How to overcome loneliness?
June 26, 2008 5:53 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with loneliness? How do I accept being single?

I'm a 31 year old female, a decent looking and pretty nice human being. I have never been in a relationship. (I'm that girl who people point at and exclaim, "Why is she single? I don't understand it!) This used to really, really bother me. There have been attempts that always lasted 3 weeks or less, generally with me getting dumped. I fell for one of these guys and was pretty devastated when it ended. A friend said to me: the best way to get over this, to feel good about yourself and to find someone else is to FOCUS ON YOURSELF. (And having read all the singledom threads on Metafilter many times, the most common advice does seem to be: when you stop looking, someone will find you. It just happens.)

So this is what I did. I stopped putting myself out there and focused on me. I went back to school and got a graduate degree in a field I love. I went on several traveling adventures through Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I made good friends. I took up photography. I joined a wine club and a book club and had a grand ole time.

And then recently I woke up one morning and found myself a hundred times lonelier than I was before. The strategy hasn't worked and I don't know what to do.

How do I deal with this loneliness that is, frankly, ruining my life? How do I accept being single and most likely not having a child?

Note: I am not depressed. I have been in the past, and medicated. This feels entirely different. I also already have a therapist.

Anonymous simply because a couple of these 3 week disasters have been with people on Metafilter and, well, I'm embarrassed. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Oh dear.

Well, since you've read the threads (likely including one of mine) then you know there's a club of women like you here on Mefi. Smart, hot ladies who just can't seem to find love (or even like.)

I wish I knew what to tell you. If I tried I'd only get started on my own sob story, and I know that doesn't help me, because for me, I've decided, there aren't really any answers.

Lots of people will probably come and tell you all kinds of things you should do or not do or that if you're single then you need to be or that you've got issues you need to resolve or whatever. I'm sure you and I have heard all that stuff a million times.

But I look around me every day and see people who are desperate and who have issues and who are messed-up in a zillion different ways, and who are loved.

I don't know if this will help you at all. It helps me, and it's something that I just remind myself when necessary: it's random. It's a crapshoot. Fucked-up people sometimes fall in love. Awesome, together people sometimes don't. Sometimes you're doing all the right things and nothing works out. It's probably not you. It's just that the universe is a meaningless series of events and unfortunately nothing is orchestrated in such a way that when you're ready love finds you. Embrace that meaninglessness -- embrace that if these things were awarded based on value you and I would not be the last on the list.
posted by loiseau at 6:07 AM on June 26, 2008 [42 favorites]

I have to categorically disagree with your friend's advice to focus on yourself. You clearly did that and it clearly did *not* work.

Try focusing on others for a change. Get involved in helping people who have bigger problems than your own. It will put things in perspective, get your focus off of yourself and your loneliness, and simultaneously make you more attractive to your preferred sex.

BTW, I got a lot of good feedback to a similar question I asked not long ago, here.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:08 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might ask the mods to remove that last line to preserve your anonymity.

(And having read all the singledom threads on Metafilter many times, the most common advice does seem to be: when you stop looking, someone will find you. It just happens.)

I hate that advice. While I understand the spirit of it (trying too hard can be counterproductive), for people who are introverts, or work in an industry dominated by their own gender, it actually takes effort. Your friend's advice is much better - it sounds like you've made a life for yourself, but you're still feeling that emptiness. Have you tried dating sites? Or being introduced by friends to people they honestly think you might mesh with? I know those are lame suggestions.

What's prevented you from having relationships in the past? Depression or something else? It might be worth exploring (as I'm sure you may already be) why with both your therapist and some trusted friends if there's anything that might be inadvertently making it more difficult for you to make romantic connections with people. 31 seems rather late on the late bloomer scale, enough that I wonder what is being mentioned here that might be part of the problem. Please know that I'm most emphatically not saying, "it's your fault!" but rather, 'what might be standing in your way?"

I'm sure you'll mention this recent feeling to your therapist - just because it feels different doesn't mean it can't still be depression or melancholia. I wish I had better ideas on acceptance - but I'm thinking that because this shift was recent, that's something to talk out. How exactly is it different?
posted by canine epigram at 6:15 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Something you're doing isn't working and nobody is telling you. The crappy part is, this could be entirely NOT YOUR FAULT, and simply circumstantial. For example, maybe people on Metafilter are jerks? Maybe the guys who dumped you had other stuff going on and didn't tell you (ex., ex-drama, medical conditions, or maybe they don't like redheads and you're a redhead, who knows!)? Maybe you had a bad run, where all the men you've dated have reacted negatively to something about you—something that was different each time, and beyond your control.

