#221: There is no “normal” way to be or fall in love.

Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth
The ugly truth is that my horrible movies about desperate "uptight" career women who are "saved" by the magic properties of some random dude's penis have been known to cause spontaneous eye-bleeding in people of intelligence and taste.

Hi Captain!

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).

Are you my mummy/The Empty Child from Doctor Who.
Leave your gas mask & STRONG DESIRE TO IMPRINT FOREVER at home on the first couple of dates.

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?

Ziggy and his duck in the bar from The Wire.
Duck, duck...not you, Ziggy.

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.
  • A unicorn and rainbow

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Nobody owes you time or affection, so don’t approach dating with a sense of entitlement.
  4. 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!”
  5. 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.
  6. Listen to the other person – pay attention to the actual interaction that is taking place and not the one in your head.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.)
  9. 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.

50 thoughts on “#221: There is no “normal” way to be or fall in love.

  1. Oh, and L.W., just so you know, if you want to have children or not, you have plenty of time to figure that one out. Contrary to movie myth, your womb does not expire when you are thirty-five. (I asked my gynecologist explain this to me one visit.)

    1. On the other hand, there IS an eventual expiration date. On the other other hand, we live in the 21st century, and women can have babies without a husband. It’s allowed.

      1. My best friend just had a beautiful baby at 38. LW, you’ve got at least 11 years, ok? Probably more. Think of how your life changed over the last 11 years, that’s how much (and more) it will change over the next 11.

        1. “Think of how your life changed over the last 11 years, that’s how much (and more) it will change over the next 11.”

          I have such a hard time remembering that. I somehow acquired this weird idea that grown ups don’t change, or change at a really slow rate, or something (despite lots and lots of evidence to the contrary), so I feel like, of course I changed a lot over the last 11 years! I was a teenager in 2001 and am no longer a teenager! But actually, when I think it through, it seems that the only adults who don’t change and grow are the ones who choose not to.

          So, yeah, people change, and life changes, and the things that made you happy before might not make you happy now, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have done those things or that you were being the wrong kind of happy or anything like that. Just keep doing things that make you happy, and if that changes, change what you’re doing.

          1. I agree there is no point stressing about fertility. Hey, maybe the dude you fall in love with will have fertility problems and you won’t at age 42! You never know. 27 is WAY early to be concerned about this. My pregnant friends? They are 33, 37, etc.

            Fertility/age issues are a real thing- and people should be aware so they are informed. NOT because they should feel pressured. You can look it up or ask your doctor to explain. The good news is that most people in their 30s can have kids, no problem, and others need help. Some would have needed help in their 20s. Don’t be pressured by young moms to do something if it does not feel right to you.

            Life is not A RACE! It’s just a story in progress.

            If you are not yet with your Baby Daddy there is no point stressing. AND research shows that people without kids are just as happy as people with kids. We’ve been sold that it is the ‘be all end all’ but it is not. Personally, I could not have imagined having kids in my 20s. Then I would not have a PhD and a career that I really enjoy!

  2. Hey Friend. My exciting adventures in not being partnered up at 27 are documented elsewhere on this very site, so I just want to reiterate: there is no one way to live or fall in love.

    Maybe you will fall madly in love with the very next guy you meet and you’ll have a superb marriage that lasts ’til you both die at 124 (we live in the future now!). Maybe you’ll never meet a guy who’s exactly right for you and you start a commune for similarly single ladies and have a glorious life filled with intellectual rigor and cabana boys. Maybe you’ll date until you’re 48, finally meet the love of your life, and you become the greatest foster parents on the face of the earth.

    Life is wild! Best of luck!

  3. Having a great career that you love is mostly an advantage in the real dating world (provided you have time for a relationship). People who are worth knowing really like it when someone loves what they do. I think it’s (mostly) a myth that for women it’s a dating liability to love your work. I do really know how you feel, LW, but 27 is much younger than you think it is. Good luck!

    (I am the same person who usually comments as Hanna, but WordPress is making me login now?)

