Permanently single. What can I do?
October 20, 2011 3:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm 34 and I've never had a serious relationship. Help me figure out how to change this.

I'm a 34 year old woman with a stable family background, a small circle of good friends and no particular issues with self-esteem, social anxiety or anything which might excessively impact on my ability to form relationships. But romantic/sexual relationships seem to be utterly unachievable for me.

At school, I was bookish and introverted, and I was never asked out (and wasn't brave enough to ask anyone out). I came out of my shell at university and made friends, but again there was never a hint of attraction. My twenties passed in the same way, albeit with a growing sense of frustration that my friends were slipping into longer term relationships and I wasn't. Looking back, I realize I was too passive -- I was waiting to be asked -- but, at the same time, there wasn't anyone I really wanted to pursue. When I was 29, a friend set me up on a blind date and I briefly went out with a guy. I didn't enjoy the sex -- I can't tell how much of that was due to lack of chemistry and how much was down to my inexperience. He broke up with me without giving a reason, and although I was upset at the time, I quickly realised that I hadn't actually been attracted to him.

After that, I did some soul-searching and realised that maybe the reason I wasn't meeting any guys was that I wasn't that into guys. I asked myself seriously if I was attracted to women and decided the answer was yes. If you’re thinking 30 is ridiculously late to be having a major reassessment of one's sexual orientation, it probably is, but I had been an evangelical Christian in my teens and early 20s, and for a long time it was impossible for me to consciously acknowledge that being gay was even a possibility for me.

I met a woman through an internet dating site and we went out for a short while. It felt much more natural to me than dating a man, and although we didn't sleep together, there was definite physical attraction. I broke up with her because it because obvious she thrived on drama and conflict in a way that I don't, and I'm still happy that was the right decision.

So here I am, nearly 35 and, apart from two brief periods, single for my entire adult life so far. I know my best option is to try internet dating again (to look for a female partner), but I can't motivate myself to do it. I didn't enjoy the process of using it last time - it felt very artificial. I'm struggling to find ways of meeting potential female partners outside of a dating website; I don't like clubbing and when I tried joining an LGBT hiking club (I enjoy being outdoors), I found I was the only woman.

My total lack of success at relationships is gradually eroding my hope that things can ever change for me. What can I do?
posted by meronym to Human Relations (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've said it before and I'll say it again. Dating is a numbers game. It's highly unlikely you'll meet The One on your first date, or even within the space of 10 dates. Heck, you may never meet The One. But you will meet;

1) A bunch of losers you have no chemistry with
2) People you have no chemistry with but you may have some fun with or may become friends
3) A couple of people you have chemistry with and you have A LOT of fun sexy times with over the course of several weeks, months or years.

And all of this brings with it exeprience. Every date is kind of like gaining a new set of skills and knoweldge that you can put on your dating resume. You'll fuck up one date, learn not to do it on another date, and then proceed to fuck up something else, which you'll know not to do on your next date. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Let me conclude by saying, dating sucks. It can be fun, but it can also be terribly soul destroying. After a few dates that go bad you may want to take a break, give yourself time to take stock and assess. But, like job applications, for every no, all you need is one yes for things to look better.

Chin up, soldier. You'll get there eventually.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [14 favorites]

you can give up. go to a therapist and try to convince yourself that you don't want a relationship. maybe eventually you will be able to change what you want and have no desire for a relationship. then, not having a relationship won't be a problem. personally, that is not an acceptable course of action, but YMMV.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:18 PM on October 20, 2011

Effigy2000 is right that dating is a numbers game. Except I disbelieve in the concept of "the One." There are probably thousands of awesome people you are compatible with who live in your geographical area. The problem is, there are more who aren't, and some sifting is involved. A lot of sifting.

When you're dating, it's much more fun to be in the moment while meeting someone new, and enjoying that activity for what it is, without thinking too much further beyond the date. You're going to meet quite a few people who are perfectly great... for someone else.

As for the LGBT hiking club, if you like the activity and the people were nice, keep going. Expanding your group of friends to include other single people is always a good idea. You will have people to commiserate with when the dates suck, and they may occasionally be the source of introductions. Hanging out with people who haven't been single in a long time is not a good strategy for meeting other single people.

Also, for internet dating, use it to weed people out who are obviously incompatible (wrong religion, political view, grammar, etc.) then meet interesting-sounding people in person at the earliest opportunity. For your first date, don't commit to more than a cocktail or coffee. If it goes well, you can always extend the date or make another, but you can plausibly make your excuse early and avoid sinking more time into a bad one.
posted by Hylas at 4:28 PM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's the trick to online dating: Forget everything people think is true about online dating, because the vast majority of it is very wrong. There is no such thing as "online DATING." All online dating can really do is help you find people to meet offline, in the real world.

