Yesterday, Jezebel posted a compelling essay entitled “When Can I Say I’ll Be Alone by writer Aimee Lutkin.
If you know me, you know I have a a hard-on for ladyblogs and the drivel they try and sell as empowering. But this post got me in the Feels.
Once you’ve transitioned past romantic dry spell to scorched-earth vagina, it isn’t loneliness that’s difficult to contend with. I am quite excellent at being by myself. I have learned to enjoy my own company and when I’m not enjoying it, the world offers plenty of distractions.
The difficulty is in the inability to talk about it, the lack of language to explain how you’re looking at your life. No one who cares about you wants to hear that you’ve “given up,” but there aren’t many other ways to describe this strange single purgatory that goes on ad infinitum, yet could theoretically end any second. I am never allowed to talk for long about what’s really going on with me and romance. That makes it a hell of a lot harder to live with.
I’ve written before about giving up online dating because of the low return on investment. I stated that I’d be focusing more on projects over which I had more control. I eventually dipped my toe back into the OKCupid pool and was met with such resounding rejection that I have once again disabled my accounts on Tinder, OkCupid, and Bumble. It’s been a little over a year since I wrote that post I linked to above and things have only gotten worse. Is it my age? My body type? My pictures? I can’t figure out what it is that is leading me to be ignored and rejected with such vehemence. Adding a line about traveling to Rome or Barcelona made a modest difference, but not enough to keep me plugging away. The real reason I stopped wasn’t the lack of response itself, but how that lack of response made me feel about myself. It made me start believing there was something wrong with me. The beating my self-esteem took wasn’t worth it.
Christmas is over and we’re in the home stretch of the holiday season. For me, these last few weeks have been agonizing. As content as I am on my own, I had that yearning for a connection more than I ever had before. In response, the voice in my head reminded me that love wasn’t in the cards for me. That is what I have been shown time and again when yet another blossoming relationship resulted in an email or text from a guy saying he just wanted to be friends. Well-meaning people – usually ones who have been coupled up for many years or who managed to beat the odds of online dating and meet their partner on on a dating platform – suggest various ways to “get out there.” They don’t know what “out there” is like. It’s soul crushing.
The underlying message in those platitudes is that I need to just keep on wishing and hoping and waiting. Just wait, and wait, because something better than the life you have is guaranteed. Love is guaranteed. But it’s not, is it? Not at all, not even for someone like me, who they maybe think is cool, reasonably attractive, and not obviously insane. I wanted to cry at that dinner table, because keeping up the farce that I’m still waiting means staying still. It means diminishing the life I do lead, which is a good one. I’ll never be free to say that I’m alone forever, only that I’m in a holding pattern until real life begins.
Lutkin hones in on the most frustrating aspect of putting dating on the back burner: that choice is not widely accepted. It means we’ve been beaten down or worse, that we’ve quit, as though that’s a bad thing. If you were working at a job that chipped away at your happiness and sense of self little by little, day by day, you’d quit, right? If you were doing something that physically hurt you, you’d stop doing it, wouldn’t you? Why are we (and by “we” I mean “women”) pressured into keeping up this farce? Does it have to do with people’s underlying fear that if women stop needing a relationship that the species might die out? Or is it that people do not like toi confront the reality that Lutkin addresses: that relationships are not guaranteed the way Auntie Lucy said they were. We grow up with fairy tales of princesses encountering toads that turn into their Prince Charming. “There’s a lid for every pot” our Moms and grandmothers would say.
But there isn’t, and we do little girls such a huge disservice by perpetuating the idea that if they just wait long enough, a man on a white horse will ride in to rescue them. The idea that some people will just never find love is bleak, but only because we’ve made it that way by insisting that a person (and by “person” I mean “woman”) who does not find love is incomplete or fractured. I defy anyone to show me an adult human who isn’t bruised by life’s twists and turns. People who have suffered damage find love all the time. There are many, MANY good, honest, healthy, attractive people out there trying to find “it” who are failing. Explain that. They’re “out there” wherever there is. They’re doing all the things friends and books and the internet tell them to do and they’re coming up empty. That;s what dating is now. It is an endless stream of swipes, protracted message exchanges, and awkward conversations. As quickly as you meet someone promising the promise is over because they’re juggling two other people and don’t want to get off the carousel, holding on to a list of must-haves that literally nobody can fill completely, still licking their wounds from a past relationship, or so burned out by the whole process they make no effort.
I’m making this all sound dour, and it would be natural for you to say that I’m projecting. Maybe I am. Keep in mind that I’ve been writing a dating advice column for ten years and have read thousands of letters from men and women. I’ve also produced several thousand singles events, where I see many of the same people come back again and again and again AND AGAIN. Good people. Attractive people. Normal people. While my attitude towards dating in the she-beast that is 2016 is gloomy, I have a window into it that many don’t.
My waning interest in dating is borne from a simple principle: don’t spend more than you have. Meaning, don’t give more of yourself than you can spare. If there is any cause for dating burnout, that’s it. Overextending one’s self – financially or romantically – leads to trouble down the road. My advice is to prioritize things that feed your soul and provide you with the emotional and psychological fuel you’ll need to compete the marathon that is dating. Carbo load the eff up, because that stretch of miles ahead of you can wear and break you down if you’re not sufficiently prepared.
To those who decide that finding love isn’t for them, bravo. It’s not a popular approach, so don’t be surprised if people try to lure you back into the game. You are not responsible for their belief system or ability to hope. That’s on them. Don’t let people coerce you into believing that your life isn’t valid without a partner. You decide what gives your life meaning, not them.
As for me, I still don’t know where I fall in the debate. I know that I’m happier when I don’t try to date. When my dating life hits the skids, other areas crumble with it. I’ve got too many balls in the air to deal with a set-back. For now, I’m going to pursue the goals that make me feel like I have a purpose, because I do. I do have a purpose, and it’s not connected to bearing children or making a home or getting married. I firmly believe we’re all put here for a reason, we just have to figure out what it is and go for it. I don’t think partnering off with someone is in my Grand Plan. That doesn’t mean I can’t make it so if I choose, it just means I have a bounty of other choices that I find more worthwhile.
Here’s to wishing everybody a 2017 that delivers all they’ve strived and wished for. Make this your year, manz or no manz.