how to cope with being alone
September 20, 2016 11:07 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 29 year old woman and I need to learn to cope with being alone. It's been two years since I've dated anyone who wanted me to be their girlfriend, and eight since I was in a relationship that lasted at least a year. I've been trying to meet people (all of the apps, plus okcupid, plus trying to socialize irl -- I have probably gone on dates with 50+ people over the past two years), focus on my career, travel, spend time with friends and family. (The rest of my life isn't perfect--but I'd give it a solid B+.) I've taken a month or two off from dating here and there and I was recently celibate for 1.5 years, but it never gets easier or more pleasant (and at my age, I don't feel like I have the luxury of taking MORE time off to "work on myself", and I'm fairly convinced that "working on oneself" is something partnered people made up to torture single people with and blame them for their condition). I have friends and family and a pet, but I am incredibly lonely every day. how do you cope with being alone when the only thing you want is a partner?

context: I posted this last year.

I'm very capable of being independent, but I intensely want to build a shared interdependent life with someone and I want kids (a lot. we're talking crying over babies in the supermarket and having sobbing fits whenever I see another acquaintance or peer pregnant/with a baby, even just on social media).

I need to face the reality that being partnered in the way that I want is not going to happen now, maybe not ever. So, how can I transform myself into someone who actually enjoys/appreciates solitude? I feel like I've already done all the bullshit of traveling, partying, living alone, hooking up, weird sex shit, just seems pointless and shallow by myself. What is ACTUALLY worth appreciating about being alone? How do you keep growing by yourself past the basics of taking care of your needs and selfishly fulfilling all of your wants (within financial and practical reason, obviously)?

Also, if you are a single woman who wants kids (with a partner), how do you navigate the huge sorrow of not being able to do that now, or ever? I never wanted to wait until I was in my mid- to late 30s and I don't really want to do the single mom's a possibility but it doesn't help me deal with these feelings right now(or for the next decade).

I know that I would be much happier if I just gave up on chasing crumbs of affection on the false promise that eventually they'll turn into something real. Please help me figure out how.

I am particularly interested in hearing from people who used to intensely wish that they had a partner/family and have now come to terms with not having that. I'm not really interested in hearing platitudes from married or partnered people, because based on my demographics and lived experiences (not all of which I've shared here, in the interest of anonymity), I likely won't be joining you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I'm around your age and a lot of what you've written resonates with me. My "tips" are:
- reminding myself that late-twenties is still pretty young in the scheme of things. Life is long and weird, a lot of things can happen.
- only having social media contact with people I'm actually close to (i.e. friends and family whose marriages/pregnancies I will be genuinely happy for, instead of just torturing myself by comparing myself to the milestones achieved by some girl I went to high school with, or whatever)
- hugging people as much as possible. I've found that a surprising amount of my yearning for romance can be sated with touch.
- just going ahead and making plans to do the things I had imagined doing with a partner. A couple of my life goals are to travel to Scotland and to have a family. I'm making plans to do the Scotland trip with a friend, and my five-year plan is to get things set up so I can be a great foster parent.
- performing random acts of kindness/generosity for friends, co-workers, etc to help erase that feeling that you're just "selfishly fulfilling all of your wants". Be the person who volunteers to help raise funds for a friend's vet bills, invite someone out to lunch and foot the bill if you know they can't afford to treat themselves, etc
- not trying to force myself to LOVE being single. Trying to conform to that attitude just made me think about it more. It's just something that... is.

I hope some of that is helpful, and if you ever just need an empathetic ear, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 12:12 AM on September 21, 2016 [24 favorites]

You might want to read this article, Meet The People Who Want To Be Single Forever which I read this week.

Your question resonates very strongly for me too - I think for me it's not just the currently being alone, but the pattern of not-great mostly short relationships in my past that make me doubt whether I have the ability to pick a person who matches well with me, and will want to be with me for a long time. I don't know if that feels true for you too. I've done a lot of work on myself, but some aspects of that doubt can only be tested by actually being in a relationship, and I have no control over that! I'm 31, so a tiny bit older than you, and it's true that 31 is still young. If you meet someone in the next year and you built a traditional long-lasting relationship, you might spend 50 years with them. 50 years! That's so much time! That's nearly twice as long as I've been alive for! When I think about it like that, I feel really grateful for having a few more years on my own.

