I was sitting down for dinner with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in a while. As we were catching up with each other, the subject shifted over into dating. When asked if I was seeing anyone, I responded with a simple ‘nah’ and continued eating. She asked me ‘Oh? Whatever happened with SoandSo?’ I respond with a simple: ‘It didn’t go anywhere. It’s cool though’.
The other friend, who hasn’t known me as long, got curious: ‘You haven’t been in a relationship for a while, have you?’
This conversation doesn’t happen very often, but it’s always uncomfortable when it does. Outside of that context, being single for eight years isn’t something I’m usually that self-conscious about, but I know things could always go one or two ways. I could get a positive and affirming reaction or I could get a negative, sympathetic one. Here’s what both may sound like:
“Yaaaaass, love yourself first! Work on you!”
“Wow you must be serious about your goals. That’s great!”
And then there are…less favorable reactions.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t worry! God has someone in store for you!”
“Wow, really? Isn’t that kind of lonely?”
“I know someone; I could introduce you if you want?”
What’s funny is that in either case, I was never asking anyone’s opinion on the matter. I wasn’t looking for affirmation, but I also wasn’t looking for sympathy or encouragement. I didn’t ask to be paired up with someone, and more often than not that person probably has no idea what types of goals I have to assume that I’m “laser focused” on them. Sometimes I receive judgement; people may think to themselves: ‘I wonder what’s wrong with her?’ From what I understand, nothing more wrong than the average person. Others will offer their sentiments and give me a pep talk, which is nice and all, but also something I did not ask for. It’s weird; among certain circles, being single for a long period of time somehow calls for a lot of psychoanalysis where it wasn’t requested. Some questions may include: Is this a conscious decision? Don’t I want to be married with kids one day? Am I afraid of commitment? Am I just afraid of getting hurt? Have I really given it much effort? Am I praying for it to happen? Aren’t I lonely?
To my surprise, just as I was outlining my draft for this post, I was able to attend an open mic where a friend of mine presented a piece surrounding this very topic! As we inch closer, out of our 20s and into our 30s, it seems like we get treated more like time bombs than humans. One side of the fence demonizes singleness, while the other side glorifies it. I just try to make sense of people’s reactions to singleness.
You’re Single Because…. “You Can’t Get a Date”
I’ve already explained previously that when it comes to dating, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I’ve gone through intervals in which I make a conscious decision to date but then make a conscious decision to not date.
Let’s be real: in the age of dating apps like Hinge, Coffee Meets Bagel, Bumble, and the rest, it’s really not that difficult to get a date. You’re talking about an industry that grossed over $2 billion in 2018, I would assume that they are pretty effective when it comes to their main purpose of getting people to a first date. Even from the “IRL” standpoint, I have exchanged numbers with guys thinking that I’m doing some general networking, only to realize that the guy actually had non-platonic intentions. So getting a date is not hard. What’s hard? Finding someone that you want to develop that long term relationship with (and they you). I’ve gone out with people a few times over the years, but in the end, nothing long term has come from those things. A couple seemed promising, but then they also fell flat.
You’re Single Because…”You’re Not Trying Enough”
While I’m not at a point where I’m looking now, when I was, I was definitely putting forth an effort. I tried to be open, engaging, and networking/people skills are of good use here too!
When I say I’m ‘no longer trying’, I don’t necessarily mean I’m “giving up”. I just mean that I’m not pursuing anyone or going out of my way to “make the first move” anymore. I haven’t had a problem doing that, and I also don’t think it’s “wrong” for a woman to do so. My best friend and her husband have been together for over 10 years because she was able to make the first move. So no, the stigma of making the first move doesn’t bother me and I honestly don’t think it should bother anyone.
I also just don’t like this idea of there having to be a strenuous effort to get into a relationship. When I was using dating apps, it did feel as if a lot of the experience felt like a dual-sided job-interview. I remember one time there was an incident with the guy I matched with. The very first thing he sent to me was a long paragraph text with some rather invasive questions. I fully understood that he was on a mission to find his special someone, but I also did feel the need to let him know that his approach was off putting and could be counter productive to what he wants. I advised him to build rapport with the women he was talking to, and while a committed relationship was the end goal for him, it’s not as if he has to come right out of the gate with these types of questions. Like geez, at least get to meet face to face first. Or maybe ask how my day is going before getting into the full interview.
