I'm 30 and I've Never Been In Love.
I'm so used to living my life without a partner, that it feels like someone would really have to impress me for me to want to insert them into my life.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at email@example.com
I'm a 30-year-old woman (straight) and I've never been in love. I'm chronically single and my romantic encounters have been pretty limited. I had one college boyfriend for exactly one month, I've had a few short-lived flings, and once tried a FWB situation (not a particularly good fit for me) -- but I've never been in any kind of meaningful long-term romantic relationship.
I'm fairly introverted and not very proactive about dating and "putting myself out there." I don't have crushes that often and it can be hard for me to find people I'm attracted to. I haven't been able to bring myself to try any dating apps...mostly because I loathe small talk and superficiality of any kind, so it just seems like a nightmare. I'm a pretty independent person and really value my alone time and freedom. (I don't know much about astrology, but I'm a double Aquarius, and my friends who are into that sort of thing tell me that all of this is an EXTREMELY accurate vibe for me, for what it's worth). I guess I figured that if I just lived my life the best I could, eventually I'd meet someone great along the way, so I shouldn't spend too much time dwelling on it.
Because dating hasn't been a prominent part of my life, I've naturally focused my attention on making all the other parts of my life as fulfilling as possible. I'm really lucky and have a lot of good things going for me! I found a job I excel at, I have deep and meaningful friendships, I'm close with my family, I travel, I have varied interests and hobbies, etc. I feel strongly about not centering my worth around a man or relying on someone else for validation. I want to feel like I'm totally able to live a rich, happy life without needing a boyfriend. And meanwhile, the longer I remain single, the higher my standards seem to get. I'm so used to living my life without a partner, that it feels like someone would really have to impress me for me to want to insert them into my life.
ALL THAT SAID, lately, I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing out on a huge part of life. Sometimes I worry that I only feel so strongly about being independent and self-assured as some sort of self-protection method or as a way to combat insecurities about being undesirable as a romantic partner. As much as I hate to admit it, there are definitely times I feel like my life hasn't fully begun since I haven't experienced romantic love. As more and more of my friends get married and start families, it feels like I'm eventually going to be the last single person I know.
I think I generally have healthy self-esteem, but right now I feel fed up with being my own cheerleader. How can I reconcile wanting to remain independent and self-confident with feeling lonely and wanting to share my life with a partner? Should I be trying harder to date? Am I being too hard on myself? Is this the result of deeply internalized societal expectations about ticking clocks for women or something?? I don't know if these feelings are normal or if this all means that I actually have more self-work to do so that I feel secure in life with or without a boyfriend.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret that for some reason seems to remain a secret despite the fact that it’s truly not a big deal: almost everyone feels like they are missing out on Something Big. Pretty much everyone you know who likes to self-reflect at all is walking around convinced that there is a hole of some size in their life, an experience that Everyone Else has had and shared. And here’s the weird part about this experience that we’re all so convinced we’re missing out on:1 it doesn’t have to be a 100% obviously great time for us to feel like we’re left out. For example, I am very convinced that because I was so well behaved, but also because I didn’t talk to or date anyone I was attracted to in high school, that I “missed out” on a big chunk of my youth. Despite everyone else’s assurances that hooking up in a car or sucking someone off in a movie theatre isn’t really that fun or hot, my brain persists in her dirge about how my teenage years were lacking. Why? I don’t know! Brains do a lot of unhelpful shit! I still know all of the major Chinese dynasties in order by heart because of AP World History but I do not remember if I have taken my anxiety pill today or not.
We’re all social creatures who would like to fit in on some level, even if we are also introverts who would like to be left alone. (Fitting in and being alone are not mutually exclusive!!!) It seems incredibly natural to me that you, much like the rest of us, would like to make sure that you’re doing all of the things you’re “supposed” to be doing during your one wild and precious life. The issue is that a lot of things the vast majority of people as a general rule like to do/want to do do not actually make certain individuals happy.
Are you ready for a terrible metaphor? I’m sure you are because in your original email you said that you read this column, which means that you’ve read many a bad metaphor before. I’m going to use myself as the example in the beginning and we will all know I am secretly talking about you and your dating life. Ok? Let’s begin.
