Thwarting loneliness in times of trial
April 18, 2015 9:10 PM   Subscribe

How can I cope with the fact that I will likely be single for the next several years?

A bit of context: I'm male, age 25 and I've never been in a relationship that lasted longer than 2 months. I think I'm bisexual but I don't even know, I've stopped using labels really. I find some women attractive and I think I would enjoy having sex with a woman but I've never done it (I usually don't fantasize about women sexually, either). I am attracted to men but I don't like anal sex (in either form) from what little I've tried, and I don't want to force myself to like it. This has tended to either unravel my relationships with men or prevent them from happening altogether. Honestly I'm pretty lazy when it comes to other sexual acts with men, too...I wasn't always like that so I'm not sure what happened.

I like myself just fine, but I have a lot of work to do before I become someone who is considered by many others to be worth dating. This especially seems to be the case with women, who tend to have higher standards beyond just the physical. I think my personality and basic nature are fine, and I'm considered attractive by enough people for me to believe it, but I need to develop more productive hobbies, skills, and passions, and perfect my body to really increase my chances. Most importantly, this will make me confident enough to try and put myself out there more and be able to connect with people more easily due to not being wrapped up in my own insecurities about what people think of me. I estimate that this work is going to take roughly 3 years. That is very optimistic, but I am going to try.

How can I cope with the inevitable loneliness in the meantime? It sometimes reaches very severe levels despite my best efforts, and I'll have these really horrible episodes I call "loneliness attacks" where I just feel desperate and trapped and wanting to die (though I would never actually act on a suicidal urge). I already have good friends that I hang out with, and I do plan to start taking classes after work once my currently very hectic schedule with lots of overtime eases up (which it will, due to the nature of my job). I've been single way more often than not, so I know I could continue to just let things go as they have been, but I'm tired of this void. Mostly I'm tired of feeling unworthy for dating by other peoples' standards, especially because I feel like an awesome person and I think other people in my life can see that too.
posted by cosmicbeast to Human Relations (21 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Out of all the things you listed as being necessary to date, the only one I agree with is "confidence". By all means develop your self-confidence, both for your own well-being and because it is attractive to others. But by no means do you need a "perfect" body in order to date, nor do you need a resume of hobbies and skills. Take a look around you at the people who are dating and who are in happy relationships. They all have flaws. Very few have "perfect" bodies. Take some time to appreciate what makes you unique and awesome, and enjoy your life rather than just grimly putting your nose to the grindstone to work on yourself.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:55 PM on April 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'll sidestep the loneliness angle a bit, because I think this question I'm about to ask is more important — but exactly what do you feel like it's about yourself that you have to improve before you feel like you're worthy of dating? I mean, there's nothing wrong with improving yourself in the senses of getting into better shape, picking up new skills and hobbies that you genuinely enjoy, etc., as long as you are doing them for you and not because you think doing them or having things to do will make other people like you. For example, I rock climb because I want to get better at it and I enjoy that process; I derive a shitton of satisfaction from seeing myself improve and finally nail that tough route, and feeling this sense of mastery grow, etc. — not because I think other people might find it cool or because I needed to have a hobby. Of course, if these hobbies you're considering are ones that you think you'd like and have been thinking about for a while, then rock on

And that's the thing — there really isn't any one single objective standard that you have to live up to, to be worth dating. People are so varied and have such diverse tastes in who'd they date like you wouldn't believe. That, and people (women! and men!) are far less shallow than you'd think. Why not just keep on dating? Sure, there's nothing wrong about taking a break from dating, but IMO it's one long learning process and requires certain skills that take sustained practice to pick up, if you aren't good at them already. I just feel like calling it quits, no ifs, ands, or buts, for such a long time might actually wind up being counterproductive for you. You don't have to accept loneliness while working on yourself; heck, just dedicating yourself to something and getting better at it is pretty attractive in itself, even if you aren't super amazing at it yet. But I think the key to that is a kind of a lack of self-consciousness about how others will perceive you for doing the thing, like I mentioned above.

It sounds like your job is eating up a lot of free time, so that could be what's keeping you from getting out there and meeting people, not your personality or your lack of 'attractive' hobbies. Those could be red herrings, but I don't think you have to accept being lonely in the meantime.

Also, have you considered therapy to help you cope with these feelings?
posted by un petit cadeau at 10:05 PM on April 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: How can I cope with the fact that I will likely be single for the next several years?

