Romance drives people crazy but I'm kind of in the mood for it.
January 12, 2011 6:09 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever gone through a long period where you wanted to be dating but couldn't? Looking for tips on how to re-frame being single.

I have twelve months left of my Ph.D. and am racing to get it all done by December. This is great news! Unfortunately, for the third year in a row, I'm flat broke and any kind of dating life is basically impossible. (I'm not trying to turn this thread into a sob story about money; I chose to go into this program and am really happy I did. It was definitely the right decision. But it means that I can't afford coffee dates, the de facto cheap option, and free stuff is difficult because I don't have a car and can't afford the bus).

For the past two years I haven't cared. I was obsessed with my dissertation, classes, and a whole bunch of other personal projects, and that was great. Whenever I've been single in the past, I've usually been happy about it -- in fact, I've often preferred it.

But it's been two years now and I'm very lonely. My friends are great, of course, but it's not the same. I think about how nice it would be to go out on dates (especially on the weekends), to have some romance, or just be "out there" meeting guys. I tell myself that it's only a year before things will turn around, and that I should just sit tight and wait it out. But that's still a long time and not much consolation.

So I'm wondering how other people have dealt with being "involuntarily" single (could be for any reason -- health- or work-related, religious/philosophical, logistical, whatever). I feel like I need some kind of "Jedi mind trick" to stop caring about this, but I can't seem to do it, and it's bumming me out.
posted by venividivici to Human Relations (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not dating mainly because I am not sure if I can renew my work permit - ignoring the fact that I am gutless - and it ends in April 2011. Not fair for either of us if I get into a more serious RS and I can't stay. Do not want a ldr. Anyways, what I do really is just keep busy with my hobbies. Like. Really busy. And books. Hths, I'm sure much better answers will be coming your way :)
posted by TrinsicWS at 6:12 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Framing: You get to spend a little more time on Just You for the next year! Reality: Make that true. You're really busy with your dissertation, but times when you might be dating, do things for yourself - a bubble bath, a run, a night with friends cooking something new. If you run out of ideas, think about the things you'd like your potential guy to be doing, and do those things. And then when you can date again, do so with just as much gusto.
posted by ldthomps at 6:34 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm confused about the idea that dating == spending money. Talking, writing mash notes, walking in the park, making dinner together, canoodling--you don't need to spend money on that stuff, or at least appreciably more than you'd spend otherwise.

It's not like there's a law against dating while broke. Be upfront about it, and wtf, you're in grad school, anyone who knows anything about what that's like will understand.

If there are other things going on--maybe unwillingness to spend time on dating as you feel the pressure to finish? maybe unwillingness to get yourself romantically entangled if you're likely to move in the next year?--I say, you could make it clear you're looking for a fling, or strike up a steamy online-only romance, or any number of other lower-key options than the full relationship deal.

I realize this isn't answering your question, but I just think your premise is skewed. You only live once. Get out there and enjoy it! (And lord knows life needs some enjoyment when you're running your final laps in a doctoral program.)

Either way, congrats on being close to finishing. That's a huge accomplishment.
posted by Sublimity at 6:44 AM on January 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Books that are like chocolate bars to the brain. Since you're a grad student, you're probably exhausted by the idea of reading for pleasure. If so give some of those teenage books a chance, they're as easy to read as cutting through soft butter... not much intellectual stimulation, just entertainment value. Immersing yourself in someone else's world can be incredibly satisfying and distracting.
posted by lizbunny at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2011

I'm six months from finishing architecture school and totally feel like this at times - I'm basically dating my thesis and dissertation while gaining weight from stress and being broke. Like you, mostly my work and personal projects keep me pretty busy and happy.

The most helpful thing for me is to use the friendships and family I have to get me through the bits that are difficult, whether that's having company for a dvd on a Saturday night when I'm feeling like an unlovable idiot, or to see a bunch of people over a short period of time if things are feeling really crap. Sometimes just staying stuck in work is the only thing I've time for, but I try to make breaks as fun and sociable as I can so I don't have the material for reimagining myself as a hideous, repellent shut-in.

There's a special kind of suck in being single partly because you're doing cool and difficult and interesting things, and I think it's part of the challenge of achieving, where it's one of the required sacrifices.
posted by carbide at 6:50 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am in exactly this position, I'm a graduate student who is also working in marketing. In my second language, Chinese, which I'm proficient but not fluent in. So between struggling along in Chinese, working, and studying, it's pretty intense.

While I do feel lonely at times, I'm basically dating my program and my job, and I can't help but feel quite grateful that I'm not in a relationship or even dating. I mean, if I were dating myself, I would have dumped me ages ago. Mentally, I simply would not be able to give romance the energy and time that it would need.