I do think as I head into my thirties it becomes very apparent to me that people who have found partners are starting to build their families which leaves them with less time for me, so then I sometimes fill up time I would spend with a partner trying to build connections with other single people, so I can keep on having friendships that work for me and where our lives share some similarities.

Being in therapy has helped me in the past in terms of having somewhere to vent emotional and intimate things that I might otherwise want to share with a partner. I'm not very touchy-feely with my friends so I do feel like I miss out on physical touch a lot, and that is difficult.

I've recently (as in, last week) picked up my entire life and turned it upside down which would have been far harder to do if I'd had a partner. I had been dating someone in my old city who I liked very much (only for a month); he didn't like me enough to want to pursue anything long distance and that was hard both from a rejection point of view but also because the prospect of having a relationship was tempting enough that I almost wanted to scrap my moving plan, which had been in the works for *seven years*. That is how much I would like to have a relationship! A month of connection with someone vs seven years of planning! But I've moved to pursue a career path that means a lot to me, and now I'm here I'm excited. I'm glad I don't have someone back in my old life keeping me half-connected there, and to be honest leaving a city where all I had was a decade-long history of shitty relationships for somewhere brand new has been GREAT for me in terms of making a fresh start and feeling optimistic again. It's quite a drastic move though.

Sometimes it helps me to look at the friends I have in relationships and think about the compromises they make. I think it can be easy to frame a relationship as being better than being single because culturally that message is pushed at us constantly, but actually, being in a relationship *or* being single means making sacrifices of some kind. I don't get physical touch and intimacy; I also don't have to carry someone else's problems on top of my own, or share my personal space, or move for someone else's job, or argue about who takes the bins out. I don't have to partner with a man and notice all the tiny ways in which patriarchy means he perceives me as being slightly less than him. Sometimes, obviously, I feel like I would be delighted to do all of those things if the trade-off was someone who would put me first, help carry my problems, take the bins out for me, etc! It's ok to feel sad you don't have those things. But often, actually, I'm fine with the trade-off I've got.

I don't want children, so I can't touch on that aspect of your question, but I wanted you to know that I read it and I felt how painful that was for you, and I'm sorry it's so hard. I wish I had something helpful to say about that for you. But you're not alone with how you feel right now.
posted by theseldomseenkid at 12:47 AM on September 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

I was single for most of my 20's. Here are things that helped:

Find a local massage school and get a massage every couple of months. A massage is cheaper when you've got a student practicing on you, and it satisfies the need for human touch in an easy, uncomplicated way.

Get an animal if you can (and if you like animals). An indoor cat is a pretty low-maintenance pet, and sitting on your couch in the evening by yourself is a lot less lonely when you've got a cat purring on your lap.

Work on building a strong social circle in your city, so you have people to hang out with and go out to dinner with sometimes. It's nice to stay in touch with friends who are far away, but local friends are really important too.

Stay busy. Find a club or a meet-up group or an adult education class or an exercise class and commit to it. It doesn't even have to be a social thing; I used to go swim laps every Monday and Wednesday evening, and that helped just because it got me out of the house.

Participate in the public life of your city. Become a regular at a coffee shop or restaurant, chat with the cashier or the old lady standing next to you in line sometimes, go to some of the big city-wide events or celebrations, go see live music or performances or movies or speakers because shared attention can be an uplifting thing.
posted by colfax at 1:24 AM on September 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

Hey – there have been a lot of questions like yours over the years, so you can find a lot of wisdom in other threads too. I mention it because the site membership and participation change over the years, so you can get a much wider input by looking through past ones too.

