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I'm 27 and I don't want a partner
August 13, 2013 5:59 AM   Subscribe

At 27 years old, I really should be 'out there,' looking for a partner. So why does the mere thought of dating fill me with utter dread?

*gulp*

I hope I word this reasonably well! It's something that I've been thinking (and worrying) about for quite some time. Apologies in advance for the special-snowflake-ness of it.

I'm male, twenty-seven years old. I have a reasonably good life. I have my own house and live alone, my own car, a full-time professional job, a healthy set of interests outside work and all the usual bits and pieces. I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet, just saying that I'm not some guy posting on MeFi from his parents' basement! There's absolutely no reason why I couldn't find a romantic partner if I wanted to, and if I put in the effort. There are no 'show stoppers' which would stop people from being interested in me in that way. I'm just a normal guy.

But, I just don't want a girlfriend or a partner. The thought of 'putting myself out there' fills me with dread and anxiety. I don't want to put myself 'on the market' in that way. It makes me feel like a piece of meat. I want even less to have anyone new in my life as anything more than a good friend. I don't want to open myself up, make myself vulnerable to some girl. I've had relationships, brief and not-too-serious, in the past and while they were fun, it was fun in the same way that having a very close friend or a 'partner-in-crime' is fun, and I didn't feel any fireworks or butterflies or any of the other stuff you're meant to feel.

What troubles me most is that I want to want romance in my life, if that makes sense. Isn't falling in love, loving someone and being loved a universal human desire? What's so broken about me that the very idea of it makes me feel anxious instead of excited? If it was something else, like vodka, I'd just accept that I don't like vodka and that'd be it. But because it's love and romance and sex, things we are supposed to want and value and treasure over everything else, I feel utterly broken.

I just don't know what the root cause of this is. I had a wonderful upbringing with loving parents in affluent rural England. Even though I don't live with them, I am still very close to my family and I love and cherish my friends utterly. Platonic and familial love are second nature to me. But romantic love just... eludes me. People tell me that "when the right person comes along, you'll feel it," but I don't want the right person to come along. I don't want to date anyone, and I can't feel it ever changing. At 27, I'd have felt something for someone by now, don't you think?

Thank you in advance for any thoughts, advice or criticism. :)
posted by winterhill to Human Relations (39 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do what you feel.
Do you want something? Or do you want to want it?
Don't do what you think you're supposed to because you think you're supposed to.
Do what you feel.
posted by entropone at 6:08 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


There is absolutely no rule that says you have to have a partner. No rule, no law, no requirement whatsoever that we all must march through life two-by-two (or whatever number strikes someone's fancy).

And obviously falling in love is not a 'universal human desire'; some of us are just born batchelors.
posted by easily confused at 6:09 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would start googling asexual and aromantic definitions. Just because the standard narrative for most cultures involves an assumed desire to be paired off does not mean that this course is a good fit for everyone.

You are most definitely not alone.
posted by skrozidile at 6:10 AM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


If you don't want to find a partner then you definitely should NOT be looking for one. It would be unfair to you and to the other person.

You have my permission to remain single for as long as you like. (And um, for longer, if it turns out that you can't get any woman you want just by nature of having a home, car and stable job and "no showstoppers." But that's a discussion for another day.)

As far as this:
At 27, I'd have felt something for someone by now, don't you think?

Maybe, maybe not. So don't rule it out entirely, don't fight it if it happens. But, be where you are.
posted by bilabial at 6:15 AM on August 13, 2013


You say you don't want a partner. But when you elaborate you're saying you're afraid to seek/have a partner. Fair enough - with intimacy comes tremendous risk, and you're right about being vulnerable when you're seeking/in a relationship. You articulate your concerns very well.

I would suggest to you that while you may indeed be a snowflake, those anxieties are very common. And you don't have to have a horrid upbringing to have them.

What troubles me most is that I want to want romance in my life, if that makes sense. .... What's so broken about me that the very idea of it makes me feel anxious instead of excited?

There's nothing broken about you. You may benefit from exploring your anxieties more closely, and with guidance from a pro, but that doesn't mean you're broken. It means only that there's an aspect of yourself that you don't understand as well as you'd like to.
posted by headnsouth at 6:16 AM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Was just about to recommend what skrozidile said: aromantic sounds like a good definition of what you're experiencing. If you're feeling fulfilled by your life otherwise, don't try to compare what your life has by what you think you're supposed to have.
posted by RainyJay at 6:17 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And um, for longer, if it turns out that you can't get any woman you want just by nature of having a home, car and stable job and "no showstoppers." But that's a discussion for another day.)

I did word that part clumsily - I apologise. :)
posted by winterhill at 6:17 AM on August 13, 2013


Maybe you're destined to be a lifelong bachelor! That's okay. In fact, I think the anxiety might be worth looking at here - perhaps a place for serious self-reflection or therapy would be why you "want to want" so much. Are you good at letting things just hang fire in the rest of your life, or do you always need a resolution/answer right now? (I am really bad at saying "I'll just see what happens" myself.)