OR, it could be something you could adjust but wouldn't know to do so. Common culprits are shyness or nervousness coming off as disinterest or disapproval, self-consciousness coming off as self-absorption and ego-driven, singleness and single-behavior being intimidating for others, sharing too much about your relationship past having the effect of scaring people off (granted, probably lame people, if they aren't giving you a chance), or myriad other things. Look back on these past relationships and try to determine possible areas where communication could have failed. If you can't find anything at all, you need to look harder because you may be missing something important.

Your new mission is to learn more about how you interact with others. What is your style? Are you aggressive? Are you open and sharing? Are you generous? Are you adventurous? Reckless? Reserved? Are you a good listener? Are you a good talker?

Ask people around you if you're not sure. And start thinking about how these facets of your personality are hindering or helping your ability to connect with others. And remember that some things are (and have been) beyond your control. Those things you have to let go of, the rest you can work with.

Also, sidenote. Sometimes things work out, quickly and fortuitously. My friend, who was never even the marrying type, met a man two months ago. He proposed last week. She's never been happier. Next I'm going to hear about the babies they're making. Stranger things have happened.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:25 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

For the record, there are also quite a few smart attractive MeFi guys who 'cant seem to find love'.

All the advice in the singles threads is pretty good, especially the stuff about relying on having another person in your life in order to feel fulfilled. Of course, it's all easier said than done.

I've found that regular structured hang time with friends can be helpful (e.g. 'lets have a movie night once a month on friday night') so you're not always pining away to make plans with someone who isn't in your life yet.

You may also think that time spent with friends shouldn't be as fulfilling as that spend with a partner, that somehow it doesn't 'count' as much. This is not true.

That said, I wish I knew where women like you hide here in NYC. Nobody ever smiles back.
posted by softlord at 6:27 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

This is a really perennial question on the internet. There are a lot of very smart, very articulate women who seem to present very well, and yet are unhappily single.

Yes, some of it is probably luck, especially if you live in a city where the demographics in your age range skew female (because of incarceration, or work opportunities, or any other reason). But a lot more, I think, has to do with what some of the women in this position are actually doing, compared to other women who bounce from relationship to relationship with little visible effort.

My friends (and short-term ex-girlfriends) who fit into this category share a bunch of commonalities. They are much more active in online communities than in real-world social activities, and in both cases they spend much of their time in predominately female spaces. They often have unrealistic boyfriend criteria -- sort of the female equivalent of the nerdy guy who won't "settle" for anyone less hot than Jessica Alba. Most importantly, though, they are often quite emotionally unavailable -- they start a relationship, close down (perhaps out of fear that another dumping is in the works) and then either the frustrated guy dumps them or they dump him preemptively. Basically, from a man's point of view, they aren't satisfying or fun girlfriends to have, at all.

Yes, I'm stereotyping here, and these things are not bad if they are making you happy. (And from reading your question, some of this does not fully apply to your situation.) But when you aren't getting good results, you have to change what you are doing if you want a better outcome.

So you are traveling and joining clubs, which is great. But are you asking guys out on dates? Are you experimenting with online dating? Have you double checked with someone you can trust about your hair and clothes and so on? Are you saying "yes" rather than "no" to invitations? When you travel, are you finding ways to meet people every day, or do you stick with a group of people who are mostly older than you and who are already married/widowed/etc?

I think what I'm saying is most fundamentally, are you advertising your awesomeness, and are you a lot of fun to hang out with? Because if I am a single guy, I will notice the person who comes up to me and chats at the party, but there is no guarantee that I will notice the person hovering in the back. And once we chat and I man up enough to ask for your phone number, I'm hoping that hanging out with you will make my life more fun and fulfilled than it is now, and that you will not turn out to be a walking bundle of issues. I think it is clear (or, as clear as it can be from a one-paragraph anonymous question) that you are no more full of issues than anyone else -- but what isn't at all clear is how well you are presenting, and how you are handling the micro-issues of socializing and relationships. Your big picture sounds good, but the fine details may be letting you down, in other words.

And yes, in the end, luck does come in. But the choice becomes do you wait for luck, or do you create your own by taking risks and putting yourself out there?
posted by Forktine at 6:34 AM on June 26, 2008 [20 favorites]

Are you certain you want to give up on relationships and accept singleness? I'm doing the "armchair psychologist over the internet" thing here, but from your post, it does quite sound like you really want to surrender. It doesn't sound like that's what would make you happy.

So, you've already received the "focus on yourself" advice. And look what you've done with it! You're through grad school, and in a discipline you enjoy at that. You went globetrotting, and I'll bet you came home with a stack of great stories. You joined up with some groups that interested you and had a great time doing it. And it sounds like you've come out of all of this with some good friends. Bloody well done, I'd say. It sounds like you took the advice of self-focus quite well, and improved your life in nearly every way.