I do not like seafood. Perhaps, this is from growing up smack in the middle of the country with the best fish around being probably catfish (no hate to them, they look cute). Perhaps it’s because I’m the granddaughter of a butcher, so my family is used to more land-based forms of meat. Perhaps it’s a moral failing on my part; perhaps a moral triumph. (Truly, it’s neutral, but not everyone agrees). I didn’t grow up eating much fish or seafood of any kind. I was in my 20s before I tasted crab for the first time and it was in a dip. I still have never had lobster or crab in the shell—both look like spiders to me and they freak me out. THE POINT IS!!!! I am not a seafood person. I know this about myself and yet, on occasion, I am presented with seafood. Often it is Very Good Seafood—which means as much to me as an eloquent speech in Polish does. Even though I am not Seafood Sally, I am pained by the very hypothetical of offending anyone ever, so I of course try my best to eat the food. Once, I was staying at my aunt’s house with my mom and sister and my aunt was serving salmon that night. My mom knew I didn’t like salmon, but insisted that this was very, very, very good salmon and would not taste “fishy.” In fact, this was expensive salmon—I believe from Alaska, but I don’t know jack shit about fish, so maybe I’m wrong—we were going to be eating luxury fish that evening and my aunt’s husband is a great cook. My mom said the words, “If you don’t like this salmon, you definitely don’t like salmon,” which was frustrating because I had been insisting that I didn’t like salmon for years. On the other hand, I figured that either I would try it and like it and then cool, I had great salmon or I wouldn’t like it and she could finally move on from my distaste for pink fish. I tried salmon again that night (probably at least my 6th time trying salmon), and once again, lo and behold, I did not like salmon. And it did taste fishy because all fish tastes fishy and you can keep lying to yourself about it, but you can also admit that people who like fish like to feel like they’re opening their mouth in the ocean. My mother was stumped but I was unsurprised. I simply am not a big fish person. It’s ok. It bothers me a whole lot less than it seems to bother other people. I’ve had good tilapia, I’m ok with shrimp if I don’t have to see their creepy little legs, and I can enjoy sushi if it’s marketed towards children and boring white people with no taste (me), but I would never pick any of that as my go-to meal.
How does this diatribe seafood relate to you? Glad you asked! You can keep trying fish (dates and sex) as much as you want! Maybe someday someone will make you salmon that is so good that you love seafood. Maybe you’ll have real crab and it will make your heart sing.
Now, imagine this example with something a bit more culturally significant in your life (I’m assuming fish aren’t a staple for you, but maybe they are! Maybe your mom is like America’s #1 fisherman and it’s a huge part of your family!). Imagine the above example with alcohol or birthday cake, perhaps. Or just meat in general! Those things all involve a bit more pressure to consume. It makes perfect sense that you feel the need to keep trying to date, it makes perfect sense that you’re sure that you must be missing out on something—the best salmon of your life is being served!!!!! But maybe… just maybe… you’re not. Maybe you don’t like salmon. Maybe you don’t need to date to feel whole. There are in fact thousands of other people out there like you, who are building truly full and genuinely happy lives without a romantic partner. Do those people have pangs every once in a while of loneliness? Yes! I am sure they do! Do they often wonder if that is romantic loneliness because society tells them it is? I’m sure many of them do!
Maybe you are, on some level, aromantic or demiromantic or asexual or demisexual or a combination of any of those labels. (You don’t need to label or identify as anything if you don’t want to! Whatever you’re into and whatever you feel both sexually and romantically doesn’t need to have a label; ultimately, you’re just you).
Maybe you just keep living your life doot doot doot and one day a nice guy whose name is, I’m sorry to say, Craig2 sweeps you off your feet and you’re so into him and it works and it doesn’t feel like losing anything—not your independence, not your alone time, not your sense of self. Maybe that doesn’t happen and you keep trying to date people when the occasion presents itself and you find someone that you grow to feel comfortable with. Maybe you “give up” on needing to date and accept that that is not a part of your life, despite being a part of other people’s lives, but that it doesn’t change anything, anymore than you not rock climbing or not owning a Chihuahua does.