You don't have to have had a terrible upbringing to have an unproductive pattern of thought or anxiety, though. Honestly, I think a lot of perfectly happy, stable people have a sort of "plot point" or "theme" to resolve in their lives as they come to the end of their first youth.

Some idle questions to consider (but maybe not to answer here unless you want to):

How do you feel about sex and about bodies generally? Whether you especially enjoy sex or not (it's okay not to, of course) do you feel like you have an unusual level of discomfort or anxiety about it, or about your body, or about the bodies of others? Do you feel nothing at all? If you really literally "don't care", examine that feeling a bit, sit with it. Is "don't care" a cover up for fear of rejection or for internalized homophobia? (Internalized homophobia can be pretty subtle and tough to uproot, IME - you can bury what you actually want so deeply that it can take years of living and reflecting before you even recognize it, if you're a skilled Represser Of Complications.)

Did you have an episode of serious illness or something which really modified your experience of your body? In your childhood, did you get much physical affection from your family? What was your parents' relationship like in terms of expressing affection?

Honestly, if you're happy as you are there's no reason to worry about it. It might be worthwhile to consider carefully how you experience embodiment and touching and how you feel about your sexuality and gender identity, just in case. (I say this as someone who went through much of my earlier life convinced that they were both completely cisgendered and completely attracted to the opposite gender, just lukewarm about sex, bodies and relationships, and that finding these things not to be the case has been.....well, a surprise!)
posted by Frowner at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


Stop worrying about what you "should" be doing, and instead do what makes you happy. You're still very young. Maybe romance is out there, maybe it isn't, but it's too early to worry that it will never happen. Keep living a full and interesting life, and maybe someday you'll meet someone through shared interests, which is much better than doing things with the sole intention of meeting someone. It doesn't matter if you never meet someone as long as you're happy.
posted by Go Banana at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is 100% fine to not want to be in a romantic relationship! Seriously. If it isn't what you want then that is okay. You don't need to have it.

If I were you I would seek out therapy, NOT with the end result of being okay with being in a relationship, but with the goal of learning to accept yourself as you are and to feel comfortable living the life you want, regardless of what you think you're supposed to do or feel. What you are feeling (or not feeling, I guess) isn't a wholly uncommon thing, and you're allowed to feel it. You're allowed to not date. You may know that rationally, but emotionally I don't think you're totally convinced. I think therapy could help. :)



also, I agree with bilabial, the fact that you haven't felt a spark for someone at age 27 may or may not be indicative of something. I faked my way through relationships for my whole life, I wasn't as confident as you to just be okay with being single. Then I met my soon-to-be husband and that was the first time I felt all that stuff everyone always talked about. I was 25, so only a little younger than you were, and that was my first time being in love. I'm not saying this to try to imply you definitely are going to feel "that spark" for someone eventually, you may not be wired that way. I'm just saying that for some people it really takes a very very special person to bring about those feelings.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


"... At 27, I'd have felt something for someone by now, don't you think? ..."

In an earlier age, men like you went to sea, or off to Africa to search for the source of the Nile, or became clerics or professors at Oxford, or racing car drivers, or surveyors of new lands. Much of the world's progress has been the product of the efforts of single men, unencumbered by duties to wife and family. You're not a freak, you're just in a century and surroundings that have mainly run out of unexplored territory.
posted by paulsc at 6:20 AM on August 13, 2013 [24 favorites]


It's OK to not have some of what we all might consider "universal human desires". For example, I basically don't have any friends. I do, however, have an extremely happy marriage and a lovely daughter and a close family.

It is also OK to not really want to seek out that thing you are missing. I don't want to make friends. I don't want to hang out with people who are not my wife, daughter or family, and I have pretty high standards and little patience for people, so even when I try to make friends, it doesn't work out so well.

It is ALSO OK to miss that thing you are missing, and to wish you had the desire for it. I often think about how great it would be to have a buddy to go the baseball game with, or to play Portal online with, or to talk about being a Dad with, but the positives just don't outweigh the negatives, so I've never really pursued it.

As long as you are happy and fulfilled in the other aspects of your life, there is no reason you should feel required to pursue fulfillment in every aspect of life.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:21 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where has this idea that you "should" want someone come from? If it's not from within you, then don't worry about it.

Society will place a lot of pressure on you to couple up, but what society thinks isn't worth a damn. Society will pressure you in ways that are best for society, not ways that are best for you. The only person who knows what is best for you, is you. There is nothing broken about you. Quit talking to yourself like that, as it's not a helpful thing. Society, or your family, or friends, or random people on the street will parrot the societal view at you, but that's lowest-common-denominator stuff. You're an individual with individual likes and desires and society just can't handle that. "Society" and "individual" are two very different concepts. The problem lies with the fact that individuals are often a part of a society, so they feel that they should adopt society's views as their own.