You’re Single Because…”You’re Afraid of Commitment”
Personally, not at all. In fact, you could say I’m too ready for commitment if anything (which can also be an issue). There’s this phrase popular among the young people (or maybe it isn’t anymore, I don’t know) called FOMO–Fear Of Missing Out. This describes the idea that…you could potentially be missing out on something! It’s the reason people go to parties they don’t really want to go to, or partake in trips that could have waited, and break off plans for other “more fun” plans, or even break off a relationship.
I’m pretty true to my interests; I’ve never really cared about the “what ifs” of missing an event. The same goes for a relationship. I’m pretty confident that the commitment factor wouldn’t really bother me. But, arguably there isn’t much stigma towards women wanting to commit anyway. If anything, it has been heavily encouraged (especially as the woman gets older). I find, however, that there is always discrepancy about what commitment looks like in a relationship. Some view that term and assume it means avoiding advancing in their career or sacrificing their dreams. I don’t want to sacrifice my dreams, and I certainly don’t want him to sacrifice his! Some think it means dedicating more time than necessary being with their significant other. But…I enjoy my solitude. And I have actual stuff to do! And I imagine I would be committing to a guy who also has stuff to do. Just something that will have him go away, I can’t spend a long amount of time with anybody, let alone the guy with whom I’d eventually have to share a house.
Fear of commitment usually just lies in what a person perceives commitment to be. For me, it isn’t quantity time, but quality time. It’s not sacrificing everything you’ve worked for, or your dreams. And it’s definitely not turning down several full paid scholarships just to avoid a long distance relationship like whoever this boyfriend is:
Okay, I’ll admit I have no idea if that’s real (it probably isn’t), but the point still stands. It’s an example of a very distorted perception of commitment.
What I do find to be important is that when the time does come that I am committed to someone, I want to make sure that we both are on the same page of what commitment actually means to the both of us. I would imagine it to be pretty difficult to commit to someone who has a completely different definition of commitment than I do.
You’re Single Because…”You’re Afraid of Getting Hurt”
I can’t necessarily say I am. Yes, rejection and/or betrayal hurts. It hurts a lot, actually. And in the moment it happens you feel horrible; namely when you’re really into someone. But, one thing I’ve committed to, not just in romantic relationships, but in general: I’m not going to make people of my present pay for the people of my past. In other words, just because one ex cheated on me doesn’t mean every other guy will or even harbors the desire to do so. Just because someone took advantage of my kindness doesn’t mean everyone else will. Just because a dude made me feel unworthy doesn’t necessarily mean that every other guy is going to turn out that way. If we let the possibility of rejection stop us from pursuing something; be it a job, business opportunity, relationship, etc. we’re never going to get where we want to be in life. Also, it’s never a good idea to sit at a table you’re not willing to walk away from.
But I will admit that this is not an easy thing to do. Treating every acquaintance like a blank slate is hard to do, stopping yourself from pre-judging based off of pain from the past is hard to do. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I’m avoiding boundaries. But those boundaries are going to be based on logic and not an emotional past. I’ve never wanted to become the person that sacrifices friendships or potential relationships just because someone has instilled fear into me. I also don’t want to be the person that allows those insecurities to fuel defensive or obsessive behavior. Obsessive behavior is just a result of a past hurt or deeply rooted insecurity. As the saying goes: Hurt people hurt people.
Furthermore, I certainly don’t believe in the idea of starting something else in order to heal from past pain. It’s not very fair for either party, but especially the person who might be pursuing me. When I do start dating again and look to pursue a serious relationship, it will need to be after I’ve already resolved any emotional conflict from past experience.
So Why, Then?
I don’t necessarily wear my singleness like it’s a badge of honor, but I also realize that I don’t want to be around people who make me feel like I should be ashamed of it either. And the whole “I’m in a relationship with Jesus” joke is so old (He’s not your significant other, He is Christ).
Sometimes people hear it and they’ve already reached their own conclusions: A) There is something severely wrong with this person or B) This person is trying to make some sort of statement about ‘being independent’.