None of this is to suggest that you need to or will live the rest of your life without a partner. If you do find someone you’re attracted to and interested in dating who wants to date you back, I think you’ll be just as perfectly and incandescently happy as you are now. Maybe even more!
I know this is already long, but let me address some things from your letter:
I want to feel like I'm totally able to live a rich, happy life without needing a boyfriend. Not to be rude, but you already are doing that!
And meanwhile, the longer I remain single, the higher my standards seem to get. That sounds great! Honestly, this is a great plan for everyone unless dating someone is their #1 Top Priority and they’re being super picky and exclusionary, in which case I would suggest they ease their standards a bit. For you, this sounds like a great plan!
I'm so used to living my life without a partner, that it feels like someone would really have to impress me for me to want to insert them into my life. Again, this is perfect for you! This is a good boundary!
Sometimes I worry that I only feel so strongly about being independent and self-assured as some sort of self-protection method or as a way to combat insecurities about being undesirable as a romantic partner. This right here is absolutely something you need to address. I would strongly recommend a therapist or a whole lot of journaling/meditating on the issue. I don’t personally think the answer to to this is to date to prove yourself wrong, but I do think the goal should be to not be single only because you are insecure about parts of yourself.
As much as I hate to admit it, there are definitely times I feel like my life hasn't fully begun since I haven't experienced romantic love. I STRONGLY urge you to work to undo this belief because frankly it’s as much bullshit as believing that your life began when you first ate a Rice Krispies treat. Romantic love is certainly fun at times, but by no means is it The Point of life. (Love comes in lots of forms, let us PLEASE remember).
As more and more of my friends get married and start families, it feels like I'm eventually going to be the last single person I know. Ok, and so what? I’m not saying that to be flippant, but to have you ask that question. So what if you’re the last single person you know? Someone has to be! What if you are always single? What does that mean? What do you believe about people who are single? Is it true?
I think I generally have healthy self-esteem, but right now I feel fed up with being my own cheerleader. That is beyond fair! Partners do often provide a lot of emotional support, and it might be worth it to outsource that part of dating someone to someone even more qualified than A Random Hot Guy Whom You Are Dating. Like perhaps… a therapist! (Just make sure to walk immediately away from any mental health professional who makes you feel bad about your dating history or desires).
How can I reconcile wanting to remain independent and self-confident with feeling lonely and wanting to share my life with a partner? Eat cake at least once a month and read really good books. Just kidding! This is the very job at hand, and if I had an easy answer, it would be bullshit. You’re going to have to, like most of us, wobble back and forth between feelings of contentment and desire for the rest of your life. No matter what choices you make and no matter whom you date or if you date, this will be the case!
Should I be trying harder to date? Why? So you can keep feeling bad about not connecting with people? No! I don’t think so at all! You’re asking me if you should put a bunch of effort into a thing that has historically made you unhappy. I’m going to always say no to that!
Am I being too hard on myself? YES! But almost everyone is, so don’t add that to your list of things to be hard on yourself about.
Is this the result of deeply internalized societal expectations about ticking clocks for women or something?? Probably yes, if I had to put money down!
I don't know if these feelings are normal or if this all means that I actually have more self-work to do so that I feel secure in life with or without a boyfriend. These feelings could not be more normal. I think you’re doing A WHOLE LOT of work already—look at the life you have carefully and painstakingly built for yourself where you are genuinely happy single! Do you know how few people do that successfully? Maybe the answer is LESS work!
Ok!!!! Try to enjoy how happy you are now and not overthink it (much, much easier said than done). Be open to all kinds of futures—you cannot simply decide to have the future you imagine, motivational posters be damned. Allow people you want in your life in, and don’t be afraid for your life to look differently than other people’s. You’re doing amazing!!!!!
Lastly, I recommend reading the poem Solitude by Warsan Shire, but also all of her poems.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sorry to use colons twice in a paragraph. It does feel a little gauche, I agree.
No offense to the Craigs out there; y’all make great lists.