Why am I still single?
November 20, 2013 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm female, 37 and single, with minimal relationship experience. I'm moderately attractive, a bit shy, and lacking in confidence. Over the years I've tried online dating, speed dating, asking people out, expanding my social circle, asking friends to set me up and going to therapy. I've dated a few guys but haven't been involved with anyone in almost 2 years. I've considered reaching out to guys I dated in the past to ask why things didn't work out, to see if there is a theme, but I've been advised this is a Bad. Idea. Guys tend to just drift away with no explanation. I think it may be that I'm not so good at talking about feelings or asking for things (like commitment, or "can you tell me where this is going?") I know you don't have enough information to pinpoint why I am single. However, perhaps you can suggest some of the questions I could be asking, or things I could try that might help me find someone and not scare them off?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Did you like any of the guys you dated enough to want a longer commitment from them?
posted by xingcat at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

How long are these relationships? Weeks, months, a few dates? It kinda sounds like you're bad at the meeting/dating/ expressing interest and or being interesting enough to have follow up dates that end in relationships.

How much do you share of yourself on early dates? Over-sharing can be offputting. How interested in them do you act? ARE you in fact, interested in these guys? Do you ask good questions that help conversation flow? Do you go to places conducive to conversation and getting to know one another?

Low self confidence is pretty killer too. Confidence is MUY SEXY! That might be the first thing I'd bump up if I were you.

How do you dress and present? Makeup and nice clothes for dates?

Also, people tend to attract people with roughly the same amount of issues as you have, so therapy is always good.

Advice: Get looking as fabulous as you can- fresh haircut, clean nice clothes, maybe some heels, and go to a coffee shop or bookstore or grocery, and find a guy who looks interesting to you. Ask him out. Do this with at least ten gentlemen, or till you get a yes. Examine that date and report back with where things went wrong and what went well
posted by Jacen at 7:10 PM on November 20, 2013

I haven't been on the dating scene for donkey's years, but my guilty pleasure is reading Carolyn Hax's columns and live chats. Channeling her, I'd say, are you going out with guys who share common interests, other than an interest in dating? Have you felt a connection with the guys you used to date? You might find it helpful to join groups that are related to your interests -- church, sports, hobbies, social justice, politics, whatever -- and then see whether you meet anyone there whom you might want to see outside of that context. I've read that online dating doesn't always work in part because sites try to match people too closely (a little tension or mystery isn't bad), but having at least one thing in common makes the earlier stages easier.

Carolyn would also say that you should be confident in who you are and in your value as a person. That doesn't mean being arrogant or nasty, but it does mean being aware that you shouldn't take crap from anyone. If you are content being alone with your friends and interests, you might actually invest less in being with anyone, and that might help you on the way to being with someone you really get on well with.

Again, I don't know you, and I'm just channeling my favorite advice columnist. You might send your question to her!
posted by brianogilvie at 7:12 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

In my experience, one of the most attractive features in a person is confidence. Not being a pompous boor, but true confidence and a direct, thoughtful, and well-spoken approach. Are you maybe coming off as a bit of a doormat who shrinks back and doesn't have opinions or good communication skills?

The good news is that if this is the case, you can go far in correcting it by joining a public speaking club or an activity that forces you to develop confidence in speaking and how you carry yourself. Maybe try something like Toastmasters for 6 months and see whether it helps you to project yourself outward in a way that transmits to others that you have some charisma. Develop interests that lead to being active in groups or clubs. Get used to branching out.

I agree that it would be a bad idea to reach out to past boyfriends or people you've dated. Leave that behind and look into ways to develop confidence and learn to be self-assured. One of the most sought-after women I've ever met was no beauty, but men fell over themselves for her because she exuded confidence, charm, and smarts.
posted by quince at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

help me find someone and not scare them off?

Why do you assume you are "scaring people off"? Did you genuinely like the people you were dating enough to want to continue the relationship? Maybe things ended due to a lack of interest on both parts. The first question I'd ask yourself is how you really felt about those guys you dated.

