I did everything you said and I'm still alone.
January 2, 2018 12:11 PM   Subscribe

"Over the last 12 months, I have completely transformed my life in an effort to find love. I didn’t." One year after writing the essay, "When Can I Say I'll Be Alone Forever," Aimee Lutkin returns with another essay about being single.

Is finding love something we can control? Are some of us destined to be alone forever? Is it okay to be happy being single? Is it okay to NOT be happy being single? Are relationships even worth it?

Like usual, some of the best content is in the comments.
posted by ohsnapdragon (117 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
 
I read this this morning and really enjoyed it, thanks for posting.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:21 PM on January 2


Is finding love something we can control? Are some of us destined to be alone forever? Is it okay to be happy being single? Is it okay to NOT be happy being single? Are relationships even worth it?

Oh hey, it's my inner-voice, funny finding you here on MetaFilter. Taking a break from screaming all these thoughts in my brain are you.

Good share. I think about this subject quite a bit. I'm 37 and I've been single for the last few years and had difficulty with dating/relationships. I sometimes think that maybe this is it for me, that I'm just one of those guys that will never find that kind of intimacy that I so often crave, that I'll be single and alone. Maybe 2018 will be different.
posted by Fizz at 12:29 PM on January 2 [13 favorites]


The difficulty is in the inability to talk about it, the lack of language to explain how you’re looking at your life. No one who cares about you wants to hear that you’ve “given up,” but there aren’t many other ways to describe this strange single purgatory that goes on ad infinitum, yet could theoretically end any second.

Yes, yes, yes. I had a really close friend who was in a similar position to me--she started dating someone this time last year and it got really serious really quick and it astounded me how quickly it became impossible to talk to her about these thing.

I'm young and am moving out of a college town next year so it's likely that I could find a partner sometime in the near future. But maybe not. And does it really matter? Aren't my life, my emotions, my choices just as important when I'm single? Why can't I talk about them to my friends and family?
posted by lucy.jakobs at 12:46 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]


From the article:

“What I’ve actually learned is that the work of keeping your path clear is a continual process, one so all-consuming that you may not ever have the time to look up and see where you’re going.”

....Hmm. I think that this is the case if you're giving in to other people's advice about what constitutes "keeping your path clear".

I've actually had better luck, or at least felt better, about a completely different attitude - a few years back, I decided that when it came to relationships, i was simply cursed. I had Bad Luck In Dating on a Biblical level. But instead of feeling depressed by that thought, it was liberating - because that meant it didn't make one iota of difference what I did or didn't do because it wasn't going to work anyway, so I may as well just do whatever I want and whatever made me happy.

And in reality, my luck isn't that bad. I have a much more serious and realisitic understanding of why my dating life has been in the doldrums, but that has more to do with a general overall life improvement pattern anyway, so I'm going to focus on that instead and let the chips fall how they may. There are a couple glimmers of somethings on the horizon, both of whom I met doing whatever i wanted; neither of whom are ideal, but both of whom would be lovely people to continue to know in whatever context I happen to know them. And I can't force them to love me anyway - nor, more importantly, would I want to. Whether or not someone chooses you as a partner is something that you simply cannot control. All you can do is make sure you're bringing your best self to the party.

But "bringing your best self to the party" is what you should ideally be doing for life anyway, and so I'm just going to do that. And that way, I get to enjoy the party no matter what happens.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:49 PM on January 2 [74 favorites]


This really resonated with me:

Having tried as hard as I could, I still might be alone forever.

Here is the actual side effect of trying: I had to tell myself I was making all these changes for some mysterious other who I would “earn” through devotion and trial; but it was all really for me. The only thing that alleviates the ache of solitude is showing up for yourself every day and taking a hand in all the little choices that make up your life. Choosing something good for your mental health, choosing to spend time with people who like you, choosing to smile at yourself in the mirror, choosing to meet up with someone new. Choosing to try made me a better person. It hurt. It was worth it.


There are some things in life -- maybe a lot of things -- where success is simply not guaranteed (as tempting as it is for the successful to call it merit or fate), and is in some degree a matter of fortune. Depending on the cards you're dealt, maybe it's only a little bit of a risk, or maybe it's an uphill unlikely battle against fortune.

But knowing that you're showing up for yourself, that you're doing the things you can to improve your chances of hitting some aim, even if it's only at the margins, well, I don't know if it works for everybody, but when I've managed it my experience is the same as the author's. Doesn't make some things stop hurting but it does provide a kind of reward of its own.
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:54 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I've been in only a small number of relationships. Period. First was two years, second six, and current is eleven. I'm 47. There were sometimes gaps between, and a few super short term ones that I don't really count, since they didn't even make the one year mark.

Lately I've been thinking about what would happen if my current relationship dissolved, and I've come to the conclusion that I don't think I would try again. I think I would rather be alone than to go through trying to date again.

I've always kept my social circle fairly small, and I am a difficult person to be around (politically opinionated, depression issues, health issues, humor issues, etc.). Finding anyone to "gets me," or who can tolerate my shortcomings, and who would find my friends acceptable...

I shudder at the thought.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:00 PM on January 2 [16 favorites]


Oh man, this is up there in annoying things for me along with the social pressures to have kids when you are in a relationship.

I'm in a relationship now, but I vibe with this persons attitude, the number of people who treat you like something is wrong with you if you're not actively pursuing a relationship or at least assuming you're capable of being in one is kind of absurd.

The thing that stuck out to me the most was this:

They wanted to say they could relate to how hurtful it can be when lonely people are met with a pep talk instead of a listening ear.

Talk to almost anyone with depression, and you will learn that giving them a pep talk does not and will not help. Giving a lending ear, and helping them know you understand how they feel and why, and their feelings are valid is actually a way better way to help them break out of depression than just telling them to get over it.

I'm not saying the person in question here is depressed, either.

We live in a society where social connections are harder and harder to come by, and dating has taken a turn for the worst where everyone wants to put in as little effort into the relationship as possible, because they're all holding out for someone "perfect" instead of realizing ALL relationships, whether romantic or friendships, take effort on the part of both parties to communicate and understand one another.

Is that necessarily their fault? No, they can't control how our society is moving forward any more than any of us can, and due to that, the problems of modern relationships are all our problems, even if some of us have an easier time with it than others.

Most importantly, though, is the note of self improvement for self-improvements sake. My SO has a host of mental illness problems that most people aren't patient enough to deal with. Hell, it stresses me out a lot, too. She has very few other friends, but part of what I keep trying to help her understand is its hard to make social connections when you're at your worst and looking for immediate support from a new person who doesn't know you very well. You need to have at least supported yourself a little bit so this new person doesn't feel overwhelmed by you dumping your problems on them. Slowly, she's gotten better at it, and its making her friendships stronger and our relationship stronger.

