No more of this.
March 20, 2008 9:02 AM   Subscribe

...and a time to give up (filter). Please help.

The question has been posed here before: should I give up on relationships? That is not my question, I recently answered it for myself. My question is: how do I successfully give up on relationships?

I'm 30 this year and after spending most of my twenties alone, the last couple years have been a repeating series of very near misses with what I thought could have turned into something. Hope deferred has made my heart sick, and I don't want to hope anymore. I want to really, truly, permanently be done with it. I don't want to spend any more time looking for someone who may or may not exist in my future.

I know I'll always have my libido and will have to grapple with that, but I want to stop letting myself wander into dating situations with the idea that things might bud. I don't want to waste any more time, money, or emotion on trying to find the right girl. I want to focus my life on other things (going back to school, pursuing work in international relief, etc.) and stop letting this part of life occupy so much of the real estate in my head.

I don't know how to say it any clearer than that. I want to give up. I just don't know how.

I'm particularly interested in hearing from persons who have made this conscious decision and walked away from the relationship arena altogether - how they did it, what their motivations and/or strategies were, and what resulted.
posted by allkindsoftime to Human Relations (57 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a very effective strategy for meeting a wonderful girl.
posted by anildash at 9:04 AM on March 20, 2008 [13 favorites]

Anildash--- do you mean "When you stop trying, you just may get what you want"?
If so, I truly agree.
posted by Dizzy at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2008

Response by poster: That is so very much what I so very much do not want.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:11 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

I met my wife after I had completely given up. In some cases it does work. For me, it was being able to rid myself of the notion that I knew what I wanted and that I was in the right place to make that decision.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:13 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Is the problem that you don't want to date at all anymore (and don't know how to make that happen without feeling like a failure), or is it that you're willing to date casually but want to stop tearing yourself up with the expectation - letdown cycle when the people you date don't end up to be The One?
posted by iminurmefi at 9:17 AM on March 20, 2008

How is this even a question? Are you just looking for people to boost you up and say "keep trying!" or "when you stop looking, you'll get what you never knew you were looking for!"

I mean seriously, how hard is it to just stop going on dates? Don't ask girls for their numbers, don't go to bars to meet girls, don't go to the coffee shop to meet girls, don't go to wherever-it-is-that-you-go to meet girls. Concentrate on spending time with stuff you want to do, or with friends that you have no romantic interest in.
posted by Grither at 9:17 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

I would suggest a hermitage or a monastery. Monks are all for pursuing education and international relief work.
posted by Alison at 9:18 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I had other things I wanted to do for about 4 years, then one day one of the things I wanted to do was go on a date. So I did.
posted by pieoverdone at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: I gave up. You just have to make the decision, which you've already done. You then have to remind yourself of your decision every time you slip into thinking along the lines of the cultural paradigm that you have to meet someone in order to be a normal human being.

Along with that, you focus on what you want YOUR life to be. What do you want it to look like in five years, ten, twenty, and so forth? What knowledge would you like to have gained? What trips would you like to take? What will your career look like? Then focus on acquiring the skills you need to make these dreams reality. This part is really fun. I have so many things that I want to do that one lifetime isn't enough. You'll find the same thing. Fill your head with what YOU want to do and accomplish and experience.

To answer your other questions, I decided fourth quarter last year and nothing worth mentioning has happened since then, except I'm even more comfortable in my own skin.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 9:20 AM on March 20, 2008 [13 favorites]

International relief work would do the trick.
posted by sweetkid at 9:21 AM on March 20, 2008

Allkindsoftime, I think you'll find a number of people will tell you they met their SO once they had given up trying to find a SO. It was certainly the case for my SO and me.

You sound so sorrowful in your post. Rather than make a conscious decision to toss your love life on the rubbish heap, why not simply focus your attention on something else for a while? Take a vacation somewhere really interesting. Take up a hobby, or reignite an old one. Go out for a run, and just run till you're tired. Find something to do that makes you happy, solely for your sake - none of this activity playing double duty as an SO finder. Be selfish. Go go something you love. You sound like you need it right now.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 9:22 AM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

I mean, go do something you love.
posted by LN at 9:23 AM on March 20, 2008

I sort of did this, some years back. I'd gotten out of a long-distance relationship. I had friends and a job that was okay, and my life was pretty smooth, and I was happy being single. If I met somebody cute, I might flirt, but I really, consciously, was not looking for a relationship.

Maybe six months later I traveled across the country for a friend's wedding. Met a girl who was a friend of the friend. She was wicked cute, and in a relationship, and living 3000 miles away from me, so of course I flirted - I mean, what could be safer, right?

Six months after that I moved across the country, and I'm still here seven years later, happy and with the girl.

If you want to focus your life on school/work/travel/hobbies you love, then do it. There isn't really an easy way to do that except to do it. It helps if those things are things you really love and feel moved by - if they're not, then change work/school/hobbies to something that will seriously absorb your attention and not leave room for pondering your lack of relationships.

Good luck. I've always liked your posts and comments here, and I can't imagine why you wouldn't be a good catch (you're not secretly an axe murderer, are you?). Before this thread runs its course, you'll probably want to slap everybody who says "It'll happen when you stop looking." Which might be confirmation bias, of course, but it's happened often enough around me to make me believe there's something to it.
posted by rtha at 9:28 AM on March 20, 2008

What Grither said.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:28 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: OK, you seem to be asking for specific things that you can do right now that will make it easier for you to change your focus. I am not an expert, and I claim no special authority, but I do have some ideas for you that might help.

Let me see if I understand what you're asking here. You want to stop wanting to find love, you want to stop thinking about finding love, but you don't neccessarily want to stop dating.

If I were in your position, I would start by committing to spend some significant amount of time (6 months or a year) not dating, no matter what. No supermodel neuroscientist baker with crimson lips would sway me from this decision. No accidental dose of Viagra would overpower my resolve. My hope would be that over time, as I grew to accept that I would not be dating, I would stop thinking and planning and dreaming about it. This is sort of how I diet - if there is no dessert in the house, I can't eat dessert. It's just not an option. After a while, I stop thinking about and wanting dessert, because thinking about dessert never translates into getting dessert.