So... turn online dating into something fun. Find neat people to meet. Not people to date or fall in love with or even build relationships with. Just. Find. People. To. Meet. Then, have fun meeting them. I'm a fan of meeting for drinks at a pub. It doesn't even have to be a date. Or, sometimes it's fun to meet somewhere to play board games. Or, meet people to do things with. I love photography, so I sometimes meet people to go on photo walks with.

Again, the point isn't to date. It's just to meet. Use online dating to find people to hang out with in the real world. If you're hanging out together and you click, meet again to go on an actual date with that person. And, if not, it can still be fun to have drinks with someone new.

Best of luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 4:32 PM on October 20, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm struggling to find ways of meeting potential female partners outside of a dating website; I don't like clubbing and when I tried joining an LGBT hiking club (I enjoy being outdoors), I found I was the only woman.

To focus on this specifically, here are some places where I've happened to meet lots and lots of queer women:

Certain concerts: Melissa Ferrick, Dar Williams, Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco. Those concerts will most decidedly not be a "clubbing" atmosphere, and the crowd will be mostly right around your age. Google for anything that was associated with the Lillith Fair. There's also Sleater-Kinney if you're more into the rock side of things, and anything to do with Riot Grrrl stuff.

Women's sports. If you join a sports team that is women-only, not co-ed, my inkling is that you will find more queer women there than in the general population.

Anything event that has to do with women's rights/gay rights/gender politics or activism.

I've never been to burlesque but I bet you would find a lot of potential female partners in that scene.
posted by cairdeas at 4:35 PM on October 20, 2011

Best answer: I was talking with an elderly woman the other day, and I told her I was in my 30's, and she said wistfully, "You are just so young to me. ENJOY yourself." It seems simple, but I really took that to heart because I have a tendency to obsess about being single, as well. So, I think, "enjoy yourself," is excellent advice. It sort of opens up a new line of thinking to me where it doesn't matter that I'm single, it just matters that I'm young and still able to use my body and senses. In that context, being free sounds like an asset, and I can imagine all sorts of fun times.

Online dating is kind of horrifying if you build it up to be a tool to settle down. Just pretend you're making new friends, which you ARE, and, again, enjoy yourself. If you're just going out to have fun and focusing on living in the moment, it is a lot less horrible. Dating in general is a lot less horrible with that mindset.

I would still keep going to the hiking group and looking for opportunities to socialize as much as possible. Community sports are great, book clubs are great, volunteering is truly great. I get a lot of rewards out of being a volunteer and it puts life in perspective. I would say, "Don't give up," but I never liked that phrase. Just keep trying to enjoy yourself, I guess.
posted by amodelcitizen at 4:40 PM on October 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you were 30 when you figured out that you liked girls more than guys, think of yourself as having the dating experience of maybe a 24 year old straight girl. Once you have reset the timeline to more appropriately reflect your time in the dating pool, you are doing just fine.

Maybe the internet isn't your best bet right now for meeting a partner but it can be your best bet for meeting friends. Try meetup groups that reflect your interests but if I were you I wouldn't limit them to being LGBT only. Just join groups of people that share your interests.
posted by adverse_conditions at 4:42 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

To meet more potential dates:
Google your nearest city and "lesbian." That should lead to some events or groups. Try a similar search through Also, the guys in the LGBT hiking group might be able to make introductions.
posted by maurreen at 4:45 PM on October 20, 2011

There's also Sleater-Kinney if you're more into the rock side of things, and anything to do with Riot Grrrl stuff.

Sleater-Kinney has been defunct for a while, but I bet there'd be lots of S-K fans at a Wild Flag show.
posted by Angus Jung at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I totally 2nd the "think of online dating just as meeting people" idea. In other words, meet people online, but don't think of it as 'dating' and don't have the goal of 'finding a female partner' in mind. This will help you stop seeing it as something you're either succeeding or failing at, and takes the unneeded pressure and expectation out of it. It'll help you stop pinning your hopes on somebody, or making yourself try to be into them if you aren't, etc, etc. Meet people.
posted by Angus Jung at 5:05 PM on October 20, 2011

What sort of place do you live in? The size and political climate of your area/city are going to make a big difference in what kind of lesbian groups and events you will find. I'm not sure how it is in other geographical areas, but where I am The Pink Sofa has lots of events posted in addition to being a dating site.