One thing I hammer about this to her is this: Don't do it for me or your friends. Do it for you, or it will never make you happy or fulfilled, and I just want to see you happy and fulfilled.

I am also in the boat that if this relationship ended, I've already put in a lot of work in relationships in my life. I'll probably be content to be alone after that. Well, maybe content isn't the right word? Acceptance, maybe.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:03 PM on January 2 [15 favorites]


If you do this, you’ll meet someone, if you do that, love will fall in your lap. You’re too sad, too angry, too unattractive (probably).

Others have pointed this out on the blue before (which is where I learned of it), but Sara Eckel's book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single does a lot to explode every one of these myths, and generally make one feel better about ongoing singledom. I'm not much one for self-help books, and I wasn't really the intended audience either, but I got a lot out of it. It confirms that a) those trucked-out myths are bullshit you can safely ignore, and b) you're not insane and/or unlovable.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:14 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


Dating in the age of tinder sounds exhausting. I am glad my dating years ended before that became the norm. I met my husband in a very old fashioned way; a mutual friend introduced us, in a bar, while we were all drunk.
posted by Gwynarra at 1:14 PM on January 2 [19 favorites]


I did everything you said and I'm still alone.

(raising hand) Me too! Me me me!

Articles like this are so comforting, knowing that it's not just me. Thank you.
posted by Melismata at 1:15 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


A few years ago, I was single after a seven year relationship ended. I was not yet 40, but I could see my 40s from where I was standing. I was also in a precarious situation with immigration, and it did not feel like the right time to get into a relationship. At the time, I also knew of a few middle aged friends who had also been single for several years, and I was just thinking to myself that I should be ready to have that life.

Like EmpressCallipygos, I rather resolved to always bring my best self to whatever the situation was. I couldn't commit to a longterm relationship, but I could be present for my friends. I could volunteer. I could keep my life full until I found a way to resolve my status.

That phase went on for three years, but in my mind, it was always indefinite, because if I did self-deport and moved to another country, who knew how long it would take to feel at home enough to let myself be vulnerable again. If I stayed, well, there's still all of the challenges of dating in middle age, when all of your friends have paired off and the number of introductions that they or your family or your co-workers could facilitate have tapered off, and you're left with the randomness of online personals.

And another thing that came to mind was even if I did find a new relationship that I could commit to, there's no guarantee that it would be forever. We could fall out of love. One of us will likely die before the other. Things happen, and then you're on your own again. You always have to learn how to meet people, how to make connections, and to know when bringing someone in your life is going to be better than being alone, and to build up your Default Alone to be pretty awesome so that you don't commit to someone out of desperation and loneliness.

I turned the corner on getting permanent residency, and am now in a happy relationship, but I always keep in the back of my mind that this can end and I can be alone again, and that other life can become my normal, but at least now that I've been through it once, going through it again will be easier and more familiar.
posted by bl1nk at 1:29 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of people have a totally magical view of love-- Love always wins, Love lasts forever, Love is true, Love is perfect, Love crosses time, Love is the best thing there is, Love will fix everything. There is no actual existing thing that can fulfill all these traits; except God, I guess, which a lot of people also believe in. And with about as much evidence, or accuracy. If you believe in Love, or in God; if one or both of them have 'worked' for you, great. Doesn't mean they exist for everyone.
posted by The otter lady at 1:29 PM on January 2 [26 favorites]


Finding a special someone would be great, but I have been taking a break from dating, primarily because

I have abysmal taste in people to date and

I never meet anyone when I am trying.
posted by Samizdata at 1:32 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Most of what I've read and a lot of what I've observed in real life says people are about the same amount of happy regardless of being in a relationship or not. Though, I do also know that men live shorter lives if they live alone and they particularly suffer when they are widowed. That filtered through my mind sounds more like men just don't know how to take care of themselves and in heterosexual relationships offload that work to women.
posted by FJT at 1:38 PM on January 2 [33 favorites]


Almost every person's life is a series of failed relationships right up until the one they may be currently in, which they consider the final and successful one, and there are good odds that one fails as well.

Almost all relationships fail. Almost everyone has far more failed relationships than successful ones.

To make things worse you mostly notice relationships only in their moments of success. Couples are usually visibly and noticeably couples.

It's a combination of all kinds of fallacies and misleading heuristics when people denigrate their relationship abilities.
posted by srboisvert at 1:48 PM on January 2 [19 favorites]


I was married for 11 years. Not every 'forever' is the same amount of time. I've had several longish-term relationships since then that ended for a wide variety of reasons, and I've been single now for almost a year. At first I was heartbroken and wondering why I just couldn't find the right person, and what was wrong with me.

A few months ago, I finally decided to accept that I might always be alone, and strove to be ok with that. My sense of emptiness and longing was eventually (and surprisingly) replaced by a feeling of peace and freedom. I don't know exactly how the shift happened, but it did, and I feel better about myself now than I ever have in my life.

I think the stigma of accepting the 'always alone' mentality might prevent people from reaching this point, which at least for me has been both necessary and fulfilling. My friends and family pushed back SO HARD when I started to talk about it, to the point that I just stopped mentioning it. I know they see this as giving up, but I haven't. I'm just no longer someone who needs a partner to feel complete.
posted by ananci at 1:48 PM on January 2 [11 favorites]


Maybe what we all just need is the System, from the new Black Mirror season.


That sure was an interesting episode to watch on a date.
posted by gottabefunky at 1:50 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


The idea that love will ‚find‘ you once you‘ve improved yourself to a satisfying degree is so condescending and inhumane! My experience was exactly the other way around - once I was partnered, the mirage of ‚love‘ somehow curing all your problems fell away and I could seriously tackle my issues (some of them successfully, others, not so much). And come to the conclusion that issues notwithstanding, I’m an OK human.

I’ve been happily partnered for 15 years but we both know that relationship was about 95% luck, 5% effort. We’re just extremely well matched. I shudder at the though of not having met my spouse. I‘d likely still be trying to do yoga/force myself to socialize/work on my lacking social skills/dress better/etc pp, instead of just working what I have, which is a lazy introvert slob weirdo. Who is, nonetheless, totally OK. Not because I have ‚found love‘, married, had kids or whatever, but because human beings have inherent value. This truth had been too hard to hear for me, over the constant blare of messages telling me how all-important it is to find a romantic partner.

I agree with the sentiment that if my partner leaves or dies, I‘ll likely not make the effort to seriously date again. It‘s so horribly exhausting and -IMHO- the odds that you find a very good match are pretty low, at least for me. YMMV.
posted by The Toad at 1:58 PM on January 2 [29 favorites]


I think a lot of people have a totally magical view of love-- Love always wins, Love lasts forever, Love is true, Love is perfect, Love crosses time, Love is the best thing there is, Love will fix everything.

