How to best support a friend's search for love
March 26, 2019 4:20 PM   Subscribe

My friend (cis-het) is in her late 30's and would very much like to find love, get married, and start a family. Unfortunately, she has yet to have a romantic partner in her life. She is quite open about her dating woes and is working on self-improvement. Other than listening and giving words of encouragement, how can I best support her? Is there anything I can do to help her to meet the right guy or just be a good friend to her?

I'd like to start by saying that my friend "Allie" is a gem of a human being. She's incredibly funny, very kind, a generous friend, and a great listener and conversationalist. She is energetic and bubbly, and has awesome taste in art, music, and style. She might not be considered conventionally beautiful, but she's definitely not unattractive, and she's always well groomed and put-together. She has been working hard to be more active and get to a healthier weight.

Allie has always been optimistic about the right guy for her being out there, but as the years pass by I can see that it's getting tougher for her to watch as each of her friends pair off, get engaged and married, announce pregnancies, and so on. I haven't asked her directly, but I don't think she has ever been in a relationship that lasted past a couple of dates. In the 7 years we've been friends, I haven't heard her make reference to an ex or mention past relationship stories. In any case, she's not ashamed of being single, and she's not prideful or defensive about it at all. She often asks us if we've met any new single men who might be a good match, and she's active on the dating apps that are most popular in our city.

I honestly don't know why Allie hasn't met anyone yet who appreciates her the way we do. She's not perfect, but no one is. She doesn't have any qualities that I would peg as dealbreakers. For example, she still lives at home with her family, but so do most people of her ethnic and cultural background, and our very diverse city has no shortage of men with the same or similar cultural backgrounds. I have plenty of friends who lived with their parents well into their adult years, for reasons of both tradition and practicality, and that didn't seem to hinder their dating success. Allie has a good job and she contributes to her family's household, so it's nothing to do with a failure to launch.

She doesn't seem to be overly picky, I've swiped through dating apps with her and it's not as though she is choosing men based on appearance or wealth or other superficial factors. But it always goes the same way for her. Either the men don't respond when she messages them, or they talk for a while and then ghost her as soon as she makes plans to meet up with them. I know some of that can be attributed to the world of modern dating, I've done it and have experienced the ghosting phenomenon. But I can't fathom why it's almost inevitable with every match she has. In seeing Allie interact with guys in person, usually just friends or coworkers, her inexperience with men shows a little in the form of nerves and awkwardness. But it's nothing cringey. She's a nervous giggler, so she might laugh a bit too hard at a joke, but I feel it's more charming than off-putting.

I realize that none of you know Allie nor could you point out the reason for her difficulties any more than I can, and my intention isn't to pick apart Allie in a "What could be wrong with her?" type of exercise. I don't believe I'm in any position to help her to troubleshoot her dating issues, especially not if that involves criticizing her. Rather, I'm hoping this gives some context to the situation, and illustrate that it doesn't seem like she's doing anything to sabotage herself that I can see, but perhaps there are new ideas or options I could suggest to her that might open up the dating pool a little more or give her a better chance of success.

Some limiting factors: She is very busy at work and puts in long days, so more comprehensive dating websites like eHarmony and Match are harder for her to manage. I believe she has tried them and didn't find the payoff was worth the extra investment of her time. She's not sporty and she doesn't enjoy oft recommended male-oriented hobbies or activities, so she is not too keen to join co-rec sports or other similar meetups in the interest of meeting guys.

Aside from ideas and options for maximizing her chances of meeting a good guy, how else might I offer support and encouragement as a friend? Up to now I have been mirroring her upbeat attitude and staying positive (while always ready to listen if she wants to vent instead), emphasizing that dating is a numbers game requiring luck and patience, and not making her a third wheel when we hang out... basically trying to do what helped me when I was single.
posted by keep it under cover to Human Relations (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Has she asked for your advice?

I really liked How to be Single and Happy by Jennifer Taitz. Basically it's about being OK doing you and most likely you'll find someone worthy along the way. But it's mostly about cultivating one's own happiness while single. I don't think it's nice to recommend books for someone who doesn't ask for it, but everything I'd suggest is in that book.