There are a lot of women who very much want children and can't or haven't been able to have them. I have a few friends in that case, and I'm one as well. It's never something you find out at an opportune time; it always comes as a horrid surprise. Plus it's rarely very clear – with endometriosis, for instance (which I have), a lot of women with it are infertile, and then there are those who aren't, but doctors are like "well, y'know, whatever happens or doesn't" and so you're like can I? can't I? and if you're single for a while on top of that, it's just as infuriatingly unclear for anyone. "Just adopt!" isn't a proper response either because if you're single it's pretty darn understandable that you wouldn't necessarily be able to care for a kid alone.

I've been single for 12 years now, am 40 this year, so likely won't ever have biological kids. On top of the endometriosis. I've been comfortable with singlehood for years now, in large part by not listening to societal messages. I know they're there, and they do have an impact. Regarding me personally, I treat them like the opinions they are. Everyone is different, why would there be a recipe? All the people I know who are coupled have vastly different experiences. There is no one thing that can be gleaned from them, other than they met and fell in love. There is no magical individuation ceiling they reached, no independent fulfillment stage, no app, no activity (other than existing), no One Weird Trick, in short. The thing I have noticed is that the happiest people I know are the ones who accept that life is unpredictable like that, and that society is basically a construct we share in order to try to make things predictable but since we're human we fuck up a lot of that and end up with the systems we're all familiar with, which, granted, help a bunch of people (who are generally straight and white) and then hurt a whole lot of pretty much everyone. But people are afraid to say that because they WANT the predictability. They would rather think they're an exception (I know because I did this), than recognize that difference and uniqueness are also a rule.

In short, I've arrived at a place in life where I want to live my life. I only have one. Currently my life is single. I know and meet a lot of people! But haven't fallen in love. I do not like dating. I realize that society thinks dating is the One Weird Trick. But I don't like it. I feel like I'm wasting my time and could have done something I truly enjoy instead. Like run, eat with friends, watch a movie, read a book – I have many solitary hobbies, and also recognize that society thinks solitude is the One Big Mistake. Well, society, I'm happy with it. So, I'm happy with it. Which means I'm happy with my life. Which means I'm living my life! Goal achieved.

It truly is satisfying and fulfilling. I'm so much happier now that I've stopped trying to make myself into someone who enjoys things I don't enjoy. With that baseline of self-acceptance, I'm able to better appreciate existing relationships. I also allowed my fundamental desires/beliefs to "rest", so to speak, meaning just like I had ideas for a career 20 years ago and let those rest to find something that ended up being better than I had thought, well, perhaps the same thing can happen w/r/t other life goals. After all, these are things that are formed when we're kids. A lot of it is true and important! But there's also a lot that sort of gloms on to the original thing that ends up being, well, not so important once you're an adult. It turns out that was true for me. I no longer see being part of a couple as THE THING to have in my life. I have wonderful friends, a pretty great career, a life I didn't even dream of as a kid, and I'm happy. That is a rich life. Being in an intimate relationship would be an extra. Having a child, yeah, that's harder to come to terms with. I would feel odd trying to tell you my experience with it, mainly because if my career does keep going well, and I'm in a place in a year or two where I can afford a two-bedroom apartment? I'll likely try to adopt. But. It's no longer something that HAS to be done. I would very much like to raise a child, but if it doesn't happen, here's the thing: I'll know I gave it my best. I'll know I made decisions to have a good, solid life, and if a child wasn't able to be a part of that, then that's how it worked out. It is sad and something to grieve.

Grief is another thing that gave me perspective, honestly. I've lost so many people in my life, to a lot of tragic circumstances. The ones closest to me were all, without fail, people who were always saying and living the example of accepting their life, warts and all, and living it joyously. Where "joy" is something that comes with sacrifice, grief, and pain. I don't mean the one-sided happiness proned by society currently. I was able to grieve their passing without too much trauma because I know they lived their lives. They were each so unique. That's what life is. Be you, and you can trust that in so doing, you are living your life. Maybe someone will share it more intimately than others; if not, it is still your life.
posted by fraula at 3:03 AM on September 21, 2016 [32 favorites]

Long-term single 30-ish female here who would absolutely love a good partner :)

I agree with you on the "working on yourself" line and at least we're not internalising that crap too much... Not that either of us I assume are saying it's bad to keep reflecting and developing as a person, but, yeah, the "working on yourself" line is so single-blame-y. I know people with a whole lot of "work" to do who are in fulfilling relationships, and I've actually found if anything the more I "work on myself" the harder it is to partner up because as I become more well-rounded I also become more niche, so...

