Here’s the deal: I’m a single lady who was very successful early in life in her chosen field (a subset of the entertainment industry) and I’ve basically been a workaholic, focused only on building/maintaining my body of work, career trajectory, and fanbase since the age of 21. When I was 22-23, I kept telling myself I didn’t have to worry about relationships or starting a family. Heck, until pretty recently I was convinced I didn’t WANT a family but now I’m not so sure, as I recently found out that some friends, single and driven as I, harbor desires of becoming parents that I had no idea about.
I’m 27 now, and suddenly the rollercoaster has tipped from the up ramp of “Hey, I’ve got plenty of time to meet Mr. Right/maybe get married/maybe not/it’s all good” to the free-fall of “Holy shit, most of my friends are married/seriously dating/pregnant and I’m walking alone through this world like Bruce Banner at the end of Incredible Hulk.”
I realize this is probably an over-thinking, over-dramatic whine, but bear with me: I’ve had exactly one relationship, from roughly 16-22, which was horrible and controlling and emotionally abusive and fucked me up but good. I’m way past the “All menfolk are evil emotional abusers!” by now, but. I’ve only had a serious relationship with this one guy. I’ve only had sex with this one guy. I’ve been on exactly ONE date since we broke up. One date in 5 years is, to me, not good odds, no matter how I look at it. There are times when I wonder if the time for casual dating has gone by and if I start to seriously dip my toe back in now (ie going out with the express purpose of meeting dudes) it’ll be either hookups or Serious Relationships, with no middle ground.
On the other hand, I’m pretty happy being single. I have great friends, great parents, I own a home, I have hobbies and actually leave the house on a regular basis, I love my career and I think it’ll probably always come first for me. I’m not so lonely I cry into my cat-shaped pillow every night, but I am lonely. And I have this nagging fear that important time, time I should have spent dating and getting Darth Vaders out of my system and finding places to meet the kind of folks I’m into, has passed me by. That if I linger much longer in Singletown, I’ll become a permanent resident and that, I’m NOT sure I’m okay with.
So I think my question is, is this normal for someone my age? Or am I shit out of luck, having wasted my wild wacky 20s working 18 hours a day, being extremely driven to earn money and advance, and spending time with people in my field (most of whom aren’t really my type, sadly), rather than pursuing a relationship? Have I fucked up by not going after this proactively, instead just taking a “It’ll happen when it happens” approach? And if I were to start being more proactive about dating, do you have some coping strategies to assuage normal geeky insecurities (not “Oh god, is this guy an abuser too?” but more “Am I talking too much about Star Wars? Am I coming off as Liz Lemon? Oh god, I think I have steak caught in my front teeth WHY DOES HE KEEP STARING AT MY TEETH?”)
Any advice you have on quelling my periodic attacks of nerves on this subject would be really appreciated.
Single Lady Not Sure If She Wants a Ring On It
Dear Single Lady:
I can tell you why you feel shitty right now. Every horrendous boilerplate romantic comedy shat out by Hollywood and every horrendous boilerplate article targeted at single women shat out by every mainstream media outlet & magazine would have you believe that young Western single women in wealthy countries are to be pitied (instead of having the most wealth, education, happiness, choice, and opportunity they’ve ever had in all of human history) and that twenty-seven is old and that you had better lock down True Fucking Love Right Fucking Now Or Else Tumbleweeds Will Roll Around In Your Useless Vagina. This is not an accident. It’s profitable to make you feel awful about this so that your insecurities will drive the great wheel of capitalism or perhaps cause you to fuck unworthy dudes. It gets reinforced by people who love to drive page views by writing “provocative” articles about The Status Quo: Have You Really, Really Considered Making It Work For You, Really?
If you want to meet people and date them, meet people and date them. If you want to stay focused on work while you do this, stay focused on work and carve out the amount of time that works for you to spend on dating. If you want to stay focused on work after you get married and potentially have kids, focus on finding a dude who is really into the idea of being the primary caregiver and/or focus on making enough money yourself so that hiring childcare is a truly viable option for you. If you’re serious about finding someone to have kids with, keep it light in the beginning while you are first getting to know someone but if things get serious use your words to make sure y’all are on the same page. Don’t turn into someone you are not in order to date people. No makeover montage required.
While you had your head down doing your work (and becoming more awesome and grounded and finally ready to date after a very bad experience?) these past few years (hopefully not shitting out romantic comedies about uptight women who work too much until they are “saved” by loving some bland dude and developing viable womb-fruit, or, The Compleat Works of Katherine Heigl) this thing called online dating really exploded. Sometimes it can get really gross and shitty in terms of the messages you get, but you don’t have to meet any of those people in person and can just mock-delete-block them from your life. I swear that dating sites are also full of awesome people who might be excited for you to talk a lot about Star Wars (or do your Buffalo Bill impression in the Skylark).