So much this. I held this magical view for a long time, and most or all of it is definitely rooted in insecurity and mapping flaws externally and all that fun stuff. Heck, it's hard not to hold on to parts of this view and the romanticism and comfort it brings.

And love doesn't even always fix anything at all, it can wreck things. It's like a fire, it can keep you warm or burn your whole city down. I had a very intense fling last year where the reciprocal energy, care and attraction was so intense it nearly shattered both of us and definitely left me permanently altered and kind of afraid - and not from the loss. The loss and breaking things off was practically a relief things were so intense. It was not at all unlike a profound religious or spiritual experience.

And I've had some really good connections with lovers and partners. I've had some deep, intimate experiences with people, have been truly vulnerable and more.

Whatever this was was actually kind of scary in ways I just don't understand, and it left me totally awed and deeply, respectfully fearful of intimate relationships in ways that just don't map to more simple fears like rejection, loss or even just being alone.

One of the end results is not just liking being alone more easily, but actually striving for better self care and as EmpressCallipygos puts it, bringing my best self to the party.
posted by loquacious at 2:14 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


I'm not a historian so this may be way off base, but this seems like a thoroughly modern problem, a pressure that people simply didn't put on themselves for most of Western history.

For most of Western history marriage was a primarily social and economic institution. Various people at various times had varying expectations about how much romantic love would be a factor in their marriages, but in a world where marriage was literally a job for women, literally the thing that kept a roof over their heads and food on their plates, and where divorce was socially and legally difficult to impossible, I can't imagine people had quite the same expectations we do around finding a partner we think is great and sexy and who thinks we're great and sexy and who also makes a great roommate and coparent and primary source of emotional support, forever. I just can't imagine that most people's marriages, circa 1000-1960, were like that, so I can't imagine that it's what most people expected to happen.

And it's not that people shouldn't look for that if that's what they want. It's that there's a weird expectation that it happens for everyone and there's something wrong with you if it doesn't.
posted by mrmurbles at 2:38 PM on January 2 [18 favorites]


Though, I do also know that men live shorter lives if they live alone and they particularly suffer when they are widowed.

And women who stay single or get divorced are healthiest. Funny how the stat for men is always presented with great sorrow, and often, but the stat for women – I mean when have you ever heard it framed as "women who get married or live in long-term partnerships particularly suffer and live shorter lives"? Never. And yet the science shows it time and again. Like, we're waaaay healthier single.
From a study of 79,000 women over a three-year period as they stayed unmarried; got married or entered a relationship that was like marriage; stayed married; or got divorced or separated:

"In summary, with just one exception [spoiler: smoking], every difference in physical health favored women who stayed single (instead of getting married) and those who got divorced (instead of staying married)."
posted by fraula at 2:44 PM on January 2 [87 favorites]


"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Line that resonated for me from last year's essay: "I have no simple way to describe the slow, dull ache of separation from physical and emotional intimacy after years without it."

Line that resonated for me from this year's essay: "I had to tell myself I was making all these changes for some mysterious other who I would 'earn' through devotion and trial; but it was all really for me. The only thing that alleviates the ache of solitude is showing up for yourself every day and taking a hand in all the little choices that make up your life."

One doesn't have to be single to feel both things really hard—or to feel like they aren't things anyone besides one's therapist is up for hearing. I did everything you said and even got married and I'm still alone! Well, at least, in a lot of ways I am. So that's super cool. It's like there are layers and layers of possible hurt and disappointment in the world or something. It can always get worse, I guess is what I'm saying. I'm sorry, this isn't comforting. It's just what's in my head. It can also always get better—there's nothing stopping things from going either direction, really. Everything is possible; it's just a question of what's probable, as the shibboleth says. I suppose there are ways to make certain outcomes more probable than others, and that's what the writer tried. There is also the possibility that the supernatural is real (no, I mean, really—I feel like acknowledging that possibility is part of having an open mind too). So there's that.

"It's only once we've lost everything that we're free to do anything."

You do what you can do, and ultimately, you have to do it for yourself. Is it depression or realism that says people are fundamentally unreliable and life will inevitably break your heart over and over? I guess it's all in how you feel about it, or how you cast it for yourself. I mean, we're all human, governed by human time frames and life-cycle stuff; recognizing our fundamental fallibility that comes about as a result of that is important. There's something freeing in recognizing that, then not taking it personally, just like there's something to be said for being rejected over and over again or being deeply hurt for freeing one's mind in that regard. (Getting yelled at by mentally ill people on the street in New York for a summer, for instance, or spending time on any dating site for a while, can do wonders for reminding you of how unimportant most people's opinion might be of you.) But of course, I say all of this as someone who's become highly accustomed to abandoning my most heartfelt plans on other people's whims. I was cured (?) of my ridiculous obsession with love early on. That doesn't mean I don't still yearn for love and connection. That doesn't mean I won't still try.

"On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

Maybe this is even more of a bummer to say in a thread like this, but one of the most difficult things about being coupled long-term or married is, there are no guarantees that even that will bring you fulfillment or intimacy for life, no matter how hard you try. Nor is having friends any sort of guarantee, for that matter. The unfortunate reality is, you could well find someone you think is the love of your life and they could die, or they could live but change beyond recognition in the course of your life together, etc. This makes me muse on predestination. Even if our lives are foreordained, perhaps we're among those destined not to find fulfillment in a relationship. There's no way to know and no guarantee you'll find someone who will be the person you want to be with and who will love you the way you want to be loved. There is only living your life with integrity—or I mean, living it however you'd like, really, as long as you're cool with the consequences of that—and making the often hard choices that one has to make as a human being. As some have mentioned, social mores have differed, and this need we have to find an end-all, be-all life partner is certainly rather aspirational, top-of-the-hierarchy-of-needs, self-actualization kinda stuff.

And that's an important thing, too: realizing that regardless of who the other person or people in your life might be, ultimately you have to figure out what will make your life work for yourself on your own terms. It's lovely when you can find someone with whom things are just easy, but sometimes that's an illusion—things may feel easy because they reflect bad old patterns in your life. Or they may feel easy because you're settling. Or they may be perfect and easy and then disaster strikes.

"Get used to disappointment."

Inasmuch as I'm an introvert and I can probably bear more solitude than the average person, I like being with people. If my current relationship were to not work out, I would get back out there just to meet people. What I know from my time being "out there" before is that yeah, it's depressing sometimes, certainly, but I can find interest in the pursuit in and of itself. Serious consequences in one's life do follow from one's choice of partner, or lack thereof, and there are real biological imperatives that govern things in our lives, but a bad partner can be worse for one's health than no partner at all, there are many paths one can take in life, and ultimately, life is an absurd comedy of errors and coincidences that one doesn't do well to take too seriously, unless you're an engineer in charge of building bridges, a company launching spacecraft, or a brain surgeon. OK, there are lots of reasons life should be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean we can't have a sense of humor about it just the same.

