Convince me it is okay to be 28 and single.
October 24, 2010 8:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I give myself permission to be single?

I'm 28, female, in an established career that I love and over all pretty happy. I have great friends, a great apartment, a great cat, and over all a great life. The one missing piece is a relationship, and it is a gap that I am increasingly feeling. A few years ago I was in a serious-ish relationship that was just under a year long and that I ended. Definitely no regrets there. I've done the online dating thing with mixed results, mostly bad though. Regardless, I have also had a pile of other less serious, shorter relationships which were mostly fun but always ended with renewed love of being single. Not this time, though. This time I am impatient and frustrated that, yet again, I haven't found someone I want to be with for any serious amount of time.

Due to a number of circumstances (online dating having been exhausted and generally incredibly lame within my city, only knowing married/committed people who only know other married/committed people (no single friends to hook me up with), working in an office with all married/committed people, all extracurriculars being populated with married/committed people, etc) I won't be crossing paths with my future life partner any time soon and looking is kind of a waste of time for the time being. I know why I'm single, the reasons are more or less beyond my control, and baring any major changes in my life (moving, getting a new job etc) it won't be changing. With that belief/knowledge in hand, how do I be okay with not dating and deciding to be not actively looking? I see everyone else my age as married or in committed relationships, and it makes me feel as though I'm very behind in the game of life, but I also feel like it is okay. or at least that it SHOULD be okay. I don't want to care that I am a late bloomer and that I am going at my own pace. Or maybe I am getting complacent, I'm not sure...

How do I reconcile myself to my delayed relationship development? How do I not compare myself to what seems like everyone else my age? I want to just put it on the back burner, but I can't seem to figure out how. I'll be fine and loving my life and then something will come along to make me feel like an old spinster and kick me in the nuts emotionally.

Throw away email address -
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Outside pressure (the thing that comes along and "kicks you in the nuts emotionally") isn't going to go away. But - you can decide how you feel about it. This post proves you have thought it out and know yourself well enough to do just that. Besides, relaxiing and taking the pressure off yourself will probably put you in the right frame of mind to meet someone. It's just weird how that works. So, tell yourself this is nothing you need to worry about for x amount of time, and let it go.
posted by marimeko at 9:22 AM on October 24, 2010

Yeah, I feel you. 100% and a few years. What I'm trying to convince myself of is that this time is for focussing on me being completely awesome and interesting. So that when somebody great comes along that wants to grab me up, he'll be thinking "'re amazing, you've just been here, doing your thing all this time. Where have I been?" It's a flawed narrative, but it gets me through the fleeting but achy moments when I see couples holding hands or hear people in love pass below my street window.

I guess what I'm saying is, this is all your movie. Lose yourself in it if you have to. You're in the part where time goes by and you're doing other stuff. They usually gloss over those scenes, but you gotta live every moment. Fill it with as much fun non-relationship activity as possible. Easier said than done, I know.

It also sounds like - even with everything you got going on - it's not enough. At least not enough to create some tension or healthy drama in your life. We all need that. It's passion. Busy yourself up with some. You're clearly available for piling something else on; what better time than now?

Creative writing/drawing/learning also helps. Spend time expanding your private world - a place where you read and think and be inspired - and are cut off from any distraction having to do with relationships or romance. If that becomes your norm, a hobby so-to-speak, that you invest a lot in, you'll feel its pull and long to return to it, as the rewards of that time spent are an integral part of your life and habitus. And, this is silly but, make a mental list of people you know (or celebrities, etc.) who didn't find love until later in life. They weren't losers before then, and neither are you. But you already know that.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:44 AM on October 24, 2010 [12 favorites]

I just referenced this pertinent question (skip the first few bullshit responses, it gets better further down) in this question from yesterday (and perhaps my specific response there would help you). I think Jessamyn's response is really great in particular, especially the parts about getting bombarded by the message of coupling in our society(-ies?).

I'll just add two things: 1) I totally get you. It's tough and it's frustrating especially when you hear lazy comments from people like "gotta get out there!" and "it's just natural to want to be with someone!" and whatnot. Whether or not those things are true or not, it's besides the point, inconsiderate, and not what you need to hear. And, 2) really doing the "being single and okay with it thing" is slow going, takes commitment and practice every day, but it pays off. It is not fruitless.

Good luck, best wishes.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 9:49 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I see everyone else my age as married or in committed relationships, and it makes me feel as though I'm very behind in the game of life, but I also feel like it is okay. or at least that it SHOULD be okay. I don't want to care that I am a late bloomer and that I am going at my own pace.