What do you suppose would happen if you attacked this "find a mate" problem with the same tenacity? It sounds like some of your attempts at this have ended painfully, and I'm sorry to hear that. If you take my advice here, some portion of pain is likely in the bargain somewhere, and I wish there were some way around that. But I'm just not convinced that you're defeated or hopeless. So hear me out:

You focused on yourself and knocked it out of the park. You've come out of it as a much more eligible bachelorette. Smart girls are in demand. So are girls who've gone on adventures and who have strong interests. You've reached an age where people tend to have a lot of Bullshit out of their system, which is also quite desirable. You've got a network of friends. Are you close enough to any of them that you might ask to be "set up" with someone? If that's something you're comfortable doing, it would be a good start.

If you get back into the dating game, try doing it without worrying too hard about one outcome or another. Don't be in a hurry to go exclusive or get serious right away. Just enjoy the company of a few different fellas, share your awesome globetrotting stories and savor this phase of exploration. I tell you, anon, someone's gonna start calling you back before long. What you're feeling now isn't uncommon at this age, I promise.

Now, on the other hand, if I've misread your post completely and you really are looking to cash yourself out of the relationship game, then here's my thoughts on that end of it: Keep doing what you're doing, as far as pursuing your interests and career goes. If you're bummed about being single because you're worried about your prospects of motherhood slipping away, that's got a fairly straightforward fix. This world's full of kids that need adopting, that need a safe place, that need love. You could provide that.

Sorry that ran long. Feel free to mefimail if there's anything else on your mind.
posted by EatTheWeek at 6:40 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've found that from general experience, there needs to be an average acheived between "WANT" and "DO NOT WANT" in the beginning. It sucks, as I'm simply not geared that way, and luckily, more often than not I've been involved with people who do not require such limitations (for me). I'm not a big proponent of the "wait two days to call" or "don't hang out too much" school. And that has caused meltdowns in early relationships for me in the past.

I've been told by several trusted sources, however, that barring complete social ineptness, general weirdness, psycho behavior, and odd physical attributes, the two biggest turnoffs are acting like you're too into the person, and acting like you don't even need the person. Hence, the happy "medium" you need to achieve. The thrill is in the hunt, but the person needs to know that the prize is catchable. Of course, I can only say this from a purely objective POV, as I think that whole "game" is crap.
posted by Debaser626 at 6:43 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

At the wine club and the book club, start hanging out with the people there that you like. There is absolutely no shame (with good people) in saying, hey, can I hang out with you folks more? Don't make dating your goal. That is a sure fire way to *not* getting any dates. Keep doing what you're doing, keep yourself busy but not so busy you can't think...often enough you just wind up hanging out with someone from some activity more and more and...

As for the three-week relationships, don't invest your whole soul right away. Make bets with yourself on how long you'll be able to stand *this* guy. Have fun, get laid, be safe, and one of these times, it's like *pop* hey, I really like this person!

It sounds, frankly, like you did all this stuff *for* *you*, but with the aim of improving your social resume. you have to let go of that - unclench.
posted by notsnot at 6:43 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Examine why you feel the need to be partnered.

This will seem a bit out of left field, but there is a book by buddhist nun Pema Chodron called "When Things Fall Apart". It's short, you might find it helpful.
posted by phrontist at 6:44 AM on June 26, 2008

"it does quite sound like you really want to surrender" should read "it doesn't quite
sound like you really want to surrender"

oy, what a poorly placed typo
posted by EatTheWeek at 6:45 AM on June 26, 2008

I used to be in your shoes, and I'm here to tell you that things can change! You're only 31 - waaaaay too young to be giving up.

I was a pretty, fun, smart girl who was single for 5 years. My problem was that I got too good at being single. Like you, I built a great single life full of friends and fun. Whenever anyone came into my life who wasn't completely perfect, I would dismiss them because I already had a great life without them. When someone came into my life who I thought WAS totally perfect, I would fall in love instantly and then cry for two months because they didn't love me but they were SO perfect. I finally broke this pattern by taking a chance on a guy that didn't seem perfect. I told myself that I would only date him for a few months or until things petered off, but the more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to let him in my life. I had to really challenge myself to let him in because my comfort zone was being alone. Now we are happy and in love and all that mush.

Don't forget that dating and relationships take work. There are a lot of embarrassing, unpleasant, and uncomfortable parts. If you really don't want to be alone, you're going to have to push outside of your comfort zone. You're not the only one who hasn't had the love of your life just show up at your front door. You're going to be fine!
posted by jrichards at 6:51 AM on June 26, 2008 [15 favorites]

How do I accept being single and most likely not having a child?