The second thing I would do is find a concrete way to pursue one of the interests that I wanted to devote more time to. Take a class, start a project, get a part-time internship in the field - put yourself in a position where you are forced to spend more time thinking about what you want to think about because you're doing it.

In both cases, I am suggesting that you take the decision-making out of your hands to the greatest possible extent. Don't put yourself in a position where you have the option to think about finding love -- make that impossible because you're too busy or because you made a deal with yourself that you're going to keep.

If it works, then after some time passes (again, months, not weeks), some of the urgency that you feel will fade. You'll be able to get some perspective and step back and look at your thoughts and feelings. At this point, try to understand what it is you're looking for and how you can get the Splenda (tm) version in other ways. Can you put more time and energy into your friendships, and turn some close friends into (essentially) family members? Can you strengthen your bonds to existing family members? Do you feel that you're looking for someone to praise you, to take care of you, to nurture you? Can you find ways to take care of yourself? Can you find ways to get friends to fill some of those roles?

After a long time of working on these things and pouring yourself into your work, you can re-evaluate whether or not you think you are secure enough as a single person to date without feeling the need to find a wife. Be honest -- tell women that you like them, but you're really not looking for a serious relationship. When you are honest with people, and voice your intentions, it makes it easier to stick to those intentions and live out the role you articulate for yourself.

I will think about this more. Also, I think there are some books out there written by people who are single, happy, and eager to tell you why being single works for them. I will try to find these for you.
posted by prefpara at 9:35 AM on March 20, 2008 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: What Grither said.

What Grither said is, so far, the worst answer on this thread. I've already taken care of the easy, surface-decision part, thank you very much. Its the hard part, the complete mental shift - that he clearly doesn't understand - that I need help with.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: You give up on relationships by doing something else and not asking people out and saying "no, thank you" when someone asks you out. Honestly this is not the problem. The problem is that there's a lot of baggage associated with making these decisions that can manifest itself in all sorts of problematic ways

- people give you a hard time about your decision and try to browbeat you into thinking your life shoudl be another way
- you become irresistable to [preferred gender] when you decide you don't want relationships with them
- you give yourself a hard time for giving up too easily
- you give yourself a hard time for "failing"
- you start to identify as a person who failed in some sort of basic social task that most people accomplish readily and what is your problem anyhow?

Seriously, most of this is a problem of perspective. Are you doing things you want in your life? Are you happy with where you are and the relationships [non-romantic, familial, work, other] that you DO have? Are you a decent nurturer to the people and things in your life? Are you a good person as you define good person? Do you want kids or your own family?

For a lot of people, having an SO helps them with these things and others. For many others, it doesn't. Personally, I've been partnerd and I've been single and both of them are pretty okay places for me to be. When I go from one to the other, there's definitely an adjustment phase in which I look at the other option and think "well that was weird, this seems so much more like ME" However, my personal definition of me and what I like about me (and hopefully what others like about me, but that's so hard to tell, isn't it?) doesn't hinge on whether I'm single or partnered. Sounds like you need to get into a place in your life where that is true also.

The best advice I can give you is to begin. Go do what you want and what you love, open your mind and heart to possibilities and see where it takes you. You don't have to so much give up as you do need to be aware and open to the fact that being a permanently partnered person may not be in the cards for you. Realistically, this is true for ALL OF US in the same way that you can look at yourself as "temporarily able-bodied" you can look at yourself as "temporarily partnered/non-partnered."

I can't exactly say "I've been there" because as I said earlier this isn't a key defining personality trait for me and it may change. However, it means that I don't go to parties thinking "maybe I'll meet someone..." and then consider the party a wash if I don't, or meet some nice attractive person roughly my age and think "could you be the one?" and then feel my hopes dashed when he's/she's married/dull/twitchy/whatever. Part of the good news about this is that it's a lot easier, I think, to appreciate people genuinely when you're not looking at them as the potential missing piece to something your own life is lacking. I get good things from other people in so many ways (and return them, I hope) that it seems almost a step backwards to look at someone and think "I'd really like to fight with them about how often they clean the bathroom" I know it works for other people wonderfully and that's super. I'm different and this is what works for me.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2008 [39 favorites]

Found it!

Make sure to look at the "customers who bought this also bought..."
posted by prefpara at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: I hear you! Especially your response to Dizzy & anildash ("you'll find someone when you stop looking"). Bullshit! I hate that "logic"!

OK. A little background on me. I'm 46. I've had a couple/three "serious" relationships. But, in general, I've spent my life single. I've even said (to myself), "I give up!" (actually I've said that a couple times.) But then, I'd slip, and go to online dating sites to give it "one more chance". So yes, I have essentially given up. However, if by some miracle something happens (meet a girl in the checkout line, and BAM!), I won't say "No, sorry. I gave up, you see. Now run along, dream girl." But, as you say, I don't actively pursue things.

That being said, if you are still able to meet women, and go on dates, I would say do it. But don't think of dates as "wasted time/effort". You're spending time with another human, making contact, sharing stories, whatever. That's not a waste! But I think the key is to set your mind to not expect any more. Meet women, do things, but don't expect anything. And also, don't advertise your having "given up". That's a turnoff. Do I think this strategy will win you women? No. But best not to burn bridges. There's a chance you'll meet one (even "the one"), but maybe not.

Please note... I'm not saying "Give up. It's hopeless." I'm saying that your past experience, like mine, seems to indicate you're not a "lady's man". I say that without meaning any disrepect at all. But I think some people give off a "vibe", or something. Is it something you can change? Maybe. That's a discussion for another time, I think.

On to the other part of your question. How to make it easier? That, I don't know. But I do find that the more I occupy my time with other things (work, exercise, reading, hobbies, house work, etc.), the more I seem to not concern myself with the fact that the "relationship portion of my life" is "missing". Having friends helps too.

Hang in there, man!!!