Maybe you just haven't found the right person to be in a serious relationship with. Being alone is so much better than being with an unsuitable person. I used to think that something was wrong with me because I didn't have any serious relationships- then I started to get more attention from guys, started dating more, and also started realizing that having a boyfriend you're not really that into is pretty boring and even really unpleasant. I realized that I wanted to wait for the right person rather than just dating people because I could.
posted by bearette at 7:17 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

"I've considered reaching out to guys I dated in the past to ask why things didn't work out, to see if there is a theme, but I've been advised this is a Bad. Idea."

No, actually, finding out why things didn't work out from men you've dated is The Perfect Idea. What do you possibly have to lose by asking them? Nothing. In fact, it will be good practice for coming out of your shell and becoming more confident. Those guys are not people you should fear - ask away! To that end: recommended reading - "Have Him At Hello" by Rachel Greenwald. She recommends exit interviews with people you've dated in the past, and tells you exactly how to go about doing it.
posted by hush at 7:20 PM on November 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ask Polly is my favorite internet advice column lately. I rarely identify with the letter writers, but the advice she gives pretty much can apply to anyone.

In particular, you might enjoy this column on how to avoid getting involved with half-assed men.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 7:20 PM on November 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

I retyped this answer a couple of times!

I think what I want to say is; you've done all this "supposed to" stuff but you don't sound like you're having any fun. Are you? Are you living your life in a way that prioritizes your happiness, or are you putting things off so you can focus on finding a relationship? Dragging yourself to things because there might be dudes there? Not doing things you like because there won't be dudes there? etc.

Romantic relationships are great things, but when you make them a goal instead of just a possibility you might be open to, it can take over your life and suck all the joy out of it.

So I would say: take Finding Someone off your to-do list. Just right off. You are on vacation from mate-hunting. You are not going to do anything you don't want to just because you might meet someone. You are open to a relationship if one presents itself, but meanwhile, you are living as fabulous a life for yourself as possible; glorying in your independence, doing only what you want, giving and getting love from friends and family and pets, and not giving a tiny damn about whether you are single or will ever not be single. Anyone who doesn't like it can go suck eggs.
posted by emjaybee at 7:22 PM on November 20, 2013 [19 favorites]

No, no, no! I completely disagree with hush. The only people you should be asking for pointers are your actual, for-real friends. People who have your best interests at heart. Not people you have dated in the past. Why should you trust that they would be kind or truthful or insightful. I would find it very, very strange and off-putting if an ex-boyfriend rang me up out of the blue, asking for personal growth tidbits. That's not the job of a former dating partner.

Please do not assume you need fixing. Like emjaybee said, focus on yourself and your own happiness. When you are more confident and assured in your life and bearing, the men will be a lot attracted to you. This may seem cliched, but I swear that it is true.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:47 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

What emjaybee said. I had been thinking about moving to Japan to teach English and had heard that Japanese men aren't often interested in western women, and that the male English teachers weren't either (*ahem*). I hesitated (being 23-ish and very much wanting a boyfriend), and then thought - why the hell not, I'm not dating anyone anyway!

I'm married to a fellow teacher; but part of it - a large part - is that I was happy and doing what I wanted, and would have continued to be happy (and doing what I wanted) without him. My happiness had nothing to do with him! It was a relief for both of us.

The other thing is that single or not is very very much out of your control. There are lots and lots of difficulties and compromises that come with being not-single. You may be single forever (my aunt has been single forever, on purpose, and loves it!). You could be not-single and then single again. It's about acceptance and making peace and being joyful regardless, and not letting someone else control your happiness. You don't know what's going to happen, so you might as well be happy and having as much fun as you can *now*.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:53 PM on November 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

and not scare them off?

