Relationships - how to decide if they're worth the effort?
December 14, 2013 1:22 AM   Subscribe

I haven't been in an LTR in years. I'm in my early thirties, strongly introverted and don't have many friends, so its not a surprise that I haven't met "the one" yet. Everyone I know seems to be getting married and having babies, which has prompted me to wonder if I'd like to do the same. To be honest I'm not sure if it is worth the effort of dressing up, and going on lots of dates to find a guy, and then having to maintain a relationship (I'm not good with people) or whether I should accept that I am different to the others, and just focus on being happily single. For the singletons: did you ever consciously decide to stay single, or did it just happen? If you decided, how did you make that choice? For the coupled-up: Have you ever considered being single long-term, and if so why did you reject that idea? Did you consciously choose to find a partner or did you just meet them by accident (e.g. online dating vs meeting when you least expected it) Hope that all makes sense!
posted by EatMyHat to Human Relations (26 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
My aunt decided to stay single and childless very much on purpose, of course it's a genuine option that works for many people for many reasons.

It partly depends on your social circle too: of our immediate friends we are the only ones married, and definitely the only ones TTC. We're pushing 32.

I'm very introverted and independent, I would have been fine on my own. I just met someone through work that I clicked with. He is a joy to be with, it's not awkward or taxing at all. We were friends first, which saved me the artiface of dating. It was definitely when I least expected it, and not long after I made peace with being single for... a while.

I think dressing up and 'dating' is awful. Just do stuff you like, and find a way to be happy regardless of what happens.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:43 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Note to answerers: the tell-me-your-stories part of the post falls a bit on the chatfilter side, but if you will keep in mind the central goal of helping the OP to decide if relationships are worth the effort given the particulars ("I'm not good with people") and answer with an aim to help add clarity, context, or solutions for solving this problem, we'll be good to go. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 1:58 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in my late 20s, I was convinced I was going to be single for the rest of my life, and I was pretty happy with that. I dated and stuff, but I wasn't going to be involved, no sirree. And for several years, that worked out alright.

Then, one day, I hooked up with the woman who would marry me. She didn't want a relationship either - we just kept seeing each other and, well, it just sort of worked into a thing.

I guess, the advice I would give is - you don't know yourself as well as you think. I certainly didn't, and this was a live changing event for me. I think now that you should be willing to change plans if a better thing to do comes around.

I might have been perfectly happy single for 20-30-40 years, I don't know. I know I never expected to meet my wife and be happy(ish) being with her. I am pleased that I was wrong, too.

But, you know - that's me and my life. I can't really tell you what to expect from you and your life. Who knows how that turns out ? My advice is to try to be as happy as you can be, and to fix the parts you think suck, no matter what.

The universe will unfold as it should.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:59 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

Echoing jrobin what makes *you* happy and comfortable and don't worry about outcomes. I'm a married lady in my 40s, but I didn't meet Mr Otter Handler until I was 38 and had basically decided I wouldn't go online to date, but only to find people I liked hanging out with - no specific romantic component applied. After years of being disappointed by "dating" I met my best friend - within months!

By the way, I found a book called Quirkyalone immensely helpful in thinking about relationships - it helped me see that it's totally okay to be somebody who doesn't want to be involved in a relationship. You can love yourself and commit to being you! As a very independent and intensely private person, I find it exceptionally hard to get with the notion that I "need" someone...but don't rule out the possibility you may *want* someone. That's a choice you get to make.
posted by Otter_Handler at 2:15 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're happy, then you're happy. Don't try to make yourself fit into a mould that you don't fit into. You'll set yourself up for a lot of time not being honest with yourself if you do that.

If you want to try to find a partner, go ahead and do it. Don't try to suppress your wants, because you'll just make yourself miserable. If you need a thing in your life, go out and get it. Don't just get something because everyone else has it, though. Chase the ting that it makes your heart sing to think of owning. If that's a Relationship, great. If it's Something Else, then don't get the Relationship because it will draw you away from the thing you really want.