(And, if it's any consolation at all, I've marked you as "muse" in response to an awesome post you made. You're on my "people who I 'know' online and would love to meet in person" list. If you ever get to Long Island...)
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:44 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

I managed to give up during the process of getting divorced about 12 years ago, but it wasn't a conscious decision so much as it was surrender, every emotional resource having been exhausted. I felt awful at the time, but the sun came out and I realized that I could stand on my own two feet and pursue goals I cared about. I saved a lot of money, went back to school, lived a couple of dreams... and then met someone else who'd also given up, and married her a few years later.

I don't think you have to give up on the idea of romance, or intimacy, or involvement, but you probably do need to give up on the idea that there's a "right girl" out there for you, and that such a girl will make everything better. "Right girl" sounds like a role you've written and hope someone will play in your personal drama... and the name of the role is "Crutch." You can't really care for another real person until you give that up.
posted by jon1270 at 9:49 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've been doing this, more or less, for the last year. The key is to not only learn to spend time by yourself, but to enjoy it. You have to get to the point where chasing after another person doesn't give you a payoff, it just takes up your time. It's not about getting pissed off and saying "no more! I can't put myself through it," but rather putting yourself in a mindset that is more along the lines of "I could, but it's really not worth my time right now."

How do you do this? Cultivate yourself as a friend. Treat yourself as you would a date - plan special outings for yourself - treat yourself to a nice dinner - spend some quiet time with just you and you. Learn what you like and then do it. It takes time spent with yourself, learning to value what you can offer rather than looking for it from someone else.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:51 AM on March 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

Just answer the damn question, people. Life isn't always like a romantic comedy.

Are you able to spend lots of time by yourself? As far as I've seen, rejecting this part of life entirely means reducing your engagement with society to a minimum. You might have friends you see once or twice a week, but you need to create a goal for yourself that requires total, unswerving dedication and hard solitary labor. This goal (which may evolve over time) will have to define your life; you need to be able to put it above career advancement, playing computer games, home-decorating, and all those other things that clutter up the average person's day. Other people will only exist in your life because they're close to you (family) or because they can contribute in some way to what you envision for yourself. Some of the greatest artists, writers, scientists were able to do this successfully.
(One of the reasons leaving society will be necessary is that otherwise you'll end up trapping yourself in an unending cycle of disappointment when you interact with a woman you find attractive).

Otherwise, you could strike out into the poorest parts of the world and live there, with people who look as unlike you as possible. Papua New Guinea, for instance. As long as you resist the temptation to play White Man's Burden, you will get experience that you will be able to put to use later in international relief.

There isn't any way you'll be able to do this without a major change in your life, along the lines of the above. After all, you're excising something from your life that most people consider a vital part of being human, and that won't be easy. Good luck.
posted by nasreddin at 9:53 AM on March 20, 2008

I decided that I'm "on vacation" from romance. This works because vacation is happy me-time rather than a rejection of something that others consider important, and a vacation isn't necessarily permanent, though mine has no end in sight.

I'm "on vacation" because romance gets in the way of me doing what I think is important. So you might focus on the many benefits of being romance-free--the ability to travel freely, to make big decisions about your life, to do what you think is important in the world, without having to negotiate these things with someone else.

In the short term, you could set yourself some goals related to school and your interest in international relief work. Maybe visualize your goal as vividly as you can (the hokey-but-useful "imagine your ideal day"). Then commit to those goals, and when you find yourself distracted by feelings that you "should" have a girlfriend, remind yourself of the restrictions a relationship would place on your dreams.

When you're totally engrossed in planning your future and putting those plans in action, the antenna that scan for a potential girlfriend will calm down. And if they do twitch, call up that image of yourself doing the work you love.

It's distressing that you're taking this step out of pain rather than "I get to commit 100% to my dreams! Yippee!" But the end result is that you get to do what you think is important, and if anyone asks why you're not dating, you can happily say that you're on vacation from it. Too busy. Maybe some other time. Like 40 years from now.

"As far as I've seen, rejecting this part of life entirely means reducing your engagement with society to a minimum. You might have friends you see once or twice a week, but you need to create a goal for yourself that requires total, unswerving dedication and hard solitary labor."

This is not at all true in my life. Going on vacation from romance means having lots of friends, hanging out with a wide variety of people, learning new languages, traveling...
posted by PatoPata at 10:08 AM on March 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Wow - read the excerpt from the book prefpara linked to! Interesting!

P.S. Thanks, prefpara, for that reference.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 10:11 AM on March 20, 2008

Well, I think the problem is that it's hard to give up when you have visual reminders of how other people aren't giving up. I have trouble in this area as well, and I'll get frustrated and want to give up (which I think is what this question is born of, frustration) and then I will walk around on a Sunday, and it's all matched pairs, everywhere, grocery store, shops, everywhere. I don't know how it is in SA, but that's how it is in NY, from my perspective. I don't think you can completely give up when confronted with that. Plus people will always ask you if you're seeing someone, how it's going, you'll find someone if you're not looking, etc. If you truly want to do this, you should go somewhere completely different where you don't know any one, and finding just the right person to go to the yuppie food store with is not the priority, as it is for so many of us in the developed world. It's the whole pyramid of needs thing.
posted by sweetkid at 10:11 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Simple process:

You need to fill "that" part of life with something "safe" for a while -- i.e., take up something life-consuming that is virtually guaranteed never to expose you to any remotely-viable dating opportunities. It sounds like snark to say it, but I can't think of many easier ways to accomplish this than developing a good World of Warcraft habit.

After a few years (your mileage may vary), you start finding it difficult to think about dating anymore because you've exhausted all but the most outlandish/impossible scenarios to fantasize about -- once you're there, your brain trains itself out of even thinking about it in no time (people can adapt to almost anything). Then, you can move on with your life... assuming you even want to bother by then.