  4. You are awesome! I just spent several years totally ignoring the dating pool, dating, sex, anything other than being single. The years from around 27-31, to be exact. And then I met someone and it’s awesome because the time is now right. This concept of 27 being tumbleweed land is evil and designed to fuel dating based on weird obligation and taxi light status rather than actual interest and desire. I’m sure it’s also designed to sell things, somehow, to someone. People want different things all the time. Someone who wanted (or maybe even had) kids in their early twenties might, at 28, be looking for casual fun dating instead. Which is to say that I don’t think you should worry about what other people in your age range will be looking for. We are all complex humans with constantly shifting life paths and I think dating is about finding someone(s) who are looking to share a stretch of road.

    Oh lord, on that very platitude-filled note, I am ending this comment. Good luck!

    1. Yes, exactly! I more or less gave up on dating for a few years between 27 and 31, after a bad breakup (“I think I’m in love with your sister”: ack), but it was a lot easier than I’d feared to start dating again. I got an OKCupid profile, had a lovely time playing around, met a brilliant and awesome writer, got married, and now hoping for a baby. And I’m turning 34 next week.

      No one has to do it this way, or any way at all, but I can promise you that taking a few years off of the dating thing is not going to destroy your ability to have a happy relationship or children.

  5. LW, you want to know if you are normal – it is not a big deal, even if you are not! I am turning 26 this summer, I have had PIV sex 1 time with 1 person and it sucked, I have had other kinds of sex a couple of times, never with the same person twice, not by my choice really. I really wanted (and still want) a romantic relationship of mid-to-long term, but thought “while I’m waiting, why not mess around with friends?” Unfortunately these friends turned out to be humans who had not yet quite figured out this communication thing (wrong friends to do that with) and things got yucky, and still no Sexy Partner appearing on the scene. I am online dating, and the guy I am going on a date with on Thursday asked me why I had never been in a relationship (damn you okcupid public questions I answered 4 years ago and are still true!). To be honest, I got a little worked up about it. We have this Cultural Narrative about humans who haven’t been in relationships for a long time or made Twue Wuv the focal point of their lives, or who haven’t had a “normal” amount of sex (where normal differs from person to person). I felt like I had to justify myself. Then I looked at the amount I had written in explanation and thought “Is the no-relationship + little sexual experience a big deal to me? NO!” So I deleted the long explanation and just wrote “Eh, it happened that way. It’s not a big deal to me, and it shouldn’t be to anyone else.” I almost replaced that with “I dunno, why have YOU *had* relationships, hmmmm?” Which I think is just as fair a question! So be cool! If it is not a big deal to you, IF it comes up and they try to Make It A Deal, tell them it is No Big Deal. If it is a big deal to you, be honest about that too. You don’t want to be a relationship with someone who doesn’t understand those things!

    All your experiences up until this very moment have made you exactly who you are – and you don’t want someone who misunderstands or judges who you are. Rock your workaholic self.

    Also, personally, though I am but 25 3/4, I’m really sick of people telling me “waiting just means your person will be super awesome!” or “it’ll happen when you least expect it!” and all that shit. It’s supposed to be comforting, but that got old about 4 years ago. I’m putting myself out there, but I’m working on being a person I’d be happy to be even if no one shows up. I am building awesome friends, starting a career, work as a baby-sitter with some awesome kids and am the oddmom of one of my friends’ kids, and own lots of sex toys. It could be a lot worse than this, you know what I mean?

    1. Hmmm, startledoctopus. Are they telling you this because even though you are single, and haven’t done any sort of real long term thingy, you still question why your single? Or are they giving you unsolicited advice about it? I think it makes a difference. Sometimes we do think we’re happy with where we’re at, but we still complain about it.

      I have a friend who claimed she was fine being single. Then she would get drunk with my bf and me, and she would start crying in the hallway about how she would rather be dead than single. She really hated being alone. I think it’s natural, but at the same time, I find it strange that people feel like they can’t just be not alone with friends. That’s what I did, and that’s what I think you’re doing, so that’s great!