I would argue that, just like interviewing for a job or touring an apartment-share, the point is to scare off the ones who wouldn't be a good match. If you have any hard requirements, find out early whether they're being met. (If you don't think you have any hard requirements, you should think more carefully about what you want; most people minimally require fidelity.)
posted by d. z. wang at 7:58 PM on November 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

On a more fundamental level, you say it's been two years since you've dated--dated like been really involved with one person, or dated like been out with anybody? You say you've "tried online dating" like it was a thing you did in the past and don't do anymore because you tried it (once? a couple times?) and it didn't work immediately. Yes, there are stories of people who just fall into good relationships, but on the whole, most people go through a lot of cruddy dates before they find someone to settle down with. Dates that don't work out may be discouraging, especially if you're not very confident to start, but they're oh so very normal. It might be that you're not really doing anything wrong at all, you just haven't found someone yet who was actually compatible enough to settle into a long-term thing with.

It's not that I disagree that you need to be living your life outside that, too. That much is still true. But especially if you're a naturally quiet person whose happy endeavors are not leading to running into a lot of eligible bachelors, you may need to just allow for the fact that you'll need to talk to ten guys on OKcupid to get one who's worth actually going on a date with, and go out on dates with ten guys before you find one you really want to see long-term. You talk about these guys you've been out with in such a detached way that I have to think that in your case it's really true that you just haven't met someone right yet.
posted by Sequence at 8:19 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not your fault you're single; it's not something you can really control. I dated a ton this summer after getting out of a really long term relationship and I met tons of guys in their 30s who weren't losers. Most of these guys eventually revealed themselves to be not worthwhile. They were what the culture reflects right now: they were insecure, had fragile egos, a superficial desire for lots of female attention, and they really didnt turn out to be as interesting as they thought they were.

I was lucky to meet and make lot of friendships with really cool women who were so much more interesting, funny, and cool. Guess what? They're single and dating too and we're all in our early and mid thirties. There were a couple of guys who wanted relationships and one guy I had a 3 month relationship with, but it was a drag, even though I really liked him.

You're not alone and you shouldn't despair. The goods out there are odd and finding the right partner is A LOT of work and possibly wasted energy.

And don't forget: there are so many unhappy and uninspiring couples out there. Couples where the relationship pretty much stunted them and they have no idea how much better being single is.

Don't lose hope. Just keep having fun and liking yourself. Whatever happens happens.
posted by discopolo at 8:34 PM on November 20, 2013 [11 favorites]

The guys who drifted away---definitely don't call them. You really need to see it's not your fault. There are a lot of emotionally immature dudes out there who mislead women and are more than happy to blame them.

Accept that they didn't want to be with you and it's nothing you did wrong. As long as you were yourself, you were honest and ethical in presenting yourself. If some dude didnt respect that, that's his own problem. Don't waste your time trying to figure out why some guy doesn't want to be your boyfriend or why he decided to ghost out. You won't get anything helpful from it and that's his own damage to deal with.

You need more confidence. Believe and like yourself. Be the kind of person you want to meet. But who cares what these rude ghost dudes think? They aren't that special, trust me.
posted by discopolo at 8:43 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Find a confidence mentor. A woman who carries herself well. A woman that can wear a hat. You'll have to open yourself to this woman, it's going to be humbling, same as anytime you go to someone for help. But the right woman wants to help you, we're looking for the woman/women who'll look you dead in the eye with a friendly smile when you tell her/them what you need and say "You bet." For whatever reason I'm thinking of Dolly Parton here, how friendly she is, how open she is, a smile that reaches her eyes. You want a woman like her, seems to me, a woman like her to open to.

So there's that.

My take on asking guys you've dated in the past what went wrong, what should you have done or said, what shouldn't you have done or said? A real wrist-slitter, that's what that is. No way. They're braindead anyways, walking away from you. The only thing I'd be interested in with that is did they walk away or did they think you pushed them away. (Or did you push them away? Talk to your therapist on that one, you can make six months of payments on your therapists Volvo on that one.) But don't go to those guys, they're gone. The next guy, yeah, nail his foot to the floor until you find out wtf. I know you don't want to, I know it's hard, but I think it'd pay, or could pay.