You don't have to. Talk to women who are much less attractive than you and it won't take you long to connect with someone.

If you have the time to be unhappy, you have the time to work harder on improving yourself. Read, practice, or run instead of moping around.

There will ALWAYS be a lot of people who are more successful than you, and EVERYONE you see on TV will be more successful than you because no one wants to watch average people. Don't rely on other people to tell you that you're OK. Do your own thing.
posted by sninctown at 10:30 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like myself just fine, but I have a lot of work to do before I become someone who is considered by many others to be worth dating.

You don't get to decide for others if you're worthy of their time. Stop seeing your life as incomplete and, if you want to date, then date. You're going to fail a lot. It happens to basically everyone (as it should...not everyone is right for us).

But part of life is experiences...and that includes dating and making mistakes and learning. Because if you write this AskMe years from now after you've gone to the wilderness and became "better", you're still going to feel incomplete because you're a dating novice then, too.

It's all part of your education.
posted by inturnaround at 10:44 PM on April 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

1. Get a cat. Or two.
2. Therapy.
3. Possibly medication.

This is brief, but not flippant. I could have written your last paragraph almost verbatim, and these are the things that have helped me.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:46 PM on April 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how similar these questions are exactly, but here are two previous questions with some similar themes.
posted by salvia at 12:10 AM on April 19, 2015

(Those do seem fairly different in some ways. What I can't tell is whether they're close enough that a couple of the answers could be helpful.)
posted by salvia at 12:17 AM on April 19, 2015

Best answer: So loneliness doesn't have to be part of being single. The kinds of emotional benefits you get in a romantic relationship — reliable companionship, validation of your accomplishments, a shoulder to lean on — can happen outside of dating. And I think you're on the way there, maybe without realizing it.

You talked about taking up more hobbies and classes. That's great! They're opportunities to get to know more people. You didn't say what hobbies you're trying to start, but it can help to do hobbies that get you out of the house, with a regular group of people, on a regular basis. Your hobby buddies don't need to turn into new BFFs or anything. But having the certainty of knowing that, say, you'll see these people every Wednesday helps fight off loneliness. And as you get better at the hobby, gaining their respect will feel good, too.

Definitely keep hanging out with your friends. If you don't already, look for things to keep them coming round regularly — game nights, going out for brunch, dinner parties, etc. For a lot of people, the mid-twenties are when seeing friends goes from something that happens automatically, to something that's a special event. And, honestly, it does take some deliberate effort to keep friends in your life on a regular basis. But it's not super-hard or anything, and it's definitely worth it.

Roommates can also keep loneliness at bay. Even if you're not super close, just having someone to come home to and chat with about your day can be a big help. And if you already have roommates and they suck, it's probably time to move.

The common theme here is certainty and reliability: how can you structure your life so you know you'll have friends around regularly. Being alone tonight is easier to take when you know who you'll be with tomorrow.

And then there's your sexual identity. Give women a shot. And don't worry about not fantasizing about women — it's totally normal for there to be a type of person you dig in real life, but who you don't fantasize about.

You said something unknown happened to make you feel lazier in bed. Could that be performance anxiety? It's hard to build up a lot of confidence in your technique from a series of short-term relationships. Relax a bit. Communicate with your partners about what's working for them. Know that you'll keep getting more confident (and become a better lover) as a relationship progresses.
posted by Banknote of the year at 1:22 AM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Work out what desires it is that you get met when you're around other people, then look for another way to get them met. Maybe you get to talk and have someone listen, maybe you get to have sex, maybe you get some platonic touching, maybe you get distracted from the staring into the Void, or maybe you get to exchange ideas with another person. Maybe (probably) there are other things entirely that you get from being around people that you can't or don't get when you're alone. With regards to platonic physical contact, you could get a haircut and shave at an old fashioned barbers. Or get a massage at a spa. Or play some kind of team sport where there is physical contact between the players. If you want sex, then it's completely OK to have a string of one night stands, as long as you're being clear about what you want and getting consent from your sexual partners. If you want to exchange ideas with people, maybe seek out an internet forum where you can chat, or volunteer with a group who are into the thing you're into.

For what it's worth, there are lots of gay guys who don't like anal sex. You have to look a bit harder to find one, but they do exist. You might find having a poke around Wikipedia's page on sexual orientation helpful. It's a lot more complicated than a simple binary homo OR het.