If you're happy as a Single, right now, then own that. It's completely OK to be a Single, just as it's OK to be in a relationship with one or more people. Society won't tell you this because it doesn't have the bandwidth to cover all of the possible permutations of human. It sounds like you've internalised the view everyone should have a partner, which isn't chiming in time with your actual own views, hence the anxiety.

I'm in a similar situation to you, if it's any comfort. I've tried relationships in the past, on several occasions, but they're just not for me. I gave it my best go, but after being single for a couple of years, I find that I'm happy alone. I like people well enough, and I quite enjoy sex too, but I just don't want someone that close in my life. It's fun enough, I guess, but not something I crave. The things that I do crave are far more thrilling and rewarding to me than a relationship ever was.

Try telling yourself that it's OK to be alone, for a while. See how that actually sits with you. nobody knows what the future holds, and maybe you'll wake up one day really craving a partner. That happening, or not, is fine too. But whatever you do, don't try to force yourself to fit into a square hole if you're a round peg. You'll just make yourself miserable. Go with what feels good, irrespective of what anyone else has to say on the matter. That's the best way to be happy, IME.
posted by Solomon at 6:26 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's fine to not want something, even if all the people around you seem to want it.

But if you are afraid of seeking that thing, that is something to address.
posted by rtha at 6:27 AM on August 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


One other thing: I am a woman who does not have that "universal human desire" to have a bio-kid. I don't feel at all inclined to reproduce. I have a step kid, and that rocks ass, but I don't have that desire to have a bio kid that society tells me I am supposed to. I love my step son to death, but the idea of getting pregnant fills me with dread and panic. I have had to really work to come to terms with that, with the feelings that I am disappointing people (mostly my parents) by not wanting to do that, and I have had to really work to keep the pressure from society to get pregnant from forcing me in to something I know I don't want. So I do kind of know how you're feeling. Not quite the same, but similar. You DEFINITELY aren't alone in feeling disinterested in doing stuff that you're "supposed to" do. I don't know if that gives you comfort or not....
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:27 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


You are not broken. I agree that you should do some research guided by the words asexual and aromantic.

Keep in mind that someone who identifies as asexual can still have had enjoyable sex, and someone who identifies as aromantic can still have had enjoyable romances, much like someone who is a lesbian can have had a great boyfriend in the past (or whatever exception to your label of the moment may be.) You may also find the ace community a great place for you now but at some point in the future discover a different part of yourself you'd like to explore. You are allowed this. You are allowed to be self-determining and impermanent in your identity.

Romance and sex is not the end-all be-all of existence, and I think a lot of people who make it that way for themselves end up in a mess of angst at some juncture of life where they have to figure out their priorities apart from sex and love. (I am, in many ways, one of these people.) By continuing to live your life well, by engaging with friends and family and your community and learning new things and having new experiences, you will figure out what your priorities are.

Most of the time the best advice people have for "I want a lover/husband/girlfriend/sex/cuddler!" is "get out there and do stuff with people." Coincidentally, this is also the best advice for finding other people who are not interested in sex or romance but are interested in best friends and partners in crime.

For what it's worth I don't think 27 is particularly old to have never felt in love with anyone. But I also don't think it's a problem.
posted by Mizu at 6:29 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


\But when you elaborate you're saying you're afraid to seek/have a partner. Fair enough - with intimacy comes tremendous risk, and you're right about being vulnerable when you're seeking/in a relationship.

I'd explore this. It's fine not to want a partner, but it sounds like you may have something more than not-wanting going on, that you may be avoidant. I have a good friend who could have written this 10 years ago. In fact, the togetherness of his life was partly his his protection against the vulnerability that relationships bring. His family was also wonderful and non-trauma-inducing; he was mainly just very, very fearful about any form of risk taking. If you're inclined to explore it, a therapist can certainly help (and if there's really nothing wrong and this is just who you are, that's also a great way to find that out).
posted by Miko at 6:34 AM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


My main concern here is the simply don't want BUT SO ANXIOUS sides. Pretty much what ever you decide to do with your life is OK, but it should not be causing as much stress as it seems to be. We can't really tell you why this stresses you so much, but some self examination can.

Have you had a good check-up by a doctor? A lot of things like low vitamins, low testosterone, low potassium, etc, can certainly cause or contribute to issues like this. Again, nothing is all that bad about these, just things that can be fixed.
posted by Jacen at 6:38 AM on August 13, 2013


There's absolutely no reason why I couldn't find a romantic partner if I wanted to, and if I put in the effort. ... But, I just don't want a girlfriend or a partner. The thought of 'putting myself out there' fills me with dread and anxiety.

The thought of it possibly fills you with dread and anxiety because you would then have real, firm evidence about whether it's actually true that you could find a romantic partner if you wanted to and put in the effort.