One doesn't necessarily have a whole lot to do with the other. While being able to share the joys and challenges of parenthood with a partner is ideal, please do not make the mistake of thinking that it's necessary. Once I did some real exploration into the myths and realities of single motherhood by choice, I calmed down a whole lot about being in my 30s and single.
posted by amro at 6:54 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You dont specify why they broke up with you or what kinds of guys you're dating. There's no shortage of women who date good-looking morons interested only in sex and act like victims when it doesnt last longer than a couple of weeks. He might not be as handsome or wealthy as you demand. Aim materially lower and aim spiritually higher.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:14 AM on June 26, 2008

Intimate Connections.

The book helped tremendously.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:20 AM on June 26, 2008

I finally broke this pattern by taking a chance on a guy that didn't seem perfect. I told myself that I would only date him for a few months or until things petered off, but the more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to let him in my life. I had to really challenge myself to let him in because my comfort zone was being alone. Now we are happy and in love and all that mush.

Don't forget that dating and relationships take work. There are a lot of embarrassing, unpleasant, and uncomfortable parts. If you really don't want to be alone, you're going to have to push outside of your comfort zone. You're not the only one who hasn't had the love of your life just show up at your front door.

That is great advice from jrichards. I had the exact same experience and I've found that with most things in life, the things that ended up working out and being best for me are very rarely the things that I originally wanted. So keep a very open mind.

Also like Forktine said, put yourself out there and make it happen. Don't make the guys do all the work! If you wait around for them to come up to you, you could be waiting for quite some time because a lot of them are just too nervous. Move out of your comfort zone, take some risks, keep an open mind and you may be surprised at what happens.

Oh and though it may not seem like it to you now, 31 is still very young, so don't write yourself off as a spinster quite yet! Good luck.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

when you stop looking, someone will find you

This advice, though common, is deeply pernicious. Go find, rather than wait to be found.

Finding someone is a game of probability, so the more attempts you make, the more likely you are to succeed. If you are actively asking people out, as well as being receptive to being asked out, you're improving your odds.

...note that it is possible that you will never find anyone. Many people don't. I would argue, however, that trying to prepare for this in advance will only help ensure that it happens. "Fate" is a lie.
posted by aramaic at 7:35 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

I was you for a very, very long time. Love did find me, but it took its sweet time about it. The causes of your situation may be completely from mine, but I'll share what worked for me.

What did I do differently to find Mr. 26.2? Nothing. He joined a running club that I'd been a member of for months. What did I do differently when I met him? I made room for him in my life. I made a series of small choices that allowed him to find a niche. He did the same for me. Like me, he had been single - sometimes unhappily - for a very long time. After years of single life we were both completely independent. We needed to learn to depend on someone else. It was work, but it was worth it.

In retrospect, I can look at a whole series of men who could have evolved into dating relationships if I'd have given them a bit of room to maneuver. I was so busy and closed off. Sure I was energetic and friendly, but I wasn't available. I needed to learn to be a little vulnerable.

You don't need to go find the Man. There are plenty of men. Are you really ready and open to a relationship.
posted by 26.2 at 7:42 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

You need to have an alternate plan for your life. I always worry about anyone I see putting their entire life into only one thing, one person, one plan... because when something inevitably happens to that one thing, they are utterly destroyed.

How best to develop one... that's on you. Me, I've always wanted to get married and have a family, but I'd also love a lot of life paths I couldn't take if I took that one. So I just took a couple of those paths where the early steps seemed to match, and made that my path. Now, if the family thing never happens, I'm not over -- there's still that quiet cottage on the lake I can go actually write something in. If that doesn't work either, there are still other things I can do that I'm ok with. If happy isn't in my future, I'd rather steer for at least content instead of miserable... and if I don't get one thing, I have other things.

You're going to feel lonely sometimes no matter what you do, but having other things helps. You can be just as lonely with the wrong person as you can with nobody -- what you want to avoid is being so lonely that you make the misery-inducing mistakes a lot of lonely people make.

I'll echo others, though... 31 isn't that old, and being alone does not necessarily equal no children. Adoption of one of the older kids that nobody ever wants is one of the things I've personally thought hard about doing someday, for instance.
posted by Pufferish at 8:01 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

A college lecturer once told me, the ugliest word in the English language is 'need'. You sound bright, in tune with yourself... and very needy.

I think the answer to your problem could be to identify the signals you give out when you're around men, and fine-tune them to reach your goal of meeting someone who will stick.

Don't be stand-offish, but make your next 'focus on me' project to perfect the art of communicating this: 'however things turn out, I won't take things to heart' - even if you really will. A way to start doing this is to avoid looking at every match-up with a guy as the beginning of a potential partnership; to keep in mind that sure, you might end up getting together with the guy in front of you, but he may also turn out to be a good friend, or just someone to hang out with, or someone to have a laugh with for an evening and never see again. All of these options are positive and desirable.