Last. Why are you single? No one can answer that, including you. Myself, I have bad hearing: I was shuffling down the line getting ready for my run here, they were passing out True Love, I thought they said "Blue Gloves." and I'm all "Get the fuck outta here." Bad hearing. And don't believe any of that jive about "When you quit looking for Love it finds you." That's some crazy-making, Oprah-show bullshit there, get you thinking "Well heck, I just need to Quit Looking." and then you stand there like a dope, scratching yourself, all intent on Not Looking, and there is no goddamn way you'll get anything but nuts from that. Jesus christ.

So. Get two clear-eyed confidence mentors, pay attn to what they say, let yourself be molded a bit. Never wear any underpants that aren't sexy as hell -- I'll probably get crucified for saying that here but I've seen woman say it and so there. Paint your living space -- or have it painted -- paint it how you imagine a Parisian woman who has two wealthy lovers would paint her place; get your mentors okay before you decide for sure what colors, they will know. Get a bright red beret, and bright red gloves, and a silk scarf, and walk proud, because you're pretty and you know it.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:54 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is hard to say as the details you've provided are sparse, but I'll throw some ideas out there. I wonder if you are shy and uncomfortable with attention (this fits with you not wanting to talk about yourself or your feelings). So maybe you are shutting things down prematurely, or otherwise giving off signals that you are NOT interested, because your shyness and sense of self preservation kicks in. Of course this means guys will read your signals to "go away" and... well... go away.

On the inside... do you want people to come in? If you are in conflict then you need to solve it. Find the part of you that is resisting intimacy and take care of it, so that you are more aligned and sending the right signals that you are ready to connect.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:59 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not so good at talking about feelings or asking for things (like commitment, or "can you tell me where this is going?")

First of all, a bunch of people who suck at this are in relationships (as are plenty of low-confidence people), so this is definitely not the end of the world or anything.

BUT I do think that knowing what you're feeling and wanting, and being able to say it, could lead to more intimate relationships. Personally I have found my relationships to get deeper as I've gradually found an ability to say "oh geez, now I'm worrying I've screwed everything up!" or whatever is going on for me in the moment. It's interesting how a disclosure like that can shift a conversation and over time a relationship.

The good news is that this is an easy one to practice in everyday settings. The book Nonviolent Communication explains it well.

I'll add that to the spaghetti thrown on the wall here. :)
posted by salvia at 10:20 PM on November 20, 2013

I've done the "Ask the ex's" thing, but then I'm still friends with most of them so it wasn't as awkward as it could be having to look someone up who hasn't spoken to you since "that night".. The problem is, even though the relationships all failed most of them were for different reasons. A few of them said I was both "too intense" and "Too distant" (which usually happens because I realize I might seem clingy, and forced myself to back off for a while).

I can say that, aside from the usual deal breakers of being too jealous with one, not getting along with a mamma's boy's mommy, etc... More of my relationships or almost relationships have ended (or never got as far as happening) because we wanted different things from life and realized it early enough to avoid a lot of heartbreak. I'm not looking for marriage and don't want children, am not close to my family (and uncomfortable dating guys who are extremely close to family, such as the mamma's boy). I'm not religious, or political... All of which are apparently things that a lot of guys seem to look at when deciding whether a woman has future potential. Obviously if he wants a family I'm not likely to be the one he goes for, unless he thinks he can change my mind in which case its going to end badly anyway.

I've also had a few not happen because I tend to be very open about sexuality and previous adventures, so they think i'd be too kinky or wild or whatever (or worse, the ones who pursue me because they hope I'll be the super tramp of their dreams, ugh).

Eventually I just gave up on trying to understand... i enjoy life as it comes, try not to do anything stupid when I find someone I'd like to explore a relationship with, and accept that if it doesn't work out it must not have been meant to.

