loner, but she loves company during her outdoor adventures and so on. She isn’t that interested in dating because she needs a lot of space, and doesn’t react well to people who get too clingy. She has had one boyfriend, but they didn’t have much in common and she was uncomfortable with him cuddling her etc. I have wondered if she might be on the asexual spectrum, but it really isn’t my business. If she wanted to talk about it, I would listen but she hasn’t felt the need to define her self to me and she doesn’t need to. I define her as a grand adventuress extraordinaire.

    But she is just so awesome! We are both wildlife biologists and ‘talk shop’ all the time. Not many people want to discuss insect genetalia with appropriate enthusiasm. She has talked me into hang gliding, mountain climbing, skiing, and all kinds of adventures. We often joke that our friend group of girls will all retire together in the mountains, suport ourselves with gardening/bee keeping and tour the country on scooters as old ladies in a gang called ‘the great tit wonders’. Any male partners will live in ‘the man shed’ at the base of the mountain.

    I do date, and I talk to her about it because she offers a great perspective. She is honest, sassy and funny. I know it isn’t always interesting to her, but she has convinced me to get out of unhappy blah relationships because a blah relationship isn’t worth the time and energy you could spend doing other fun things. Like hang gliding and rafting. Hah. She listened to my breakup feelings, and would sympathize, but she also brings out my inner badass.

    Cool Cat Lady, you are cool, and your non-dating priorities can be a breath of fresh air. You may not be able to sympathize with wanting a relationship, but I am sure you can understand wanting something that you may not have full control in getting. Be it an expensive vacation, financial stability, a dream career, anything like that. You don’t have to want what they want to lend a sympathetic ear and understand how frustrated and insecure they may be feeling. You may even be able to take them along on your adventures and show them that they can be awesome all on their own.

    • ashbet said:

      Both you and your friend sound amazing. There are not enough people in the world who want to discuss insect genitalia with the appropriate enthusiasm! :D

  21. Zee said:

    I am a woman in my mid-40s who is purposely single and very happy about it. No one who is important in my life is the least bit concerned about me being single, in part because the people who matter the most to me tend to be “whatever makes you happy without hurting anyone is cool” sort of people, and in part because I never present my being single to them as anything other than what makes me happy. I make no apologies or excuses for being true to myself and I do my best to walk away from anyone who would demand them of me.

    There was a time in my past when I was unhappy about being single but rather than sharing the long saga that ended with my current state of happiness, let me just cut to the chase: my truth is that the only time that I truly was unhappy about being single was when I let myself be convinced that I must be unhappy because I was single. After having made one too many foolish choices because I was operating on someone else’s idea of what was right for my life and not my own, I decided that I was going to do what made me happy and, sure enough, I became happier.

    I love being single. I am most definitely NOT asexual. I’m not even entirely willing to rule out the possibility that at some point in my life I might have another romantic relationship. But right now and for the foreseeable future I am totally happy not to have one.

    I’m also totally happy for my friends who have happy, healthy romantic relationships, concerned for my friends who have unhappy or unhealthy relationships, and sympathetic to my friends who want romantic relationships that they don’t have. I’ve even given – asked for! – advice to friends in any of those groups and in return I often get excellent advice from them about my own issues. Something that I think gets too frequently overlooked in any discussion about romantic relationships is that although romantic relationships are different from platonic relationships which are different from familial relationships which are different from professional relationships which are different from….well, you get the point – there are certain commonalities in human relationships. No, I don’t know what it’s like to have a wife who does X or a husband who does Y, but I do have a mother who does this and a friend who does that, so even if I don’t have direct experience in the situation at hand (not that all romantic relationships play out the same way, anyway – they’re all individual as well), if advice is wanted, I offer what I can. In any case, I can always offer sympathy and a shoulder to a friend who is unhappy.

  22. lilaengelrocket said:

    i haven’t read all the comments above. sorry if that’s a faux pas and also if i’m just reiterating something someone else said. i had a pretty strong reaction to this question because i felt the same way at one point not so long ago (minus the love of cats). a few of my friends and family members were convinced that i was just in the closet and would make fun of me all the time for it. it was infuriating. i’m perfectly comfortable with my sexuality, even tho i’m also very private about it. it’s just not anyone else’s business. also, i was not in the closet. i’m glad that wasn’t the case because their mockery would’ve made coming out sooooo much harder.

    i was just not interested in dating or really being around people much at all. i was in a very unhappy place in my life and i needed time to get my own sh*t together before i even considered bringing someone else and their sh*t into it. however, i didn’t even know at that point if i would ever want to bring someone else and their sh*t into my life. i just needed to take care of myself then. i did try to explain it to certain people sometimes but then i just started telling everyone to step off. “it’s my life and i’ll do what i want with it. if you don’t like it, that’s your problem,” i’d say, indignantly. it really isn’t anyone else’s business. and anyone who tries to make it their business needs to be told to stop. sometimes you have to be very firm and sometimes you have to get angry. i did end up getting badgered so much about it that i blew up a few times. that made it pretty clear that it was a subject i was not interested in having discussed. it wasn’t the ideal way to handle the situation but it got my “leave me alone about it” point across. the “leave me alone about it” point needs to be made. you don’t have to justify your choices to everyone or anyone.