In the meantime, I treat myself very well. Make beautiful meals, meditate, started playing the ukulele, read trashy novels, have massages, connect with my friends and family. 99% of the time it's a pretty satisfying life. When I'm lonely, I look forward to breaking hearts left and right once, I'm finished. :) Just six months to go!
posted by so much modern time at 7:18 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another thing that I'm sure you've thought of is the fact that you don't know where you're going to be once you finish, so why complicate things with an attachment. Maybe grad schools should promote Friends With Benefits get-togethers!
posted by mareli at 7:53 AM on January 12, 2011

....Can I still respond if the reason that I want to be dating but ain't is because "no one else seems interested in dating me back"?

Sorry, just had that grumble to get out of the way.

There's actually nothing wrong with being "out there and meeting guys" even though you know you're only going to be around for another few months. For some reason, I actually have better luck when I travel, because it's kind of like the pressure is off and it "doesn't count," so I end up being a little bit more flirtatious. So I say, go on out and flirt anyway -- be honest about your schedule with anyone you connect with, but go have fun. Lighthearted fun and frolic can be a fine thing, and it sounds like that's all you're capable of anyway.

consider it all "practice" for when your schedule has calmed down.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:02 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you set up an online dating profile and put up some kind of jokey "conditions of use" section where you stipulate that due to the venividivici grad school financial crisis of 2011 all dates must be at nil cost to participants so creativity is required, or something along those lines? If you're upfront and ask for what you want, you might be surprised at what people are prepared to work around, and that way only people who weren't phased by the money situation would contact you.
posted by Chrysalis at 8:28 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think there are things you could do to at least meet guys while broke. Volunteering is a good option. also I'm positive that if you posted to okay Cupid and said effectively I'm really broke, not kidding, you would find men who understand and would either pay for your coffee or do something free. I would even be tempted to be creative and try to think of as many free dates as possible. back when I was single, I think I would have been very happy to go on a date to the library (you learn a lot about a guy by his taste in books).
posted by bananafish at 8:40 AM on January 12, 2011

Well, I would agree with those that are suggesting that at least part of your premise is flawed: broke-ness doesn't mean you can't date. Sure, may be trickier in some cases, but there are 1) plenty of things you can do that don't involve money (especially if you are in a university town I'd imagine) and 2) plenty of other folks who must be in similar shoes or at least sympathetic. So, I'm just throwing that out there.

However, I can still see how you may not want to be or be able to be dating right now with everything that is going on.

So to get to your actual question, I've been in a sort of similar situation for more than a year and a half now. I am living in a nomadic fashion right now (a.k.a. homeless), and also (still, doh) coming off of a long-term relationship from a while ago, so I have a bit of EmpressCallipygos's feeling like people don't want to date me, combined with feeling like I don't want to date them back. I don't know when this is going to change either, so I'm assuming it won't.

But I can still get pretty lonely, and it doesn't help that most of my friends are scattered all over the world. So, I've had to (and keep having to) work through a lot of stuff on my own, and while I think the specifics are different for everyone, the general ideas are the same.

First of all, I have had to make sure I get enough time with other people (sounds like maybe this is not a problem for you but I'll put it down anyways). It helps if they are friends and I feel like I can share my emotions more freely, but I've found that any interaction is better than none. I've started treating it almost like my "weekly dose" and that helps both in terms of making sure I get enough interaction but also tricking me a bit into accepting that that is all I will get, and being cool with that.

The second thing I've done is really make an effort to detach myself from the whole idea of dating and romance and sex. This has been stuff like not even thinking about looking at dating sites (which is easy for me since I have no idea where exactly I live, which limits things dramatically), to always saying the same thing when I talk to friends or acquaintances about dating or romance (some variation on "I don't date," basically, and cutting it short there), to shutting off the flow immediately when I start getting that familiar glimmer as I catch an attractive stranger's eye...etc. This is not for everyone, and maybe some of you will find it repressive, but I see it a bit as behavior modification, and frankly because I was sort of sick of thinking about this stuff all the time it's been a bit of a relief the less and less it intrudes into my life. Now these reflexes have started being more automatic and it's just way easier to manage, because I don't start falling into the trap of wondering why I'm not dating, why I can't have "someone special" in my life, etc. etc. It's just not a part of who I am and that gets more and more okay all the time.

Finally, and of course the most important thing (and something you're already doing it seems), is to make sure I am following the path that I want, doing the things I want, making my life into the life I want. This is the most important thing. If I never have another relationship in my life it won't be the end of the world—but if I'm not doing the things that make my life meaningful to me then I might as well be dead. Again, this attitude is not for everyone but I've found it's what sustains me.

And listen, this may not be the path for you. You may just need to figure out how to start dating on an extreme budget rather than trying to use the sort of mind-games and motivations that work for me. Not everyone has the same feeling about this or tolerance for loneliness, and that's okay. But don't trap yourself into thinking your life is a certain way when it may not necessarily be the case.
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 8:56 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is how I deal with being single. I do nothing. Because whenever I've needed wanted a relationship and got myself one, I attracted the wrong kind. I think this is because only if you're happy with yourself and do not look for someone else to make you better/happy/non-bored can you be in a healthy relationship.
So I remind myself all this whenever I feel despondent at being single. I work at being someone I like and I do things I like doing. The rest will follow.
posted by mkdirusername at 10:39 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could try going after guys who are also broke PhD students.