The strategy is rather soul-destroying, and I probably shouldn't even be typing it. Ah well.
posted by Pufferish at 10:16 AM on March 20, 2008

do you really want to give up on love, or do you just want to stop thinking and worrying about it so much? throwing yourself into good causes is one way to do it, certainly. taking religious vows and joining a community is another.

i took four years off of romance. few dates, less sex, no plans for a future with a companion. did i give up? i guess, but only gradually. i got busy and threw myself into some creative projects, and as that last relationship receded further into the distance, less and less of my mental and emotional bandwidth was tied up in love. eventually, it literally didn't matter to me if i ever met someone or ever had sex again. i was like, "it would be nice," the same way taking a year off my life and traveling around the world would be nice--cool, but not something that was going to make or break my happiness on earth.

then i randomly ran into an ex and fell in love with him. it's a funny thing.

if you are committed to remaining single and mostly celibate, why not adopt a kid? i hear those are very time-consuming and rewarding, as well as libido-dampening. i'm not joking. there are some older, difficult-to-place kids out there that desperately need loving homes.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:19 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

The phrasing of this question ("giving up") implies that you're really not done with this yet, and I think that's fueled some of the people attempting to encourage you.

I don't ever expect to be in a relationship again, but I haven't given up on the idea. It's just very very low on my list of priorities. It's not something I think about a lot and it's certainly not anything that I'm going to put any time into -- kinda like my dream of being an astronaut. If NASA bypasses John Hodgman's door and shows up at my house with the spacesuit I'll happily go along.

Anyway, you may want to be deciding what you *do* want to do with your time and energy, not what you don't want to be doing.
posted by tkolar at 10:45 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: I don't want to waste any more time, money, or emotion on trying to find the right girl.

From the beginning of your post I thought you were one. This would have been the end of my smart-ass answer until I took a trip in the wayback machine. I reached your exact point at your exact age and came up with your exact decision and it worked well for me. I consciously took time off from dating to gain some perspective, 18 months in fact. When I resumed I did it with a firm agenda: I would date lots of girls and not hide the fact from any of them that I was not into anything exclusive. I even came up with a "system"

Friday - date night
Saturday - Out by myself or with friends trolling for phone numbers.
Tuesday - Go through my numbers seeking my date for the next Friday.

Two months after putting this schedule into place I was not only dating 8 different girls, but I had something I had never had before: Perspective on my relationship potential with each of them.

My system fell apart after 2-1/2 months when I crashed a costume party seeking out a specific girl(prospect #9) that I thought might be there. She never showed, but my future wife did. We began dating and I ended up dumping my bowl full of phone numbers soon after. That was 18 years ago and I haven't had a date with anyone else since.
posted by Rafaelloello at 11:20 AM on March 20, 2008 [8 favorites]

The trouble I'm having with your question is that it sounds like you don't want to be single at all. Not one bit. Nor do you want to be dating.

I'm 30 this year and after spending most of my twenties alone, the last couple years have been a repeating series of very near misses with what I thought could have turned into something. Hope deferred has made my heart sick...

So while there's a great deal of amazing advice on this thread, I feel funny advising on how to squelch a perfectly lovely instinct to marry and have a family. I took the liberty of checking out your blog and it occurs to me that while you're the kind of man countless women around the world would kill to find (handsome, successful, intelligent, christian, and marriage minded)... it seems like your actual *life* right now may be the stumbling block that's got you so frustrated that you want to give up on the whole idea of a relationship. Put it this way - if I were the woman you're looking for, if I were a lady in your town, at your church, who shared your values and the goal of marriage? I'd stay far, far away from the American guy who's jetting around all the time and who hasn't made his mind up whether to stay or move to the other side of the world.

But that's ok! Because you are thirty, which is young by any reckoning and it's terribly young when you're a man. So I'd suggest that you have plenty of time to live the life you have now (while recognizing, hey, I'm fantastic, it's just that I'm not in a place in my life where someone who wants to settle down is going to want much to do with currently unsettled me).... and instead of looking for monk-tricks to re-educate yourself into a lifelong celibate, just know that when you're ready to make a life that's hospitible to the kind of woman you want for a partner, you'll have had even more adventures and be an even better catch than you are right now.
posted by moxiedoll at 11:35 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dating is fun. But yes it can take some work. Regardless of it works or not, I love meeting new people. The reward is much greater than the risk.

And if you meet a "motherfucker", "bastard", "bitch" or "[your preference here]", breakup and move on. It's not worth your time.
posted by thetenthstory at 11:36 AM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: I would like to add something that jessamyn touched on that I think a lot of people are assuming.

Not actively pursuing romantic relationships != spending tons of time alone. I think a lot of people tend to conflate the idea of not having a partner with spending vast tracts of time watching reruns and eating cold pizza, or sitting by yourself behind a book in a coffeehouse. This doesn't have to be the case at all, you just have to work a little harder at forcing yourself to go do social stuff. In all honesty? This can and will make you a more fully developed person, and better able to cope with life in general.

Life doesn't have to be reruns and beer if you're single. Forget that shit. Seriously, from that fantastic post about the shoes in Zimbabe, I think you already have an active interest in making people's lives better in the world. You can expand on that. Follow your dream, focus on that, and see where it leads you. There are lots of other good recommendations here in this thread for specifics on how to do that, but I will tell you that focusing on that will bring you an inner calm that's very likely missing in your life right now, and that partnered people rarely achieve.

You just have to to get comfortable with the fact that friends (of either gender) can, truly and honestly, be people you just like hanging around with. Some of the lesser-evolved invertebrates in society have issues with thinking any relationship can truly be platonic, but if you're honest with yourself in the way jessamyn elaborated on, you really can do this.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:42 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I gave up on love years ago.

That's not true; I gave up on dating and relationships years ago. A catastrophe destroyed the love I thought would last the rest of my life, and when I stopped being helplessly broken I found that I just couldn't love the same way. I'm not talking about a breakup, but death. I guess the decision was thus forced on me. But the way I've felt about love over the intervening decade, and the way those feelings evolved, may help answer your question.

I still had a great deal of love in me after I emerged from the hopelessness and overwhelming feelings of loss that consumed me at first. To leave all that love concentrated on one person (or the idea of one person) was to dive back into grief and reopen wounds that will never heal. I was lucky to have the distraction of a grave family illness during the first years, and plenty of marijuana to blunt the rest of the pain.