      I mean, I don’t know what she wanted to hear. If you say, it will happen, she would just get angry because it hadn’t happened yet. I also tried to explain the difference to her about going out to the bars in order to get laid and going to the bars to have fun and meet people. If you go out with the sole intention of getting some action, there is a very small probability that it will turn into anything serious. I don’t have a problem with sleeping on the first date, but it’s definitely something that needs to involve some sort of date action, not acting slutty at a bar and taking a guy home.

      I don’t know what I’m trying to say here now. I guess that I never had a relationship until It turned 29 (well one that lasted more than a month). I don’t think it’s that uncommon. It wasn’t for lack of trying, it was just that there wasn’t any sort of mutual attraction. Also, I lived in New Mexico and the gay scene there is a bit shaky. Also, I’m a bit crazy. It’s a bad combination.

      However, I moved, I met an at-the-time awesome guy (at the ripe old age of 29), and we were together for just over two years. Until he dumped me. Two days before Valentine’s Day. I mean there were red flags left and right, but it was my first relationship, so I found it incredibly easy to ignore them. And he was brutally hot. So that helped.

      Then over the summer (after turning 32), I started chatting online with this guy. He was really nice, cute, and British(!) so we arranged to meet. He had just had a bad break-up too. It was just a hang-out sort of date. Neither of us were looking for something serious. So we went on a nerdy date (to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, science FTW), and had dinner, and well, I ended up staying the night. I was off to Vegas the following weekend, but we continued to IM and text, and went on another date. And another. He extended his visa. I finished my PhD and moved to London with him. LONDON! I live in London! It’s never ever what I expected for myself and my relationship, so even if you don’t want to hear it, it does happen when you least expect it.

      Plus, my crying, single friend I mentioned earlier? When she came to visit us in London, she told us she wanted us to introduce her to someone for a hookup. So we did. They didn’t (that night), but now they’re getting married in two weeks. It’s a bit insane to be honest, but sometimes the timing just needs to be right. If I hadn’t met my hot Brit and moved to London, she wouldn’t have met her guy, and may still be crying alone in the hallway. Who knows?

      You’re putting yourself out there, I think that’s the best you can do! And good luck! And most of all, have fun, and try not to take things seriously until it becomes serious! (And even then, not too seriously).

      1. I find your assumptions really irritating, actually. I do not cry in hallways about how I would rather be dead than single, because I could totally be in a relationship if I wanted to be – in a relationship with someone I didn’t like and wasn’t attracted to. I’d rather be single than do that, so I am. However, like every human, I like to vent to friends occasionally about how I’m sexually frustrated or feel an emotional need to be romantic that is not being fulfilled – just your everyday complaining. To which people, even people I have ASKED not to say this “well, you’ll find them someday” or whatever, which is silencing and minimizing a very real lack in my life that is currently hurting me. It’s not killing me – I can deal, but to hear a friend say “that really sucks, I’m sorry you are lonely in that way, another margarita and round of darts?” would actually make me feel better and address the issues of loneliness and not feeling heard, instead of the vague future promise that may not come true. The fact is that there ARE people out there for whom a Forever-type partner never show up, there ARE people for whom any kind of partner never shows up, and THOSE people are usually told they are being too “picky” (I have an entire blogpost about that, it irritates me so much), and my friends have NO way of knowing if I will be one of those people or not. And it strikes me as a pretty high form of both logically fallacy and privileged ignorance that people who are in relationships tell me one will come along eventually. I am not you, and human life is more complicated than that. Just because you found it doesn’t mean I will, or in the same way.

        If I complained about being broke, my friends wouldn’t tell me “well, maybe you’ll win the lottery next week.” Usually they buy me a beer and ask me if I want to talk about my job search or not. Like I said, I’m putting myself out there, which is all a reasonable human can control. But I’m not going to stake my happiness on that “promise” of the future coming true. I’ve got too much awesome stuff to do in the meantime.

