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February 26, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I really don't want to end up alone. What can I start doing to break this generational cycle?

I’m scared of ending up alone. I know this is a common fear, but I feel like mine is founded in generations of unsatisfied, lonely, women. I was raised by my mom and grandmother, and while they were both independent, intelligent, and attractive, neither of them ever settled into a long-term, loving partnership. The consensus on metafilter usually tends to be “don’t worry if you haven’t found that person yet, date and do OKcupid and you will find love!” but I’m really wary about embracing that optimism. My mom and grandma dated and never found a person that they wanted to settle down with, and I’m worried that there’s something about us that impedes us from wanting to commit, some attitude or behavior or something that I’m not quite aware of, but want to identify so that I can work on it.

I think part of what contributed to their chronic singledom, and seems to be affecting my pattern in relationships as well, is the lack of a strong drive/need to be coupled. They were both very independent women, as am I, and while this is a good thing I also worry that it thwarts any urge to fully commit. I once had a girlfriend (I’m bisexual) say to me that my independence intimidated her. When I asked her what she meant, she said that it seemed like I didn’t NEED anyone. That resonated because it feels true – I get lonely but I would never stay in an unhappy relationship for the sake of having someone. What worries me is that maybe my definition of unhappy is too broad. Maybe my expectations about a happy, healthy, relationship are unrealistic, or maybe I didn’t learn to put up with the hardships of a relationship in order to reap the benefits.

I really want to settle down at some point. I’m in my late twenties, entering grad school in the next year or two, and would like to start a family in the next ten years. In my early-mid twenties I felt okay about ending relationships because we fought too much, or were sexually incompatible, or because none of my friends liked the girl who had a hard time respecting boundaries. And these all still seem like valid reasons to end something, but I wonder if any relationship will ever really be free of this crap? I know there will be things I don’t like about any person, and hard times in a relationship, and I’m okay with that, I just worry that I don’t have a good gauge of dealbreakers, or that I’m too optimistic that I’ll find someone more compatible.

I think in a way metafilter and okcupid may fuel this optimism. The standard response to unhappy-relationship questions is to end it and trust that you’ll find someone better. And online dating offers this world of possibilities so that it appears that you’ll never lack for dates again. But I’m starting to feel like this is all a paradox of choice, like there are too many possibilities open to us, so that we will never be happy with the choice we do make. I really don’t want to fall into that trap but I think I’m already there. I’m scared of never feeling satisfied with anyone.

I just want to feel like I am capable of a long-term, committed, stable, loving relationship, and I don’t feel right now like I am. I’m in therapy, my therapist says that I partner well, and she seems to support the reasons that I’ve had for breaking up with people. But I’m always the one breaking up with people, I’m tired of hurting them, and I’m getting scared to date anyone because I feel like it’s just a matter of time before I’ll feel unsatisfied and antsy. I’m scared that I’m too picky, too independent, or incapable of loving long and hard.

How can I get to a place where I am more open to commitment on an emotional level? I want it so bad on a rational level – I want a family, I want a life-partner – but emotionally I just never feel really invested. How can I avoid feeling like I’m ‘settling’ if I don’t find anyone that makes me feel otherwise? I would rather settle than be alone forever (again rationally, not emotionally. Emotionally I want to leave a relationship as soon as I feel like I’m settling, but rationally I want to commit to someone and not think about what other possibilities could be). How do I adjust my expectations of both myself and my partner so that I feel comfortable committing, so that I can handle relationship hurdles, and so that I don’t get the urge to flee when things go awry? And how can I learn to feel more sure in the person that I do choose to be with? I wish these things would fall into place naturally for me like they seem to for many people, that I would find love and that all of this would feel redundant, but I feel like maybe that’s just not the way it’s going to happen for me, and like maybe I have to do a lot of work on myself if I’m going to be able to commit to someone long-term.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
What can I start doing to break this generational cycle?

As a first step, absolutely positively stop thinking of it this way. This is not sickle cell anaemia or double jointed pinkies; it's not genetic. My grandmother, aunt and great grandmother were all widowed before they were 40; I was sure this was going to happen to my mother, and to me. It did not.

Don't borrow trouble. You'll have enough you buy on your own.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:43 PM on February 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


How can I get to a place where I am more open to commitment on an emotional level?

I think you are actually secretly doing your best to "never feel really invested", maybe because you just haven't met the right person yet, or maybe because you're afraid to be vulnerable with someone else, or maybe because you feel like you'd be betraying your mom and grandmother if you did. I don't know, but I do know that it's worth examining some of your thinking and your relationship with your emotions in therapy.

It's totally ok not to need other people. But you sound like you think being independent means not even wanting others around. Don't settle, but do talk with a professional about why you're struggling to find the line between settling and having a healthy relationship.
posted by ldthomps at 5:51 PM on February 26, 2012


Settling sucks. No, you don't want to. I say this as the product of a parent who did. It's ignoring the sick feeling in your stomach to spend your life with someone that at best you feel "Eh" about. It's teaching your kids to do the same thing. It's cheating your husband or wife out of being with someone who might actually love them. Please don't do that.