So I gave up on the idea of loving just one person and made an effort to diffuse my love, to love everyone around me with fervor but not with passion, with acceptance and not demands: in short, I replaced singular romantic love with a general love of humanity.

At first it was bullshit, just a stopgap to keep the gun out of my mouth. But then it really took; I sought jobs, joined sports teams, did what I could to get myself around people. My nephew was born. I found all this light around, for me to love, unromantically but fervently. I fell in love with humanity and that filled the hole.

Halfway between then and now, I crossed paths with an ex-girlfriend and tried to say what was unsaid long before. I found that I couldn't love her the way I once did, though I really wanted to. I think she wanted to begin anew, but I was scared and out of the habit and it hurt me to consider changing the manner in which I'd learned to love. So I carefully set myself adrift. When I heard she got married this summer, I was the happiest man alive (okay, the second-happiest). What a relief.

I live in New York City because there are so many people doing so many things, and I can see them all doing what they do and love them for it. I have plenty of friends, most of whom don't know everything about me, and some of them wonder about my lack of profligacy or interest when they introduce me to so-and-so. Let 'em wonder.

That's not to say I haven't fallen hard for someone on occasion. Each time I have, it's been a little easier, because the pain has eased and I don't see two people every time I think of romance anymore. But it's also been easier to say "no," whether I really want to or not, because the habit of solitude has been my refuge from pain and from thinking the unthinkable.

I'm happy, alone. I think I'd be happy with someone, too. Giving up on romance wreaks big changes in a life, though I don't know what those changes would be if the giving up was voluntary.

You'll certainly save money. But sometimes a pair of lips can save you from despair. That may make going it alone more costly in the end. I don't really know.

And after ten years, I don't really know if I want to find out.
posted by breezeway at 11:55 AM on March 20, 2008 [26 favorites]

Start thinking about all other people as "things" remind yourself that none of it matters and we are all different arrangements of chemicals in big fat meat computers. When you have distanced yourself completely from being part of the human race, you can be happy alone. It worked for me for 10 years.
posted by Megafly at 12:06 PM on March 20, 2008

Mod note: comment removed - if you can't answer the question without having a rage-on for other posters' answers, please come back when you can.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2008

Hm. It looks as if my original comment was deleted. Presumably because the first part attacked some Mefites' advice in the beginning in ... shall we say ... uncouth language.

Okay, let me salvage the basic points of what I wrote, because I still think it's useful.

1. The "stop looking and you'll find someone" advice given first in the thread is a phrase whose veracity I find utterly questionable, and whose offering I find usually stems from sentimentality, as opposed to actual practical experience of it working.

2. Verbs and word choices within your original post led me to believe that you were looking for things that would alter your desire, as opposed to advice about how to avoid circumstances. Based on this, I offered:

(a) There are AskMefi threads about anaphrodisiacs. I didn't give you linkage in the deleted comment, but I will this time 'round. Here, here, and here. General consensus seems to be that there aren't safe anaphrodisiacs, but that SSRIs can sometimes do the trick.

(b) Religious mystics have refocused sexual energies for centuries. Research as to what techniques they used. Scourging yourself, maybe not so much, but I'm thinking perhaps looking through how Buddhist monks and Catholic priests handle the problem might be useful to you.
posted by WCityMike at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2008

As I am reading it, you are asking "how not to care?" It's sort of one of those zen paradoxes -- you can't not-care by trying to not care. But you can not-care by, indeed, not caring. There's no shortcut for the first part, some magic trick that will make you stop caring by focusing on not caring.

There are, however, a long list of things that work really well for tricking you into the second part -- this is why so much advice is focused on join a club! take a class! get a new hobby! learn meditation! By focusing your entire energy on something -- something that takes effort, and is difficult, and can consume you for a time -- you end up in the state of not-caring, because you are so fully engaged elsewhere.

It's like seeing a dim star at night: stare at it and you can't see it, but if you look to the side there it is. The more you try to not-care, the more you will care. But the more you fill the spaces in your life that are currently being taken up by caring with something else, the more you will genuinely not care.

(There is a seeming contradiction here that you may have noticed: the advice that works for 'how do I not care?' -- get a job, get a hobby, train for a marathon -- is pretty much the advice you get if you ask "how can I find a girlfriend?' It's not really a contradiction, because both hinge on you being a fully self-actualized person with a full and satisfying life, rather than succumbing to brute-force, head-on efforts. And this is a lot of the reason you are getting the not-so-helpful advice about "stop looking and you will find a partner" -- it's not what you are asking, and not what you are wanting to hear, but it turns out to be true for a lot of people. And the beginning steps are the same -- fill your life with joy and work, on your own terms; don't make your happiness dependent on others; etc -- so I think that's where it's coming from.)
posted by Forktine at 12:30 PM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify, in case you're misreading that: anaphrodisiacs != aphrodisiac.
posted by WCityMike at 12:31 PM on March 20, 2008

I had a nasty break up in my mid-twenties and I took a hiatus from dating for three years or so (had a couple of dates here and there but nothing serious). I just kind of stopped actively trying to date. And -- it was a really wonderful time. I took the time to figure out what I wanted and I focused on my education. So I would say focus on the other things in your life --- your hobbies, your job, your friends and family, travelling. Maybe in a few months or years you'll feel differently and you can go back to dating. Or if you really love the single life, there's no need to go back.
posted by bananafish at 12:34 PM on March 20, 2008

Some Googling turned up this article about Catholic and Buddhist monks discussing with each other their faiths' approaches to celibacy. It may have some relevance to you.

And, I'm particularly amused by this quote from a Catholic priest: "When college kids ask me: 'How can you live without sex?' my answer is, 'God's a better kisser.'"
posted by WCityMike at 12:35 PM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the only way getting a hobby or becoming celibate is going to work is if that's your passion. The reason some religious people are celibate is because their passion is for religion, as in WCityMike's comment. If you can make a hobby a greater passion than a relationship, then that'll work. Otherwise, I mean, there's no comparison--making a birdfeeder just isn't the same as having someone take you out to dinner after a rough day, or gabbing about how great you are to her friends, or lolling around your bed on Sunday morning in lace panties while reading the paper. Whatever, if the latter is your passion, then go for that.
posted by sweetkid at 2:05 PM on March 20, 2008

I love frumious bandersnatch's response.