Speaking as someone who is not generally considered attractive by people, yes, it's tough. But don't yoke your oxen to other people's opinions too much. If you're giving off the vibe of "I'm not attractive", you'll A] repel people who think you're attractive and B] will find your brain using the fact that less and less people are making it known that you're attractive as evidence that you're not attractive. It's easy to slide down that spiral and stay there. Consider, though, how you think about people you don't find attractive. Do you think of that person as being worthless? As being less than you or someone else somehow? Most people aren't such assbags as to go around judging everyone else based on the way they look. I think it's unlikely that other people are thinking that you're Universally Unattractive. They probably just think that you're not right for them, which isn't really about you, it's about them and what they're looking for. Lots of people out there are married or otherwise settled into long term relationships, even though they don't fit into society's standard of attractiveness. It takes work and effort, but you massively increase the chances of finding someone if you put yourself out there and try.
posted by Solomon at 1:46 AM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might find yourself surprised by who's willing to meet you where you are, if you allow yourself to be open.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:33 AM on April 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Think of it like this. If you're right that you need to do approximately three years of work before you're Super Dateable, well, you'll be 28 with limited dating experience instead of 25 with limited dating experience.

What if, instead of 'fixing yourself' and then dating, you just dated at the same time - with no expectations? If you already think nothing will come of it, there's no harm in it, right? And then, once you're 28 and 'all better,' you will have more experience, making you EVEN MORE dateable!

"But I can't get a date" you may say. Bullshit! You can absolutely get a date. You might not be able to get a date with someone you're mindbogglingly attracted to, but who cares? Since this is just dating for the sake of it, ask out someone you just think is maybe kind of interesting. Don't worry about it, don't think too hard, just treat it as a conversation with a potentially interesting person.

(Oh, and as for the anal sex thing? You are SO not alone (nsfw). Tons of gay guys have no interest in it. It's 100% not a prerequisite for being gay!)
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:21 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

You are the one setting up hurdles you have to clear before you can have a relationship. And honestly they sound a tad arbitrary as does the 3 year timeline. There are plenty of people in relationships who don't have perfect bodies or interesting hobbies.

Sure, pursue hobbies and take classes and volunteer and exercise. Those are good things to do. But they probably are not the barriers to a relationship. I'd say work on being a good friend and a good listener, and maybe see a therapist. And yeah, keep dating.
posted by bunderful at 7:22 AM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is me, minus the bisexual part.

In my experience, you should try to be busy at all times. If you don't have a job, get one. Go to school. Go outside on weekends, don't spend much time alone at home overthinking or staring into the Void, like Solomon said.
To me, it's not about "avoiding" real issues (I see a therapist for that, and I also recommend it), it's about shutting up our jerk brain. After a while you start to realize you're not undatable at all.

Good luck! :)
posted by divina_y_humilde at 7:59 AM on April 19, 2015

Response by poster: Consensus seems to be that I should just try dating anyway...I guess that makes sense, it's just hard not to be discouraged by the string of failures and bad experiences I've had. Men tend to not be sexually compatible with me, and women just don't seem to be interested in me. I'm not the world's most assertive person when it comes to dating and I could probably try harder to put myself out there. I just feel like if I improved myself in various ways, everyone would be approaching me left and right and I wouldn't even have to try, or at least I would feel more comfortable with it. This has been a longstanding dilemma for me...
posted by cosmicbeast at 9:19 AM on April 19, 2015

Best answer: No one's saying not to improve yourself - definitely try some new hobbies and work out, those things will be great for your confidence - but you don't have to put dating on hold while you do it.

And dating's one of those things that can get better if you do it more, and sometimes it's just about meeting someone you feel comfortable with.

My barrier to relationships is difficulty with communication and intimacy, but I wasn't able to see that until my 30s. For a long time I believed I needed to be thinner and more fascinating - and while those things do make it easier to get dates, they don't help you form genuine connections and meaningful relationships. I have no idea why you haven't formed the relationship you want yet - it could be that you have some blind spot, and it could be that you are just young and impatient and need to keep dating. But it seems like you are picking a couple of areas you feel inadequate in and making those into the reason that you don't have a relationship ... and while that *might* be the case, it's probably not.

That said, working out and engaging in things you find interesting will build your confidence which will definitely help you be more assertive which will help your dating life.

Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 12:12 PM on April 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

So maybe the advice you're getting here is coming across as "just buck up and keep dating," which can be tough to do. If it sounds like we're telling you to keep doing what you've done previously but expect different results... that's not quite it. The thing to think about is this: what can you bring to new relationships that you didn't bring in the past, and what can you leave behind. Dating will get easier if you work on improving yourself; just remember there's not some arbitrary bar you have to clear to be good enough to date.

New stuff to bring can include being a more interesting person, through the hobbies you've talked about. And I get the vibe that you're putting yourself under a lot of pressure to force relationships to work; that would be a great thing to leave behind. For starters, the more of your social needs you can meet outside a relationship, the less pressure you'll feel to make a new relationship work. (That's what I was getting at in my last comment.)

You also seem to have a lot of anxiety around sex, and that would be another thing to try to reduce. You said you've only tried anal sex a few times. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that it was with guys who you weren't totally comfortable with in the first place, and that you saw as being way more sexually experienced than you. That's basically a recipe for lousy anal sex, but it's also pretty common among queer men. Because casual sex is such an accepted part of our subculture, there's a misconception that anal sex is simple, straightforward, and that anyone can do it easily. It's actually logistically complicated, but when we pretend it's not we just try to fake it, and that leads to a lot of anxiety and bad sex. It also doesn't help that we tend to start having sex really early in a relationship when trust hasn't been built up yet. (I had queer guy friends who teased me about waiting until the second or third date to have sex, which is still early.) Anyways, the point is that it might help to treat anal sex as something to lead up to, rather than something you start out with.

And, frankly, vaginal sex is easier than anal, IMO. It's easier to fit a penis inside, there's more leeway about how much lube to use, and no risk of santorum. That might make it less stressful for you. And since all your sex has been with cis men, you shouldn't need to feel pressure to know all the right moves. It's okay to tell your partners that you're a vaginal newbie, and use that as a way to open up communication about what works for them.

Finally, sex therapy can help you untangle some of these issues. Gay male culture spreads some problematic attitudes about sex, and it's okay to talk to a professional to sort through them.
posted by Banknote of the year at 12:14 PM on April 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I just feel like if I improved myself in various ways, everyone would be approaching me left and right and I wouldn't even have to try

The above is just a fantasy, and you should try and let go of it. I can understand the appeal of the fantasy because it means you wouldn't have to put yourself out there and take any emotional risks: everyone else will just do the work for you. But it's not a good plan for how to get dates in the future, because everyone I know has to (or had to) put effort into their dating life. I'm sure there are occasional exceptions, but planning on effortlessly finding a partner is like planning on winning the lotto: technically possible, but not really something you want to count on.
posted by colfax at 12:21 PM on April 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: women just don't seem to be interested in me. I'm not the world's most assertive person when it comes to dating and I could probably try harder to put myself out there.

Ah - are you used to being approached more often than you approach? Things might work a little differently if you're wanting to date women. (I wish it weren't that way so often - and it's not, always! - but it's just the way the numbers work, a lot of times, particularly with online dating, I gather.) Many, many threads here on this subject.

Honestly I'm pretty lazy when it comes to other sexual acts with men, too...I wasn't always like that so I'm not sure what happened.

If you're talking about what I think you're talking about - not necessarily an indication of anything more than the fact that some of the things that are more about enthusiasm than your own enjoyment might not inspire that much enthusiasm, if you don't care that much about the person you're with. (YMMV)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:51 PM on April 19, 2015

I'm going to go against the trend here. Although there is definitely a time to push through your lack of confidence and keep putting yourself out there, there's also merit in stepping away from it for a while. None of us knows what else is going on in your life or whether this is actually a time to have a break from dating. It might be!

I've been single for over 3 years now and believe me, I get the loneliness. I've tried dating a bit last year and it didn't go anywhere. I've made a conscious decision to stop for a while because I have other things I want to work on first, like getting a new job that doesn't drain all my energy and enthusiasm away; sorting out some mental health things and also some physical health things. Sometimes when I talk about how I'm going to be single for a while, my friends sort of smile as if they know better and really I'll wind up with a new girlfriend next week.

The thing is, it is a perfectly valid choice to recognise you have some stuff to figure out so that the whole dating thing works out better because it can take a lot out of you and really undermine your self-confidence. You sound like you have some soul searching to do, particularly round your sexuality, and I actually think it would be bad form to start dating women, maybe even having sex with them, just to figure out your sexuality. Combined with your other ideas about being more perfect and desirable, I really think therapy is in order.