You don't have to be okay with it, and I think that any attempt to be okay with it is going to be not worth the trouble. Keep online dating even though it doesn't seem to work. I'm serious. You will probably fail a thousand times more, but remember: every relationship will fail until one doesn't.

It is okay not to be totally happy. Just keep doing things that make you happy, and find all the joy in dating new people (even the shitty ones).

It's a very good thing that you are willing to end a relationship that isn't working, and that you aren't afraid of being alone. Not being afraid of being alone and liking being alone are two different things.

Get out there dating again.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 9:56 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was just going to Google up that old thread. I have two additional piece of advice.

1. Part of being okay with being single is basically learning how to turn off those "this is how you SHOULD be" messages generally. This is a good life skill, but difficult. It's easier to do this by being totally psyched with what you're doing to the point that you don't care what other people thing, and faking it til you make it can be helpful. Also, turning off the TV is helpful in this regard.

2. This is also a priorities issue. I sympathize with your situation but I feel like I'm reading in-between the lines that you'd like to be coupled up, maybe, but "the reasons are more or less beyond my control."

Now, again, I think being either single or coupled is a valid choice to make, but I'm not totally sure you're actually psyched about being single as much as giving up. And that's fine, but maybe being aware of your priorities and the choices that you're making. From what I'm reading, it's more important to live where you are than move and increase your chances of finding a partner. It's more important for you to keep your job than switch jobs and increase your chances of finding a partner.

I do not, absolutely, mean this in a "you did this to yourself!" way as much as saying that by taking certain things off the table, you're saying that you're prioritizing those things. And again, this is fine. I choose to live someplace rural despite the downsides because it is flat out more important to me to live someplace where I know my neighbors than it is to be able to eat Indian food without driving for an hour. But sometimes I have to remind myself about that when I'm jonesing for Indian food. I chose this, and I chose this for reasons that are important to me.

Likewise it sounds like you chose what you're doing, and you should remind yourself of that. This is where you want to be in a lot of ways and you made your choices for particular reasons. And, in the future, if your priorities change, there are still options available to you. Just make sure that you think you're realistically assessing your own priorities and the importance that you place on them [ask friends if you're not sure] and move at your own pace.
posted by jessamyn at 9:58 AM on October 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

You don't have to be okay with it, and I think that any attempt to be okay with it is going to be not worth the trouble.
It is okay not to be totally happy.
Get out there dating again.

See how this works? Do you see why you feel so conflicted, OP?

If you want to be happy then the first thing you have to do is stop listening to perverse self-contradictory advice like this (sorry The Devil Tesla, but I gotta say it). It is worth the trouble. It is possible to be happy. You do not need a romantic partner to be happy. You are a whole being as you are.

Knowing the truth of this is step number 1.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 10:03 AM on October 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

You might want to read this article on the Western narrative's assumption that a female protagonist needs a boyfriend to get an appreciation of where some of the invisible pressure to couple is coming from.
posted by thatdawnperson at 11:03 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to be happy then the first thing you have to do is stop listening to perverse self-contradictory advice like this (sorry The Devil Tesla, but I gotta say it). It is worth the trouble. It is possible to be happy. You do not need a romantic partner to be happy. You are a whole being as you are.

No worries, but I think that the contradictions you saw were just me not being totally clear.

Some clarifications: I didn't think she was less of a person for not having a partner, and I think it's awesome that she isn't afraid of being alone, and she should be happy when she is alone. And I think it is great that there are people happier being alone. I don't know if that is her, and from what I could take from her question I don't think that is her, which is why I said she should keep dating.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 11:44 AM on October 24, 2010

Not sure if this makes you feel any better but at least you can be thankful that you are not in a life sucking relationship.

There are many of those.

You seem keen enough to avoid those.

Relationships can turn people's lives upside down so one thing to be glad of is that you haven't fallen in love with someone who turned out to be a nightmare month's or years down the road.

I'm talking about the lying, cheating, BS drama out there.

Keeping your standards high is a good thing.

Forget about other people's situation. Its never what you think anyways unless you are in their shoes.
posted by simpleton at 12:10 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Twenty Eight! And you're worried about this! You could conceivably live to be 100 with the advances that are being made in health care. this would mean you would live with a spouse for 62 years!


For Heaven's sake relax and wait for the person who chases you and you like being chased by.