I'd say just be a good friend to her in general and don't focus your friendship on the fact that she's the only uncoupled one of your group. If she hasn't asked for your help you could make her feel awkward or alienated even if you're well meaning. Take her as she is right now. She sounds great.
posted by jj's.mama at 4:46 PM on March 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


There's hundreds of questions asked from the perspective of your friend, so I won't answer that. But from your perspective - that's new! You say she "often asks us if we've met any new single men who might be a good match." Well - have you? Think deep. Maybe no one immediately comes to mind. But what about your partner's friends, or your coworkers' friends, or your cousins and distant family members? Do you ever meet anyone at church/religious activities, or volunteer activities, or when out and about? I'm not saying you have to have to know everything about them to suggest them - but if they are straight, single, reasonably normal and nice men, could you say to them, "Are you dating right now? I have the most wonderful friend I think you should meet."
posted by airplant at 4:52 PM on March 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Odds are a) Allie’s in the long tail personality-wise or b) perhaps more discerning than most people (some might call that “being picky”, but I wouldn’t, it’s a fit or it isn’t).

If she’s got no time to meet people and no social activities on the books, and doesn’t want to invest the time into dating websites, she’s got no options really.

So you could either encourage her to use the dating sites or be a shoulder to cry on.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:11 PM on March 26, 2019


There are plenty of examples of women who married for the first time in their 40s, 50s and later. Susan Collins (Senator from Maine) married for the first time at 59 and feminist icon Gloria Steinem at 66. Marrying much later than one's 40's means that it's going to be harder to have kids if that is what Allie wants, but there are ways around that (egg freezing and assisted reproduction, adoption, taking on a maternal role for stepkids) - not easy or inexpensive, but there are options.

Does Allie belong to a religious organization or participate in cultural activities? Those are things that are not sporty but are usually co-ed, and can be a place for her to meet compatible men. I second airplant's idea of trying to get introductions through her social circle, expanding it to friends of friends of friends ("weak ties") and using every connection you can. Do older people in Allie's culture/circle fix up younger ones with one another? That might be another route.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:18 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Either the men don't respond when she messages them, or they talk for a while and then ghost her as soon as she makes plans to meet up with them. I know some of that can be attributed to the world of modern dating, I've done it and have experienced the ghosting phenomenon. But I can't fathom why it's almost inevitable with every match she has.

I'll go ahead and put all my chips on the idea that this is the locus of the problem, that inflection point where you go from chatting to dating. Seems to be a big stumbling block for a lot of people.

Does she want help with this, though? What does "quite open about her dating woes" mean?
posted by prize bull octorok at 5:22 PM on March 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


Are you asking for the best ways to support her? Or more musing about why she might still be single? I'd say that being a late 30s North American woman who still lives with her parents might be a bit surprising at least to some men who aren't from a similar cultural background. If she's meeting people on apps, and not in some cultural context, then it's likely unexpected at least.

Also (and this gets a bit more complicated): sometimes people say they want certain things, but they are actually ambivalent about that. If she has a pattern of never getting past a few dates, maybe it's because, on some level, she's not really truly committed to moving out from home and investing in a romantic relationship.

Stepping back a bit: what's your role in this? You said "we" a few times, as if you and a partner are friends with Allie? Is it possible she is crushing on one of you a bit, and talking about dating as a way to sort of engender compliments? It seems like you've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this.

In seeing Allie interact with guys in person, usually just friends or coworkers, her inexperience with men shows a little in the form of nerves and awkwardness. But it's nothing cringey. She's a nervous giggler, so she might laugh a bit too hard at a joke, but I feel it's more charming than off-putting.

Now, a concrete suggestion: I suppose you could invite her to events with more men so she can start to relax a bit. Not necessarily men you want to set her up with, but where she's just around more men in general.

You are a good friend.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:23 PM on March 26, 2019 [5 favorites]


Either the men don't respond when she messages them, or they talk for a while and then ghost her as soon as she makes plans to meet up with them. I know some of that can be attributed to the world of modern dating, I've done it and have experienced the ghosting phenomenon. But I can't fathom why it's almost inevitable with every match she has.

A few more thoughts: my experience has been that the sooner you meet up, the better. In many cases, the longer you chat without making plans, the less likely you are to meet up at all. That's not universally true, of course. But sometimes it's better to go on more dates without too much chatting. You can't know until you meet in person if there will be chemistry, so extensive messaging isn't always a useful barometer.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:26 PM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's not a big thing in the scheme of this thread but Rosie mentioned freezing eggs. I would never bet on that. I looked into it and the cost is exorbitant for most for one and if you've followed the news stories and research, these egg banks have accidentally destroyed eggs too many times to trust them.
posted by jj's.mama at 5:28 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Here's what stuck out for me:
She is very busy at work and puts in long days
In some respects, dating can be a numbers game. Being more available, and doing more social things, will up anyone's chances of meeting a partner. I don't want to just be flippant, and say, "get out more". But, I think if Allie views this as a problem to be solved, and actively changes things at the margins by giving herself more opportunities, then things might hopefully open up.
posted by Citrus at 5:31 PM on March 26, 2019 [12 favorites]