This will help to take the pressure off you to close the deal, and will make you seem less needy and consequently more likely to find a new relationship. Good luck.
posted by scrm at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I stopped putting myself out there and focused on me. I went back to school and got a graduate degree in a field I love. I went on several traveling adventures through Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I made good friends. I took up photography. I joined a wine club and a book club and had a grand ole time.

I may be missing something, but nowhere in your list of achievements do you mention asking someone out on a date. In fact, you've done the exact opposite, where you stopped putting yourself out there.

There have been attempts that always lasted 3 weeks or less, generally with me getting dumped.

Obviously something odd is going on. You may be seeking out the wrong type of guy or...hell, I dunno, there's zero information here. Maybe add some more info, to give people a clearer idea of what's going on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:44 AM on June 26, 2008

I could post some personal anecdotes, but prefer not to write a novel to MeFi.. so, my email’s in my profile if you’re interested in hearing past experiences / how I dealt with it in the past. However, there’s some basic advice I can give:

It sounds like you have no trouble finding interesting activities from graduate school to travelling to taking up hobbies. Now that you’re done focusing on yourself, you should try focusing on others through your hobbies. Use them as a way to meet people and network.

They may not be dates – but making friends is the best way to avoid feeling lonely. After that, a significant other to date will probably come along naturally. Even without one, it’s pretty hard to be lonely if you’ve got some great friends who enjoy a lot of the things you do, which is why meeting people through your hobbies is one of the best things you can do.

It seems like you may have done this a bit, to an extent – but there’s something you probably need to do differently: Look not just for friends who share your interests, but who share your worldview. Get to talking about more than just wine, or books, or photography. Talk about current events, find ways to relate to people, and you’ll see who you really have close connections with to establish friendships beyond “activity partners.”

Hang in there. There’s advantages to being single – like being able to take that trip to another country without having to coordinate schedules, or being able to do whatever you want whenever you want, etc… That may not be much consolation now, but if you get out there and meet people naturally, all of that will come in due time.
posted by twiggy at 9:06 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Remind yourself, when you feel lonely, of all the friends you have made. And also remind yourself that you do not need another human being to be complete. You're a traveller, you're smart and educated, you have hobbies. That and having friends sounds like you're a successful, well-rounded person to me.

I haven't been on a date since I got divorced 5 years ago (ish). I've only had one guy show any interest, and I wasn't interested back. I frequently wonder if I should have forced myself into that relationship, just because its the only possibility I've had. Any guy I end up interested in has turned out to be in a relationship, so in that direction I've never gotten further than a 'hmm, he seems nice". I've tried online dating, and in three years I've had no responses, even to my intitial queries. Its frustrating sometimes, when I see others who've had six relationships in that time, or are getting married, or found the woman of their dreams.

But you DO NOT NEED a man (or woman) in your life to be whole and happy. So when you get lonely or frustrated you have to remind yourself of that. Of course you're going to feel lonely. I have tons of friends, a very supportive family, and three highly demanding felines. But I still feel that loneliness sometimes, that desire to have someone who is 'always there for you'. It comes and goes. But I do get over it. I get busy, go to parties, hang out with my friends, throw myself back into my work or hobbies. And the feeling goes away.

Maybe if you worked more on 'finding a partner' you'd succeed. But maybe not. And that's okay.
posted by sandraregina at 9:49 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that "it happens when you stop looking" advice is dumb.

I also agree that when you see a pattern consistently repeated you have to look at the commonality and sorry, that's you. Either you're doing something that makes you seriously not fun to be with or you are consistently picking people who are wrong for you in some fundamental way. If you can stomach it and you've maintained contact you might ask some former 3 week disasters to weigh in on it for you and be brutally honest.
posted by nanojath at 9:53 AM on June 26, 2008

I think love can happen when you stop looking... for the wrong person. Is there a common quality in the guys you've not been so successful with? Seek someone who doesn't have that quality. Everybody has their "type" but sometimes a "type" is actually just the same mistake over and over.
posted by katillathehun at 10:12 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read Love 101. The whole premise of the book is that you can be alone, and be happy.
posted by Solomon at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2008

31??!! yeah, your life is definitely over so you should give up.

can people in their late 20s upwards stop acting like the fact that they haven't gotten hitched yet stop complaining about how it's already too late and they never will? for serious. your 30s are awesome (especially for you women)—embrace it.

that said, i think scrm has something. it sounds like you may be coming across as needy or desperate when you do meet someone (omg, i need to make this work because it's my last chance before i die because i'm 31!!!) and start dating. people can sense that really quickly and it's a huge turn-off.