One thing that I've found helps is really loving the place where I live. The city/town ideally, but also my own place. I find coming home to a place that really does feel like "home" very comforting. A nice cosy couch, great bookshelf, music set up, art, kitchen stocked with what I want. I've put a fair bit of effort into making my place feel like a dream air BnB and it really is a comfort.

Definitely second-ing the limiting your social media. I used an app (StayFocusd) on my computer for a while to limit my time on facebook, gossip websites etc. to wean me off my addiction to stuff online that makes me feel pretty crap.

Rather than busyness for busyness-es sake or ticking off a checklist of "working on yourself"es are there one or a few things you really care about that you can dive right into? I love working in social services, my craft interests and my political involvements (member of a local party branch and following politics very closely) so much that they don't feel like "selfishly fulfilling all my wants" but, you know, my overarching passions.

In regards to online dating- the "numbers game" thing is a cliche that does ring somewhat true. Surely meeting more single people means you're more likely to meet the right single person? I've done a lot of online dating too and it can really feel quite pathetic having been on so many dates that haven't led anywhere, however I do keep my toe in the water and still have my profile up and go on the odd date every few weeks or so just in case. If the dates are really making you feel bad and rejected though YMMV

I don't have as strong a wish as you to have a child so I can't comment on that. I'm more on the fence and have fostering as a plan later down the track should I get cluckier.

All the best!
posted by hotcoroner at 3:08 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have siblings (or even very close friends) with children, you might be able to scratch the baby itch a little by being a closely-involved aunt.
posted by heatherlogan at 4:59 AM on September 21, 2016

Seconding (1) getting a pet, and (2) if possible, develop a close relationship with someone else's children. I've known people who've moved to live near nieces and nephews, and people who've become "third parents" to friends' kids. This is beneficial to everyone involved. If you don't have anyone in your life you could do that with, a Big Sisters or mentorship program may be worth trying.

(Also, my sympathies. I do have children, but know what it's like to desperately want one and not have one. And I'm now single at 41, probably permanently, and while I'm enough of an introvert that I enjoy being alone, I find that I never do things like go to concerts, fairs, museums, etc. because I've tried doing them solo and they're just not fun that way. While some people are great at being single, it just isn't right for some of us. You have the right to grieve that loss.)
posted by metasarah at 6:11 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

My friend is a 35 year old woman who's been perpetually single for many years - very selective about the people she dates, looking for Mr. Right, refuses to do online dating, gave up on dating entirely for several years. She's only recently stepped back into dating in the with rather mixed results thus far.

She is an incredibly busy person, lives a scheduled life. She has a lot of activities like teaching ESL on weekends, doing karate/fitness, volunteering, and going out - whatever's happening around town, she's got a line on. She also many close female friends who she spends a lot of quality time with, as well as spending time with her family.

She froze her eggs this year because she desperately wants to have children, but won't do it on her own - she wants to have a partner (a husband) first. It's given her enormous peace of mind that she's essentially bought herself a lot more time in this regard.
posted by lizbunny at 7:11 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I want to give you some feedback, because there is no simple answer to your question, and because I think you are asking a different question than the one your proposed. It's impossible to separate myself from my reaction, so I want you to know this: I married late in life, after a long period of being single that, frankly, I thought was never going to end. The short answer to how I got there was that, once I reached a point where I asked myself if I wanted to give up on the idea of romance...I realized that I did not. So, this is trite and will not make you feel better, but it is true and not something I am saying to pump you up: don't give up on yourself. If you want a partner, it's essential that you keep looking.