Relationships with other people can bring you a lot of benefits. They can also bring you a lot of stress and drama. The current cultural paradigm says that if you're not constantly looking for a closer and closer relationship that you're somehow faulty. Being in strong relationships can certainly be beneficial - if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, who would you call? It could be a friend, it could be a recovery service.

Personally, I tend to keep people somewhat at arms length, just because I'm more comfortable with that. I have tried Relationships in the past, and it was nice to feel that oxytocin-bonding rush, but I've experienced the same thing during compassion meditation. I just don't seem to have the need or desire to couple up that a lot of people have.

Relationships of all kinds can totally be worth it. It's important to be clear on the type of the relationship you have with someone, and the functions it will perform, though. I have friends who I "go partying" with, but I would never "confide in and make myself emotionally vulnerable" with these people. I'm grateful that I know them and have them in my life, but we're not what most people would term close.

Life can certainly be easier when you have friends. Life can certainly be fun when you have a person who shares your bed. You might even get lucky and find someone who can be both things to you. If you stay single for the rest of your life, though, that's totally OK. You don't have to spend your life with one eye on the door just in case someone walks through. Being single always is totally OK.

Regarding babies: don't have a child that you don't really want. The child will figure it out.
posted by Solomon at 2:24 AM on December 14, 2013 [10 favorites]

To be honest I'm not sure if it is worth the effort of dressing up, and going on lots of dates to find a guy, and then having to maintain a relationship (I'm not good with people) or whether I should accept that I am different to the others, and just focus on being happily single.

I think the decision is not entirely yours to make. You don't have complete control over what role romance plays in your life. That can be tough to accept if you're someone who is very active and decisive and independent in the rest of your life. don't get to choose all on your own if/when/who you're going to be in a couple with, so you've got to accept it anyway.

I don't think you need to or should crack the whip on getting out there on online dating sites, or spur yourself through any of the other Dating Game paces, because I think that's just another attempt at controlling something that's not all that controllable.

I think that you might feel better if you loosen up and let your life be more free-flowing than that. Not to say that if you do, that you'll definitely fall for someone or decide the single life is no longer for you or anything. You might take a lot of pleasure in your totally romance-free life and die at some ripe old age all by your lonesome, never having kissed another person between now and then, I have no idea. But if you can learn to enjoy letting go, and you *do* meet someone who you could fall in love with, at least then you'll be in a mental place to enjoy it.

Not being able to let go while falling for someone is a horrible experience -- either you'll yank yourself away from the person because your feelings will seem so frighteningly chaotic and you'll miss out entirely on the experience of becoming close to them, or you'll be white-knuckling it through a lot of the relationship.

So, no, I don't think you should focus on being a perfectly self-sufficient singleton, nor do I think you should focus on getting coupled up -- I think you should focus on not focusing.
posted by rue72 at 2:30 AM on December 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

I hope these two comments about the quality of life and relationships or lack thereof haven't been demoted to truisms. I could have saved myself and a few others some heartache if I had learned these lessons earlier in life.

"It's better to be alone than to wish you were." (IIRC, from Ann Landers)

"It takes a really good man/woman to be better than no man/woman at all."

Re whether I should accept that I am different to the others: more than 50% of adults are single these days, so you're part of the crowd, not an outlier.

(Just so you know, I can't claim that relationships are my long suit. I'm 59, married/divorced (twice), currently single and have been for the past 5+ years. I've had more than my share of good relationships with decent men and a fair share of the not-so-good. Decided long ago that whether or not I will find another "really good man" in this lifetime doesn't matter. Either way, it's all good.)
posted by she's not there at 3:07 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm probably going to have a different answer than most here - I'm fairly young (early twenties), but I already have a career that eats up most of my free time and an introverted personality that makes me want to spend what little time I DO have fairly independently without that frustrating feeling of having to "deal" with people and their texts and hanging out and wanting me to put effort into them and all that horrible stuff, haha.