Oh, this ridiculous tragicomic life.
posted by limeonaire at 2:44 PM on January 2 [16 favorites]


hmm. it said it was giving me perma link. let me try again.

i think this should be it
posted by sio42 at 2:45 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


And one more quote from the comments:

“The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren’t and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why.”
-Kurt Vonnegut
posted by greermahoney at 2:47 PM on January 2 [24 favorites]


Yup that does it. And yes, that's one of several amazing comments. Such a great summary of just how damn messy our lives are.
posted by Melismata at 2:48 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


i sometimes get so lonely for physical affection. but i can't have one night stands.

and the point she says about how being close to someone is more intimate than sex... yes, yes it is.

it is much harder for me to think about the stuff leading up to sex than to actual sex.

i don't care about actual sex. i care about the other stuff. the hugs and hand holding, the cuddles, the touches.

sometimes i feel almost physical pain when i see other people touching and happy. i'm happy for them. but also i just hate that there's nothing i can do to fix that except depend on another person. (yes yes massages etc but it's not the same and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn't understand.)
posted by sio42 at 2:52 PM on January 2 [36 favorites]


Maybe what we all just need is the System, from the new Black Mirror season.

In all honesty, the opening statement about "rearranging my life for 12 months" sounds a hell of a lot like modern job searches. I mean, job hunting dominated my life, it was exhausting and depressing, and I got only a few possibilities that didn't pan out. And during that two-year period, I started thinking "Well this is how it is. For the rest of my life I won't find a good job."

Sounds like a lot of what people are saying about dating, right? And so maybe with the collapse of the relationship system, we should start proposing a similar solution to the Basic Income system for workers facing an automated future. We could call it BD for Basic Dating: government assigned monthly or weekly dates or relationships. We could also start blaming Capitalism for our relationship woes, if we aren't already.

And I have to note, for the vast majority of history marriages were arranged by extended families. So this is just putting government in the same traditional position, just as it would be with Basic Inaqcome.
posted by happyroach at 2:55 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


I like this, except for the last song, which makes me feel icky.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 3:01 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately I can relate to this a little too much. I love it when people say 'have you tried...' and I've always already done it (mostly for my own interests; classes, volunteering, meditation, travel, skiing etc)...I think people find it really surprising. Then it must be me, or I must have a weird secret. No, I just have a job, then I do other things but meeting the person you really click with is HARD. I could probably be in some sort of a relationship, that's a definite possibility, but I really want to be IN LOVE. Not just paired off for the world's comfort.

Sarah's Eckel's original article was great, but she still paints the end of singledom as inevitable, something that happened to her and her friends by approx age 40. But what if it's not?
posted by bquarters at 3:07 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


Hoo boy, could I have written very similar essays. Lutkin really nails several of the most painful and frustrating things about being single long-term. Like how no one wants to fucking listen to you talk about it. So many partnered people are so, well, selfish in this way. They're absorbed by their own happiness and they don't want to hear about anything that jars it. They haven't been single for years on end, let alone their entire adulthood, the way I have, and they don't have any idea what it's like to be single long-term -- and they don't want to know. You listen to your partnered friends go on and on about their relationships, you go to their weddings, you buy presents for their kids, but they can't even listen to you talk about being single for years on end because it's too depressing for them and hey, you're bound to meet someone any minute now! Or they'll loftily tell you that you won't be any happier with a partner anyway, which is not only factually wrong (most studies show that people are happier with a partner as long as the relationship is reasonably stable and caring) but also hypocritical, because guess who'll expect you to carry on (and on, and on) about their feelings if anything should happen to their relationship. I've actually walked away from some friendships because I just couldn't stand how cruel and dismissive they were with me any time I tried to talk to them about how difficult I find it to be single. And they had no damn clue.

And then there's the second essay, which covers how you can do everything "right" and still not find anyone, as well as how you won't have a sex life unless you're willing to sleep with guys who don't care about you and who are extremely likely to just disappear afterwards.

One of these days I intend to write what I'm thinking of as an "anti-romance novel", about a woman who spends her entire life single (she'll have a few scattered failed relationships). I am so sick of the prevailing romantic narrative ("there's someone out there for everyone!"), of the fatuous happy endings, of the stupid romance plot tropes like the couple who gets engaged after spending an estimated six hours with each other, which never happens in real life, and of how meanwhile there's a near-total lack of stories about long-term singlehood, which is so common in real life. And just for good measure my anti-romance novel will also be a Edwardian adventure novel.

And maybe it's my turn, as someone who has been on the receiving end of way too much kneejerk advice, to give partnered people some advice. Partnered people, here's how you can be there for your single friends:

a) Don't blithely tell them they're going to find someone. You don't know if they will or not, and maybe they won't. Some people never do. It's a false reassurance that does nothing to help them cope with the reality that they are currently lonely, like telling someone who's hungry that someday they'll have enough to eat. Try to help them find some food, and try to help them cope with the hunger.
b) Don't tell them "having a partner isn't everything". They're lonely and hungry for intimacy and companionship, and you, who regularly enjoy intimacy and companionship and may never even have known what it is to go without it for years, let alone a decade or more, are effectively telling them you think it's a non-issue that they're going without what you're enjoying. You're like someone with a mouthful of food and a full plate in front of you telling someone who hasn't eaten in a few days that food isn't everything.
c) If they complain about the lack of intimacy, don't tell them to just go out and get laid unless you know they're the type who are fine with hookups. Yes, some people can handle casual sex, but other people can't. Some people need to have a sense of genuine connection with another person in order to be intimate with them, and/or they can't bear being discarded afterwards. It's really insensitive to tell such a person to just go sleep with someone who'll probably just disappear on them afterwards or to "get over" such standards. If that's how they're wired, that's how they're wired.
d) Be careful, in general, not to give pat advice or pep talks that they don't need. If they have a dozen hobbies, don't tell them to get a new hobby. If they're already reasonably active and social, don't tell them to "they need to get out there". If your single friend is depressed or never seems to do anything but watch TV, *then* you might gently suggest/facilitate some self-care and new horizons.
e) Listen. Don't assume you have the answers to what may be an irresolvable problem. Don't assume that you know how they feel. Just listen, and then when you're reasonably sure you understand where they're coming from, you can perhaps trying weighing in with some realistic suggestions or comfort if you can think of any.
f) Keep in touch, and spend time with your single friends. Part of the reason it's so hard to be single is that so many partnered people cocoon into their relationships and don't bother nurturing their friendships with single people any more. I've had quite a few friends disappear completely on me once they got a partner, then come back like a bad penny once the relationship was over and expect me to support them through the breakup as though nothing had happened.
g) Introduce your single friends to other people in your life whenever you can -- they need to expand their social circles in order to increase their chances of meeting someone -- and maybe even try a little matchmaking if you can think of two single friends who would be a good fit and everyone's up for it. Setting people up on dates is actually easier than it used to be now that everyone's used to online dating, and sending both parties photos and online links pertaining to each other makes the date much less blind and awkward. Don't be at all pushy about it -- it's their choice. Don't take it personally if it doesn't work, and be willing to try again, although if you have tried a number of times and those whom you're trying to set up always seem repulsed by each other, maybe it's time to consider that you may not have the knack of figuring out who has a good chance of being compatible.;-)
posted by orange swan at 3:09 PM on January 2 [81 favorites]


