This week, on our first episode of Mamamia Out Loud for 2017, we received a question from a listener who wanted our advice.
I’m turning 29 this year and I’m really happy with my life. I love my friends and family and I have a successful career, but there’s one thing that really troubles me.
I’m single and I really, really don’t want to be.
When it comes to every other aspect of my life I feel somewhat in control. I can write down goals and actively work towards them.
But ever since I was a teenager I’ve really valued romantic relationships. I’ve been single for almost five years, and although I’m busy and social, I feel a sense of loneliness.
Most of my friends are in long term relationships and I can’t help but feel envious.
What do I do? Do I just have to resign to the fact I’m single and accept my lot? Or is ‘finding someone’ a project I can actually pursue?
Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss Sarah’s question on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece of listener correspondence that resonated so deeply.
And despite it being something I’ve thought about extensively, it’s also something I’ve never dared say out loud.
The fear that you might never meet someone is probably quite normal. After all, every piece of media we consume, from movies, music, advertising and literature, thrusts what Jeffrey Eugenides has termed ‘the marriage plot’ onto us.
The story is explicit and universal: the greatest joy in life is to find love.
Without it, you’re incomplete. Love is what a ‘happy ending’ looks like, especially for women. A man can be your ‘saviour’, the only person who truly understands you. Before him – life just didn’t make sense.
Like 29-year-old Sarah, I’m really happy. Probably the happiest I’ve ever been. But I’d by lying if I said it didn’t feel like something was missing.
And I lie all the time. I can't speak for Sarah, but as the daughter of a feminist and as a feminist myself, aren't I meant to be okay on my own? I'm a modern woman with a satisfying career that I enjoy, lots of friends, a dog who is a legend. Surely that should be enough.
But it's not.
As single women, we're inundated with mythologies about how love works. "You'll find someone when you least expect it!" says a friend who was on Tinder for eight months, and went on 47 dates before meeting her boyfriend.
"You have to learn to love yourself first..." says another, who's been in a relationship for six years and struggles with her self esteem far more than I do. "You have to be okay on your own," insists an old friend, who hasn't been single for a full day since she was 13.
What this does is place the onus and responsibility of singledom on the person who is single. You still have more work to do. You're trying too hard. You just have to relax. And these contradictory and damaging messages are internalised by just about everyone who's single.
Years ago, after a series of bad experiences (no single person has had a series of good experiences) I was sitting with my psychologist talking about some issues I'd been having with anxiety.
They were unrelated to being single - but we began discussing it anyway. I said to her "If anything else in my life continued to go wrong, like I kept being fired from jobs, or all my friends stopped talking to me, I'd think 'I'm the common denominator. What am I doing that's causing this?' And that's how I feel about dating. What am I doing wrong, and how can I fix it?"
She looked at me, confused, and said "From what you've told me, you've just had some bad luck. Sometimes, people just have a bit of bad luck."
Falling in love seems to be so much a matter of circumstance and, well, luck. We just haven't met the right person yet, and that's not our fault.
A few weeks ago, Aimée Lutkin wrote for Jezebel, "the difficulty [with being single] is in the inability to talk about it, the lack of language to explain how you’re looking at your life... I have no simple way to describe the slow, dull ache of separation from physical and emotional intimacy after years without it." At least when you're heartbroken, there's a vocabulary for how you're feeling.
Lutkin says that when she attempts to articulate how she feels friends and family, the sense is "Just wait, and wait, because something better than the life you have is guaranteed. Love is guaranteed. But it’s not, is it? Not at all..."
I don't feel like it's guaranteed. Nothing you desperately want in life is. And that's terrifying.
When you're not in a relationship, it can feel as though you're stuck in a transient state, patiently waiting for a dose of romantic ecstasy.
Admitting you're not altogether happy with how your life currently looks is embarrassing. It can feel pathetic. If people knew I'd like to be in a relationship, but I haven't been for the last three years, then maybe they'll begin to wonder "... what's wrong with her?"
That's why I was so moved by Sarah's email. Technically we have no 'control' over finding someone we love, and who loves us back. So, if you're unhappy being single, what the hell are you meant to do about it?
Mia Freedman and Monique Bowley are both married - and responded in a way I didn't expect.
According to Mia, wanting a relationship doesn't make you less of a feminist or "pathetic", it makes you human. It's a basic human desire, and there's no reason why your goal for 2017 can't be "to find love".
So set your intention. Here are their tips.
- Set some KPIs. Promise yourself you will go on five dates this month.
- Go out more.
- Start socialising in different groups. Find a hobby, like an art class, and meet new people.
- Write a list. Identify exactly what you want, and why it hasn't worked with people in the past. Monique said "I know so many women who have written lists, and then they manifest..."
And I'm going to take them on.
For the first time in my life, I'm saying it. Not "I'm finally ready" - because to be honest I've been 'ready' since my last relationship. But I'm still ready. And if having a romantic relationship is something I value, which it is, then I'm going to be brave and pursue it.
And so should Sarah.
You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here.
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