"You then have to remind yourself of your decision every time you slip into thinking along the lines of the cultural paradigm that you have to meet someone in order to be a normal human being."

Yeah, that's the one problem, isn't it? You're a big screeching freak if you aren't at the very least actively chasing after love, and there's a whole lot of people, places and things out there that will remind you of this.

I swore off this stuff four years ago, and I am STILL having to do the reminding myself thing even though most of me really isn't in the mood for love. I am sorry to report that it isn't too easy to get over, especially with all the messages out there. I wish I had a solution to you for that one, but I don't. You just gotta take it day by day, minute by minute, telling yourself NO every time that urge comes up.

Well, that and ignore the people who swear that swearing off love is the quickest way to get it. As Taylor Swift (who seems a little young to be this bitter, but I can't really judge!) put it: "I believe that love will find you when you're not looking for it. So I've been actively not looking for it for about three years now. I'll let you know how that works out for me."
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:06 PM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: With brief exceptions, I am and likely will always be alone. This is not by choice, but the decisions I made accidentally can be made intentionally. Note that I mention this so that you can tell where I'm coming from in my suggestions and thereby hopefully make better use of them.

First, place your thoughts elsewhere. Develop an interest in something that takes a great deal of time, and is largely solitary. Anything requiring extensive research is priceless.

Second, stop treating people like potential friends/interests/partners. They are merely random individuals who may or may not have an immediate usefulness to you. This does not mean you need to be rude, or a manipulative asshole, and I'm not saying you have to hate anyone -- but view other people as largely irrelevant to yourself. Their views are meaningless, their presence or absence is meaningless. You don't wish them ill, but you also don't much care what happens to them. Again: they are extraneous to your life.

Third, place your attention elsewhere. This is connected to #1. If you are always wrapped up in your own thoughts, you are far less likely to want to be distracted by other people. Your interactions with them will be blunter, shorter, and less digressive.

Fourth, be courteous. This lets you decline invitations with style, and adds a certain standoffishness that's socially acceptable and very very useful to your goals.

Fifth, treasure peace and quiet. This is connected to #1. People are loud, frenetic, and distracting. The more effort you have to expend to tolerate their distractions, the less likely you are to accept them in your life.

Sixth, take active steps to ensure you stay on this path. Delete your profile from all dating sites. Remove contact information from community sites. Do not contact people unless it's necessary for some reason. Never "check in" with people unless there's a truly important reason to do so.

Lastly, avoid all small talk.

It's difficult, but if you really nail my first suggestion, the others will follow more easily.
posted by aramaic at 2:39 PM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

> Yeah, that's the one problem, isn't it? You're a big screeching freak if you aren't at the very least actively chasing after love, and there's a whole lot of people, places and things out there that will remind you of this.

You know, this made me think of QuirkyAlone. I don't think their approach is perfect for you, but I think that you'll definitely be able to use a lot of what it talks about. (Quirkyalone: "A person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than dating for the sake of being in a couple. Also, a book, a movement, and an international holiday that happens to fall on February 14.")
posted by WCityMike at 2:46 PM on March 20, 2008

> the last couple years have been a repeating series of very near misses with what I thought could have turned into something. Hope deferred has made my heart sick, and I don't want to hope anymore. I want to really, truly, permanently be done with it. I don't want to spend any more time looking for someone who may or may not exist in my future.

I asked two questions (1, 2) last year which were borne of similar bitter fruit — not just from the incident spoken of there, but others over the years as well.

I feel much as you do, but with the difference that I don't see the emotional part of me as being able to be alone for the rest of my life, simply by nature of its constitution (and not by anything idealistic or romantic or brave), which is why I never pursued the line of approach you are here.

The questions didn't seek the same answers you do here, but I think people's responses in each of those threads might nonetheless be of relevance to your question here.
posted by WCityMike at 2:57 PM on March 20, 2008

Best answer: During my commute I realized I'd forgotten to mention a couple things:

1) consider the parable of the drowning man: a man is in a raging river, clinging to a rock. The current is dashing him repeatedly against the rock; if he hangs on there much longer, he will be killed. A passerby yells at him "You fool! You'll be killed, let go of the rock!" The man replies "I cannot, for I am more afraid of what lies downstream!"
Think of life as a river, sweeping you away. Struggling is futile. Let the current carry you.

2) Think about your future, in general terms. Scan across time until the moment you die. Do this a few times, gradually discarding specific events one after another. Proceed into abstraction and focus on the overall impression. Polish this down to a pure arc of fate, and really study it in your mind. Ideally this should be a meditative experience. Get a feel for the path it takes, the clean bend, the simple form. Learn it, until you could be presented with an entire page of arcs and you'd be able to point out which one is your life.

3) Develop a mantra, or some form of psychic touchstone. (Personally, I use a line from Dante: "Io no piangeva, si dentro impietrai.") Ideally it should be something that evinces solitude, contentment, quiet, or any similar concept.

These are intended to armor you against failure and doubt. When something threatens to distract you, repeat the mantra. When you find yourself tempted, repeat it in your mind.

If you find yourself thinking that you should have done something, that perhaps she liked you after all, consider the arc of your life -- she isn't on it, is she? The arc of your life is as inevitable as a river flowing downstream, carrying everything with it. You know where it's going, you know the path it will take. Everything else is merely a temporary eddy; it may swirl for a moment, you may think you will be cast ashore for a moment, but the river proceeds unabated and you with it.
posted by aramaic at 3:42 PM on March 20, 2008 [7 favorites]

I'm having trouble figuring out exactly what advice to give, so forgive me if this is muddled...

From your post, it sounds like this is true: you generally have the desire to date and find love. This has lead to disappointment, so (I think) you're asking how can you make yourself no longer have that desire.