I'm not a historian so this may be way off base, but this seems like a thoroughly modern problem, a pressure that people simply didn't put on themselves for most of Western history.
Or now we have the ability to hear other people's voices, like women's voices, and on top of that women have choices and agency that they were long not afforded. Just because it is a "modern" problem (whatever that is) doesn't mean it's not a problem.
posted by sockermom at 3:22 PM on January 2 [39 favorites]


I can't imagine people had quite the same expectations we do around finding a partner we think is great and sexy and who thinks we're great and sexy and who also makes a great roommate and coparent and primary source of emotional support, forever.
Are you really saying that wanting an actual partner as your partner is too high a bar? Because like, the older women I know, and even the women I know my age (35) -- our bars are fucking low. You could not limbo under them. I'm looking for someone who doesn't treat me like an object. I'm not looking for my best friend. I have that already and I don't need more friends. I need a partner. It is patriarchical nonsense to say that women's expectations are too high when we are mostly looking for men who don't hit us, call us names, or treat us like sex toys who also dispense meals. Because I hate to break it to you, that is where the bar is. And listening to the shit that my grandmother had to put up with would raise all of the hairs on the back of your neck straight up. Our expectations are not too high. They're probably still too low, to be honest.
posted by sockermom at 3:32 PM on January 2 [91 favorites]


re mrmurbles' comment to which sockermom is also replying....

i'm pretty sure that historically women in marriages arranged for political or economic reasons just hoped their husband didn't rape them, that they didn't die in childbirth, and that they didn't get syphilis or similar from their husband.

if their husband happened to be a decent human, then they were lucky.

Princess Margaret is on my mind from watching the crown recently. how different might her life had been had she been allowed to marry for love to Townsend.

my college professor is probably around 65 now remembers not being able to rent an apartment on her own nor get a credit card in her name after she had gotten her doctorate. In Colorado in the 60s. she had to have her dad sign for her. and she had to live in a boarding house because nice girls didn't have their own apartments. only prostitutes did.

i guess i should just be happy that i'm not married and pregnant to fulfill some kind of bilateral trade agreement. god forbid i want someone to comfort me or take me out to dinner for my birthday or rub my shoulders after a long day.
posted by sio42 at 3:43 PM on January 2 [34 favorites]


And so maybe with the collapse of the relationship system, we should start proposing a similar solution to the Basic Income system for workers facing an automated future. We could call it BD for Basic Dating: government assigned monthly or weekly dates or relationships.

If this means "Government assigns women to do bulk of emotional work and sexual satisfaction" I'm giving this a big fat NOPE. I just can't see how a patriarchal society would not fuck this idea up.

Yes, of course marriages were mostly arranged in the past, but that doesn't mean that people were necessarily happy, especially women. And in the Western European Marriage Pattern, a sizable number of people remained unmarried anyway.

I really think a good deal of the problem is that we are trying to do something that hasn't been tried before - egalitarian relationships based upon free choice. Without compelling people to be in relationships - whether because of patriarchy, family, or economics - we're in a lot of uncharted territory.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:45 PM on January 2 [14 favorites]


Orange swan, I’m sending your list of what not to say to single people to everyone I know. Thank you so much.
posted by Melismata at 3:47 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


Wow I just realized my college prof i mentioned is closer to 80. Holy hell time flies. But it was definitely the 60s when that happened to her.
posted by sio42 at 3:55 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


I've already thought of several more items that should have been on my list of things not to say to single people. I may need to do a blog post on the subject.
posted by orange swan at 3:58 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


orange swan, kudos on that comprehensive list! I'd like to expand on point f, about how coupled folks need to spend time with their friends.

Even with friends I've known for a very long time, I sometimes feel like I'm in a weird category, like a third space of hanging out. We spend solo time together, which is great, but I feel like I'm at the periphery of their social life, which is all about family and in-laws and kids and couple-y double dates (and there's nothing wrong with that, that's just where their life is at right now), and there's just no room for someone who's not also paired off. I don't think people in LTRs realize how isolating it can feel to their single friends to always be on the periphery in a sense, the puzzle piece that doesn't fit.

But on the other end of the spectrum, sometimes when attempting to make new friends with someone who is coupled, it can be annoying when they want to invite their spouse along to your hangouts. Like, it's cool and all that y'all apparently spend all your free time together, but your husband isn't actually all that interesting?

Ugh, societal expectations about coupledom being the norm make even friendship difficult.
posted by the thought-fox at 4:25 PM on January 2 [18 favorites]


I find it hard not to interpret all these singles/couples "misunderstandings" as part of primal sexual reproduction pecking order impulses. Lording your superior knowledge about relationships over your single friends is a prize you get to enjoy for having won the mating game. Third wheel phenomena are the same thing. Peck peck peck.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:33 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


Keep in touch, and spend time with your single friends. Part of the reason it's so hard to be single is that so many partnered people cocoon into their relationships and don't bother nurturing their friendships with single people any more. I've had quite a few friends disappear completely on me once they got a partner, then come back like a bad penny once the relationship was over and expect me to support them through the breakup as though nothing had happened.

THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS

sometimes i feel almost physical pain when i see other people touching and happy. i'm happy for them. but also i just hate that there's nothing i can do to fix that except depend on another person. (yes yes massages etc but it's not the same and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn't understand.)

THIS TOO THIS TOO THIS TOO THIS TOO
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 PM on January 2 [12 favorites]


And an other thing not to say to single people.
If your forever single friend just got their heart broken on a relationship that is not going to happen, do not assign less value to their pain and Hunger, than to a heartbreak of a coupled friend.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 4:48 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


We could call it BD for Basic Dating: government assigned monthly or weekly dates or relationships. We could also start blaming Capitalism for our relationship woes, if we aren't already.