"I could get good grades in school, I bet, if I want to and but in the effort, but I just don't want to." Convenient, so you never have to prove your assertion one way or the other.

What troubles me most is that I want to want romance in my life, if that makes sense. Isn't falling in love, loving someone and being loved a universal human desire? What's so broken about me that the very idea of it makes me feel anxious instead of excited?

See, if you really didn't care, it wouldn't fill you with anxiety. But you do care... you're afraid that if you put yourself out there, you would have real, firm evidence about your desirability, and you might not like the answer.
posted by deanc at 6:50 AM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


So, ok. It is entirely possible that you are naturally asexual or aromantic and you genuinely wouldn't get anything out of a romantic relationship.

It's also possible that you are not, and that your feelings around this are coming from some deep anxiety about dating that you can't articulate.

The thought of 'putting myself out there' fills me with dread and anxiety. I don't want to put myself 'on the market' in that way. It makes me feel like a piece of meat.

I don't want to open myself up, make myself vulnerable to some girl.

What's so broken about me that the very idea of it makes me anxious instead of excited?


This fear, dread, and anxiety around dating, and distaste for vulnerability and being evaluated by potential partners- it could be your natural state, or it could be something that happened to you at some point, which could be overcome with therapy. It's up to you.

To me, what sticks out the most are the "piece of meat" and "make myself vulnerable" things. It sounds like you may fear being evaluated and found lacking. Especially since you go out of your way in this question to establish that you're not one of those undesirable people.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:01 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is 100% normal to not want a partner or kids or anything else society says you should want. If it makes you happy, you have every right and ability to go out and live a glorious single life, unencumbered by worry or guilt.

BUT.

This is only one person's opinion, but I don't think that's what's going on here. I don't think you're apathetic about interpersonal relationships; my guess you feel them super, super intensely. So much so that you basically overload and shut down. To be afraid of "putting myself out there" "going on the market," becoming a "piece of meat" "opening myself up" and "becoming vulnerable to some girl" are all fears of being exposed. So what's the secret you're afraid of showing?

Were you terrified of being rejected by your previous short-term romantic partners? Or did you choose (or were chosen) by people you were basically uninterested in, which kept the intensity level to a minimum, and allowed you to be 'just friends'? You say you've never felt anything for anyone, but I think you should dig a little deeper. When you imagine this radioactive kind of fear, the kneejerk horror of being "out there," does it connect to any particular person or experience in your past? Setting aside actual relationships, what's the most intense crush you've ever had? Most passionate sexual desire? (You don't have to answer any of this except in your head) Is it possible that your sexual and romantic desires are in some way mismatched with what you think you should want - this could be an attraction to men, as some have suggested, or just a different physical type? Or that you only want people you think of as somehow 'out of your league' and so think your romantic life is doomed to failure? If you had to choose, would you pick a purely sexual relationship without all the drama and clutter of romance, or a purely romantic relationship without all the messiness of sex?

I really don't mean to undermine you or suggest there's something wrong with you - the only problem I see here is your fear. So you should try and get to the root of it. The answer is probably therapy, but those questions might help get you started.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 7:19 AM on August 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


This is weird, because it's an AskMeFi thread where there aren't enough "see a therapist" answers.

It's not at all clear whether you truly don't want to partner up, or whether you just have some deep anxieties about dating and that you truly do want a partner.

Of course there is nothing wrong with not partnering up (as many in this thread have pointed out), but I would definitely recommend seeing a therapist. Don't take all the "permission to be single" in this thread as an excuse to not pursue something you really want but are scared to look for.

See a therapist--they'll help you sort out what you're looking for.
posted by Precision at 7:22 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


In fact, the togetherness of his life was partly his his protection against the vulnerability that relationships bring. His family was also wonderful and non-trauma-inducing; he was mainly just very, very fearful about any form of risk taking.

Just wanted to jump in to say that I saw this exact same dynamic, too, with a guy I knew-- dating was seen as a potential disruption to personal goals and stability in his family and, thus, something to be avoided, because it would serve as a distraction: neither he nor his siblings dated at all in high school, at all, or even in college, except for one who ended up marrying the first girlfriend he had his senior year in college. By all accounts, he was close with his family, did all the right things, had a good job, and all that.

Things actually worked out pretty well for him-- at some point, he decided he wanted to date, intensely focused on dating via okcupid, found someone he wanted to date, and ultimately married her, but that was not until his late 30s, and at this point his parents were like, "ok, we didn't want you to date or get involved with anyone such that it would make a mess of your future, but enough already." Before that he had no interest in dating and would always come up with reasons why attractive, interesting women he met were people he didn't want to date.