Still, I crave the one-on-one intimacy of a romantic relationship and have had great success eschewing "traditional socializing" - going out, doing activities you like around others, all that healthy stuff people always tell you - and simply making the online dating profile. Don't discard the idea completely if you want a LTR. I'm honestly one of the least social people I know, but still love having romance in my life and from my experience you can't find other super homebodies by getting out and about nearly as effectively as you can by getting online.

It can be a very demoralizing experience and you've got to be careful. There are really a lot of people in online dating you'll want to be wary of, but it's a great way for introverts who don't like the social game to "skip" to the romance stage. Just be prepared for a lot of trial and error, and make sure you stay honest with yourself and others about what you want.

Good Luck!
posted by johnpoe50 at 3:47 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hmmm, yes, socializing and maintaining relationships is hard. Definitely harder for some people (such as myself) than others. And it doesn't help that I seem to give off some kind of vibe that encourages people to leave me alone. Perhaps you do that too?

But I wonder, what is the point of life if not to build relationships with other human beings? We're all in this together, so let's make it meaningful. And we never get very far in life only doing what makes us comfortable. If we don't push our own boundaries, or try something that makes us feel awkward the first few times, we're just going to be stuck in the same old rut.

You have to weigh the pros and cons. Yes, it's a pain to get dressed up, but what are the benefits? Well, you get to look your best, you get to talk to people you never would have and learn about things you never would have learned if you hadn't meet them. It's scary to make the effort, but it's worth it for me to look beyond my own narrow world view and see what other people have to offer.
posted by BeBoth at 4:01 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you don't have a strong pull towards marriage and children, then why force yourself in those directions? The way you make it sound is like you think intellectually that you might be missing something, but that emotionally you find the idea of maintaining a long romantic relationship sort of a hassle. So to heck with it, I say, be happy alone!

There is not a lot of support in our culture for being happy alone, but I think it can be totally awesome. Single people can have a lot of privacy and flexibility that married people and parents cannot. Single people can go on all kinds of adventures that married people and parents cannot. Further, we all have different emotional makeups, so what's good for most of the herd isn't necessarily the thing that's best for you.

I like living with my spouse, but I also liked living alone. For me the hardest thing about singleness is the lack of sex. For a lot of other people it's loneliness. But if you aren't feeling like something's missing, why cause trouble for yourself? You might be super happy alone long-term. Maybe you'll trip over a mate by accident someday, or maybe you'll spend decades reading all the books you like and traveling to foreign countries and writing your secret novel and gardening and all sorts of ways to be happy that are totally legitimate and totally don't involve marriage or babies.
posted by feets at 4:13 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was single for a lot of my 20s and really happy with it. I'm now married and really happy with that, too, although I still look back nostalgically at being single in the same way that some other people I know look back nostalgically at The One That Got Away.

There wasn't a time when I explicitly rejected the idea of being single long-term. I was open to the idea that I'd change my mind about the appeal of long-term relationships one day, and in the meantime I was fine with short-term relationships/flings. I met my husband on an online dating website where I was pretty open about the fact that I wasn't looking for anything serious; he wasn't looking for anything serious either, but we got on really well and this is the way it worked out.

To be honest I'm not sure if it is worth the effort of dressing up, and going on lots of dates to find a guy, and then having to maintain a relationship

If you're happy being single, and you wouldn't enjoy those dates and dressing up in and of themselves regardless of where they led, then no, probably not worth it. It sounds like actively looking for a relationship would make you miserable and make you feel like you're sort of play-acting a part, rather than just being yourself.

But, as for whether it's worth the effort of 'having to maintain a relationship' - eh. I'm not going to say that even good relationships don't take some effort, because they do. But you're thinking of this in an abstract sense: is it worth that effort for A Relationship, with Some Guy? Personally, I would not be willing to put in that effort just to have a relationship. I am willing to put in effort to maintain this relationship with this specific person I'm married to, because that is worth it to me. And because of that, putting in effort doesn't feel like a chore.