An LGBT hiking group sounds totally prime for lesbians, so I'm surprised it was all boys... but I second the suggestion to ask those boys if they know anyone. Also seconding women's sports, though if you are like me and not athletic at all, that might not be a workable option.

Also try looking for women's libraries or feminist bookshops or any other feminist or women-only spaces in your city. They will probably have bulletin boards with advertising for lesbian-relevant stuff, or if not, you won't be the first person to walk in and ask about local lesbian events.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:09 PM on October 20, 2011

You don't need to go anywhere you don't want to go to meet potential dates just because you want to date women, that's silly. Plenty of other women who like women are not part of the gay scene at all, neither are they all social activists or LGBT group goers.

For that matter, the point in meeting potential dates is to do things you naturally enjoy and meet other people while doing so. As a bookish and introverted person, you should pursue your literary and cultured or creative interests openly. If you (in the course of living your otherwise awesome and amazing life) happen to meet someone you feel a connection or attraction to, you ask that person out. That's it.

As to the, what do I do with my life, do I sit here hoping I will meet someone one day question -- Well yes, It is a matter of chance definitely, but it also happens frequently out of the blue, especially when you are not expecting it because you are too busy living life to the fullest.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 5:12 PM on October 20, 2011

You don't need to go anywhere you don't want to go to meet potential dates just because you want to date women, that's silly. Plenty of other women who like women are not part of the gay scene at all, neither are they all social activists or LGBT group goers.

Definitely didn't mean to imply this so I hope you didn't take it this way, OP. I'd have given the same kind of answer to a woman in your situation looking for straight men, except I would have probably recommended a different concert than Ani DiFranco :)

It's absolutely true that you can go about your day to day life and pursue your usual interests in possibly meeting someone that way. But it just doesn't happen that way for a lot of people, and even when it does, it can take a really long time. So I see nothing wrong with making your own luck by going places where there is a higher number and concentration of potential partners.
posted by cairdeas at 5:27 PM on October 20, 2011

Totally pardon me if this seems way off-base, but I wonder if maybe you are still undoing a little uber-conservative propaganda and that is maybe hindering your dating life a bit. Do your family and friends know you're gay, so they can set you up with sexy ladies they know? Does Internet dating feel kind of uncomfortable because it feels really deliberate, like "WHOA DOGGIE I'M A GAY LADY BEING GAY ON THE INTERNET, HIYA!"? Did it feel kind of uncomfortable at the hiking club because it was like, "ohmygod, I'm around a bunch of gay people. Just because I'm gay, too. OH MY GOD, I'M GAY, TOO."?

I am totally not saying this is absolutely what is going on AT ALL, but if it sort of rings true to you, it might be worth working on a bit, because I think you have to be in the right headspace to date and be considered dateable by potential partners, and you might find it helpful to at least reframe stuff. I totally second the recommendations to reconsider online dating, and honestly, I would even give the hiking club a second try! Gay dudes might not know single gay ladies, and even if they don't: Friends to hike with! Good luck out there, kid.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:42 PM on October 20, 2011

well, hell. I've been gay since day one and have just now accepted it at the advanced age of 40 (xtian parents, trying to be "bi"(and thusly accept male lovers), etc. I had a lot of encounters with women at earlier times in my life who later turned out to be gay, but were freaked out at the time when we hooked up...they all ended up partnering with women, but I have been left with no long term relationships or dating on my part. I am quite certain it is never too late, but feel so much of the same anxiety about dating as you do. I don't know what the answer is either, but please feel free to memail me if you like.
posted by k8oglyph at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2011

Maybe you're a quirkyalone :)
posted by costanza at 8:38 PM on October 20, 2011

Have you found your way into the queer community? Look for other meetup groups, or go to events at the LGBT center. If your area is big enough it might have a queer film festival. Meet people as friends, and hang out with them, and meet their friends, and some of these people might be ones you want to date.

If your area isn't big enough to have a real queer community, I would give serious thought to moving. Yes, it is possible to find a partner in a tiny place without a community, but if it's already difficult for you, you might as well stack the deck in your favor.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:56 PM on October 20, 2011

If you want to find a girlfriend, please understand that online dating is many orders of magnitude more effective  than going alone to an Indigo Girls concert and hoping to strike up a conversation with your future wife at the merch table.

It's like the difference between searching for a rare comic book on eBay, and hoping to stumble across it by going to hundreds of yard sales.