you say you have a therapist—what does s/he say?

look, i've said this a gazillion times before (and several times here on askme), meeting someone is a complete crapshoot. you could be looking, you could not be looking. doesn't matter. you could be ready for a relationship, you could be feeling you don't want one. it's so completely arbitrary. so how about actually trying looking now that it's evident not looking hasn't worked? ask your friends to set you up, join a new group or learn a new activity, look online. LOOK. but don't go into these dates like you've put some serious money on them leading to a relationship. kill the neediness. approach it like you're just out to meet new people, to see what's out there. that's sort of like looking, but not, you know?
posted by violetk at 10:41 AM on June 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

People often feel intensely lonely when IN a relationship. It's not a cure for that.
posted by JanetLand at 10:51 AM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of good advices here, but they all boil down to learning how to take risk and be vulnerable without destroying yourself. A relationship is a series of risk taking on another person and vice versa. You start out with taking small risks (asking out, going to a movie), to medium risks (introducing to friends, parents) to larger risks (getting intimate, marriage..etc). It's a process that can be learn, through education and practice. It's a consuming process, requires dedication, effort, skill, tact...; but it is also a rewarding process in which you learn about another person, and about yourself.

First, convince yourself that there is a process, and it's possible to learn about this process. Risk taking is an obscure science; a skillful person can see many possibilities and opportunities in a situation where novice find intimidating or hopeless. Start slow, learn to be more vulnerable with family and friends. I used to be annoyed when loved ones pointedly asked about my single status; I now turns it around and cheerfully ask them: so, are you going to help? Talk to the ex's, if you can, and get an honest assessment of why your past relationship derailed. Of course, take what they say with a grain of salt, but perhaps, you can find some repeated patterns there that you can adjust. Getting a accurate picture of yourself in the eye others is invaluable because we usually don't evaluate ourself accurately. Learn to see possibilities and find way to achieve them.

Keep the therapist, and medication, and all things that keep you energized and uplifted. These are resources that you can rely on to power you through the process. Nurture your creativity, hope and dream, they are your allies too. Then, the only thing left is don't give up. Keep on hoping and trying and learning. Ultimately, that is living, and as long as you don't give up, it's only a matter of when, not if, that you will succeed.
posted by curiousZ at 11:30 AM on June 26, 2008

I think that a lot of this kind of thing is like weather -- you really just have to wait it out, but at the same time you can't just close up and expect awesomeness to drift by and whack you in the head. Sometimes it does, but mostly it doesn't.

While you put yourself out there a little bit and wait for something to happen, focus on adding things to your life to fill it with joy, just as it is now. Paint the living room orange, get a dog, lose ten pounds--do a few things that position you for happiness, that make you feel lighter in spirit when you imagine them.

And don't be too hard on yourself. Life restarts over and over again. It's crazy. I was really lonely in my late twenties, and when I turned thirty I cried for three days. Soon afterwards I met my husband, and in a fit of what was clearly in retrospect the exact type of desperation you're describing, I clung to that miserable relationship up to and through a few years of marriage and a subsequent divorce, only to find myself now eight years later, a week from the birth of my first kid, in a lovely relationship with a great guy who makes me laugh my ass off every single day. I wouldn't change any of it, because I'm really attached to the outcome, but I do wish I had known then to enjoy my life instead of clinging to some imaginary prizes I felt like I needed to win.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

I definitely get you on the loneliness and impatience thing. I'm 33 and just spent the last three years in a couple of different relationships, one that ended when I broke a guy's heart, and one that ended when a guy broke mine. So I'm struggling with those feelings too, but I also have a lot of optimism. I think you can always take a good look at yourself and see if any of the things people have proposed in this thread as possible stumbling blocks seem to apply to you. But don't beat yourself up about it. I think what people who are in relationships forget is the huge amount of luck and chance that goes into finding someone. And if you have a relationship work out, then you think that whatever you did to get there must be a solution that will work for everyone. And that's just not true. You can have all your shit together and be an awesome and interesting person and it can take years to find someone, or you could be a codependent basket case and find someone who's looking for that sort of thing next week.

Whether you are in a relationship or not does not say a single thing about your worth as a human being.

I think the first thing you have to do (and certainly I still struggle with it) is really accept this. I had a flash of insight a couple of weeks ago that might help you. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I was mourning the loss of my recent relationship and couldn't really see it. I walked past a man with cerebral palsy sitting under a tree in his motorized wheelchair. He was looking out across the University Quad and enjoying the sunshine and watching people. I immediately thought about what it would be like to be in his place, and what my reaction would be. I felt like I would be so angry about all the things I couldn't do, about the fact that I couldn't ever stand up and look someone in the eye, about the fact that people would try to make me into a metaphor for their own ideas. :) But, here's the thing. That dude is never getting out of that wheelchair. It's horribly unfair, and it's not the way things should be, and that guy doesn't deserve it, but it's not going to change. So what's the only thing he can do? Change himself. He has a choice. He can do what he's doing: sitting in the sun and appreciating the day, or he can ruin the one life he's got with futile anger and regret. And no one's saying that he wouldn't be justified to be angry and resentful, but what does it get him?