        1. Yes. This.

          I am in a relationship with a wonderful guy right now (which I can only attribute to pure luck), but I spent most of my life being single, and I HATE the “it’ll happen when you least expect it” and “waiting just means your person will be super-awesome” narratives. Uggh.
          People forget how much luck is involved with finding the right partner, because they don’t want to believe that something so important can be entirely dependent on chance.

        2. “I also tried to explain the difference to her about going out to the bars in order to get laid and going to the bars to have fun and meet people. If you go out with the sole intention of getting some action, there is a very small probability that it will turn into anything serious. I don’t have a problem with sleeping on the first date, but it’s definitely something that needs to involve some sort of date action, not acting slutty at a bar and taking a guy home.”

          I dunno dude, I met my boyfriend through acting slutty at a bar. Dan Savage’s yearly columns on people who “met sleazy” have lots of similar examples. (http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=4930) I doubt the people in those columns tell all their friends and relations the whole truth about how they met… so how do we know what the “probability” of a relationship is?

          People you meet via bar hookups are just regular people; they aren’t necessarily bad relationship material. & most dates don’t result in relationships, either. There’s nothing magic about a “date” that makes any two people more intellectually or emotionaly compatible. So I don’t think it necessary to go around warning women that sluttiness is a bad man-catching strategy.

          1. Also the idea that if you complain about something, you can’t possibly really be okay/happy with it! Humans: they complain even about stuff they like!

          2. Been married for a year and a half to the coat-check boy that I drunkenly snogged & dragged home to bed with me at closing time one winter’s night a couple of years ago. Met ‘sleazy’ here!

          3. Okay, I was being a bit judgmental. Everyone’s relationships are different. I know that. However, when my friend who I gave that advice to, ended up bringing a guy home, boning him, and then having him come over every night for a booty call, then wondering why it didn’t work out, and finding out that guy was usually in a relationship and his girlfriend was out of town for the week, it’s fairly decent advice. Also in her case, it was clearly something that wasn’t getting her where she wanted, so I was also suggesting it to her as she may want to change her strategy. Was it Einstein who said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

            And yes startledoctopus, I am one of those people that believes you can’t be happy about something and complain about it. Maybe you are, but the basic definition of complain is expressing annoyance or dissatisfaction about something. I find it difficult to think that you can be both dissatisfied and satisfied about something at the same time. Maybe you can, but I can’t. So I’m sorry that’s unusual for me. Pretty much everyone I know complains about things when they’re unhappy with the situation. Yes there are varying levels of unhappiness, but still there’s some sort of unhappiness there.

            To be honest, I’m sorry I posted my response. I was just relaying my personal experiences, and how they worked, and things that did and things that didn’t. No one is be all and end all when it comes to anything, especially relationships. I’m sorry if my post seemed that way, I was just trying to be helpful. Clearly there are some situations where any response is the wrong response.

        3. “I could totally be in a relationship if I wanted to be – in a relationship with someone I didn’t like and wasn’t attracted to. I’d rather be single than do that, so I am.”
          I also have a friend who is in her late 30s / early 40s who is all around fucking awesome, and single. Every so often she’ll say something about how nice it would be to be partnered up, but she knows who she is and is not willing to settle for someone who’s not as awesome as she is just so she won’t be single. I got to share a major eyeroll with her when another mutual friend said she shouldn’t have passed over the (genuinely!) nice guy she went on a few dates with. Who she wasn’t attracted to in the least. Yeah that would have been an awesome relationship.

        4. Well said, and I tried real hard to own my bias of YAY LOVE IS GREAT EVERYONE HAVE SOME OXYTOCIN in the OP.

          It’s total fucking accidental luck, and there are a zillion ways to be lucky/unlucky.

        5. I’m sorry, when I related a story about someone I knew, I wasn’t assuming you did the same thing, and in no way did I state that I thought you did the same thing. I apologize if that’s how you read that, it wasn’t he intended purpose.