Yeah, you might end up alone. Hell, maybe your mother and your grandmother ended up alone because they preferred it that way, or they just plain didn't meet anyone who was all that great enough to give up what they had. But I am guessing they preferred that to settling. It's more healthy to be able to function alone (since most of us are gonna have to at some point in our lives anyway) than it is to be so codependent that you'll settle for a scumbag and take whatever s/he dishes out. That is not a happy existence either. Being single can be better than that, even if you never find a guy who's better than the cheater/scam artist/dirty pothead you last dated.

Your reasons for breakups do not sound out of the ordinary. You sound like a normal person, not a commitmentphobe or someone who keeps wanting to see who else is out there because you want the ideal who doesn't exist. Those were good dealbreakers you broke up over. I guess I just don't see anything here that makes me think you are utterly un-cut-out for a relationship ever ever ever other than your family history, which doesn't count.

But it does kind of boil down to "if you get lucky" or not, at times. Some people just don't, and your relatives didn't. Doesn't necessarily mean that you won't. You've still got time and the goods still left might not be too odd at this point.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:54 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wish these things would fall into place naturally for me like they seem to for many people

I think a key phrase here is "seem to" -- long-term relationships aren't terribly easy, at least for anyone I know. Your struggles all sound perfectly normal to me. Don't fall into the trap of comparing your insides to other people's happy outsides.

And the "not wanting to end up alone" is kind of a fool's errand. I come from a long line of women whose husbands died young and it always seemed to me that you just can't really plan on a future in that way.

If you really think there is something specific getting in the way of connecting with people, therapy is a good way to figure that out. But honestly, you sound smart, normal, and quite sane. Independence is a good thing.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:03 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


--- So, how did you decide on and commit to a grad school to go to? Or a career path to follow? Maybe if you examine the ways you've made other major life decisions (in situations where you have several, many, or infinite options, none of which are perfect in every way), you might be able to find some parallels to apply.

--- Don't forget that people in their early/mid 20's have less experience in relationships, and many people around your age now have learned a few things and worked out a few of their issues over the past few years. So you might run into fewer problems.

--- In my early-mid twenties I felt okay about ending relationships because we fought too much, or were sexually incompatible, or because none of my friends liked the girl who had a hard time respecting boundaries.

The first two sound like totally appropriate dealbreakers to me. The third, well, what your friends think of your partner might be a bit less important to you at this stage in your life. Or maybe not.

I think in a way metafilter and okcupid may fuel this optimism. The standard response to unhappy-relationship questions is to end it and trust that you’ll find someone better.

I don't know that I agree with this. That's the standard response to questions about:
-abuse
-seriously egregious behavior (like refusing to wash your junk for weeks at a time)
-situations where the couple has been trying for a long time to reach a compromise and it's just intractible.
-situations where the person clearly just wants out and is kind of looking for validation in a way.


When nothing abusive/egregious is going on and the asker clearly wants to try to solve it rather than just break up, the stereotypical AskMe response is to try couple's therapy.

I also think, when people advise you can always find someone better, they're not thinking of Seinfeldian situations where like, everything is 99% perfect with this one girl but she has man hands. I mean yes, you can go out there and find someone without man hands if it really just is that issue that is bothering you. But when they say you can find someone better they just mean you can get really close to that 90% range or so of happiness. Once you're already inside that 99% range you can find different people with their own different traits, but it's going to be a lot more unlikely to get to 100%.

--- I think if you had posted a question about the girlfriend with poor boundaries who your friends didn't like, and you clearly wanted to give fixing it a shot before breaking up, you would have gotten a whole lotta advice on how to try fixing it.

--- I think part of what contributed to their chronic singledom, and seems to be affecting my pattern in relationships as well, is the lack of a strong drive/need to be coupled... I get lonely but I would never stay in an unhappy relationship for the sake of having someone.

But remember now as you said you're starting to think about coupling up, not just to have someone, but now to start a family. And having a family is something you are beginning to feel a strong drive to have. That's not in any way to say that you should stay in an unhappy relationship in order to have THAT. Just that it's something that gives you an incentive to see if some of the more nitpicky things aren't dealbreakers after all, to see if some of the things that aren't super perfect can actually be resolved.

My 2 cents.
posted by cairdeas at 6:31 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eventually you have to pick a person and decide to stick with them, despite their flaws, because you love them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 PM on February 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm 28 and am going through the same thing except it's that most of my family is comprised of bad relationships with either divorce or husbands dying. For me it's more an unwillingness to put up with a toxic relationship and I've never had an example(in my family) of a relationship that was not toxic.

I think the first thing to work on is accepting both yourself and the other person for what you both are and finding someone who can accept your independence. Luckily I've found that there are many people out there who do not have major problems with this and who even appreciate someone who is not looking for someone to "complete" her.

Also therapy could help working on emotional barriers. When you feel you are settling, is it really just fear? Figure out why you think you are settling and then decide if it's worth moving on or working on the current relationship.
posted by fromageball at 7:46 PM on February 26, 2012


You're not part of some "curse of the strong women" club--the fact you are single in your late twenties proves zero in this day and age.