I'm not sure that it's possible, to be honest. It generally a genetic impulse to do those things, and if someone wants to, well, they want to. In which case "keep yourself busy, don't put yourself in situations where you'll be tempted to date" is probably all you can do.

If your concern is more how other people will perceive you for having given up, my advice is to not worry about that. My friend is asexual and has absolutely no interest in sex or even having a loving relationship with anyone. It's not that he's been burned before or anything, it just honestly doesn't interest him. The world is very different from his eyes, and anything to do with sex or romance is just weird to him. He only talks about it to me and another friend though, because there's nothing that says anyone has to talk about those things. All he does is turn down women who come on to him. Very rarely does this become an issue for him.

(I think) this is the sort of state you hope to achieve. Of course, you are not asexual (and some asexuals want the loving relationship but not the sex), but you would outwardly be behaving in the same way as him. *Unless I'm misunderstanding -- see my question below.) I don't see it being a big deal, socially. I mean, you can't stop people from making stupid judgments of you, but it's precisely that: they're stupid judgments. You can't stop people from making stupid judgments about any area of your life, so treat this no differently. Let people think whatever they want about it, because they're going to anyway.

But behaving in that way won't ultimately get rid of your impulses. All the asexual people I've ever known have just always felt that way, even when they were kids, so it seems to be genetic. You can't really wish yourself asexual, I don't think.

I guess my concern is that you may not be much happier fighting that impulse, just like most people are unhappy fighting their sexuality. I don't mean to offend you or say you shouldn't make your decision, I'm just worried that you're looking at the situation in a way that prevents you from ever being happy. From the post, it sounds like you're picking the lesser of two evils: "being unhappy pursuing love" versus "being less unhappy by giving up." It seems like a third option is "to be happy in love," and that's the only one that precludes a lifetime of varying degrees of misery (though you might get burned more times before that happens).

I realize you don't think that's plausible, or else you wouldn't have posted this. Which leads me to a question: Do you want to date without worrying it will go somewhere, or are you saying you don't want to date at all? If it's the former, then I guess you're not dooming yourself by trying to convince yourself not to want something that you do want.

If it's the latter... I guess all I can say is that you have every right to your decisions, I just hope you reconsider that you might not be making yourself happier in the long run. If you feel there is something that can make you happier, or something that is missing -- "love" -- that doesn't just go away. It's easier to say "this has been too frustrating, I give up on love" than to live it for very long, to actually try to ignore what you want.

If you want to date without expectations to disappoint you... all you could do is try to go into a relationship with no expectations, and there's really not a magic way to do that. You can either get yourself to do it, or at least enough that it doesn't bother you so much, or you can't. And it can not work out and be frustrating again, yeah. I don't know anyone who's ever valued love and not felt like giving up at some point. But you can either go after what you want until you get it, or you can just be unhappy indefinitely trying to deny it. Right now it may seem like you're saving yourself some unhappiness, but I don't think it'll be true in the long term.

I might be wrong, of course. Either way, I hope you find a solution that makes you truly happy.
posted by Nattie at 4:32 PM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

A life without hope is actually really great. I've had glimpses of it, though I've had a tough time making it stick. What gets me to that happy place is being perfectly content with where I am. If I'm happy being me, where I'm at, then I don't need to hope for that job or that relationship. You seem very unhappy with yourself and your situation, and you seem to be blaming that unhappiness on something outside yourself (dating situations that didn't work) and you think that not-wanting-what-you-want will be the ticket. But it's okay to want what you want. That's part of being content with who you are and where you're at.

There's some saying that I can't remember properly that goes like "to let go of something, first you have to hold it." Really be honest with yourself about your feelings about relationships, about love, about your future. Completely feel everything that you feel about a particular person, or about potential partners in general. Draw, paint, write, or scream to get it out of your head. Physically let it go. Write down your thoughts on pieces of paper and burn them. Envision your thoughts as balloons drifting away (real balloons would be environmentally unfriendly I'm guessing). I often see myself sitting in a train station; a thought pulls into the station, but I'm not obligated to get on it. I let it pass through, and it's gone. Rinse and repeat, and mix your metaphors until they no longer make sense.
posted by desjardins at 9:19 PM on March 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

You might consider (temporarily?) cutting out some kinds of pop culture from your life, or developing a more critical eye/ear for it. Books, tv, music, and film tend to romanticize romantic love, and focus on it to the exclusion of other kinds.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:04 PM on March 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can completely sympathize! As someone who has oft been called a hopeless romantic, after a year of horrible hook ups (including those with the ex) following the traumatizing break up of a 5yr relationship and general romantic unhappiness, it just got to be too much. I spent a lot of time alone, focusing on things that I never properly focused on (life, career, cultivating friendships) because I was too obsessed with love, and it just kind of happened.

One of the things that helped me was being around friends in relationships. It sounds counter-intuitive but eventually, they all tell you the bad, annoying, frustrating things that their partners do. It made me see really quickly that I'm not at a place in my life where I want to devote that much thinking or heart space to another person. I don't want to have to answer to someone else, always be mindful and considerate of their schedules, sleeping habits, or culinary inclinations. I'm not telling you that schadenfreude is the answer, I certainly don't revel in my friends' problems, but seeing their frustration and pain goes a long way in helping me realize that I do not want that in my life.

Also, the universe seems to like to taunt you. Within *15* minutes of giving my I-don't-want-a-relationship rant for the first time (and meaning it), I randomly met someone on a bus that made my heart a flutter, instant sparks. We exchanged numbers but I'm not following up because that's not where I want to be. It kills me to do it but the world accosts you with romantic opportunities, and you just have to put your foot down, and let it go. I think it gets easier.
posted by Eudaimonia at 4:03 PM on March 21, 2008

Also, perhaps consciously reframe your choice. You are not quitting or giving up, rather you are actively deciding to try something new. Good for you to be so bold. An experiment. A different part of life. A new relationship with yourself and a new take on different kinds of love. And (like all relationships) if it doesn't work out, then it doesn't work out, and you move on from there. I've been without a partner for a few years now, and I honestly don't experience this as a lack. My life is very full and very fun. Imagine a world where this is the case, and then make it.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

hope is built in. You can try to shut it off but doing so just mkes you miserable.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:34 PM on March 22, 2008

I'm particularly interested in hearing from persons who have made this conscious decision and walked away from the relationship arena altogether - how they did it, what their motivations and/or strategies were, and what resulted.