If we're talking about future scenarios, I'm thinking capitalism will more likely present a substitute for relationships . There is a non-zero chance that AI/human relationships will be a real thing. I'm not talking about stupid manosphere comments about sex robots replacing women, but there's so much of our information, our thoughts, and our lives that are digitized and uploaded. We're also more reliant on technology to remind us about events, to build better habits, and to help us make decisions. And it looks like the recent trend of more friendly human interfaces like Siri and Alexa are not a gimmick, but something that will stick around. Combine all that with some programming of emotional support and human psychology and you have something that starts to resemble a companion.

(Or a Terminator)
posted by FJT at 4:50 PM on January 2


FJT, isn't there an anime about that?
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:52 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


FJT, isn't there an anime about that?

I've got some baaaaaaaad news for you on the "it's only in anime" front.
posted by deadaluspark at 4:56 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Yeah, this article hit hard. I think this is also a phenomena that's just going to keep getting worse as social media rules over our interactions.

I feel like being a young woman on dating websites or even on Facebook is akin to being on display at a meat market. My other female friends and I have standards like "won't treat me like an object" and "has good hygiene " for the men we date, but even those standards seem a bit high because so many average young guys honestly think they deserve an instagram model for a girlfriend. I feel washed up in my mid 20s. I thought getting to a size 0,having an okay face and being into hiking and video games might make me appealing, but since I lack lip fillers, an enthusiasm for casual sex and the ability to seem like I have no biology or needs, I'm not even worth a first date to most men my age,at least not without them acting like it's a favour on their part. They're looking for someone who's as uncomplicated and perfect as their Instagram profile.

On top of this I'm also a Kinsey 3.5 , but with fellow queer women seemingly gone into hiding and no lesbian bars left in North America, there's nothing for me on either end of the gender spectrum. I meet plenty of amazing attractive women online, but that's all there is as far as a community for lesbians/bisexuals and it just doesn't translate into relationships. There's seemingly less and less emphasis on gay women have real life communities and a misplaced hope that internet communities are an acceptable stand-in.

Basically shit's fucked and standards for what relationships look like are insane. See y'all on crone island. I give up.
posted by InkDrinker at 4:57 PM on January 2 [13 favorites]


Ugh, societal expectations about coupledom being the norm make even friendship difficult.

Yes, in the way described above. And the ways described in the article. And by too often mistaking what can be or really are solid friendships as potential/budding/disguised romances.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 4:59 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Great writing! It took a few years into dating to realize that it is normal and better to be single for a year or more, instead of forcing yourself to deal with "just OK"/incompatible people like the author tried. Nothing like tolerating a date when you probably could have more fun alone.

To everyone writing rules for couples to follow, thanks! It is only luck that has given me cool married friends. Many couples are uncomfortable with people who are not following the "lock them down, get married, move to the suburbs " program....
posted by Freecola at 5:04 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Are you really saying that wanting an actual partner as your partner is too high a bar

Uh, no. In fact, if you read my comment, what I said was: "And it's not that people shouldn't look for that if that's what they want. It's that there's a weird expectation that it happens for everyone and there's something wrong with you if it doesn't."

But I'll try to make my point another way.

In the past, marriage was basically socially and economically compulsory. The standard was "everyone gets married."

But now there's no reason to get married except for personal romantic fulfillment (or the remaining legal next of kind type issues). Which is great! Because it means a lot fewer people are trapped in unhappy or unsatisfying marriages (we know this because now that divorce is more socially and legally feasible, we see 50% of marriages end in it).

So what's good about now is that I'm less likely than I would have been 200 years ago to be trapped in a miserable, unsatisfying marriage. What's bad about now is that in holding out for a good marriage I'm subject to internal and external pressures about my personal worth, because we've changed the definition of marriage, we've set a higher bar for it, but we've retained our idea of it as something that everybody does.

And I say this as a 40 year old unmarried woman. Because what I've discovered is that it's one thing to be lonely and want someone in your life, and it's another thing to worry that there's just something inherently wrong with you that will prevent you from ever finding romantic fulfillment. But times when I've been single and unhappy about it (or partnered and unhappy about it) I've conflated the two. For me it's actually helpful to realize that there's nothing abnormal about being romantically unfulfilled -- it's just that most people used to be that way within the confines of marriage.
posted by mrmurbles at 5:09 PM on January 2 [22 favorites]


They're looking for someone who's as uncomplicated and perfect as their Instagram profile.

This is one of the most serious parts of the problem, and while it is not anywhere near as prevalent in women, it's not just a gender thing. As an overweight guy, I can't tell you how many overweight women refused to date me because I was "too fat." I've had girls who weren't exactly lookers themselves flat out tell me I'm ugly then block me on OKCupid, without me having said more than "Hello, how are you?"

Just, what?? Always seemed pretty hypocritical, but whatever. Like I said in my earlier post, it surely feels like people don't understand or care what kind of actual work a truly functioning interpersonal relationship takes. Which usually includes accepting the other person as a flawed human being who will never be perfect or a perfect fit for you. Nor will you be a perfect fit for them. At best, you communicate and work together towards common goals, and perhaps things will last a while, until they stop.

Also, serious question, do men get their own version of Crone Island?

I mean, I'll go, as long as it's in the Florida Keys and Margaritaville themed. A whole island of sad sacks in hawaiian shirts.
posted by deadaluspark at 5:13 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]


I find it hard not to interpret all these singles/couples "misunderstandings" as part of primal sexual reproduction pecking order impulses. Lording your superior knowledge about relationships over your single friends is a prize you get to enjoy for having won the mating game. Third wheel phenomena are the same thing. Peck peck peck.

Truth. We humans are animals; there's a tendency, on Metafilter and elsewhere, to dismiss our primal feelings and just blame everything on "society," "peer pressure," or what have you. Oh, you only want to get married because society tells you you should. You should try to find a boyfriend in high school because of peer pressure. You know what? It's not fucking peer pressure, it's my wiring. I want a boyfriend because we all wouldn't be here if I didn't want one.

I live in a very liberal feminist area (we had to write essays in 6th grade about how men were bad), and when I try to tell acquaintances how I cry at night sometimes due to loneliness, they look at me as if I have three heads and then proceed to complain about how their partner leaves his socks on the floor. It's gotten to the point where I need to skip Askme questions when the asker says something along the lines of "I'm having a total mental health crisis. I'm going literally crazy, and am not sure what to do. My partner is supportive, but..."

Thank you for this thread.
posted by Melismata at 5:19 PM on January 2 [9 favorites]


sometimes i feel almost physical pain when i see other people touching and happy. I'm happy for them. but also i just hate that there's nothing i can do to fix that except depend on another person.

Yes. I've done everything I can think of to find someone, short of plastic surgery or robbing a bank (assuming that wealth might help with desirability). I've dieted, exercised, gone on zillions of dates, gone to therapy, joined clubs, taken classes, gone to bars, gotten haircuts, amped up my dressing game, learned makeup, etc. For some reason, I'm just not the kind of person who finds relationships easily - I'm a little homely and awkward and have some issues trusting men and there's a much longer list of possibilities I won't get into now.