          However, since you did manage to get so aggressive about a comment I made which was just a story relating how I’ve seen people in situations that you seem to not be doing. In fact, I even wrote “I think it’s natural, but at the same time, I find it strange that people feel like they can’t just be not alone with friends. That’s what I did, and that’s what I think you’re doing, so that’s great!” I even commented specifically that I DIDN’T think you were one of those people who felt like they needed a partner and that they couldn’t rely on friends when they feel alone, so again, I’m sorry that you read what I was writing in the wrong way. It was a long post, and I suppose that could be hard to overlook.

          As someone who people like to talk to about their problems, let me give it to you from their perspective. You tell people that you don’t want a response of “it will happen” or “the person will be awesome”. Okay I get that. If we were friends, and you told me that, I’d try to listen and remember. However, if you then came to me venting “…about how I’m sexually frustrated or feel an emotional need to be romantic that is not being fulfilled…” (quoted from above), I honestly wouldn’t know how to respond. As a friend, I would want to help and support, and try to ease your frustrations. I’m not sure how to do that without saying, “Oh it will happen” or “Oh, when it does it will be awesome”. Mostly because I don’t want to sound like an douchebag by saying, “You know you don’t care about that stuff, so get the hell over it” or “Well, there are a lot of dudes at the bar who would be willing to help you out”. Of course, I don’t know you, so maybe that’s the kind of response you’d like. I would assume your friends would know, and since they respond the first way, I’m also assuming that since they don’t respond that way, you may not like it. (I’m sorry I’m making assumptions again, I don’t really know the situation).

          However, I do know stories about my life, so I tell them. Anyway, after your attack about my post and how you find it a logical fallacy and privileged ignorance for people to respond this way, my only advice to you is to really quit venting to your friends about how frustrated you are. Clearly, you understand that you may meet someone, you may not, so why complain? Just realize that and be happy. I find it to be a double standard that you don’t want to hear the standard responses people want to give in such a situation and yet you still feel like it’s okay to complain about it, and then complain about the responses you get. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. If you want to complain, fine, complain, but the complaining about your friends trying to be nice and trying to make you feel better? That’s just ridiculous. My friend used to get so mad at me the same way. Apparently she just wanted someone to validate her feelings of loneliness. But it’s hard to say, “yeah it sucks, life is terrible and you’re going to be single FOREVER because you chose not to marry your crappy ex-fiance, and at least you’d be with someone if you would have gone through with it”. That’s probably an exaggeration in your case, but in my friend’s case, it wasn’t so far off. (Again I’m assuming, so I’m sorry).

          I’m sorry I posted my post and you took it the wrong way. I was just posting it as a commentary that things happen for people at different times. And it may not happen, I know that, but it may happen. And if it does happen, it may not happen until the situation aligns itself to happen. But I’m glad that you’re not wallowing and crying in the hallway. It’s terrible to see anyone get to that level. Definitely just live your life and be happy, that’s all a person can really do! 🙂

          1. I’m not sure how to do that without saying, “Oh it will happen” or “Oh, when it does it will be awesome.”

            Well, you could try something like, “I’m sorry, that sucks.” You know, just listening to your friend and validating their feelings.

            Seriously. If a friend wants to vent a bit about being single, and you can’t think of any responses that aren’t either minimizing or abusive, you’re doing it wrong.

            Also, it’s completely normal to want to vent occasionally about things that are frustrating, even (especially?) when people are satisfied with their life overall. And there’s nothing ridiculous about being annoyed with friends “try to make you feel better” by invalidating and minimizing your problems.

          2. Hi Grant,
            Captain Awkward wrote a post a while back that has some good suggestions on how to respond in a caring manner to an unsolvable problem.
            It’s not precisely tailored to the type of situation you’re describing, but the advice still seems relevant. I’m rereading it myself so I can help a friend though a rough patch when all I have to offer her is a shoulder to vent on.