There is a lot of pressure at this time of life to be either in a serious relationship or looking for one. I understand - oh, do I understand - how when you're single and happy with that, it feels important to push back against that pressure by saying "no, look, I like being single! I'm not wounded and scared of love, or miserably sobbing into a pillow each night!" But at the same time, I don't think you should make Being Single such an important part of your identity that you're closing doors for yourself in the future. Be happy with where you are right now, and if a situation ever comes up where a relationship with a specific person you like is on the cards, you can consider that on its merits as and when it happens.
posted by Catseye at 4:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I re-met the man who is now my husband when I least expected it, while I was happily single by choice. It happened when I was enjoying an uncharacteristic after-work drink with coworkers (the one and only time I have ever voluntarily socialized with work people) at the bar across the street from my home. Suddenly, there he was. We've been married for 9 years and have 2 kids.

Not long before that wonderful/fateful night, I had made the proclamation to myself that boyfriends are overrated; that none of them had ever been worth the trouble for someone like me who needs at least 4 hours alone everyday. At the time, I loved nothing more than staying at home with a good book, and going on vacation by myself. I really value my independence. Still do. But life happened while I was making my other plans to stay single.

The dream can change. The hobbies that suited me at your age are different than the ones that suit me now, 5+ years later. Your future self might one day decide she wants a partner in crime who understands her need to spend a lot of time alone. So whatever you decide for yourself this year does not need to be written in stone. I'm with @Pogo_Fuzzybutt that "you don't know yourself as well as you think" and "you should be willing to change plans if a better thing to do comes around."
posted by hush at 4:31 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think whether it's worth the effort is the right question. If you want a relationship, it's worth it. If you don't want a relationship, it's not worth it. The question is simply whether you want a relationship.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:46 AM on December 14, 2013

I'm a few years older than you and single. I've never made a conscious decision to remain single, though I have made many decisions that I would rather be single than date a specific man. (And several men have made a similar decision about dating me). However I am confident that I am better alone than with the wrong person.

or whether I should accept that I am different to the others, and just focus on being happily single.

1. Who can say whether it's about being different or just about circumstance? It could be that getting dressed up and going on dates seems like too much effort because you are depressed, and if your depression were treated you would find dating less of a chore.

2. Whether you want to be single or want to be with someone, you should absolutely focus on being happy. I'm pretty sure that being happy as a committed single person is not that different from being happy as a person who wants a relationship.

For my part, though I am generally enthusiastic about men, I've been single for so long that it's easier to stay single. I wouldn't have a clue what to do with a boyfriend besides sleep with him and ask him to kill spiders. However ... I make sure I leave the door open. If the chance comes along, I don't want to miss it.
posted by bunderful at 6:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm mid 30s, gay. Like you, I'm very strongly introverted, and have a small group of friends.
I tend to meet and make acquaintances rather easily as I have a wide range of interests, and as I live in a city it is quite straightforward to meet up with like minded groups.

For me it's a matter of opportunity cost; do I want to
a) Spend time pursuing my hobbies and things I want to do whenever I want
b) Spend time finding someone, and after having found someone, having less time to do what I want?

The answer for me is a), for I find it very much more rewarding and makes me the happiest. My 2p.

The above may change in the future, but this is me, now :)
posted by TrinsicWS at 6:57 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm 50, single, and childfree. I've been consciously childfree since I was a teenager. As for single - I've toyed with the idea of going out and Finding A Man, and I've dated and lived with men, but I've never wanted to get married badly enough to seek it out. I've discovered that I love living alone (with cats) enough that it would take a really terrific man to change my mind.