I would say from the original post, not being communicative is the only red flag I can see. Its hard to get close to someone who doesn't talk to you about the relationship or what they want or how they feel or anything. I have that problem sometimes, although I find I'm much more comfortable doing it through text or im or email, where I can write out everything thats on my mind and let the other person read it. If they're not comfortable responding in the same format, we can sit down to talk about it over coffee or whatever and I'm usually okay for that conversation because I'm already past the anxiousness or awkwardness or shyness that made me uncomfortable verbalizing.
posted by myShanon at 10:46 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get looking as fabulous as you can- fresh haircut, clean nice clothes, maybe some heels, and go to a coffee shop or bookstore or grocery, and find a guy who looks interesting to you....
Carolyn would also say that you should be confident in who you are and in your value as a person.
I'm married to a fellow teacher; but part of it - a large part - is that I was happy and doing what I wanted, and would have continued to be happy (and doing what I wanted) without him. My happiness had nothing to do with him! It was a relief for both of us.
Never wear any underpants that aren't sexy as hell -- I'll probably get crucified for saying that here but I've seen woman say it and so there. Paint your living space -- or have it painted -- paint it how you imagine a Parisian woman who has two wealthy lovers would paint her place; get your mentors okay before you decide for sure what colors, they will know. Get a bright red beret, and bright red gloves, and a silk scarf, and walk proud, because you're pretty and you know it.


Oh, brother.

Beware advice from people in relationships who are unable to see that a large part of falling in love is luck. Clearly only fabulous, self-aware people end up in relationships! I am awesome, I am in a relationship, ergo, my relationship is a direct result of my confident, self-realized awesome self.


I hate the implication that people who can't find love are somehow lacking, that we feel that our "happiness depends on other people" or not confident in our value as people or what-the-fuck-ever. Sitting around in dirty clothes, hating our sad, single lives.

It just hasn't happened for you yet, and none of us know why.

Plenty of shy, emotionally unstable, etc. people fall in love and get married every damn day. Plenty of awesome people are single for life, or for a very long time. From what I've seen, being extremely accomplished and/or attractive seems to make it more likely that someone is single for a long time, but that could be a crazy LA people thing. It's not a meritocracy, but maybe you're making choices that lead to singletude? Do you work long hours, hang out with the same people all the time, and do the same things?

I am meeting a lot more guys, and dating more, now that I don't have a job that sucks up all my time and I'm involved in fun stuff. Haven't met anyone who is Boyfriend Material with a Capital B, but there are some prospects. Doesn't mean any of them will pan out, but it's better to have a least a few fish in your dating pond than none at all. It's a crapshoot, but you can improve your odds.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:38 AM on November 21, 2013 [34 favorites]

i think the advice people are giving you in this thread about appearance and clothes and stuff like that is meant to boost your confidence. confidence, self-esteem, and being comfortable & secure with yourself is *really* sexy. telling you to wear sexy underwear isn't to say you should show that underwear to your next date ASAP, but if that makes you feel attractive and confident knowing you have it on, go for it.

i've met people who didn't look conventionally attractive at all but then won me over because they had this incredible confidence and comfortableness about themselves once i got to know them. and i've met gorgeous people who eventually turned me off because as i got to know them i realized they kind of hated themselves...so why would i like them?

Nthing folks above who said a lot of this is luck, timing, and factors you cannot control. those factors don't reflect on whether or not you are a good person or a desirable partner.

i would not worry about "why didn't my past relationships last" unless you really liked one of those people enough to actually want a commitment from them. if it was just casual dating, yeah, people kind of drift away a lot in those beginning stages because frankly most of those dates are not with good matches and don't produce a relationship. numbers game etc.

when you do meet someone, don't worry about "omg does he like me / how can i not scare him off?" someone who is a good match for you won't be scared off by your needs. worry more about "do i like him? do i feel attracted to him, compatible with him? can i see myself with him in the future?" people can intuitively sense when someone is Not That Into It, or being distant; if you have trouble talking about your feelings, it might be misinterpreted as a lack of desire for emotional intimacy, and your date figures "she's not really that interested" and pulls back.
posted by zdravo at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2013

I am a confident person with a great personality and most of my shit together and finding guys to date was pretty hard for me. First, I'm fat, so that lets out a lot of guys from jump street. But I did date decently steadily and what I found was that 90% of the time, they weren't doing it for me, not vice-versa.