Go to the concerts by all means, and join queer political and social groups. But the best and quickest way to meet someone you like is to set aside your discomfort and take to online dating in earnest.
posted by dontjumplarry at 3:29 AM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Look, I think you are going to have to suck it up and be more aggressive about meeting someone. I was painfully shy in high school and college. And yeah, guys (and girls;) don't ask out the painfully shy a whole lot. Why? Well yo kind of have to get to know someone to feel attracted enough and comfortable enough to ask them out. So there's not anything wrong with you, it's just going to take a little more work. So, you don't like Internet dating? Tough. I think very few people enjoy internet dating. Most people don't enjoy brushing their teeth or running on a treadmill or eating salads or answering work emails. These are all sacrifices your current self makes so your future self can have a better life. But really, if you don't want to Internet date, there have to be other lesbian clubs out there. If not, why not start one? How about this? Create a lesbian hiking group on meetup on craigslist? See ... You just have to take initiative. The month or so before I met my husband, I just committed myself to meeting as many people as possible. I went to happy hours and hiking clubs and ski clubs and volunteering groups and some of it was uncomfortable and lonely feeling, but eventually I met my husband and in the interim at least I wasn't sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.
posted by bananafish at 8:29 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there a decent Unitarian church nearby? It dosen't annoy MY ex christian background, and there are many gay people at the church.

One thing I hear surprising sucess stories on is... fetishy websites. It may not be your exact cup of tea, but they are widely open to less 'mainstream' lifestyles. Maybe ask on the forums for LGBT events and such, if not outright use the dating services they proved as intended?
posted by Jacen at 9:04 AM on October 21, 2011

So here I am, nearly 35 and, apart from two brief periods, single for my entire adult life so far. I know my best option is to try internet dating again (to look for a female partner), but I can't motivate myself to do it. I didn't enjoy the process of using it last time - it felt very artificial.

I don't think most people find dating itself to be very enjoyable. For most people it's a means to an end, which is a happy relationship with someone. Along the way you'll meet people you don't really like, have to deal with awkward situations, and get your hopes up in situations that will ultimately be disappointing. But assuming everything works out, you'll eventually meet someone you click with that you otherwise wouldn't have met.

Of course it would be great if you didn't have to go through all that, if an awesome person who you were attracted to and who is compatible with you just showed up on your door one day and you instantly started to have a relationship. But that's not going to happen, and you seem to realize that you need to be more proactive about things. The bottom line is that somewhere out there, there are many people who you could have a great relationship with. As you've realized, finding them is not exactly easy, even if you do things like join clubs that people you would be interested in might join. That's why online dating can be so useful. Online dating is not an alternative to real life dating, it's basically just a big list of people that you can look through to try to find someone to date in real life. Ideally, this is how online dating should work:

You: Hi, read your profile, you seem cool.
Them: Hi, you also seem cool based on your profile.
[small talk ensues]
You: So, would you like to go on a date at [time] at [dating place]?
Them: Sure!
[begin real life dating]

The process of online dating might feel weird and not really be that fun, but as far as a method to find people to date goes it's much better than any other alternative. Once you meet someone in real life, things might work out or things might not work out. But at least you are out there meeting people and giving it a shot. What should motivate you to go back to online dating should be that there is probably, right now, someone who is great for you on an online dating site waiting to meet someone like you.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You need to get out there and date. Try the internet dating again or sign up for single events in your area. Don't just limit yourself to one person. Open yourself up to people whom you may or may not be attracted to right off the bat. You never know who will be right around the corner. A friend of a friend, say you date someone and it doesn't work out maybe they have a friend whom is better suited for you.
posted by Dee123 at 9:08 AM on October 21, 2011

If finding new venues to meet and better internet dating don't work, a little therapy might help. Even if you have a good self esteem and no social anxiety, dating and rejection and desires are hard topics to deal with.

You also might see what you can do about finding a community around a topic you love with a lot of lesbian women in it. My local group of fanfic-enjoying women skews lesbian and has had several good relationships grow out of it.
posted by ldthomps at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2011

35 is not very old for a newly-out lesbian to be looking for her first partner. Over the past 30 years as an openly gay man, I have met many, many late-30s/early 40s lesbians entering their first real relationship. I am you happy avoided the social pressure to marry before you came to terms with your sexual orientation. Because lots of 30s/40s lesbians have to go through what you're going through with an ex-husband and a couple of kids.
posted by hworth at 7:45 AM on October 22, 2011

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