That said, I'm not telling you it's crazy to be worried. I would be worried if I were you. But don't be overly worried.

If you want to start a family in the next 10 years, make it a priority. Don't go on second dates with guys/girls who are "not looking for anything serious right now." Do spend time dating--just make it cear to yourself and the other person what you want. Take this as seriously as you'll take grad school.

The people who I hear about ending up alone are those who think Mr. Right will charge into their life and change everything someday, and who therefore aren't out looking for anyone, or those who bump along with Mr. Wrong for 10 years before breaking up. As long as that's not you, you're fine, so stay positive.
posted by _Silky_ at 8:40 PM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here's info on a Swedish study that suggests that there is indeed a genetic component in divorce, remaining single etc. (sorry but for some reason the link button won't work for me right now):

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2106464/Divorce-It-genes-How-DNA-play-big-people-argue.html

I'm a product of a similar family-- women who did not bond well with men long-term, essentially.

To break the pattern, I did basically the opposite of what my mother and her mother did. You may also need to alter your behavior accordingly. If being independent is part of who you are, obviously giving it up is undesirable and impossible, but you have to work on being more interdependent, and on letting a lover into your inner world and everyday life.

For example, I did not engage in fraught relationships, I did not seek withholding or damaged men, I did not consider divorce a possibility and sought out a partner who feels the same way. This broke the pattern. What opposite behaviors could you employ to get different and better results without compromising who you are at your core?

And, yeah, it sounds like you just need to decide you want a partnership and get a good one. It's not really smart to wait for someone to stir limerence in your to determine whether or not the person is just someone you are "settling" for. My mother never felt this way for any man and I do not believe any healthy relationship would have been capable of stirring those qualities in her. So yes, maybe you're the type who doesn't get infatuated. It's fine if you are that way.

And the idea that loving someone without limerence is "settling" is ridiculous. There are a million valid and exciting reasons to be with someone that have nothing to do with that feeling of infatuation. It's a modern notion (and not a very successful one if you look at the divorce rate) that endless, passionately sexual romance should be the basis of marriage and that if it fades it means the marriage is worth scrapping. So you may be blessed with greater clarity and judgement if you don't have so much of this clouding your mind while dating.

And no, dating won't work for you in the way you want if you're not behaving in a way that encourages long-term bonding. So.... good luck, you sound self-aware and totally capable of turning this around in your favor.
posted by devymetal at 9:01 PM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


It might sound silly, but I recommend reading up on quirkyalone because I definitely think you might find that you could identify with what it's about. I believe that the need to couple up is just simply less strong in some people (myself included), and I even find it hard (at the tender age of 23) to understand why everyone has to or wants to do it. But if you want to start a family, you have a concrete reason for wanting to find a partner. You're not "incapable of loving long and hard", you just haven't chosen to do so yet. As far as I can tell ( in my limited experience) , beyond the initial infatuation stage of relationships, the reality of many of them is a type of "companionate love" in which two people share a deep affection and commitment without necessarily having a huge degree of passion. I suppose the perfect situation is to have both of these things, but it seems like such a question of luck! That being said, I agree that you should focus your energies towards finding a partner that you will be happy with by actively going out and trying different things. Perhaps you need to find someone who also values independence. And to be completely honest, I think "generations of unsatisfied, lonely women" who are "independent, intelligent and attractive" are a much better outcome than independent intelligent women married to men who don't appreciate them, match their intelligence or respect them as women. Not that that is the only other choice, but looking to my grandmother, who was married twice to men who, while not horrible, didn't in my mind deserve her, I believe that sometimes it is better to be alone. I think society is still afraid of the idea of women being alone and perhaps this should change.
posted by costanza at 9:52 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You might enjoy this article from The Atlantic; it made a lot of waves when it came out in 2008.
posted by whitewall at 7:07 AM on February 27, 2012


Speaking as someone who is in very much the same position (very independent, very single), my advice would be:

1. continue to put yourself out there (I am not a romantic - I don't believe that "love just comes along". Keep looking for it, keep chugging along on OKCupid etc, and you will be statistically more likely to find someone than if you don't make that effort.

2. accept yourself, your independence, and appreciate yourself for it. How much would it suck if you were needy and co-dependent and in a horrible relationship? No one can say what's going to happen in the future. Maybe you won't find someone. (Sorry.) But at least you can spend your life being awesome, rather than passively waiting for Mr/Ms Right or being in a bad relationship because anything is better than being single.

I once had a girlfriend (I’m bisexual) say to me that my independence intimidated her. When I asked her what she meant, she said that it seemed like I didn’t NEED anyone.

I don't think that your independence is a total relationship deal-breaker, it just didn't work for her. There are plenty of people who prefer independence in a partner and it sounds like you and she just weren't the right fit. Like me, for example, I'd run a mile if I felt like someone NEEDED me. I would prefer to be WANTED, not needed.

Dude I know it can be difficult to be single in your late 20s when it seems like everyone is having babies plop plop plop, but it also doesn't seem like the worst outcome possible. You are independent and intelligent! That makes you great, with or without a partner.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:15 AM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


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