    in my case, i did get myself to a better place in my mind and met someone with whom i am currently happily co-habitating. i haven’t heard a lot of “i told you so” because i think, frankly, most people are surprised at where i am in my life because i was so adamant about just wanting to be left alone in more than one way. that may not be the case for you. some people are perfectly happy being on their own and that is perfectly fine. the people who are bothered by that concept are the ones who need to change their thinking. but it’s not your job to facilitate that either. just do what makes *you* happy and forget what anyone else has to say about it. live and let live, my friend. it goes both ways, eventually. sometimes you have to point out to someone “i don’t bother you about how you live your life so don’t bother me about how i live mine. please.” that’s much better than getting angry! the idea of what a “normal” lifestyle is has been changing so much and will continue to include even more different ways of living in the future. so just keep doing what you want to be doing and some day no one will think it’s weird anymore, anyway. then you won’t have to explain anything to anyone at all!

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      Oh, yes. I am in the middle of the turd rodeo, looking for work, recovering from rape, adjusting to chronic illness, and I wish I could put a tariff on people who trill, “Well, if you wait until things are _perfect_, you’ll never find anyone.” (I find myself snapping back,”Really? How lovely and restful!” Next time, I might try saying it out loud, just for a change .)

  23. redgirl said:

    “But what if you DIE ALONE and your face is EATEN BY CATS?”

    How about, “Well I won’t really care, because I’ll be dead?” :-)

    Also, I really like the Captain’s suggestion for people who say, “Well you’ll change your mind someday.” If you try to explain why you won’t, you are just engaging them in an argument you don’t want to have. Better just to say, “Maybe I will someday, but right now I’m not interested.”

    It actually took me a long time to learn that when people offer advice/opinions that I completely disagree with, I don’t *have* to explain that I disagree and why. It’s totally okay to say, “Interesting way of looking at it!” or “Thanks for the tip, I’ll take it into consideration!” Just because you thank someone for their advice doesn’t mean you’re obligated to follow it. I know that probably seems like a no-brainer to most people but it took me a while to learn it.

    • H.Regalis said:

      “A lot of asexual (+ child-free!) folks get the smug ‘You’ll change your mind someday’ treatment.”

      That one drives me absolutely up a wall, but yeah, brushing off the sayer is pretty much the best way to handle it. I was annoyed (but not surprised) to be given that line by a super activist acquaintance once, and they even prefaced it by, “this is going to sound really smug, but . . . .” Ditto to having told that by childless folks (seriously). Think, people.

      Maybe you will change your mind one day. Maybe you won’t. No one knows the future, so no one can say for sure. I’ve oscillated back and forth between wanting kids and not. I’ve also done other things I couldn’t see myself doing and still do things other people probably saw as a youthful fad; for less fraught examples, I used to be a hardcore bike-everywhere person and now I have a car, and I still have facial piercings and am well far into adulthood.

      The thing that irks me especially about getting told that is that to me it always has the vibe of, “You will become just like me whether you like it or not,” or “You don’t have the power to choose things for yourself.” Now, I’ve heard some mind-numbingly stupid shit come out of my younger relatives’ mouths, and I will call people on being racist, etc. but I work really hard on not smugging people about their choices and beliefs.

  24. staranise said:

    I’m potentially interested in a relationship, but not in one now, and pretty okay with it. I personally respond with, “It hasn’t come my way. However, if you know someone who’d like to date a snarky, introverted feminist nerd, give me their number and I’ll totally try.” It’s almost disappointing that everyone has just gone, “Ah, good point,” and changed the subject.

    • Astral said:

      Generally where I am. Hence probably why I am reading and responding here instead of putting a dating site profile back up.

      To my version of your response, a relative responded…”Yeah, a lot of guys don’t want to date a smart independent woman. I’D be intimidated by you.”

  25. Aris Merquoni said:

    Hi, LW! Since a lot of people have covered both the “it’s totally okay to not want a relationship” (it is!) and the “you can still be an awesome friend and advice-giver” (you can!) I thought I’d throw in a comment about labels.

    I currently describe myself as an aromantic heterosexual, but I usually emphasize (if I’m revealing this to someone who I care about) that it’s a descriptive and not prescriptive label. Labels should be things that are useful! If you find the description or label “asexual” a handy way to describe your life, it doesn’t matter if you find later that you no longer feel asexual or aromantic or anything. Please don’t think that you can’t take advantage of the community, whether or not you choose to adopt the lingo, because you’re unsure about the specifics or what’s going to happen in the future. I call myself an aromantic because I don’t know too many aromantic sexuals, because I find it a concise way of explaining my outlook, because having something official-sounding to call myself helps my self-confidence when vulgarity is out of place (i.e. calling myself a slut wouldn’t go over well,) and because I like to make people think about their assumptions about how sex and romance go together, especially in women for whom the opposite model is weirdly almost proscribed in USian culture. Also, in some ways to try and get the terminology into wider use, because while it is pretty self-descriptive a lot of people haven’t heard it before.