Now for the feedback: you have been doing a lot of work to find someone. That type of work is, by its very nature, stressful and exhausting. You probably found a few people you would like to pair off with, right? Take a harsh look at what is going on, not a harsh look at yourself. You wrote that you "chase after crumbs of affection." You want people to pursue you, then? (Hey, I'm male and I wanted that.) I'm going to give you some surefire targeted advice that will absolutely make that happen: go back on your dating aps, write in the first two sentences of your profile that you are looking to get married and want to settle down and have kids (you will still get messages from men looking to hookup, but you will get fewer of them), and...make it explicit that you are open to dating a guy who is under 5'5". You might think this is ridiculous, and it might be impossible for you to do. But I guarantee you will be flooded with pursuit. If that doesn't happen, try messaging a few guys who below average height. You will have some bad experiences, sure, but nothing that much different than what you have already experienced. If you keep at it, and can apply the strategy of being open to dating amongst a pool of men who are often outright disqualified, I think there's a good chance that you will end up being one half of a happily married couple.

If you don't like that advice, then I can tell you this about loneliness: it's pretty much the human condition. It isn't resolved through marriage or kids or friends or family. It's resolved by realizing that, on a basic level, you share a connection already with everybody else on this planet (and ironically that connection is that we all feel lonely and miserable at times). You will not discover the life you want. You have to build it. Having to bend down to kiss your partner opens you up to a world of possibilities that I have assumed (perhaps incorrectly) you might never have considered. You have to accept that you don't need someone staring back at you to be happy, and that even marriage and kids won't erase the disquiet you feel. The only thing wrong with you is that you are human.
posted by Mr. Fig at 7:59 AM on September 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

A couple things:

I'm not really interested in hearing platitudes from married or partnered people, because based on my demographics and lived experiences (not all of which I've shared here, in the interest of anonymity), I likely won't be joining you.

It's not a platitude to remind you that we're all single before we aren't. I went from being so used to being without a long-term romantic partner that I identified with it as a state of self-interest, to having a partner with whom I felt great connection and affinity very quickly. Maybe we went from "just met randomly" to "should we think about moving in together?" in about five or six months? It surprised me, and it felt... unnatural for a little while. I'd adjusted to comfort in being single, and learning how to have a stable romantic relationship wasn't always intuitive. Or comfortable.

how do you cope with being alone when the only thing you want is a partner?
/ So, how can I transform myself into someone who actually enjoys/appreciates solitude?

Is solitude what you want to enjoy, or are you thinking that solitude is the only option? I would mention that one of the greatest things I discovered when single was how much I hated living alone, and how much I loved living with housemates. I think my experience with housemates is itself what made me love the experience of not having routine romantic obligations. Do you have interest in exploring social living situations?

Also, if you are a single woman who wants kids (with a partner), how do you navigate the huge sorrow of not being able to do that now, or ever?

This experience isn't gender-confined. Be aware that LGBT folks (to give a personal example) often report a process of accepting that having biological children isn't in the cards (although this sure has been changing in recent years). The experience manifests differently over time, and is cited as motivation for everything from getting involved in foster care to having the time to devote to things like self-development (eight week vipassana retreat) or acquiring new skills (mastering violin). And it's a textbook situation for which we can seek assistance from the simple (lots of integrative medicine books on mindfulness, acceptance, and so on) to the invested (conversations with a therapist).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:05 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have been through the struggle you describe (and am, at the advanced age of 41, considering having a family now that I've finally met my person) though have not been as firm as you on the kids aspect. And it *is* a struggle. Being single is lonely sometimes, even when your life is otherwise awesome.

The rest of my life isn't perfect--but I'd give it a solid B+.

-What can you do to make this an A- or even an A? Making the non-romantical aspects of your life stronger helps with loneliness. Is it improving mental health through therapy or mindfulness meditation or exercise? Killing it at work to get a promotion or make a career switch that is more fulfilling? Better relationships in the rest of your life? Set some goals to make it better.

How do you keep growing by yourself past the basics of taking care of your needs and selfishly fulfilling all of your wants (within financial and practical reason, obviously)?

-Try to find something (other than PartnerSearch2016) that moves you. This may be many things. Doing good in the world takes you beyond your basic needs and wants. Whether that's volunteering at the animal shelter, fundraising for a political candidate you support, or being on the board of a community service organization, I think finding meaning beyond travel, friends and family, and work can be enormously helpful.