          3. “I’m sorry I posted my post and you took it the wrong way.”
            I find it fascinating that so many people took your post the wrong way and not that you weren’t clear with your intent or wrote something offensive and judgey. It’s also pretty cool that you apologized for startledoctopus’s mistake. How generous.

    2. “Also, personally, though I am but 25 3/4, I’m really sick of people telling me “waiting just means your person will be super awesome!” or “it’ll happen when you least expect it!” and all that shit. It’s supposed to be comforting, but that got old about 4 years ago. I’m putting myself out there, butI’m working on being a person I’d be happy to be even if no one shows up.”

      Good plan! Good plan even in 1936 when the expectation was that everyone would eventually get married.

      1. er, also, I meant “I am building awesome friendships” not “awesome friends.” I am neither a genetic engineer nor a genius with robots, and I am not Igor.

        1. “It’s gonna be the future soon/and I won’t always be this way/when the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away…”

    3. “I’m working on being a person I’d be happy to be even if no one shows up.”

      This. So much. I’ve lucked out in the dating world recently, but if I had never met the current partner-with-benefits I’d still be an awesome person with awesome friends doing awesome things. Just in a different apartment.

      1. That’s such a rule that I don’t even state it as a rule, even though it is the First Rule?

    1. Eh, it’s ok – the breakup itself was mutual and amicable (and absolutely the right decision) but it came at the same time I lost my beloved Grampa and I had no money and I had to move house all of a sudden so there was grieving on top of grieving, panic about money, and a big fat Depressive Episode because my brain chemistry also decided to be a dick and I got rejected from 17 full-time academic jobs in a row.

      2011 = NOT AWESOME

      When I met Charming New Gentleman Caller I had stitched myself back together with the help of the Sexy Gay Jesus and was in a headspace of “My life is great, who needs boys?, eh, what the hell, I’ll go out on some dates and see what happens.” Shazam!

  6. Hey L.W.

    I think the biggest piece of advice to give is that everyone is completely different and lives their life differently. Do the things that make you happy, if that’s work, then great! Don’t try to judge your life on your friends’ relationships. It’s easy to see the happy outside, but it may not be all great on the inside. We only live once, and if we don’t go through life being happy by doing the things we like, then what’s the point? Happiness isn’t keeping up with your friends, it’s internal.

    But if you are interested in dating and settling down, I’m 100% behind internet dating. You can meet a LOT of creeps, but sometimes, there’s that special person out there that’s just waiting to meet someone like you. Just don’t stress out if it doesn’t work. Move on, find a new date, and try again.

  7. LW, I just wanted to say that even if the shoe had been on the other foot, there’s no guarantee that that would have been better.

    I’m 29 and I’m in an awesome relationship of 8 years. While I wouldn’t want to make any changes to my past that would undo that (just as I’m sure you wouldn’t want to undo all your career success), I often feel a similar freakout to yours. All my friends have found themselves careers that they love and are passionate about, meanwhile here I am, slogging my way through the last five months of a degree that I’ve pretty much lost interest in, with no career, no job after I graduate, piss-poor savings, renting a crappy, falling down house with some sort of mould growing in the crawl space that I’m allergic to because it was all I could afford, looking at being financially dependent on my partner for the foreseeable future, just starting to get back involved in passions that I gave up a decade ago because I didn’t think I was good enough at them and made myself stop doing them and AAAAGGHH I’M ALMOST 30 SOON I’LL BE TOO OLD TO GET A JOB OR CHANGE CAREERS AND WHAT IF I’M MAKING THE WRONG MOVE AGAIN AND I’LL NEVER SAVE ENOUGH TO RETIRE ON AND I’LL BE AN OLD STARVING LADY IN THE STREET.


    Different people, on purpose or by accident, spend their energy on different things at different points in their lives. And then come to different places. And then maybe choose to refocus some of their energy, or maybe don’t choose that. And it’s all good. And you may or may not find a sweetums to settle down with, and I may or may not find a career to settle down with, and we will both be fine.