You might also be able to make more money somehow, or take on a little more debt for your quality of life...if you're don't have an extra $40/month for dates I'm assuming you're paying your own way.
posted by sninctown at 11:25 AM on January 12, 2011

I'm flat broke and any kind of dating life is basically impossible.

Sublimity really hit on it. The underlying premise that dating = spending money is rather screwy, especially since those at university are generally in varying stages of brokeness.

The way I see it, you have about 3 options.

1. Accept that if dating is to happen, it's going to be a bit different to what you seem to want it to be like, i.e. you most likely are going to have to think of dating differently (as has been suggested). Students attract free events and activities. Make. Use. Of.

2. If you really can't do the dating thing without the money, find some no pain required ways of making cash. Are paid psychology experiments available? Could you do even a tiny bit of proofreading? Are there any conferences that require student helpers? The time outlay is small, and yes, the cash influx will be (relatively) small too. But, if it means you can do some of the coffee dates or bus rides, you may find that infinitely better than option 3.

3. Pick one of the distractors offered up here. I would go for the hobbies option from TrinsicWS. Bear in mind though that if you really do want to do the dating thing, even the best distractor may not work.

Good luck!
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 12:09 PM on January 12, 2011

Like others here, I also dispute dating having to cost money.

That aside, I don't have an answer to your question, but am just writing to say "me too." Misery loves company and all that.

In the recent past I quit a soul-crushing officespace job and am currently attempting to get something of my own creation off the ground. Other than this project, I allow myself enough time to groom and sleep and cook, and not much else.

I'm certainly lonely. But I also recently met a girl, we hooked up, it was the beginning of something, etcetc. Well I ended it before it could develop as I very quickly felt the agony of being torn in too many directions and constant guilt (project being neglected, partner being neglected, grooming being neglected). Now whenever I feel lonely I tell myself that the alternative is worse and to just tough it out until the project is done. Not very satisfying, I know.
posted by tempythethird at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2011

I am assuming that you are actually situated near a university (but if your dissertation involves studying snake handlers in the mountains, this advice may not apply). If public transportation and coffee dates are not within your budget, then start seriously combing through your uni's event listings. Even small universities often have awesome lectures and concerts that are usually FREE.

Like the other posters, I'm wondering if this is really about budgetary constraints (I think you'll find a lot of people's favorite date memories involve things like walking on a river levee or going on a picnic together. All of my most memorable kisses have always taken places in city parks, go figure) or about a larger issue, like wondering how much you want to get into the dating world if you might be pulling up stakes after you finish your PhD. If so, I sympathize, I'm in grad school and am not set on staying in my current city after I finish my degree. It makes dating sort of weird, when you have to throw the disclaimer out there at the beginning that "I don't know where I'll be a year or two from now".
posted by mostly vowels at 8:29 PM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all of you for your answers. I should have been more specific before, but I'm not at my university; I'm in a tiny little town in a very rural area and it's an absolute gay wasteland. There are no gay people here. I'm not kidding. The only way I can meet guys in person is in the nearest city, about 80 miles away via bus and train that I can't afford.

Two years ago, I tried really hard to meet guys online and was spectacularly unsuccessful. My profile said essentially what Chrysalis suggested above, that dates needed to be creative and free or super cheap, but I never had any luck in actually getting people to drive out here and meet up in person. The money issue seemed hugely important to everyone, and I got rude emails from strangers about how I sounded like a gold-digger. That could have just been bad luck, but I found the whole experience degrading and just decided that this point in my life, dating wasn't a realistic option.

If I were in a normal grad student environment, none of this would be a problem. The whole thing of not knowing where I'm going to be next year really isn't an issue; in fact, I'm really looking for a fling or something casual. And it's not a question of devoting all my time to my work. I mean, yeah, I'm freakishly busy, but so is everyone else. I'd be grateful to have a break for a few hours.

Anyway, I'm not marking a favorite answer because they were all helpful. Thanks for your thoughts. My attitude from now on is that I'm having an exclusive, monogamous, torrid, all-consuming romance with my dissertation, which is sort of the truth anyway. Believe me, she is a cruel mistress.
posted by venividivici at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, didn't realize you are gay, but I don't think that should change anything other than (I assume, sorry if I'm off-base, straight guy here) probably making it slightly tougher to find folks...sorry, wish I had a better suggestion for this. But based on your follow-up, I would just add that you should really not take the "you're a gold-digger" responses to heart: as has been pointed out on many other dating-related threads here, people can be real jerks when we're talking about dating. I think that it's really about persistence (and I'm sure also there are people who want something more short-term out there too), but again I can understand if you're sort of exhausted by the idea with everything else going on as you've described.

I just wanted to add that though: the broke-ness thing shouldn't be an issue for the right person. Anyone who takes your honesty about your financial situation as a suggestion that you are trying to wring them out of cash is an asshole!
posted by innocuous_sockpuppet at 9:53 AM on January 13, 2011

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