Meanwhile, although you don't overall sound depressed, those bouts of severe loneliness sound like it. Hence my suggestion of maybe medication. Something to discuss with doctor and therapist.

Don't let well-meaning strangers on the internet tell you what to do. If you really think you need a break to sort stuff out, do it. I wouldn't hold yourself to a deadline though. If what you needed was a pep talk in order to keep dating, that's cool too. Trust yourself to know what you need.

And dating at 28 is certainly no big thing - you won't be past your use-by date!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:26 PM on April 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A couple things jumped out at me:

1) Anal sex. Not all guys who get with guys like it in the butt, or giving it in the butt. Sure, the majority tend to like that happening, but by no means everyone--I have a friend who's like you, actively dislikes anal from either end, and he and his bf have been together happily for about four years now. Sure, it limits your options with guys slightly--it doesn't destroy them. And that's just cis guys; trans guys, in my experience, aren't often fans of anal sex wither. (YMMV and that can hugely depend; I'm speaking only from the trans guys I have dated/hooked up with or with whom it's come up in conversation).

2) Physical perfection. I'm a short, chubby dude and if I can get dates (with really cute guys!) then so can you. Yeah sure, maybe not as many as I'd like. So? Nobody goes on as many dates as they'd like. If you want to meet-as-in-actually-meet guys, look at OkCupid (also, there are girls there! girls who like bi guys, a lot of the time!). Not Grindr or Scruff. (Yes, there are guys on those services who are looking for more than Mr Right Now; I'm talking about how much haystack-sifting you have to do.)

3) Confidence. This is the biggest thing. The people I personally find to be very sexy beyond the purely physical are people whose interests and hobbies are theirs. That is to say, if your hobby is knitting then go forth and knit and have fun with it and bollocks to the naysayers. Developing 'productive' hobbies and interests, unless they are true passions, is performative and comes across as fake, to me. Own yourself and who you are--be who you want to be, not who you think others want you to be.

I'm not telling you to keep dating or not date; whatever works best for you is whatever works for you. I'm suggesting that perhaps you're painting an unrealistic picture of your own desirability, and that there are almost certainly lots of people of varying genders out there who'd totally dig you. It feels like you have decided there is some arbitrary set of benchmarks past which you will suddenly be Super Prime Grade-A Catch who just has to sit back and be besieged with admirers. Despite how it can look from the outside, it doesn't really work like that, even for the pretty people. One friend of mine is unambiguously gorgeous, very much one of the Gay Standard Ideal guys (and is also smart, funny, excellent career, etc I hate him sometimes), and he goes through just as much angst over men as you or I. Literally the only thing having a 'perfect' face and body does is make sure guys are more likely to view an online profile. So, please, don't sweat that part.

So, probably your most effective strategy is to be you. If it makes more sense in your life to concentrate on work, then do that. Make friends and do hobby things and meet people--you'll be astonished at the surprising ways you meet people. (I've just started seeing a guy I met at a Game of Thrones party last week, e.g.; totally unexpected.) Figure out who you are as a person, for you. Not for some future cosmicbeastspouse, just for you--because that's what will make you desirable to the future Mr or Ms Right.

Therapy's a common refrain around these parts, and yet again I'll chime in with suggesting it could be a good idea. It could be useful to tease apart why it is you feel you need to be perfect on all axes before someone will be interested in you, because--please don't take this the wrong way--from what I've seen here you're a charming, intelligent, and self-aware person. That alone is pretty damn desirable to anyone looking for a date.

As for the loneliness... as I said, make friends, hang out with people, do things. Perhaps more importantly, though, see if you can try teasing apart 'lonely' from 'alone.' We all feel lonely sometimes, that's what drives us to make friends and romances. Being comfortable with being alone is a really, really useful skill to have. And, again, it helps when you decide you're ready to find someone special; being comfortable and satisfied in yourself means that when you do meet someone, it's a coming together of two equals who complement each other, not just filling a partner-shaped hole in each others' lives.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:41 PM on April 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I feel a lot better about this. I think I've been too mentally "out there" and hard on myself lately and I just needed a big ol' reality check. I will try to give other people a little more well as myself.

Thanks y'all. ^^
posted by cosmicbeast at 8:15 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]

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