Your description of yourself, "I have my own house and live alone, my own car, a full-time professional job, a healthy set of interests outside work and all the usual bits and pieces," sounds tailored to demonstrate how you made all the safe, responsible decisions at all times. It's true-- dating and love does disrupt all of those "strait-and-narrow" paths. Suddenly you have to make decisions based on trade-offs between opportunities and what's best for the relationship and balancing your own needs/desires off of someone else's.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 7:33 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's 100% ok to not want or need a romantic relationship. It's 100% ok to not look for one. And it's 100% ok to change your mind about that at any time.

That said? If you enjoy the "partner in crime" dynamic, the right spouse/partner can be that x1000. You can find any number of configurations and dynamics for companionship, and what you end up enjoying may surprise you.

If there's even a chance that you may be just telling yourself you don't want a relationship due to anxiety issues, yes, please go see a therapist or another professional that can help you with that. Because nothing in life is worth missing out on for fear of being rejected. :)

Best of luck and much happiness, in whatever way that means to you.
posted by ninjakins at 7:43 AM on August 13, 2013


Isn't falling in love, loving someone and being loved a universal human desire? What's so broken about me that the very idea of it makes me feel anxious instead of excited?

The standard advice for people who want to fall in love is to stop trying so hard. You're already there at that place of zen, so don't go looking for trouble. You will meet someone on your own time. That is okay and will always be okay regardless of whether you are 27 or 57.

Falling in love changes your life in very deep ways. Your established habits have to alter to make room for another person; your lifelong goals may need to change in order to make it possible for you to walk through life with the one you love. Your deeply held beliefs can be challenged; your social circle and obligations will expand. You simply won't be the same person afterwards. The last time I fell in love I would up moving thousands of miles away from home. It's been a wonderful experience so far that I would not take back for anything, but damn it's been a lot of work! Don't beat yourself up for not wanting it. I'd say that if my entire experience had been laid out for me at the start I might have said "NOPE STAYING RIGHT HERE THANKS".

Trade up, not down. When you meet the right person, you know from the relationship you have with them and the feelings you have for them that your life will be better with them in it, not worse. And that is when it will be worth it to change.

One last thing: Dating is extremely frustrating, unnerving, and sucky, yeah, but always keep in mind that you are doing it for you. There's no one-size-fits-all approach. Just as you have your own style of making friends and keeping them, you have your own style of dating. You don't have to do it exactly the way "everyone else" is doing it, because as far as I know no one does it the same way. If you don't make friends in a meat-market kind of way, you're not going to date in a meat-market kind of way.
posted by rhythm and booze at 7:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, dating is intimidating. It's normal for it to be nervewracking, confusing, and frustrating at times. It's also normal to want to opt out of it, temporarily or permanently.

There are two things that are... well, normal in the "commonly experienced" sense, but not in the "good for you" sense: the first is trying to make yourself want something that you're not really very into, and the second is letting fear prevent you from getting something you really do want. I'm having trouble telling which of these is your situation; it could be a combination of both.

The good news is that if you're good at making and keeping friends, and if you've had "partner-in-crime" relationships before, you are in fact very capable of having a healthy romantic relationship, if that is something you want down the line. Love and friendship have more similarities than differences. The fireworks and butterflies, while exciting, are only part of a romantic relationship, and can be false alarms just as often as they're signs of true love.

Keep being yourself; you sound like a good person. You really don't have to date if you don't want to. And the decision you make now is not one you have to stick with forever.

And if you ever have trouble reconciling how you are, how you want to be, and how you feel you should be, then yes, therapy can be useful for that.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2013


I'd head off to therapy, not because wanting to be single is a terrible thing, but the way you describe it is with terms like dread and anxiety.

This is an excellent subject to explore in therapy. Either you come out completely at peace with your life the way it is, or you overcome the dread and anxiety that you have about a romantic relationship.

My opinion is that there are folks out there who enjoy their solitary travels through life and don't want to partner up. Bully for them!

But if you can't separate the difference between "Yay! I love being single" and "Yay! Being single means I don't have to deal with my fear," then it's therapy ahoy!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:56 AM on August 13, 2013


Thank you all for your lovely answers. :)

Your description of yourself, "I have my own house and live alone, my own car, a full-time professional job, a healthy set of interests outside work and all the usual bits and pieces," sounds tailored to demonstrate how you made all the safe, responsible decisions at all times. It's true-- dating and love does disrupt all of those "strait-and-narrow" paths. Suddenly you have to make decisions based on trade-offs between opportunities and what's best for the relationship and balancing your own needs/desires off of someone else's.

I understand exactly what you're saying here - it really chimes with me.

I feel very devoted to my biological family, for instance. They raised me well, even if there was something of a lack of physical affection from my parents growing up. I feel like someone new coming into my life, and falling in love with them, would somehow jeopardise my relationship with my family. They'd almost feel like an interloper! I really value what my family think, and I don't want to disappoint them with my choice of partner, if it ever came to that.