As a woman, I find it comforting that women do better when single than when married. Sometimes I think of all the awesome single women of history, like Louisa May Alcott, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth I, etc and for some reason that's kind of comforting.

Right now I have no space in my life for dating and no desire for it. When I look around me I don't see many partnerships that I envy. I'm able to pay my own bills and take care of myself and I love living alone. But at times I can't help but think how much I'm missing out on being touched.
posted by bunderful at 5:21 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


I do wish it were more normal for close friends to be physically affectionate—not even sexually. I have a few dear/close/intimate friendships I feel very strongly about that really fulfill me on a lot of levels. I would have probably no issue with being single forever if it were just a little more normal to be physically close or share a bed with one's friends more than circumstantially. I slept in the same bed as a good friend of mine once at a conference last year and it's a wonder how renewed that kind of warm, platonic touch can make you feel.

Of course I could theoretically ask my close friends about this, but because it's such an intimate sort of thing, I don't like to go for it unless there's a clear mutual enthusiasm. I have complicated feelings about gender that I'm sorting through but I definitely present as a man right now and most of my close friends are women, so I'm also sensitive to the way that just asking could be uncomfortable. I mean, like mentioned in TFA, that kind of touch can in some ways feel more intimate than sex, and I don't want to cross people's boundaries. But it feels a bit off kilter that it's often easier (and considered more normal) to find that kind of touch in near-strangers on Tinder than in dear friends.

On the subject: Clementine Ford has a good article about how men are frequently isolated from platonic touch because of toxic masculinity.
posted by Gymnopedist at 5:21 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


posted by deadaluspark: I mean, I'll go, as long as it's in the Florida Keys and Margaritaville themed. A whole island of sad sacks in hawaiian shirts.

You sir, have just described Key West. Well, except for the giant cities of tourists that come floating in every day to see the Hemingways, but if you can ignore the tourists...

posted by bunderful: But at times I can't help but think how much I'm missing out on being touched.

A relationship, or even marriage, is no guarantee of that either. Sadly.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:47 PM on January 2 [11 favorites]


Also, serious question, do men get their own version of Crone Island?

Whose permission are you asking, exactly?
posted by mcduff at 5:49 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the articles, they were really good reads. I find a lot of it resonates with me, because although I am in a relationship it is an LDR (almost 2.5 years now), my partner and I live on opposite sides of the world and we have never physically met in meatspace. There are various life reasons that mean although visits are definitely possible, one or both of us moving is not really something I can see happening. So while I have support, intimacy and companionship, I also have many of the same problems as the long-term single person. Especially that whole lack of touch thing. There have been times someone has accidentally touched me, or touched me innocently on the shoulder or something and I have wanted to just weep, because touch is so rare.

I've had long- and short-term relationships. I've had ones that were good but stopped working. I've had the cataclysmic relationships which completely transformed my life, and have worked to make those transformations into good things. I've had horrible relationships, and ones which never quite got going, and ones which ended with some sadness but also some relief because neither of us ever really intended it to be "forever". I even have some which have transitioned into friendships.

But before I met my current partner, the one who is not physically here with me, I had been single for two and a half years or so, and was not optimistic about my chances of that changing. Over 40, queer, fat, various things I won't go into that literally keep me from being out and about as much as everyone seems to think dating people should involve - yeah, it just seemed easier to convince myself I was better off alone. And yet I couldn't help feeling resentment or sourness every time I saw a couple holding hands, or doing that kiss of affirmation that couples always seem to do at the end of a film (watch for it next time you're at the movies; it's a weird thing). I didn't like the bitter, resigned person I was becoming. I worry that if things with my partner do not work out, I will go back to that bitterness, raining on everyone else's parade because of my own unhappiness.

But I guess that goes directly to this point from the article: "The only thing that alleviates the ache of solitude is showing up for yourself every day and taking a hand in all the little choices that make up your life." I'm not sure whether it's that I've never been very good at that or whether it's just not good enough for me, because I'm not wired that way.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:50 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


I was awful at dating. Just terrible. Didn’t lose my virginity until I was almost 24 and while I got a little - but not much - better at it after I got that out of the way, luck and timing (as the author wonders) played huge roles in how I met my wife, who I almost certainly would never have met at all if a) her apartment hadn’t been filled with house centipedes, b) she hadn’t decided to move out, c) she hadn’t happened to walk past a particular message board with d) a particular room for rent ad placed by one of my best friends that e) nobody else had rented yet and f) I hadn’t decided to cut a trip to Australia that was supposed to be up to a year long months short. And of course all of that would have been moot if g) her boyfriend at the time hadn’t broken up with her shortly before we wound up in the same apartment, where h) my friend was generous enough to let me couch surf for a while after I got back from Australia. Life is so random, especially at that age.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:05 PM on January 2 [4 favorites]


The truth of the matter is, some people get lucky and some don't. Some people aren't at all picky and mesh well with everyone and can get another person in about 2.5 seconds. Some people might not find true love until they're 40 or 51 or 67 or 97. And we hate to admit it, but some folks just are never, ever, ever gonna be able to get it. We're mutants at table nine. God doesn't want us to find anyone, we're just wrong human beings, we're too picky, whatever. God didn't want you to be with someone and there isn't anything you can do about it really. You're cursed, whatever. It's either okay or it's not okay, but it is not under your control to fix and all you can do is live life while hungry, waiting for your body to take the hint and no longer want food. I hit that point years ago so good for me, but December brought up this sort of thing again and made me crazy for a bit, reminding me of what I used to have for a brief time. It sucked to have to go back to "life is empty and this is not happening ever" again, but what else can I do? Nobody wants me that I can even slightly stand to kiss and I'm the world's pickiest asshole and haven't met someone it's going to work with in a really long time.

Being single flat out disturbs a lot of folks, and they feel better telling us some bullshit, or telling us we can only find true love as a reward for self actualization, never mind the assholes you know who have been happily married since age 18. How come I have to be perfect to "get" someone and those jerkasses got to be happy since their teens?

On a related note: after I read this article last night, I found some podcasts: Forever Alone? parts 1 and 2. In the first half, we meet a girl who hasn't had a boyfriend in 15 years and nobody can figure out a reason why. In the second half, the interviewer sets her up with a guy who becomes her boyfriend...except dude turns out to be an alcoholic and relapses. No happy endings here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:44 PM on January 2 [10 favorites]


If this means "Government assigns women to do bulk of emotional work and sexual satisfaction" I'm giving this a big fat NOPE. I just can't see how a patriarchal society would not fuck this idea up.