My father died earlier this month, and my mother died in 2010. I was caregiver to both. I have paid my caregiving dues, and the idea of having to be a caregiver again is depressing to even contemplate. And men my age and older often start having health problems. Health problems aren't a dealbreaker for me (I'm a cancer survivor myself) but needing a caregiver spouse is. I'm not a natural caregiver (one reason I am childfree) and I'm damned if I am going to get into that situation again.

I enjoy living alone and being able to support myself and live my life as I choose. I'm not closing the door on marriage, but I have long since closed the door on marriage for the sake of being married.

My $.02: 1) Do NOT have children unless you powerfully want them. Once you have a child, you have that child, and there are no returns or exchanges or "lemon laws" if you get a kid with special needs, or just one that is strong-willed and quirky and not a sweet-tempered, broccoli-eating, school-loving dream kid. Kids know when they are not wanted and/or they are a disappointment to their parents.

2) Marriage is only worth it, if your life is better because a particular person is in it. Marriage should make your life better, not worse. I feel that it is far, far better and happier to be single than to be in some of the marriages that I have seen or heard about. The "Human Relations" section of the green has questions from spouse after spouse wondering how to deal with their miserable marriage. To me, that is far far FAR worse than being single. FAR worse. Leave the door open to a relationship, but not to just anyone.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:23 AM on December 14, 2013 [22 favorites]

Agreeing with many of the above - that there is a third option.

I don't know that I ever decided to be single forever, but when I was about the same age as you, I had certainly realized that there was a distinct possibility that I would be and decided that didn't mean I couldn't have an awesome life. I focused on making decisions that made me happy, and did things I never could have done if I was in a LTR (like pack up and move across the country for a job with only several weeks notice).

I didn't seek out a relationship, but didn't expressly rule one out. And like some people do, in the course of my adventures, I met someone who I felt was worth the effort. Yesterday was our 5th anniversary.

Which is not to say that I think everyone eventually ends up married, or that married is better than single. For the record, I am fully confident that if I hadn't met my husband when I did, I would be just as happy as I am now, although my life would probably look very different.

You don't need to make some monumental decision now on the subject - it's possible to leave yourself open to the possibility without really directing a lot of time and energy in that direction. Live your life in a way that makes you happy given the circumstances you're in, and if you remain single so be it. But you never know what's going to happen along the way, and by proactively deciding that you would never enter into a relationship that presented itself, no matter how great a match it might be, you might be missing out.
posted by scrute at 7:28 AM on December 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a divorced friend who jumps from man to man... she has kids who are put through all this and it kind of makes me feel ill. For her it's not about want.. rather need. This is an important distinction in terms of thinking healthily about possibilities (ie wanting being a gazillion times better if a good 'opportunity' comes along).

I can be pretty cynical about relationships.. it's like I'm looking for the proof that they aren't worth it and as I watch other peoples relationships and see each trivial argument/folk prickle up against each others control issues/be serially unfaithful... etc etc I think "thank god I'm single that looks so lame". Then someone less cynical than me said "What about all the bits you don't see?.. Maybe the difficulties are totally outweighed by the good stuff for them".

There has been an interesting cultural shift in recent years which may surprise you...
most people spend most of their lives single. People divorce/are widowed (women live longer so have those single years) settle later/are in and out of relationships etc etc.

If you want to read more about this.. and just look at a refreshing alternative take on single life by choice check out the interesting work by Bella DePaulo on this subject. Refreshing to look at the subject.. whatever happens for you.. outside of the dominant cultural paradigm. She has been single by choice forever (??) and has researched single life and it's benefits prolifically.
posted by tanktop at 8:24 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm single and too old to enter into the relationship market, and I'm happy with it, but I'll mention two things you have to keep in mind: unless you're outstandingly successful in life, as a single person you will be at an economic disadvantage. Without two incomes, your living conditions and other factors will almost certainly be more modest than those of people who are partnered up.