Part of my worries, I think, come from the fact that I recognise that all of this isn't healthy, and I know that it's highly inappropriate and frankly jerkish to see a potential partner as some sort of disturbance to the gentle rhythm of my life. I don't seek a partner, because I know that thoughts like "I worry that my family would be ashamed of her" are really unfair and hurtful, and I couldn't hurt a soul. I would rather remain single than subject someone else to my emotional confusion.
posted by winterhill at 7:59 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is so much pain in the way that you wrote this question -- so yeah, therapy. Your lines about being broken practically throb, as well as anxiety, dread, open myself up, vulnerable.

I am looking at this question as a(n American) woman considering having my first child at 34 - and for almost 20 years I have been doing "What is so broken about me that I don't want to be a mother?" and then "Not every woman has to have children, FFS" and then "Wow, I have gotten to a point in life and met a person where it suddenly makes sense, I get WHY someone would want to do this!" (Not to derail with any motherhood comments, but you describe romantic love as fundamental to the human experience, and many women confront the same issue - in the form of deciding whether or not to give birth/adopt/be childfree.)

And on your update? Yes, therapy. This is something that it sounds like you have been worrying over and trying to diagnose yourself and "I should be able to figure myself out" and all of that crap, when in reality a decent therapist can shave years off the time that it will take you to work through this.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:09 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I come from a close family as well. I believe in "extended" families... I want my children to be around their grandparents and their cousins. I think it's a good way to grow up. But part of being an adult is the process of leaving your parents and doing your own thing. You don't have to be religious to understand the wisdom that the Bible was trying to impart in Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." You can't be "the son" forever (well, you can, if that's what you want). The point is that at some point, you have to stop thinking of yourself as "the good son" and instead think of yourself as "the good man" who might someday be "the good boyfriend/husband."

Look, I get it: we're all trying to please our parents on some level. Men are frequently trying to work out their issues from living in the shadow of their father. Maybe that's why you always did the "right" things, getting a good job, buying a house, etc. I'm going to admit that I get a certain amount of satisfaction seeing my parents feel good about my recent professional successes. But your parents want you to grow up and "be a man," too, not the loyal child who accompanies them on family vacations and always comes over for Sunday dinner.

You definitely need an outside perspective on this. Find a good therapist (I'm not one to give advice-- I'm having trouble finding a good one, myself).
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 8:14 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Assuming your family hasn't gone 'round the bend, they would be delighted if/when you meet someone special, both for your happiness and (almost certainly for) the prospect of grandchildren.
posted by ambient2 at 8:26 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just chiming in to say that therapy really helped me with this. At my first session with the therapist that I stayed with (I tried others, bad fit) she told me that despite all my dissembling, I actually DID want to love and to be loved, I was just terrified of it.

Blunt, but it was like a punch to the gut to realize she was right. So, yes, feel free to want what you want, even if it's not to date - and ALSO get some therapy. Because therapy and being free from anxiety (or, to be honest, having it there, but not hindering my life) is the greatest gift I've ever given myself.
posted by ldthomps at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


They raised me well, even if there was something of a lack of physical affection from my parents growing up. I feel like someone new coming into my life, and falling in love with them, would somehow jeopardise my relationship with my family. They'd almost feel like an interloper! I really value what my family think, and I don't want to disappoint them with my choice of partner, if it ever came to that.

So yeah, I think therapy could be a great help. Between not having had a warm and physical relationship demonstrated for you growing up, and your having the unchallenged belief that your family would be disappointed by bringing in a partner and/or your family actually being so enmeshed that outiders are distrusted and excluded, there are things going on in your family history that are influencing the way you view relationships today.

I suspect that this does bother you at some level, or you wouldn't have asked the question. I can only say that these kinds of issues are very, very familiar for therapists, and that discussing them with an independent third party can really help you gain more life skills and act more securely about all your relationship decisions.
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think there are some really nice women who are also incredibly anxious about the current approach to finding a partner. Think longer term - what do you want from life? If you want marriage/partnership, kids, family life, then put yourself out there in the most sincere way possible, and look for women friends, one of whom may become the love of your life. Ask your friends to introduce you to the nicest women they know. If you *want* to date, or go on dating sites, do, but put yourself forward as a sincere guy who wants to make women friends, and hoping that a friendship may blossom into love, but may very well not. would love to meet a guy with that approach.
posted by theora55 at 8:54 AM on August 13, 2013


Lots of people have never been in love by 27 and lots of people find the idea of dating to be nerve-racking and a hassle and draining and time-consuming. That's pretty normal. Also, some people realize they are gay later in life... just saying. I will say once you do fall in love, you will change your tune. For now, I don't see what's weird about this. Some people are serial monogamists who always need to be paired up to feel complete. Others are independent and focus on themselves, instead just letting love happen.

edit: Your follow-ups make it sound like it's a genuine anxiety and fear. I'd definitely try some therapy or counseling.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:59 AM on August 13, 2013