Let’s say you do have a single friend and really want them to meet that special someone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But maybe before you get ahead of yourself and start encouraging to put themselves out there more or go as far as setting them up with people: Maybe you should get some clarity. Did this friend ask for my help? When they mentioned being single, did they seem upset about it or were they at ease? Is this friend even looking for someone? Sometimes well meaning friends can easily overstep their boundaries in that regard. It doesn’t take much to read the situation: if he/she is presenting this information to you in a way that is matter-of-fact and not a crisis, it makes more sense to reflect that mood. Also, to my fellow Christians, be careful with the phrase “I’m praying for you”. Yes, praying for someone is a great display of affection towards someone to show that you care about their well being. But we all know that, if delivered incorrectly, it sounds extremely condescending and judgmental. So if you are (genuinely) praying for that friend, just go ahead and do so. It’s not required that you tell them about it.
Also, it’s not like it’s a big mystery that has to be solved. I imagine that most people who are single know (or at least have an idea) why that is. Not everyone necessarily needs some analysis done: I can name a few for myself:
- I’m Tired (lol) – The act of dating itself is something that I already found tiring. The fact that I found it exhausting was proof enough that I didn’t really care enough about having a relationship to enjoy dating for the most part.
- I Know Myself – I know what I can handle emotionally and what I can’t. It doesn’t really take me that long to develop an attachment with someone, so it’s even more important for me to make sure I am setting strict (and fair) boundaries.
- I Don’t Want to “Work through my own strength” – In my previous post, I expressed how it’s easy for Christians to not allow God to move in their lives. And for a while that’s pretty much what I was doing. Dating was annoying and confusing because, not only was I doing it to appease people around me, but I also was operating on my own strength. I still don’t think it’s wrong for a woman to pursue, but at the same time why should I should be doing all this searching as if God’s timing isn’t perfect timing?
- I Want Someone, Not Anyone – There have been guys that I “should have” liked, and there have been guys that “should” have liked me; that is, if you’re going with a checklist mentality. It doesn’t matter how much sense it makes: no one owes you their feelings. They either want you or they don’t. I wasn’t interested in a guy who just fulfilled some core qualities. Even with the last guy in which nothing came of our brief pursuit of each other. He kept saying how guys love the qualities that I have and how important and valuable those qualities are (which, btw, is super unhelpful and dumb commentary to present when rejecting someone). It’s as if he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that I wasn’t after just ‘a relationship’, just ‘a boyfriend’, just ‘a guy’, I was after him.
- Terms and Conditions – Like everyone else, there are essential qualities that I look for in someone. I decided that I’m not going to stray away from those core qualities, and sometimes that means abandoning a pursuit (even if it does seem to be going well).
- Self-Improvement – As cliche as it sounds, I genuinely do want to work on myself more. I think praying for the person you want and having an expectation of what you want them to be like is great. However, it doesn’t make sense to expect certain qualities out of him if I’m not exuding those same qualities. The saying goes that ‘you attract what you are, not what you want’. So I want to continue to improve myself so when I do come across that person, I’ll possess the qualities that would attract that person as well. Furthermore, it would be pretty naive and self-righteous for me to believe that I had literally 0% part in some of these could-have-been relationships not working out.
The bottom line is, I don’t really have an issue with being patient. And your single friend might not have an issue with it either. Being single wasn’t necessarily something that I felt self-conscious about, until I got older and somehow I started feeling this sort of societal expectation to move forward in that direction. I found myself getting caught up in a false narrative that people have projected onto me, and for a while I didn’t really know how to deal with it. It had me second guessing myself: should I be dating more? Should I be making more of an effort? Should I even care about any of this?
But eventually, I did make that mental click. Those people who make those types of assumptions are just believing that I would handle the situation the same way that they would. They’re asking me if I am lonely because if it were them in my situation, they would be lonely. They’re asking me if I’m bitter seeing friends getting married, because they imagine that they would be bitter. When I made that mental click, that other people’s perception of the situation isn’t my narrative, it became a lot easier to accept where I am at this moment.
Singleness doesn’t have to be a disease, it doesn’t have to be a badge of honor, it doesn’t have to be proof of how ‘driven’ I am, and it doesn’t have to be a sympathy device. We don’t have to read into it as if it is some sort of ‘test’ or ‘trial’. Think of it as a time period to get to know yourself, to experience, to grow, and to exercise patience.
Your Friendly Neighborhood Awkward Penguin,