I've been living a comfortably single, not-exactly-looking kind of lifestyle for at least a couple of years now. Although I'm not particularly fond of the "QuirkyAlone" term, it largely describes my attitude.

It wasn't so much a conscious, planned decision, but a combination of being too busy with other things, and simply not bothering any more to put myself in the kinds of places & situations where people normally try to meet others, because there's always something better to do.

It's become a kind of celibacy by default, and my experience is that the longer you stay outside the loop of all the strategies & tactics of finding a partner, the harder it is to put yourself back into that mindset, because you end up seeing so much of the whole dating & relationship thing from the outside, as a weird & unnatural, artificial & forced set of behaviours. And that's coming from a former serial monogamist & hopeless romantic.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:02 PM on March 24, 2008

Now that I've had some time to read a bit more of the thread, I see that The Light Fantastic said it better before me:

You have to get to the point where chasing after another person doesn't give you a payoff, it just takes up your time. It's not about getting pissed off and saying "no more! I can't put myself through it," but rather putting yourself in a mindset that is more along the lines of "I could, but it's really not worth my time right now."

And although I agree with the remainder, it's not the whole truth:

How do you do this? Cultivate yourself as a friend. Treat yourself as you would a date - plan special outings for yourself - treat yourself to a nice dinner - spend some quiet time with just you and you. Learn what you like and then do it. It takes time spent with yourself, learning to value what you can offer rather than looking for it from someone else.

What's missing here is the concept of the "distributed relationship" - ie having a bunch of friends with different qualities, who, when combined, make your life a whole lot richer. One of the drawbacks I see time & time again in relationships is that when people form couples, their significant other seems to automatically be assumed to be the default company for most or all of their leisure time, such that most other existing or potential small-r relationships wither away & either die off or turn into low-key acquaintanceships, so there's a real danger in expecting one person to be everything that you need, and much to be said for the distributed approach.

Once you get out of the highly pressurised one-person-is-all mindset & work on cultivating all kinds of relationships with people, you'll probably end up finding that you literally don't have time to keep up with all these people nearly as much as you'd like to, let alone go hunting around for a partner, because hey - it'll eat into your time for talking literature with X or planning holidays with Y, and you run up against that "I could, but it's really not worth my time right now" equation described by The Light Fantastic.

There's quite a bit I could write on this whole topic, but unfortunately my brain's a bit broken today after the long weekend, so I might come back later & see if anybody's missed any of the more important points of the theory.

Or else maybe I'll come back & write that I just met the girl of my dreams. Life can be like that.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:22 PM on March 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Short afterthought: dykes are great value for hassle-free interaction with the opposite sex if you can find any where you live.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:03 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit late in offering any timely advice here. But I stumbled upon this post and just couldn't let my thoughts go by unsaid.

Your words struck me because you articulated exactly how I tend to feel.

Why would I ever want to put myself out there if it only meant I'd be disappointed? Just as you said, what would be the point of investing heart and finances and time and thought into something that would end up making me feel even more alone and perhaps even a little embarrassed?

And so I, like you, decided to give up.

I turned down dates. I took a road rip by myself. I even moved to Turkey. I had many reasons for doing this - wanting an adventure, wanting to reconnect to my love of art, etc., etc. But if I were to be really honest, I know I also wanted to geographically get away from a place that kept reminding me of how alone I was and how sick and tired I was of hoping. I wanted an easier place to give up on relationships, and anywhere outside of the US seemed to be just what I needed to do this.

It took me a few months to come to the following realization: I wanted to give up on relationships because I had already predetermined that any relationship (or even a potential relationship) would end unhappily. There had been just too many close calls, too many disappointments. I no longer believed I could ever be in a successful romantic relationship.

Now comes the part of the story I'm sure you don't want to hear: Almost in the same week that I made the above realization, somebody very inconveniently came into my life. After about a month of battling my own thoughts and insecurities, I've decided to move forward with this person. Slowly, and with knees knocking.

Hoping for love is always terrifying, but I think it's even more frightening for those of us who have been disappointed time and time again. In the months since you posted this, I hope you've found contentedness in your decision. But I also hope you haven't given up altogether. And I hope if someone inconveniently drops into your life one day, you'll be able to reignite the hope that it could become something really, really great. And I hope you go for it. Good luck.
posted by hydrate at 10:17 PM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Somewhat late to the game, but hopefully you're still reading - and could give us MeFites an update?

At 26 years old (male, college graduate), I've had enough heartbreaks without even the 'close calls' to make it worthwhile. You're definitely right that dating / relationships takes a lot of time and money - and I've just about had enough for the time being...

You said it yourself: "I want to focus my life on other things (going back to school, pursuing work in international relief, etc.) and stop letting this part of life occupy so much of the real estate in my head." Then DO it! The trick is the focus. Lots of great suggestions have already been made (limit exposure to pop culture which romanticizes love, avoid small talk, and so on), but all of that starts with a conscious avoidance of that which 98% of the rest of humans are looking for in one way or another.

Seeing as how I'm in almost the same place you were as of your original post, there are the steps I'll be taking:

First, refocus life to see towards accomplishing the goals I've had / put on hold over the last several months (finish my first book, catch up on my blog, invest more time in photography, etc.)

Second, allow myself to nicely ignore most of the people around me. Some friends are worth talking to, and those wonderful 'sex partners' can help to keep the libido from getting too out-of-hand.

Third, keep in touch with other people in non-romantic ways. Just because I'm not looking for a relationship doesn't mean I can cut myself off from humanity. Well, OK, I could, but if I ever change my mind it would be helpful to remember how to talk to people :)

You'll make it - my final nugget would be to avoid worrying about what other people think of you. Your self-worth comes from inside you, not from the evaluation of your peers. Good luck - and update us!
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2008

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