I also promise that you can move at whatever speed you want. In my experience that involves a lot of first dates that don’t really go anywhere, a small number of second dates (most of which don’t go anywhere), a lot of crushes and false starts and awkward kisses or missed opportunities to kiss, some things that look really good at first that don’t pan out, some people who are way more into you than you are into them, and once in a great while, SHAZAM! There is a cool person who gets you and is good at the kissing parts and the not-kissing parts. Connection is rare, and Not Connection is the usual outcome of any dating situation, so it may help you to relax and not panic if you go into dates thinking “Are you a cool person I enjoyed hanging out with and might like to spend time with again” rather than ARE YOU
MY MUMMY THE ONE FOR ME?
Dating even at its best is a process where you figure out what you want from dating, like a really intense and potentially psychologically damaging game of Duck, Duck, Goose. “Not you, not you, not you, not you, not you…You?” This is because you could make a list of qualities-you-want-in-a-partner and someone could show up checking all your boxes and you could still not like that person all that much (or s/he could not like you that much) because attraction is completely subjective and mysterious. There’s no real shortcut. You just go out with people who aren’t right for you until someone is right for you.
To fully admit my own biases, right now at the age of 38, I’m smugly and disgustingly in like with an amazing, brilliant, hilarious, handsome, kind, thoughtful, white-hot evil genius of a man I met on a dating site a scant month or so ago.
Here’s how I did it (last 8-10 months edition):
- Last summer, post breakup of serious long-term relationship, cautiously revamped dating site profile and dipped toe into dating pool.
- Went on some dates. NOOOOO AAAH TOO SOON
- Deleted/hid dating profile, spent 4 months hitting “Play Next Episode” on Netflix and wallowing in freakish misery.
- Late December…depression….might….be…. lifting? Started being more social in general, relaunched dating profile with much cuter photo and at least one “I do not give one single fuck” photo.
- Went on some dates that ranged from comically bad (the guy who brought his feature screenplay because he thought I might want to give him feedback on it…on our date) to “Meh.”
- Developed a full-fledged crush that allowed me to pleasantly sport-flirt with someone for a month or so.
- To distract myself from said crush, went out with a really cool guy who asked me out. Had a low-key, fun first date and a legendary second date and an even better third date and I’ve lost count of dates now and have stopped ranking them by awesomeness because they are all good.
It was total dumb luck, in other words. If it hadn’t been? I’d have gone on dates with different people until something clicked, or taken a break for a while to work on other stuff, or who knows?
Here are the rules of dating I try to follow:
- The other person is just a human, by which I mean, don’t get too caught up in performing or expecting gender roles about who initiates/pays/pursues, etc.
- If you’re interested in someone, ask them out or tell them about it sooner rather than later, before you get too caught up in a fantasy or invested in the outcome.
- Nobody owes you time or affection, so don’t approach dating with a sense of entitlement.
- Understand that connection is rare and be cool and gracious about rejection – “Sorry you feel that way, since I enjoyed meeting you so much, but I totally understand. Good luck!”
- You can’t control whether someone will like you, so don’t change yourself to meet their expectations (or what you assume their expectations are). Focus on whether you like them.
- Listen to the other person – pay attention to the actual interaction that is taking place and not the one in your head.
- Don’t date anyone who isn’t as cool as your friends, by which I mean, the time spent with them is as fun as the time you spend with your friends and they show you the same kindness and consideration your friends do and get you the way your friends do and you can’t wait to introduce them to your friends.
- Look for reciprocity, honesty, and ease. Is it easy to make plans? Is it easy to get in touch with them? Do they do their share…of planning things? Of holding up their end of the conversation? Of talking about feelings? As you get to know them, are they who they appear to be? Do you feel like you can say what’s on your mind and ask questions? Do they respect boundaries? (Good!) Do you feel like you have to make yourself smaller or dumb it down to be with them? Do you feel like you’re always chasing them? Are you making pro/con lists and trying to talk yourself into giving them a chaaaaance? Do skeletons keep popping out of their closet? Do they say stuff like “I’m a mess, you deserve better than me?” Do you say stuff like “Well, there’s nothing really WRONG with them…?” to yourself? To your friends? (Bad! Abort.)
- Attraction! Or, as Commander Logic calls it, “groin.” Are you really excited about kissing this person (etc.)? Sadly, not every person who gives you happy pants feelings is the right person to build a happy life with, but you can’t force or fake attraction, so kiss some people as opportunities arise and see how you feel about that.
I hope sincerely that dating is fun for you and that you find what you want. It’s a crapshoot, so you’re doing a good job by making sure you’re a happy single person who likes herself and her life. May good luck carry you through until you find One of Your People.