Like most of the commenters above, it sounds to me like love and romance are things that you deeply want, but have convinced yourself that you don't because of (very common and completely understandable) anxiety and fear. I get the sense that what you're afraid of isn't so much being rejected outright, but of what might happen if you succeeded, i.e. if you suddenly found yourself in the unfamiliar territory of being in an intimate relationship. Not only would you have to make adjustments to the practical routines of your life, but you'd be making yourself vulnerable to someone in a way you're not used to being vulnerable. You come across (to me) as being rather eager to please and readily apologetic, which suggests to me (again as a total stranger psychoanalyzing you over the interwebs, so take all this with a big grain of salt) that you may be the kind of person who tends to be driven less by strong desires of their own and more by the wish to please others. If so, you might be more than usually sensitive to criticism, which in itself would be an understandable reason to be wary of putting yourself in a position where someone could hurt you, deliberately or not, by being critical or judgmental; and like it or not there's no such thing as intimacy without the risk of being hurt.

By the way, re this:

I've had relationships, brief and not-too-serious, in the past and while they were fun, it was fun in the same way that having a very close friend or a 'partner-in-crime' is fun

Your phrasing is a bit dismissive here, but relationships that are fun like having a very close friend is fun are rare and wonderful things, even when they're non-sexual. Lots of people go through life having one romantic relationship after another without ever finding one that can be described in that way. So the fact that this comes easily to you puts you way ahead of the game.
posted by zeri at 10:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hi Winterhill. First of all, sorry you feel so anxious. I’m really feeling you on this one, as I think I was in a similar situation at your age. I don’t know how useful it is to psychoanalyse yourself, as you can end up down some big rabbit holes. In true MeFi fashion, I would say definitely consider therapy if you want to, as a good therapist can stop you getting stuck. (I say a good therapist, as in my experience, most therapists are pretty incompetent. In theory though, I’m a fan of therapy.)

I think you’ve set this up as “They think I should get a girlfriend, but I don’t’ want to. I shouldn’t be put under pressure like this” to avoid the real issue of “I know I want something, but it scares me and I don’t really know what it is I want, and I have no clue how to get it.”

When I was 27, I was still a virgin and hadn’t even dated. I appreciate that you’re not in that position, but bear with me, as there may be some parallels in our stories. I grew up in a conservative Christian home and was a born again Christian until the age of 20, at which point I decided that the Bible wasn’t really making much sense to me. Anyway, years of waiting for Miss Right and trying not to look lustfully upon a woman, while covertly being as horny as any other youth left me with a fairly distorted view of sex and a fear of being open with girls.

Fast forward to age 28 and I finally met a girl who interested me and who I could talk openly with. Once I was able to open up and talk about even my most horrible insecurities, I became a lot more confident, and suddenly sex was on the cards. (Also reading about Pick Up and also the book Sex at Dawn helped normalise sex for me. Up until then, I had thought that sex was something that only Adults in Special Relationships did.)

So I got my first girlfriend and had sex. (The story isn’t quite so simple, because at the same time, I developed bad insomnia and developed a low libido, so it wasn’t quite the happy ending I had hoped for.)

Anyway, the point to take away here is that although it’s true that you might not want a girlfriend, it’s also very possible (I would say likely, due to you posting this and all your anxiety about it) that you do want a girlfriend and have various insecurities about it. I say insecurities (plural) because there might not be one single thing holding you back here. Personally, I would stay away from thinking of yourself as broken. That’s a vague and inaccurate thing to say, and suggests a low sense of self worth, which may also play into this.

For me my issues were:
• Religious conditioning
• Fear of emotional intimacy (being open, honest)
• Almost complete lack of familiarity with physical intimacy
• Not knowing why I would want a girlfriend
• Enjoying my hobbies/time alone perhaps a little too much
• Thinking that I had to reach some special point before I was worthy of dating.
• Putting women and relationships on a pedestal
• Not thinking I had much to offer a girl (totally untrue, but I still finding myself thinking that)

You may share some of these issues, or you may have others.

I’d also take a look at this:

I had a wonderful upbringing with loving parents in affluent rural England

No one has a perfectly wonderful upbringing, and I would say that “loving” parents in affluent rural England are often good at carpeting over difficult emotional issues, as the middle classes need to present a facade of success in order to keep their middle class status. If your parents are at all religious, I would definitely have a think about how that has affected you. (Even if you never really talked about sex and dating with your parents, then that’s something. Sex and dating are things that normal healthy adults the world over talk about)

Personally I think it’s unhelpful when people say that when the right person comes along, you'll feel it. I think you being in a relationship has more to do with you than any mythical “right person”. The fact that you are waiting for them to come along suggests that you feel powerless to get what you want, which ties into the deeper issue of not knowing what you want. People who know what they want often just go and get it. I suspect that you do feel things for people, but you’ve dismissed those feelings as not counting or not being “true” feelings. This is an easy defence mechanism against looking at what you want. I ignored my sexual feelings for years. If you had asked me if I was attracted to women or had sexual feelings, I would have said yes. But I just didn’t think they were important or that I should act on them. It might be worth asking yourself, if you got to 50 years old without having sex, how would you feel about that? In my opinion, just wanting sex is reason enough to pursue the opposite sex. You don’t have to justify that urge in terms of wanting romance. An urge is an urge.