I had a boyfriend for a while, and we had great chemistry, but the man was as dumb as a box of hair. I watched him struggle with a crossword puzzle in the TV section of the Sunday supplement. That's when I knew, he had to go.

I once asked my girlfriend, "Hey, how come you don't set me up?" She thought about it for a minute and said, "I've never met anyone who is as cool as you are." (AWWWW! I melted.) She would have told me, if she believed it, "Most guys I know aren't into fat chicks" or "You're intimidating." So I had to ponder this for awhile and I decided it was a feature, not a bug. I am pretty cool.

I continued to hang out with my friends, go to parties, flirt with folks and go on a few dates here and there. As I got into my thrities I was LESS in a mood to settle and while I met some very nice men, they weren't the kind of guys I wanted to spend my life with.

At the age of 38 and I discovered chat rooms. So I go into a chat room and all the guys in there have the same interest as I do and we're all pretty passionate about it. We talk about this thing (Daria, and Fan Fiction--how mortifying) and we do some writing together and we meet in real life and we form friendships, and it's a real hoot. This is where I met Husbunny.

After a hilarious, right out of a Rom Com situation, Husbunny and I have our first data in New York. And we've been together ever since. He is 100% perfect for me. He is as cool as I am. Which is to say that he is both Geek and Nerd. He makes me happy. My mother says he follows me around like a puppy. He has been accepted into two Ph.D. programs, he's so smart! This is all AWESOME!

And I don't regret any of my previous romantic misadventures because everything I went through brought me to this point.

I was 39 when I got married and we've been married for over 12 years now.

Now is the time to become MORE picky, not less picky. Write a list of everything you want in a mate. Be as shallow as you like. Then concentrate on the things that really matter to you. Yes tall and good looking would be nice, but they're not deal breakers. (I lucked out, Husbunny is both.)

I'll recommend a great book with a terrible title, How to Marry the Man of your Choice. Not because you're focused on being married, but if that is a desire of yours, don't be afraid to say so, but because it teaches you to really evaluate the folks you date. I find that it's a great way to meet and talk with ALL people and to understand what your best relationship will look like.

You are at a fabulous age! You should be more confident, prosperous and happier with yourself than ever before. If you're not, well, work on those things. Because it's those qualities that draw people to you.

Good luck, you're really going to enjoy the journey!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:11 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I just want to chime in, not with advice, but empathy. Nothing annoys me more than stories of "I did it and so can you!" (That applies to weight loss as much as it does to relationships.) No. We are different people and the fact that you did it does NOT mean I can too. We have different wants and needs and different spheres of interactions with other people.

I have often asked the same question you asked here, and I've received some of the same answers. And I still don't fucking know. My mom will tell me I don't "put myself out there" whatever that means. Must I turn myself into someone I'm not to attract a mate? I thought I was supposed to "be myself." Which is it?

And here is what gets me: Charles Manson. Charles Fucking Manson is getting married. And I'm not. So tell me again how I need to put myself out there. It's pretty hilarious when you think about it! A 79 year-old convicted criminal, who won't even be eligible for parole until he's in his 90s, and isn't allowed conjugal visits, is better at putting himself out there than I am.

So. I have empathy for your situation. Good luck! :)
posted by BeBoth at 9:40 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

OH my god. I don't really have much advice for you because I am pretty much you. But I just wanted to chime in with ablazingsaddle and say that you know what, fuck all of y'alls well-meaning advice about how you need to be more confident and fabulous and try harder or maybe don't try at all just let it happen, and oh here's the thing, you have to be Okay With Being Alone.
Well you know what, I am pretty fabulous. People say I have great fashion sense and I have lots of friends and I go out and do cool things and my house looks like it was decorated by motherfucking Auntie Mame and I have a great job and I'm a nice person and have good hair but I will admit it, I am Not Okay With Being Alone. There, I said it. It actually makes me really sad and I don't know what I can do about it but I just wanted to let you know that you're not the only one.
posted by exceptinsects at 8:57 PM on November 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

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