I would be much happier if I just gave up on chasing crumbs of affection on the false promise that eventually they'll turn into something real.

-You are on to something here. I don't agree that you should totally give up at 29 (hardly!) but quit allowing little crumbs of affection from others to suffice. If crumbs is all you're getting from someone, develop the confidence to drop them immediately and move on to the rest of your life. You don't develop real love from crumbs.

and at my age, I don't feel like I have the luxury of taking MORE time off to "work on myself"

-You don't have to take time off, but at 29 you definitely have time, which I hope will give you some peace. I know it doesn't feel like it, but you do. I like to think that I am like my sweet old house. I'm doing alright but I am constantly being updated, reimagined, improved. It's like a very slow art installation.

You've been through some stuff. That's normal. You are not where you thought you would be. That's pretty normal too. Your feelings about that are real and you should acknowledge the real grief you feel at not being partnered with children right now. Maybe journaling about it would help. Maybe therapy would help you process it.

For me, I filled my life with other things (being my very best at my job, taking on a teaching position on the side, writing for fun and profit, weightlifting, yoga, running, running arts organizations, starting a Sunday dinner night at my house where people sign up on the internet to come over) and over the course of time, I came to terms with the idea that I could find Mr. Right Now, but I might not find Mr. Right ever, and kids were probably out of the question. (Like you, I didn't see myself as a single mom.) Dating is a numbers game and a luck game and it's arbitrary and highly not merits-based.

Eventually, after I cannot tell you how many dates with people of varying degrees of awfulness, I recrossed paths with someone who I dated 11 years earlier. He was a nice enough guy, it just didn't work out then. But we'd both grown and dating him was 100% different than dating anyone else. He was present and prioritized me and communicated like an adult while being a handsome, silly, funny, smart delight. Before I went out with him again, I went out with a fix-up who made sure to be clear he wasn't taking me to dinner, who talked about himself (and his ex-wife) the entire time and did not ask me one single question or pause to let me say anything. When this fix-up asked me for a second date, I did not hesitate to decline.

I do not mean to be platitudinous (?) but it doesn't work out until it does. While it may not be your plan to wait 10 years to find the right person (and it wasn't mine either), don't give up yet. Just focus on the now, not on the ever.
posted by *s at 10:25 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Buddha (?) said something like attachment is the source of all suffering. He didn't say we must get rid of all our attachments. It's more like a warning. But I've found that letting go helps in a lot of situations.

You are describing a deep emotional attachment to the specific outcome of having a partner and that attachment is causing you pain. You can decide to let go of that.

Letting go of the attachment is not giving up. You can still date, but with a "let's see what happens" attitude instead of "I need a partner now." Does that distinction make sense to you?

One more thing, from a man's perspective. I've been on plenty of dates with women who have lives so jam packed it's a wonder they found time to sit down for coffee. I've been in their homes, too. I walk away thinking there's no space for me, anywhere, in any part of their lives.

Instead of being busy for busy's sake, be engaged in something that matters to you. Being passionate is far more attractive than hearing a litany of events, past and present.

And leave part of your closet empty, a dresser drawer empty, for someone to come and fill those spaces.

(I've been down this road myself. You can write if you want to discuss.)
posted by trinity8-director at 10:53 AM on September 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Did you read this recent thread on the blue? If you find reading about the experiences of other people who are in a similar situation helpful then you might get something out of it.
posted by neilb449 at 10:55 AM on September 21, 2016

It's a small thing, but if you watch television - try avoiding the ads for a while, and see if it helps at all. They tend to present a very specific view of family life and a woman's role in it, and if you're feeling vulnerable on that front to begin with, being bombarded with those images and messages really isn't helpful.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 3:37 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have probably gone on dates with 50+ people over the past two years