    But! All of these reasons are MY reasons and not OTHER people’s reasons for making the same or a different choice. I just wanted to say that there is no licensing board for how you describe your own life–much like telling your own story is encouraged elsewhere on this blog, you get to pick your own descriptors, and you don’t lose if you decide later that they don’t work for you, or even that you were incorrect. If it feels good, try it out. If it doesn’t, don’t do it. I don’t want to encourage you one way or another, only to encourage you that there may be fewer barriers than you think.

    (Aaaand if this comment is a little fuzzy, I am myself a little fuzzy from a week of simultaneous vacation and sleep deprivation, so please forgive any misstatements. Any insults are unintentional.)

    • ellex24 said:

      I like your comments about how labels are useful in a descriptive rather than prescriptive way.

      I also think the term “aromantic” needs to be bandied about more. Explaining to my gynecologist that I consider myself an aromantic bisexual was fun, but it boiled down to “Sex is great, it’s people I find difficult to deal with, so for all practical intents and purposes, I’m celibate right now”.

  26. Jfs said:

    I’ve been single for about half my adult life, and often for periods of up to 5 years, which was fine by me. But the biggest peeve I had with those friends who tried to commiserate with me about my singleness was that they obviously assumed that I had no love in my life; and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    So this comic makes me cry and laugh at the same time – hopefully some of you will enjoy it.

    http://www.sadiemagazine.com/issue-no-11/arts-letters/comic/i-think-i-am-in-friend-love-with-you

  27. Talir said:

    As several others have written, this letter could have been written by me (also female, mid-30s, also with the cats–a friend once gave me a crazy cat lady action figure).

    The hardest part for me was getting my mom to understand that I wasn’t interested in dating, marriage or kids (it was the latter that really got her upset, the whole ‘you will die alone with no one to care for you’ argument). This went on for more than ten years until I finally I turned to her and said ‘This is who I am. If you say you love me, then you need to understand that this is part–a big part–of the person you love, and changing it would change ME.’ Something about framing it that way, not as a decision but as a part of my identity really helped her to accept it, and we haven’t talked about it since.

    In terms of talking about it with other people, they tend to be more fascinated by the fact that I am have a long-term living relationship with a gay man than the fact that I don’t really date. Instead of me being defensive about my supposed ‘flaw’, I get to chat happily about my alternative lifestyle and how much it suits me. Its not exactly the ‘change the subject’ advice that the captain gave (although I do that too) but it does make the conversation more about how my unconventional life is awesome rather than a reason for pity or scorn.

  28. duaecat said:

    I’d really like the “lol, single lady with cats! Single lady with cats!” trope to die already. I was a non-single lady with cats dating a lady with cats, and then we broke up, and I met a man with cats, and we got together (with cats) and my mother and father were married (with cats) and had kids (with cats) and some of my favorite baby photos are of myself with the two Maine Coons that are close to three times my size being semi-patient cuddle toys.

    It starts falling into the scaly cannibalistic llama territory, as far as tropes go.

    • Xenophile said:

      I really don’t understand that trope. Even if we set aside the whole “What’s wrong with being a homebody? What’s wrong with being single?” principle it makes no sense. I have cats and would love to have a dog, but having a dog means having to be home everyday to feed/walk them, while having a cat means I can go out with friends or travel whenever I like. I have a cat in order to NOT be an asocial homebody.

    • espritdecorps said:

      Yeah, We have three cats in our family. I have never understood why cats are incompatible with having other people in your life.

      One kills the abundant rodents in our semi-rural neighborhood, one helps with rodent control and follows my oldest everywhere, one has latched on to my youngest and meows at me when she needs a diaper change.

      Cats are good people.

      • JenniferP said:

        Oh man, I love the third cat the most! “TINY HUMAN STINKY. YOU CHANGE NAO.”

  29. YB said:

    I am super frustrated with that smug ‘you don’t mean that’ attitude. Last time I had someone pull the “Oh, you’ll change your mind…” shtick on me I shut them down with, “I’ve known that [no children/no relationship] is what I’ve wanted for over a decade. I’ve been SAYING it for over a decade. Tell me, how many years do I have to repeat something before [someone/you] will start believing me?”

    Feel free to tailor the tone of voice/body language to the specific audience in question, but for me it’s been a fantastic, ‘you are questioning my completely valid choices about my personal life and you need to STEP OFF’ response.

  30. When I get concern trolling about dying alone with my cats I typically say something like, “Jesus, I hope they eat my face! I can’t imagine how awful it will be for them when they’re source of food and comfort is gone and my body is just laying there, decomposing, waiting for one of my friends to realize I haven’t shown up to quiz night in awhile.” I’ve found that more-or-less shuts down the concern trolling. (It doesn’t always win you friends, though.)

  31. JenniferP said:

    Dear Letter Writer, someone made you an entire .gif Tumblr. Start here.

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