    1. I like this perspective, because while there is a ton of pressure on ladies around relationships and the biological clock and whatnot, it’s also normal to feel like whoEVER you are, no matter HOW you’ve spent the last x number of years of your life, you wonder about and regret what you didn’t do and wonder if you screwed up in some way. I read an interview with Sarah Vowell once where she talked about living alone (I think possibly she chooses not to date or have relationships?) and not wanting children and saying she realizes there are certain parts of life she is missing out on because she has made those choices — but also that when you have a partner or a family, there are certain things you miss out on as well, and summed it up by saying, “Everything has a price.” Which is a great mantra for shutting up my jerkbrain when it starts cataloguing my regrets/failures/wrong turns.

  8. If it helps to know that someone has is a little older than you, LW, and still contentedly in the “eh, it’ll happen when it happens” camp, I’m in my mid-thirties, have been working hard and not dating for the past 6-7 years, and am not particularly worried about it.

  9. When the time is right, shit can happen pretty fast, so I wouldn’t worry about deadlines or clocks or when you are too old. Sometime things just fall into place.

    My path from SICK OF DATING to met someone to engaged to married to expecting a baby went pretty fast, when it happened, just as I was approaching (and then passing) 30. We were just ready. But even if we weren’t, and we took a little longer, so what? I’ve got friends in their 40s having babies. Hey, Elizabeth Barrett Browning met her dream man at 40.

    I’m glad you’re not completely sold on the “I have to get married!” schtick. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and that’s okay. I have friends and coworkers who are single and they have really interesting, fulfilling lives. Many of them have an active, loving, important role in the lives of their extended families & friends, too. The most social person in my office, the one with the most plans during any given week, and with the most family connections, is the 50-something never-married woman with a gajillion nieces and nephews (some of them honorary).

    1. I realize this post sounds a lot like the “IT WILL HAPPEN!” assurances that a number of commenters are sneering at as shitty and unhelpful. Well, so be it; my intentions weren’t to be so cliched. My larger point is that timetables are pretty variable; you haven’t passed any deadlines for the things you think you may want in life; there really aren’t very many deadlines for this stuff anyway, despite how it might seem.

  10. have you wasted your life away? not hardly. i tell ya, it’s the people that spend all their time dating, and none of their time living that worry me. you’ve got the living part down pat. if you want to add some dating flair to your totally awesome life? that’s the way to go about it. also? you’re not quite geriatric, it’s not like you have hit a magical cut off line. even if you were? i’d say break out the walker and get on out there.


    Fangirling you even harder now.

    Also, you know, fantastic and funny advice as usual. But I seriously almost just squeaked at my desk at work when I read that, so I had to internet-squeak at you instead.

    1. Ha. The Skylark is conveniently located and deilcious, and apparently my Buffalo Bill impressions kill.

  12. Hey LW,

    It’s always good to take some time to figure things out. When all our friends are happily doing something and we’re not, we start to feel left out – especially when we’re the ones bucking the cultural narrative. This is normal. We’re herd animals and we instinctively want to remain members of our club. So when we do things that are different, sometimes that makes us feel like we’re not keeping up, falling behind, etc. But we’re not. Life is not a race. We don’t have to keep up with the Jones’. We all have our own dreams and it is up to us to follow them. That doesn’t mean that our dreams can’t change – they certainly can – it’s just that it is important to make sure we are always following our own dreams and not someone else’s.

    You don’t want to end up like my friend. I have known hir for decades. DECADES. Ze never wanted children. But ze got into a Serious Relationship and hir partner wanted a baby. And hir 2 Most Very Bestest Friends had kids. And then suddenly ze forgot that ze never wanted babies and very much wanted a baby. And then, there was a baby. A few years in, and while ze loves hir child, ze HATES BEING A PARENT VERY MUCH. Ze feels like hir life is over and all zie can do is raise hir child and wait for it to be over. This is very not a good place to be in.