Your resistance to feeling that you are just a piece of meat may be a reflection of the fact that you actually want to be a piece of meat. And you want girls to be pieces of meat too. Of course, its’ a needlessly derogatory way of saying that you want to be appreciated for your body, and you want to appreciate women for their bodies. Seeing your last partners as “close friends” or “partners in crime” doesn’t sound very sexual, which makes me think you are scared to own your sexual self. But you’re worried that to get to that stage, you’d have to go through all the emotional intimacy and romance, which stresses you out. So perhaps there are a couple of problems here: not admitting how sexual you are and avoiding emotional intimacy. What I discovered was that saying “I’m a sexual being with sexual desires“ was in fact an emotionally intimate thing for me. It was something that I had been ashamed of, and was also ashamed of my shame. To admit all of that was scary, but made me a lot more comfortable with my sexuality.

Don’t forget that there is more than one way to get your needs/desires met. I’m no expert on this, but I know that some people go for the girlfriend>partner>wife thing. Others are into polyamory, open relationships, serial monogamy, or whatever. You might be trying too hard to pigeonhole yourself into a box that you wouldn’t be comfortable in.

I think you’re opening up a whole can of worms here, which can be good in the long run, but try not to do what I did and stress yourself out too much. You’re in a good position to do some thinking and try some things without needing to rush too much. Go easy on yourself. You’re not broken. Just confused.
posted by UncleCaveMan at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Two things stand out to me here:

"The thought of 'putting myself out there' fills me with dread and anxiety. I don't want to put myself 'on the market' in that way. It makes me feel like a piece of meat."

I hear ya. I don't want to meet someone in "dating context" (i.e. online dating) myself. I really hate the idea of the meat market myself, especially what with being female. Everyone tells me it's what you HAVE to do if you want someone, but I tend to be "eh....maybe sometimes you can still get lucky meeting someone at random still, right?" If your goal isn't to find someone, then don't worry about the meat market. You aren't obligated to put yourself on it.

I feel like someone new coming into my life, and falling in love with them, would somehow jeopardise my relationship with my family. They'd almost feel like an interloper! I really value what my family think, and I don't want to disappoint them with my choice of partner, if it ever came to that.

I hear that. I don't know if you have that level of difficulty with your family, but some families just plain do not welcome newbies, and that's something a lot of people from normal families don't understand. It's complicated the hell out of my life and made my familial relationships at least semi-miserable for me to have SO's, so I won't lie and say that won't happen to you. It might. I don't know the sanity level of your parents, though, or how they treat anyone else who marries into the family. You haven't mentioned why you think your family won't like anyone you bring home, but...yeah, I think that's a good reason to not want to upset the apple cart as well.

"What troubles me most is that I want to want romance in my life, if that makes sense. Isn't falling in love, loving someone and being loved a universal human desire?"

Yeah, and people give you crap if you aren't settled down by oh, 22 these days. I kind of feel obligated as a human female to want kids somehow because the overwhelming number of fellow vagina-owners want them and me not doing it too makes me feel like freak of the year. Unfortunately....we are outliers, and kind of have to suck that "freak" label up and try to be comfortable with it as best we can, even if we make everyone else uncomfortable with our differences.

If it's any consolation, the older you get and the more you are permanently single, the less crap you'll get about it from loved ones--or at least, nobody's wondering why I'm single any more (okay, rarely). I'm just kind of the spinster aunt-type and people are used to it. And it's okay, really. Worst comes to worst, just tell people you never met the right person and it's not under your control and if it happens, it happens. That is hard for folks to argue with.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:50 PM on August 13, 2013


I'm 27 and spent the last several years completely not interested in dating or pursuing a relationship. It just seemed like a lot of work and, like you, I have a good job that I spend a lot of time doing, a wonderful family who I like to spend time with, and some solid friendships that require a certain amount of maintenance time. I don't think there's anything wrong with being happy without a partner, as long as you are really happy!

For me, it was important to not let being "single" define me, any more than I would have let a relationships define me. It felt like everyone was always telling me "it will change when you meet the right person," and like nobody was listening when I said I wasn't even interested in meeting someone. So I set about using my actions to speak louder. I went out with my coupled friends, joined some meetups and clubs, and generally went about being totally social as an individual, and over time, people accepted it.

Honestly, I did eventually start coming around to the relationship idea about a year and a half ago, and I am in a relationship now. But I still have to have my time alone or just with my friends/family, and my friends are used to me showing up without my partner in tow. If you make it normal, they will eventually accept it. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your own life, and feeling complete without a romantic relationship!
posted by assenav at 12:04 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


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