I'm also beginning to see that, without family, one's at a disadvantage if hospitalized (they tend to rely on your having a spouse or kids to run-fetch-carry for you, and if you don't have them, you can be SOL for many comforts) or generally, as you age, having a second body to do some of the errands and take up some of the slack.

That's about it. Some of us just can't handle having someone else in our space all the time. But we do pay a price for it.
posted by zadcat at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't believe that there is such a thing as "too old" for the relationship market - I know several women who have married for the first time in their 50's (and one in her 60's!). YMMV, because I think it is harder in some areas than others. (I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it's the norm to marry late or not at all, live together long-term without marrying, etc. so the marriage market is not locked down early.)

Having someone to help you as you age: statistically speaking, men get this benefit far more than women. Women are more likely to be widowed or doing all the caregiving for their elderly spouse. Men are living longer now, so that is changing, but I still wouldn't bank on my spouse being able to help me much when I'm old.

Hospitalization: that's a tough one, and what zadcat says is true. Friends can help in a pinch, but they're likely to be too busy to help much. I was hospitalized once - overnight - and had hungry cats at home and no clean underwear in the hospital. My solution was to push and push to be discharged ASAP; honestly, if I wasn't discharged the next day, I'd have gotten up and left. Hospitals are nasty places full of germs anyway; I know this isn't always do-able, but my solution is to avoid them if I can. However, I don't think it's worth it to marry just to have someone to care for you in the hospital. Your spouse might not want to/be able to due to work, disability, or sheer jerkiness, and then you'd be in the same boat as a single person.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:14 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Male, 32. It suffices to say that I am introverted and have health problems that exacerbate things.

When I was younger, I always looked ahead and figured someone would come into my life. For a long time, I tried going out, spending time, doing things. But that didn't work out. I tried a therapist, but her ideas only landed me in a situation where I was interacting with women old enough to be my mother rather than people my own age.

When I hit 30, I just kind of realized that I could either keep looking for someone and being miserable as my peers got married and had kids or I could just accept bachelorhood is my lot in life. I opted for door number two. In a lot of ways, it has saved my sanity. I'm basically a mellow person anyway, so putting aside unreasonable expectations and just going with the flow, once done, now comes easily.

Would I still love to meet someone and. if she's the one, marry? Absolutely. Aside from the occasional drift into melancholy, I just don't worry about it. MeMail me if you'd like to talk more.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:53 AM on December 14, 2013

Unless someone is asking you to be their boyfriend and you say no, you do not choose to be single. Single is the default--it's not a choice so much as it is what it is. As rue72 put it, " don't get to choose all on your own if/when/who you're going to be in a couple with, so you've got to accept it anyway." Right.

If you don't want to actively seek out someone by doing online dating, then don't. I pretty much figure that either you get lucky or you don't. If you're meant to meet someone, you will, and if you're not, then you won't. (And I do believe that a fair chunk of us just are not meant to have it, myself included.) Why do dating if you don't actually want to?

Though Catseye has it right that in the abstract, having to deal with A Relationship with A Man is a lot less appealing sounding than if there was a specific one that was right for you in particular and was okay with your issues. But if that person doesn't exist or never comes along, then what does it matter? Unless someone comes along that makes you want to deal with that stuff, then you'll be fine on your own.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:06 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are actually in a very privileged position of not NEEDING to be in a relationship, or NEEDING to make babies.

There are plenty of people just like you out there. And these are the people who can become your tribe -- the friends who will be there for you when your car breaks down, or you are in the hospital. These can be people who are similarly introverted, and who don't need a lot of care-and-feeding in friendships. Consider that the fears you have are shared by like-minded others, and that those others would want to form bonds. You're not alone. You don't really need a spouse/kids to fill those roles. You just need to cultivate long-term friendships.

Spouses and family aren't a guarantee of support and comfort. Watch what happens in your friendship circle over the next 10 years -- these folks who are getting married and having babies right now. I think you'll see plenty of dysfunction and not-being-there for each other. Which sounds a bit dark, I know, but it's something I've observed in the decades since I was your age, and contemplating the same questions.