It'll all work out the way it's supposed to. Go roller skating or something..
posted by AuntieRuth at 1:00 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was single for a looong time. Mostly single-single. Lots of good advice here, so I'll just add two thoughts. First, I was always happier to be single, than I was being in a relationship that I knew wasn't "the one." Second, I used to tell people that I was skipping over the first marriage that didn't work, and going straight into the second one that did. (Ten years married now!)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:00 PM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

When a friend was feeling sad/depressed about being single, a psychiatrist told him to think about something else whenever a bad thought came into his head. It worked for him.
posted by bananafish at 1:22 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

One way of being successfully single is to think of it as being in a committed* relationship with yourself. It's not any easier than maintaining a committed relationship with another person. It's also, potentially, every bit as rewarding. It can be an adventure to get to know yourself that well, to learn to recognize your own emotional needs and figure out how to meet them without having a handy helper around all the time. It can lead to a rock-solid feeling of strength and peace.

(*By "committed," I don't mean making an unbreakable promise that you'll always be single. I'm suggesting a commitment to focus on making your singleness work as well as it possibly can for you, rather than focussing on trying to extinguish it. A relationship wouldn't work very well if you were trying to be single. Single isn't going to be great if you're trying to be coupled.)

I second Jessamyn's suggestion above of avoiding too much TV, and generally being careful about what messages you let into your head. There are a lot of 'psychic toxins' out there that are designed specifically to undermine your sense of OKness with your life, so that you'll buy the right stuff so you can attract Prince Charming and Live Happily Ever After. When you stop listening to all that junk, you have a chance to notice that you're already as OK as you need to be, and that there is no Prince Charming. You may go directly to Happy.

Of course there is sometimes a Saturday night that seems a little too quiet; it always helps to remind myself that nothing is lonelier than being stuck in a bad relationship. Been there, done that, this is better.

It's a rare privilege that we live in a time and place where it is OK for an adult woman to be on her own. I celebrate that choice every day.
posted by Corvid at 2:23 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a terrible thing to say, but give it a couple years, and you'll see around a quarter of those people who "beat" you to committed relationships starting in on the ugly divorces.

It isn't a race, and speed of getting to marriage/kids/other life milestones is no signifier of happiness or success.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:26 PM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of women who are single and aren't in a relationship, and might not ever be in a relationship. In the future, you'll find a lot of peers who were never married and stopped trying so hard to find someone for some period of time. There's always survivorship bias ("I was in a terrible relationship and broke up with him, and then met the Man of My Dreams"), but it seems more likely that there will just be a huge pool of never married people who have only been in a limited number of relationships in their lives.
posted by anniecat at 3:01 PM on October 24, 2010

But I do have to say, I understand the general sentiment is that you don't need a partner to be happy, but I'm happier being married to my spouse, but I was just incredibly lucky to have found him, to have reached a sweet spot in our relationship. I've been with him long enough that I would miss him terribly and I know that I love loving him and caring for him, and being loved by him and being cared for by him. I know I'm happier, but I don't think I'd be happy just being a relationship with anybody, because I don't think I'd be happy with just any guy and I was never eager for a relationship because of my own culture's norms (a lot of shame for dating, not having arranged marriages, etc.)

That being said, I have countless female friends from college and grad school that are "catches" in every respect, but haven't found lasting, committed relationships. I feel bad for them but only because my spouse is a big part of who I am, and I feel bad for the ways they've been hurt, and surprised by the kinds of guys (who seem so nice, so compatible) who rejected them as life partners because of the issues these guys have with commitment. If I hadn't met my spouse, I would be in the same position, no doubt, and, I'm not and have never been, the type of woman to date lots of guys (growing up, there was a lot of shame associated with even being seen talking to a non-relative male when you're a girl), so it kept me from getting out there the way a lot of my peers/friends who grew up in the US did. I'm pretty sure my friends will eventually either settle or just remain single, depending on how badly they want families of their own. I'm thinking they'll mostly just end up single in the end anyway.
posted by anniecat at 3:14 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I see everyone else my age as married or in committed relationships, and it makes me feel as though I'm very behind in the game of life

Maybe others are in relationships, but remember their lives aren't flawless either. Most people don't get an awesome career, incredible relationship, perfect family, and fantastic home. They get maybe one of those if they're lucky. Dig?