    I’m not saying that this would happen to you. Maybe your dream really has changed. All I’m saying is to make sure that you really are following your own dream and not one that is coming from somewhere else.

  13. “One date in 5 years is, to me, not good odds, no matter how I look at it.” Those aren’t odds! You didn’t get dates because you weren’t trying to date. That doesn’t say anything potential success.

    “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.” I can so relate to this frame of mind — it’s classic anxiety about trying something new, which causes your brain to try and convince you that you can’t do it & it’s pointless to try. You can resist this freakout! If you want to meet men, come up with some steps you can follow that might lead to meeting men (e.g. research dating websites, or read through the events listings in yr city’s alternative weekly and make a list of new activities to try), and do them. 50-year-old divorcees get back into the dating scene all the time! People move to new cities and find new hangouts withing weeks or months! It’s not as big a deal as it feels like.

    Since the Captain mostly discussed online dating, I’d like to recommend meeting people in real life, too. Bars, concerts, poetry readings, whatever. It’s not necessarily better, but it has a different set of advantages — the chance to guage chemistry right away, observe people in their natural habitat, etc. Plus you can have a fun night out with friends, even if you don’t meet anyone. If you’re avoiding going out to meet guys simply because you think you can’t do it, or it’s somehow “too late” to find places to meet folks, I think it’d be a good idea to challenge that.

  14. At 41 I went on an OKCupid date after 9 months of crapshoots and Dumb Luck brought me One Of My People. Prior to that: Being in relationships with people I should have dumped after 6 months, if I had known the wisdom that Captain Awesome dishes out. I would say I was at my peak physical attractiveness at 27, but I didn’t know myself or my body or even the majority of what makes me tick FOR SHIT at that age. Not saying you don’t! But I made mistakes and I learned (slowly, oh so slowly) from them and now I am with someone I think is worth keeping.
    Don’t should all over yourself (http://artofmanliness.com/2011/01/24/dont-should-all-over-yourself/) and just listen to your gut and heart and have a fulfilling life. Don’t wait for it to start like I did!

  15. Oh, awesomeness. All of it, awesomeness.

    I’m hitting mid-30s and single and cool with it, but around 27, after another episode of long-term serial monogamy went south, I went through what I fondly think of as a late-bloomer’s college slutty phase. And I mean slutty in a very good way. I went out with anyone who asked who didn’t creep me out, slept with the ones I was interested in sleeping with, made some new friends. I *think* that’s what some of my friends in college were trying to tell me? Maybe?

    Anyway. I had some truly hilariously bad experiences, which are my greatest dating stories, and some really amazing experiences. I met a man who was way more into me than I was into him, and he upfront, in a real, adult-like, using-our-words conversation OWNED his feelings. That was revelation, truly.

    But mostly I learned things that worked for me (adults who own their feelings and use their words, for a start) and a lot of things that didn’t (people who aren’t over their exes! people who think religious films make good dates! people who get possessive after a month of dating! people whose only “cultural interest” is ’80s hair bands!).

    So if that’s where you are — you feel as though you’ve missed out on the wild and wacky dating pool? You haven’t. The pool is there, on the internet and out there, and you can feel free to jump in. Date when you feel like it, don’t date when you don’t want to.

    Think about your life and what you want, yes, but not so much that you aren’t living it. I’ll thousandth the advice given above, ““I’m working on being a person I’d be happy to be even if no one shows up.” Yup. Doing that.


    Maybe he’s a little hard of hearing or there’s a lot of background noise. Sometimes I have to watch a person’s mouth to follow what they’re saying.

  17. LW here! I just wanted to say HUGE THANKS to the Captain and everyone who commented. I’ve stopped freaking out and decided thanks to all of your advice and encouragement that I’m going to focus on what makes me happy (work, hobbies, pictures of cats in costumes…) and try to make a little time each month to take another “step” into dating (set up a profile, meet someone for coffee, etc.)

    Oh, and Katherine Heigl can eat me.

    Single Lady Letter Writer.

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