So what's different about your life? We all get dealt a series of cards, and most of the time we're lucky and we can change the bad things, like not liking our job, or living in a city we don't care for. But some things are completely out of our control. And whether we find someone who we love who will love us back is one of those things. We can set up the conditions that we hope will make love possible, but we can only control our own part in the equation. So what if being single forever is your (or my) wheelchair? Do we spend our time raging against the machine? (sorry.) Or do we make the most of our one precious time through this life?
posted by MsMolly at 12:04 PM on June 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

it's random. It's a crapshoot. ... It's probably not you. It's just that the universe is a meaningless series of events and unfortunately nothing is orchestrated in such a way that when you're ready love finds you.

meeting someone is a complete crapshoot. you could be looking, you could not be looking. doesn't matter. you could be ready for a relationship, you could be feeling you don't want one. it's so completely arbitrary.

I couldn't disagree more. Yes, luck (or karma or heavenly intervention or whatever you want to call it) comes into play -- you are either in the subway car when the cutie walks in, or you are not, and if you aren't there you can't talk to them and you will never have their babies.

But once that cutie walks into the car, luck has nothing to do with it, and it's all on you. Either you have the courage to walk up and say "hi," or you don't. You can't control the other person, and if you refuse to risk rejection by waiting to say "hi" until you are sure they will say "hi" back, you won't get to say hi to very many people.

The people above who talked about the need to be vulnerable and to make space for other people in your life are speaking the truth. If someone has no place for me in their life, I am going to keep on looking. It's that simple. Yes, I guess I could take them on as a project and spend years breaking through that shell and talking them into reengineering their life... or I could just talk to the next person and be happy already.

So no, I don't buy the "it's a random crapshoot" argument at all. Unless you put yourself in a place where something can happen, nothing's going to happen. At a minimum that means being genuinely open to the possibility; more realistically it means doing things that will create possibilities, like walking up and saying hi, or creating a profile on a dating site and sending a few dozen emails, or whatever.

And yes, it is complicated and hard. Making it worse is that the advice is so contradictory -- be forward, but not too forward; be awesome, but not scary awesome; be beautiful, but not too beautiful; focus on yourself, but focus on other people too; and on and on and on. Partly it's contradictory because different things work for different people in different situations. But partly it's contradictory because some of the advice is better than other parts, but it is all presented equally fervently.

I guess this is just something that really gets to me, because I have all these awesome female friends who would make wonderful girlfriends/lovers/wives/whatevers, and they all claim that they are looking, but a bunch of them are actually very carefully doing the things that will ensure that they remain single. And for the ones that really want to be single (but go along with the social pressure to pretend to be looking for a partner), that's great. But for the ones who really are ready to hook up and get kissed and have babies and shop for cabinet fixtures with someone, it's really sad because they are ensuring their own failure at every step. And each of them is cute and smart and funny and all those great things... but no one is getting to wake up next to them every morning and share that awesomeness. So yeah, it's a weird social phenomenon, with a lot of deep roots (eg the unwillingness of many men to marry educated women), but at even if it is complicated societally, at the personal level there are better and worse courses of action.
posted by Forktine at 12:16 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Forktine you have completely missed my point. i agree with everything you are saying but i still say it's a crapshoot. i've looked and found someone, i've not looked and found someone, i've not been looking and found someone and i've not been looking and not found someone. you can do everything and you can do nothing and you can do a measure in between but meeting someone we really click with depends on chance beyond our control.
posted by violetk at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

You may wish to consider trying a different kind of therapy. Group therapy might be worth a shot as your peers can shake you in ways a pro can't.
posted by chairface at 1:07 PM on June 26, 2008

All I'll add is that THIS IS IT. This is Life! There's nothing to wait for, because if you wait long enough, all you'll get is death. Life does not start tommorow or in a year when you find the perfect guy - it started 32 years ago, and there is nothing to wait for.

If you don't have a man, think of an alternative. You'll be dead soon enough anyways, who cares what your alternative looks like.

(On the much more practical side, if you want a man, what you need to do is expand your female friends to include single girls that have contacts to house parties. Not bars, not clubs, just house parties. Do those for 3 weeks you'll have men all over you.)