Dating to find a life partner can be really hard and often has a lot to do with luck. Unfortunately, there's also a lot of ageism and racism, which it seems your friend is dealing with even if she's not stating it directly. Just listen, be sympathetic and encouraging as you are now. When you go out, be her wingperson! Go to places together and strike up conversations with strangers around you -- some may not want to talk but many will, especially in a low-pressure group setting. And not just with single men but with people of all backgrounds because making new friends is as important as getting dates, and you never know where a friendship might lead you!
posted by smorgasbord at 5:42 PM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Be available to talk, hang out and enjoy time together when she does have time. Offer activities you can do together which also happen to be co-ed. Take her ask at face value and consider and offer up possible dates if you can come up with any. Make your relationship about being there for your friend and don’t make it about her dating woes except when she asks you to. Be honest and supportive but don’t promise things about life that may or may not be true. Inquire about her general happiness from time to time and cancel other plans to spend time with her if she’s lonely.

Those are my first thoughts for how to be a supportive friend without trying to fix her life for her. Of course, if she asks for more direct advice and help take her up on it. Otherwise, don’t ever underestimate the importance of just being there for someone.
posted by meinvt at 5:55 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


At her age (the same age I was when I became single) the pickings are slim, unfortunately. Obviously it could happen, but I'd focus on helping her have an awesome life while single, which it sounds like you're doing. Hang out with her; invite her to join in things that are often family- or couple- focused (holiday dinners, vacations, etc.); encourage her to check out and accompany her to activities she might enjoy or make a hobby out of; introduce her to everyone you know to increase her social circle (not just single men).
posted by metasarah at 6:00 PM on March 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


Doing volunteer work is a good way to meet people, but it seems like she's very busy with her job. Maybe she can carve-out some time on weekends.
posted by alex1965 at 6:03 PM on March 26, 2019


Like jj's.mama above, my first question is has she asked for you advice?
You sound like an amazing friend, so I'm not being critical of you at all. It's just that, in my experience (and I have a lot!), the more oxygen people give to the whole topic of "not having found someone yet", the worse it generally is for everyone. Unless of course she's directly saying things like, "I really would like some help from you in XYZ ways," then the best support you can give her is to assume she is directing her life exactly how is best for her.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 7:36 PM on March 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


I guess my question is (if she is open to advice, because I think just being a sympathetic ear is also great support) -- what's so "comprehensive" about Match -- like what time commitment is she finding difficult there? I met my husband on Match and I didn't find it any more onerous than any other dating site in terms of effort. I would NOT say that the people on that site are more interested in serious relationships, at least in my experience, but you're right that this is a numbers game. (And I agree with the poster above that she shouldn't be spending tons of time messaging back and forth.) But you do have to put time into it -- much like searching for a job or a home -- and while I'm not suggesting that she's being cursory in her efforts, I do think that widening the circle of opportunities can't hurt.
posted by sm1tten at 8:03 PM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


Odds are a) Allie’s in the long tail personality-wise or b) perhaps more discerning than most people (some might call that “being picky”, but I wouldn’t, it’s a fit or it isn’t).

Some women just aren't meant to find someone (for example, me). She doesn't sound like a bombshell so that might limit who's interested in her from online dating visuals, and frankly, there's not a lot of quality dudes out there to find, as you can see from all the ghosting. Nobody sounds interested enough to actually put the work in of showing up for a date, apparently.

I think I'd suggest to you that (a) you focus on making her feel good in the now even if she never finds anyone, and (b) see if you can find someone to match her up with. I doubt you know anyone to fix her up with now because otherwise you'd be doing it, but if you keep an eye out, maybe that might work if you had a personal connection to someone and could vet them ahead of time instead of her always having to blind date. I dunno, I just have the feeling that if you could sell her to someone else in a different way that isn't as ice cold as online dating is, that might help. Get them to know her personality, not her online dating profile.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:03 PM on March 26, 2019 [9 favorites]


I think as you get older it gets harder and harder to make the time for doing social friends stuff and you end up holed up at home way too much. Which of course decreases your chances of meeting new people and/or having new experiences to talk about. Maybe you could be Allie‘s „lets go out and do stuff!!“ wingman?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:19 AM on March 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Women’s dating coach Matthew Hussey’s Twitter is extremely helpful for women who are trying to date men. I’m with him that the goal is to pursue an awesome, fulfilling solo life, know your high value, and get comfortable just talking to people out in the world. And the rest will follow.
posted by edithkeeler at 5:51 AM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, seconding Matthew Hussey who's YouTube videos will put her in a positive mindset. His videos have clickbait titles but then are extremely kind and practical. I'm a man and watch them. I just started dating someone and browsing YouTube for ContraPoints, she saw one of his videos in my recommended. After making fun of me for a bit, we watched it and the advice being actually good converted her!