I don't mean to say it's not in the cards for you. I bet you will find someone. But that grass-is-greener thing isn't based in reality. 28 is TOTALLY not old. If it's babies you're worried about, you have tons and tons of time. Enjoy your life!
posted by hansbrough at 7:32 PM on October 24, 2010

You know I'm in the same boat, but oddly feel much better about being single than I have in the past. For me now being single is good even though being with my elusive soulmate, if he's even out there, would be better. It's like the way I feel about my apartment. Sure I'd rather be in my own house getting some equity rather than renting, but I still really love my little apartment.

I also wouldn't give up. Honestly I did that and while in some ways it took the pressure off, I found myself getting very depressed and resigned about the future. You don't need to compulsively date or go put with guys you are only look warm about, but keep your profile up. Log in once or twice a week and just respond to those that really peak your interest. I agree that going on endless first dates is horribly depressing, but there is a lot of distance between that and totally giving up.
posted by whoaali at 8:51 PM on October 24, 2010

How do I reconcile myself to my delayed relationship development?

Compared to whom? You create an artificial standard you need not make.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 PM on October 24, 2010

It doesn't sound like you need convincing that it's ok to be single. It sounds like you already believe this, until other people influence you to not feel this way. You say you're fine and loving life... until other people kick you in the proverbial nuts. The problem here isn't that you're single. The problem is that you're allowing yourself to be influenced by the messages people are sending around you.

I'm in my mid-20s and boy do I feel you. I'm in a relationship and I'm STILL in this position, surrounded by cohabitation and weddings and babies, and friends who treat their boyfriends like they're the only other people on the planet. No matter where you are in life, there will always be people around to make you feel like the grass is greener. It's hard not to let them. I wish I had better advice in that area. Sometimes it feels like society sends us these messages to take us down a notch, sometimes I think it's our own insecurity or a need for social validation. Either way, if you are fine and happy being single most of the time, there is no reason anyone should make you feel like you're not dating enough or a late bloomer or less-than.

It sounds like you have an awesome life. Continue to live it as you choose. Maybe a guy you'll want to share it with will come along. Maybe not. And if he doesn't, it will never mean you're a late bloomer or somehow less of a grownup. It will mean you didn't settle or sacrifice yourself, like many people do for the sake of "having someone." Which, in my opinion, is the hallmark of emotional ineptitude.

Also, 28 is SO young. A story of hope, if you need one: I know someone who was single for nearly ten years until she was 33, got married at 35, and had a baby at 37. She went on about a million awful dates, casually dated some nice but boring dudes who were great on paper (many of whom I'm SURE she could've chosen to settle down with), was celibate, and then not-so-celibate, and then out of nowhere she met her future husband on an impromptu trip. And when she did decide to get married, she really knew herself and what she wanted out of life. I know a few people who got married too young, didn't understand that it takes work and real committment, and are now struggling to be happy. And I've met older women who never married and had satisfying, fascinating lives. Everyone has a different story. You're well-established in a career you love (at 28!), live well, and have great friends. It sounds like you're ahead of the game, not behind.
posted by blackcatcuriouser at 8:34 AM on October 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh my gosh, honey. Two things that were said already but of which I remind myself when I'm feeling the "but I don't haaaave anyone to carve a pumpkin with" blues:

1) Anyone* can get married. If I wanted to be married by now, I could be, to any one of my ex-boyfriends. Who are exes for a reason. It takes a lot of guts to decide what you want out of life.

2) Seriously, wait another four years and everyone will be getting divorced. Not only will this stir the pool of availability, but everyone will be so worried about their own custody arrangements and that damn alimony that no one will be worried about your intimate life. And if they are, it will be to say, "oh, you arelucky!"

*Well, by anyone, I mean any of the hetero ex-class-mates whose wedding announcements my mother likes to forward.
posted by stellaluna at 2:45 PM on October 25, 2010

For what (little) it's worth, here's my take on this subject:

You go through life doing whatever it is that you do that gives you satisfaction and makes you feel productive / worthwhile / happy / pick-your-adjective, and if you meet someone, great -- and if you don't, great. Only you can make your life; other people can add to it, but they can't make it for you.

Friends (real ones) frequently outlast lovers and spouses (certainly the former).

I will also observe that nobody is better than the wrong body.

Admittedly, this sort of perspective works best for very independent people who are comfortable in their own skin and don't need constant emotional support from others.

But it's your life, and you don't need permission one way or the other whether you choose to remain single or not.

Just a thought (or two).
posted by SuzB at 2:48 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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