But every person has to be assertive and know what they want. Otherwise men will not be interested if you seem to dependent on them or needy.
posted by ChabonJabon at 1:33 PM on June 26, 2008

With regards to the crapshoot argument, I would like to point to this book. I have read it. The woman spends three years doing EVERY single possible dating opportunity she can think of (though I did think moving to Bend was a bit counterproductive), including FLYING TO FOREIGN COUNTRIES to look for men. And got nowhere. Eventually, she meets someone, but the moral of the story is: no matter how hard you work at dating, LUCK is what determines whether or not something happens.

Short of the OP locking herself in a tower on a desert island with no net access, she's just as likely or not likely to have lightning strike as anything else. Yes, "making herself open," or signing up on dating sites, or taking up hobbies that are man-centric, might up her odds. Or they might not. How willing she is to do that stuff specifically TO meet men is up to her. But it isn't quite as easy as "put yourself out there to look for dates," exactly.

I agree with violetk on this, really.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also disagree with the crapshoot arguments. There are millions of men out there -- a lot of them are lonely like you.

What did you do last night? Did it involve television? Get rid of your television if you have a television.

If you want to start dating, go about it in a smart way. Book clubs probably have mostly women in them. Taking a welding or car repair class -- much higher proportion of men. Go to where men are -- get out, be friendly, smile lots, flirt -- ask men out on dates.

Try online dating -- there are lots of different options.

My right brain is telling me that you are in a pattern and the pattern isn't working.

Think of this as a challenge -- resolve to get out at least 4 nights a week for the next month, and keep doing something different. Try a class, go out dancing, join a political campaign -- get out of the house.

Put the word out to your friends that you would like to date so they can set you up with their cute friends.

Be open minded.

Focusing on yourself is not the right strategy -- focusing on others is.

Whatever you do, don't get defeated. I really don't think it's a crapshoot! Try to shake up your routine a bit and see where you get.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 8:09 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it's possible to believe that yes, there's a lot of serendipity and luck that's involved... but there's also many things that someone can do to make it more likely that things will go their way. The two facts are not mutually exclusive.

The fact that the OP has not had a single relationship yet signals that something is definitely up, and unfortunately, she's not around to give more information.
posted by canine epigram at 9:14 PM on June 26, 2008

I also disagree with the crapshoot arguments. There are millions of men out there --

Flying Squirrel, you are missing the point as well. yeah, there are a million men out there—are you saying that the OP should just pick one of those million men just because they are lonely and she is lonely?

the way i see it, out of those million, how many people do you meet that you really click with? and what are your chances of meeting those ones? that you have great chemistry with? that you're crazy enough about to want to spend your life with? who feel the same about you? not a million. not even close. and meeting one of those ppl? crapshoot. yeah, you can up your ante by doing things to put yourself out there (by all means!), but how many dates do we go on that are bad, or more likely, just meh? finding one we click with is a complete crapshoot and whether you are "looking" or not has little bearing on your chances of meeting him/her.
posted by violetk at 9:30 PM on June 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have this amazing friend who is 38 and who went on, like, 65 first dates via Match and all those other services. We all sorta quietly hoped for her while wondering whether something particular was going on (issues? high standards? actually wanted to stay single?), and then she went on yet another date, fell in love, and is moving in with the person and talking about marriage and kids.

I have this other great friend who is 36 and went on 2 dates over 4 years but still professed that she wanted to meet someone and start a family. We all sorta quietly hoped for her while wondering whether something particular was going on (so busy she'd never find love? high standards? not over her ex-?), and then she went on one online date, fell in love, and is moving in with the person after knowing them for six weeks.

It all seems random enough to me that now I don't second guess anyone's approach (including my own).
posted by salvia at 10:41 PM on June 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

When you travel, are you finding ways to meet people every day, or do you stick with a group of people who are mostly older than you and who are already married/widowed/etc?

Forktine, you seem to be implying that widowed people wouldn´t be interested in meeting new people. Plenty of widowed people are interested in meeting new, non-married people when they travel, just as people who´ve never married or divorced want to meet new people.
posted by yohko at 11:33 AM on June 27, 2008

Forktine, you seem to be implying that widowed people wouldn´t be interested in meeting new people. Plenty of widowed people are interested in meeting new, non-married people when they travel, just as people who´ve never married or divorced want to meet new people.

That's not what I meant to imply, and my use of "widowed" was a mistake. My point was that an easy way to not meet new people when traveling is to hook in with a group of people who are emphatically not your type and who, if they are looking for partners, are not looking for someone like yourself. So yeah, a late-20s/early-30s woman who spends all of her travel time with a group of much older folks can be insulating herself from the possibility of casual interactions that might lead to something romantic.

Again, my use of that word was wrong, and thanks for catching that.
posted by Forktine at 12:17 PM on June 27, 2008

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