His latest video might be topical.

I was all set to start my masters in social work, but I'm actually considering a career as a life/dating coach since it seems our current environment is just killing people like your friend when it comes to dating. She is not alone at all. So maybe she could hire someone? Like a therapist but more temporary, practical day-to-day work on the problem.

Now as to specific "Why can't she get a date?" I'd have to actually see who she's matching with and messaging BUT MY GUESS is that she's not playing the volume or waiting too long to set a date time. Have high standards, and when you do match with an interesting person, you should ask them out or be asked out relatively quickly. Really at most the next day someone should be proposing a quick date. That doesn't mean you meet that night/tomorrow but you should have a firm date. If one isn't established, that person is likely not interested.

Anyway, it's taken me a long time to find a partner. My friends mostly just let me vent sometimes or not feel weird as a third wheel since they're all married and in stable, emotionally healthy relationships. Them being happy helped me be convinced I'd find my person eventually.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 7:55 AM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I haven't asked her directly, but I don't think she has ever been in a relationship that lasted past a couple of dates. In the 7 years we've been friends, I haven't heard her make reference to an ex or mention past relationship stories.

It might not be as important to her to be partnered off as you think. Or, it is and it's a painful topic for her. It's hard to say what's going on without it having this information. Support her, draw her out to see what might be at the core.
posted by RainyJay at 10:12 AM on March 27, 2019


As someone who has been in your friend's situation, the best thing my friends did was just support me without judgment. They were cheerleaders when I tried dating, and supportive when I wanted to take a break from it. They didn't push me in either direction, they were there to listen without making it about themselves when I was feeling frustrated and despairing. If they had thoughts about why I was perpetually single, they kept them mercifully to themselves.

I know several women in similar positions, and I think all of us eventually realized there was something that made us just not genuinely want that kind of romantic partnership as much as many people do. I don't want to say this is the case for your friend, and you shouldn't make assumptions. But if you live in a culture that tells you hetero-romantic partnership is the be-all, end-all of everything, it can be really hard to figure out that's not actually what you want.

In my case, I realized that I'm not all that into men (which was the group I'd exclusively been dating, because I thought I was straight). A friend figured out that she's pretty much asexual (asexual people can have relationships but may have less of a drive for them if they're getting affection and companionship elsewhere). Another friend just realized she liked being on her own a lot and it was pretty unlikely she'd meet someone she could spend that much time with without irritating her. :)

I don't think any of this is actually actionable for you, but it might be some useful perspective. Giving her a ton of unsolicited help may actually put more pressure on her to get partnered up, which is probably not what she needs. I think the best thing is just to give her lots of support and love, so that if she does start going through that (often very difficult) process of unearthing the hypothetical thing that makes her not want this as much as she thought, she'll know she can come to you to talk about it.
posted by the sockening at 11:15 AM on March 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


As someone who's been in your friend's situation, I genuinely could not favourite the sockening's comment above enough. I think the most supportive thing you can do is just be supportive and a positive presence no matter what's going on in her life.

I have kind of realised over the years that, while it would be nice to have a boyfriend for some reasons, I clearly don't want one enough to really look that hard for one. I was doing all the right things (online dating, meetups, etc) but it just drained me and felt false and inauthentic to me. I'm much happier not doing any of that stuff now, but having grown up in a culture where I was repeatedly told from a young age that obviously the only acceptable happy ending was one where I ended up coupled up with 2.4 sprogs, it took me absolutely ages to understand that actually, deep down, that wasn't necessarily what I wanted for myself, or I didn't want it enough to do the things that would increase the chances of it happening. What helped me was surrounding myself with friends who valued me for me. What didn't help me was when people imposed their ideas of how life was 'supposed' to be on me and kept going "oh, poor you" because my life wasn't panning out that way. Not saying that's what you're doing, just speaking from my own experience.

So going back to your friend - if she's actively putting time into finding a partner, be positive and supportive, but if she's too busy to spend time on Match or whatever, also be positive and supportive. You know this already, but she is awesome and has worth even if she doesn't have a partner. I would say your main role as a friend for her is to be someone who believes that and tells her that over and over in word and deed. By all means try to look for nice dudes in your extended network for her but only if you have her express permission to do so.
posted by unicorn chaser at 1:33 PM on March 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


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