Remember, too, that any decisions you make right now re: the importance of intimate relationships aren't carved in stone. If, in later life, you decide marriage is a priority, you can adapt. It's totally possible to find a rock-solid partnership in later life. Don't buy into the fear-mongering.
posted by nacho fries at 11:32 AM on December 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Relationships can be worth the effort. Cooking can be worth the effort. Owning pets can be worth the effort. The question is, what is it worth to you and how much effort will it take?

When you see friends becoming couples and having children, do you see things that you envy or want? Or are you simply worried about being a real grown-up?

I would suggest that you do some dating (perhaps without so much dressing up) and some slightly more-than-comfortable-for-you hanging out with friends so that you can understand how you, specifically, benefit from relationships.

If you may ever want a romantic partner, you owe it to yourself to do some research and get some experience so you can make the choice that works for you - whether that's a person or your privacy.

On the chat-filter side of your question, I was single for longer than you. The baseline is that I am not good with or particularly interested in being with people. Especially people who want something from me that I can interpret as that person seeking validation. I pretty much always dated and had options but no appealing options. Some of my great aunts were single and happy (apparently by choice) which helped defray the social pressure. Being single never bothered me and became a habit.

A few months after I began dating the man who is now my husband, he asked me to be exclusive and I threw a huge fit. (And by "huge fit," I mean being terribly upset and not wanting to talk about definitions or to him until I settled down.) Exclusive was just... just not something I understood or wanted to do.

If we had not met, I would still be single. My husband is fairly aloof and busy, which gives me time to go off and be aloof and busy with my stuff. The time my husband and I spend apart is, as far as I can tell, the same as the activities that cause some of my friends (of every sexual stripe) to complain about their partner's neglect. Romantic relationships come in many flavors.

We met "by accident" under "least expected it" conditions. Mutual friends and interests put us together. Least expected because this was during a time when for a variety of reasons my attitude to everyone and especially men with romantic intent was very strongly "back off."
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:44 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't know if you want a relationship or not, but I think maybe you should try to separate that from whether you'd enjoy getting dressed up or not. I believe in dating as you are; if you don't normally get dressed up or wear makeup, then don't do those things. If you tend to eat at home, go to the library, or go on hikes, then those are what your dates should be. The more your dates reflect the kind of life you want to live, the better chances of finding someone who wants that life.

I'm introverted but like having people in my life and so that's something I put effort into. I was luckier, and interested in dating a lot in high school and college, so I was always able to date friends that I already knew. I did consciously date and look for traits that I wanted in a sweetheart, adding or amending when I realized any drawbacks in the traits I had chosen. While I was looking to be in a relationship, I didn't put any kind of deadline on it, and because I was so young, I didn't need to biological-clock-wise. (I fell madly in love and got married when I was twenty-one. It's been twelve years now. Trust me when I say that none of my friends were doing the same thing as me relationship-wise; even now I have a seven year old and a few of them have babies, which is not really in the same place. Plenty are happily single and no kids.)

I think a lot of people have this idea that their twenties are for being single and wild, but as soon as they turn thirty they should find someone and get married. That's a lot of pressure to put on and a crazy deadline. IF you want a relationship (and it's fine if you're not interested), give yourself plenty of time to look and explore and get to know friends and potential dates. See if you can find a way to do it that you would enjoy.
posted by Margalo Epps at 2:56 PM on December 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

My wife's aunt is one of the kindest, hardest working, happiest and most socially accomplished people I know. By way of example, she headed a major government department for ten years and has never exhibited any sign of stress or disgruntlement despite what must have been incredible pressure. As far as I know she has never had a relationship.

However she also puts a lot of effort into creating and maintaining her network of friends and family. I don't think you can get by without people, and if you try you'll eventually go a little weird. A romantic relationship is not compulsory for a happy life, but people are.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:59 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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