Please don't take this as an insult, but I would think about what it is about those 50 dates that didn't work. Are they all jerks? Am I negatively attracted to the same type of person, who does not want what I want? Am I using a tool (Tinder?) or place (nightclubs?) that is less often used by people who want relationships? Am I being rejected by a majority of these people? Am I rejecting a majority of these people? In either case, why? Would it be helpful for me to talk this out, either with a friend or a therapist? What is it about these dates that isn't working, how am I contributing to that, and how can I change it?
posted by cnc at 4:10 PM on September 21, 2016

nthing that you have plenty of time. Goodness, my ex-wife didn't even start thinking about the vague possibility of kids until well after 30. Since my divorce, I have dated three wonderful women, ages 38, 42, 43. All had decided they wanted to settle down and get married and pregnant soon. Two have in the last year. Don't fret, there is plenty of time.

And also nthing that freezing eggs might be a good plan. Not necessarily because you might need or indeed ever use them. But I can imagine that the mere fact you have done it will take all the pressure off, and allow yourself to enjoy being who you are. Things are a whole lot more likely to happen when you manage that.
posted by tillsbury at 4:18 PM on September 21, 2016

One more thing, from a man's perspective. I've been on plenty of dates with women who have lives so jam packed it's a wonder they found time to sit down for coffee. I've been in their homes, too. I walk away thinking there's no space for me, anywhere, in any part of their lives.
And leave part of your closet empty, a dresser drawer empty, for someone to come and fill those spaces.

Oooh, sorry, but this just annoys me. The woman is supposed to just leave parts of her life empty and unused so that some man can feel free to walk in? The OP already feels sad and lonely enough without leaving literal empty space to dwell on how nobody's there to fill her drawer and her nights.
Look, I'm one of those women and I don't date so I'm not pissing anyone off with my lack of room for them, but I think if someone really wanted you in their life, they could make room and make time and/or get a bigger apartment or whatever. (Lord knows when I had a boyfriend, the boyfriend was my only hobby. Sigh. I wish I hadn't been like that because then I was a stage five clinger driving them nuts, but those days are gone.) In the meantime, why can't they do the things they love if they don't have to be home every night to make someone dinner?

Back to the OP: You gotta do what you gotta do to take care of you. Some people genuinely aren't meant to find true love (like me), and you will eventually get used to that idea if that's true for you. At 29, you're just hitting the borderline of the "maybe, maybe not" territory, so you've got some time to sit in limbo on that one. That's both good and bad. I figured out early on it wasn't for me and eventually the urge to merge did just keel over and died. You won't feel that intensely about it forever...hopefully, anyway. But I think it really helps to do other things. Sitting at home every night on the couch feeling lonely isn't good for the soul--at least for the love of god do some activities you like. You may or may not meet someone at them (would be lovely if you found someone with mutual interests, but who knows), but it's good to have things scheduled to look forward to instead of being all "Oh god, I'm ALONE ALL WEEKEND WITHOUT WORK TO FILL MY TIME AND NOW I DIE OF LONELY." Find something awesome to pursue that doesn't involve man-chasing.

And remember: partnership isn't always that awesome. I just had a shit fucking day in which I got told how horrible I am in multiple ways and if I had to go home to a guy complaining how he didn't like how I cook dinner, I would probably be throwing it at him right now. I am frequently just so grateful to go home and not have to deal with someone else's drama.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:42 PM on September 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm a year older than you, and in a slightly different situation in that I've had long-ish term relationships through my 20s, but like you, my combination of lived experiences and demographics mean that dating going forward may very well be particularly tricky for me in a way that it wasn't when I was younger. For Other Reasons Entirely, I'm not really (and likely will never be) in a position where I can build a social life that's rich enough to form a chosen family, and coming from a very small biological family means that I won't have children in my life unless I have my own. So I get where you're coming from. None of this is fun, but I handle it pretty well by doing these things:

-I don't really date. Like, if a friend introduces me to someone, I'll try it out for a bit, but I haven't done online dating since before I met my last long-term partner. I don't think that this is a permanent hiatus, but I need some time to re-evaluate who I can be in a relationship.
-I don't think about the male gaze at all, so that means that I can do things like wear my hair up and not be aggressively focused on weight loss or whatever without worrying about my ability to catch a D. Again, someday I'll probably start caring about this, but until then this gives me some breathing room.
-Spending a lot of time Working On Myself is what I do not to make myself worthy of a relationship, but because if I somehow ever date again, self-care will be so much more difficult if I need to work around someone else's Stuff.
-Further to that point, I accept that I need to be in a much different place, emotionally-speaking, to be a good partner and/or parent. Knowing that I won't, under any circumstances be a good parent until I get my stuff in order keeps the baby rabies at bay very well.
-My primary investment is in being really good at my career, because my career provides a much more certain feedback loop than my social and/or romantic life. This means that for now, I invest almost exclusively in relationships that are built upon it. It is, at times, difficult for me to have relationships that are built upon me being good at [career] and that are likely to evaporate as soon as I switch a job, but meh.

I'm sure this all sounds a bit lonely. I'll be honest and admit that it is. That said, it's a good protective strategy to just drop out of all the social expectation around how one ought to build a life when you feel like you can't live up to it. It's not permanent, but it works for now. There's some stuff I've been intentionally vague about here, so if you'd like to chat more, please feel free to MefiMail me.
posted by blerghamot at 7:20 PM on September 21, 2016

Some thoughts:

About the prospect of single motherhood, there's a podcast called Not By Accident chronicling the maker's decision to go it alone through the insemination, birthing, parenting process. Of course it's very specific to her situation and locations (Australia & Denmark) but it's beautifully produced, sensitive, cute, and she doesn't gloss over the periods of darkness and loneliness. Makes me tear up from time to time. If you want to cry some more, or perhaps be pushed to the crying limit, so that you run out of tears for a while!

Attachment theory (of personality/psychology) is something I'm finding more research about these days, and it's interesting (even if still mysterious). Not suggesting you have to somehow analyze your own attachment patterns, but if you consider therapy again it could be one "way in" to understanding what's causing such extra anguish in your (very human, natural, totally understandable) desire to be partnered.

Believe me, "work on yourself" is something that needs to be stamped on partnered people's foreheads. A lot of people slide into complacency, or don't bother with emotional development or self-care, as soon as they're in seemingly stable coupledom. You don't have to look far to see breakdowns that come from that, both immediately or even decades after. Being single is the ultimate time to be true to yourself, your wants, your underlying needs.

Lastly, how do you feel about growing old? Like, when you close your eyes and try to picture life after career, empty nest, etc., what do you actually want? Is it difficult to even fathom being 65, 75, 85? (Omg, 29 is so young still.) Are there any old-age role models you have, or aspects of their lives you'd want to emulate? I'm talking about their individual factors, not just the fact that they still love their husband and have eight grandchildren. Think of the person herself, their self. Start to search for some and keep notes, if you need inspiration. Documentaries or photo series of old people in New York City or a major city in Japan could be an easy place to start, since there's lots of fanciful elders (rent control?) who still make it out and about. But really, anywhere, anyone... whose life is appealing to you, and why?
So, imagine, in your old (or midlife) age, you outlive your partner. What kind of life do you want, where, doing what each day? What kind of world do you want to live in? Work toward getting that peaceful, fun, pleasant life for yourself, or work for the greater good of a world that treats its elderly with care and respect. (That's the world I want to live in...)
posted by cluebucket at 7:30 PM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am the same age as you and there's a good chance I'll be single again soon (see my recent question here). This isn't how I imagined my life at this age and the overwhelming desire to be with someone could so easily lead me to accepting less than I want. What I'd say from this position is don't settle for those crumbs, you deserve so much more.

I don't have great advice for you about how to be ok with it, except to say that I totally get not being ok with it. You can have a full and happy(ish) life and still yearn for a partner and children. It is so upsetting to see people pair off with their perfect partners, and have those same people tell you that 'your special person is out there' and to just fill up your days with activities. I know that activities can feel meaningless without someone to share them with.

Your uncertainty about whether you'll ever have those things, and grief at the possibility of not having them, are real and you should be kind to yourself.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 2:50 AM on September 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

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