I'm sure it would work about as well as most proposals for basic guaranteed income. 😒

Seriously, it's mainly a riff on the similarties in descriptions between looking for relationships and looking for work. You can make a common progression of "lifetime support" to "serial and unsatisfactory", to "supported by government after most functions replaced by automation."

Yes, of course marriages were mostly arranged in the past, but that doesn't mean that people were necessarily happy, especially women. And in the Western European Marriage Pattern, a sizable number of people remained unmarried anyway.

True, and remember, we're massively over generalizing here- marriage arrangements, ability to divorce, and property rights varied tremendously, even in European history.

But even then, for a lot of them "love and companionship was a secondary concern.

I really think a good deal of the problem is that we are trying to do something that hasn't been tried before - egalitarian relationships based upon free choice. Without compelling people to be in relationships - whether because of patriarchy, family, or economics - we're in a lot of uncharted territory.

Right. The progression taken generally can be seen as "marriage as part of an extended family, necessary for economic survival and kids", introduction of romantic love and "nuclear family for economic stability, kids and companionship", to "multiple types of relationships for companionship". The natural progression seems to be "relationships regarded as unnecessary".
posted by happyroach at 7:11 PM on January 2


And women who stay single or get divorced are healthiest. Funny how the stat for men is always presented with great sorrow, and often, but the stat for women – I mean when have you ever heard it framed as "women who get married or live in long-term partnerships particularly suffer and live shorter lives"? Never. And yet the science shows it time and again. Like, we're waaaay healthier single.

I've known that statistic for years, but had never heard someone turn it on its head like that (much less thought of it myself). Being in a relationship is presented as so much the default option that it isn't easy to see some of those complications.

I'm in my 40's now, and I've wondered how, or if, I would go about dating if I were to be single again. I have single friends, and I can see how hard it is; I guess I would try online dating but it doesn't seem like something that would really play to my strengths.

It's a great essay, with a lot of acute observations. One that especially hit home to me was "How it’s so much more intimate to hold someone than it is to have sex with them," but there were so many others.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:14 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


Having married too young and then divorced over 20 years ago, I can understand and appreciate a lot of the comments above. But what amazes me is that in my period alone there have been people I've met that have undergone several marriages and divorces. And then there's the popular entertainers one reads about in People Magazine (or whatever people read today) proclaiming that #4 is "the one". From my far end of the bell curve, their end of the bell curve is on some other planet.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 7:16 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


I've known that statistic for years, but had never heard someone turn it on its head like that (much less thought of it myself).

Really? I can't remember which comedian it is, but there's definitely a riff on that in an old Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist episode, about how giving the woman the big diamond ring was up-front payment for the years of life he was about to suck out of her. It was absolutely in reference to this statistic.
posted by deadaluspark at 7:18 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


So many great comments here, and such relief that I'm not the only one. One of the particular frustrations of my current single status is that, since I became sober, I am undeniably in a better place personally, but my romantic life has dwindled to a handful of one-time dates scattered over the last six years or so. (A couple of them went well enough that I'm Facebook friends with the women, but that's about the extent of it.) The last serious romantic entanglement that I had commenced about six months before my second DUI, and ended the morning after same. So... I got my shit together and became physically and financially much more healthy than I've been in quite some time, and... nobody wants to be with me?

Well, if that's the way it's gonna be, then that's the way it's gonna be. The Serenity Prayer applies to just about anything. I think that I could still possibly get back in the game, but do I really want to? I think about the conversation that I had a year and change ago with my ex-wife (after fourteen years of no contact) and how differently she remembers the marriage from how I remember it, and that bit that SecretAgentSockpuppet said above about how a relationship or marriage is no guarantor of physical affection really rings true. (And AA meetings are good for free hugs.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:24 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]


I stayed in what I kept telling myself wasn't a terrible relationship for over 20 years because I figured, at 30, I was just being to damn picky and because so many comedians were making jokes about how being married always means offering your heart to another human and watching them turn it into a sort of pemmican.

I sooooooo wish that I'd have settled for being alone.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:28 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I just want to say thanks so much for this thread.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:32 PM on January 2 [6 favorites]


I grew up with a single mom after my dad died, and my mom never dated after he passed away so I've seen her live her life independently for the past 20+ years. Maybe that is why I have never felt a lot of pressure to get coupled up. I love my solitude so much, I love living alone and trying to conquer the world all on my own. The only times I get lonely are when I have to attend weddings, Christmas and other family events because at those times other people's values dominate the mindspace.

But once I get back home to my little nest, it only takes a few hours for all that to melt away because then I can just sink back into the heavenly bed of me-ness that pervades my apartment. I do date and have had a few good relationships, but they always feel somewhat suffocating. I think I was built this way.

I feel like the gifts the author got from investing in herself are incomparable to what relationships apparently provide. Women aren't as used to investing in themselves for the intrinsic value of developing as a human being. We feel so beholden to others that we think instead of growing our own personal power, our duty is to attach ourselves to men and make families so we can be of service. I am sure I don't understand it, not having children of my own, but something about this pressure to abandon oneself in favour of others is just so hard for me to stomach.

Anyways, thanks for posting article, I wish the author had gone a bit farther in interrogating the pressures she feels upon herself.
posted by winterportage at 7:45 PM on January 2 [28 favorites]


bunderful: But at times I can't help but think how much I'm missing out on being touched.

SecretAgentSockpuppet: A relationship, or even marriage, is no guarantee of that either. Sadly.


It's true. I miss (a little, at times) the fantasy of a relationship - being supported and accepted and loved and cuddled. But I'm not envious of 95% of the relationships I see. So many of my friends are smiling through gritted teeth while their partners just ... don't put in 50% or even 40%, and don't see that they're not. I couldn't live with that, and that's probably a big reason that I'm not married. I can feel my blood pressure rising at the very thought of someone assuming that I'll do the grocery shopping, or cover the laundry.
posted by bunderful at 7:59 PM on January 2 [16 favorites]


Like, we're waaaay healthier single.
Single since I was 26. I'm 42 now. Vibrating devices are usually better than the real thing and don't require leg shaving or dinner cooking or emotion management or ego fluffing or any of that. Just plug in and go. Literally the ONLY thing I miss about relationships are those rare times when I am sick and I have someone to beg to go get juice and tissues. But then I recall that the keyword is "beg" and that I have never dated anyone who independently went out to do such a thing on their own and I go back to being glad that I'm still single.
posted by xyzzy at 8:09 PM on January 2 [17 favorites]


One big thing I realized when talking to coupled friends about being single. . .

Maybe it is part of the ‘pecking order’ of ‘winning’ at finding a partner. But hiding behind what looks like smug happiness is a huge amount of FEAR. They are afraid, terrified, that they are going to be you one day. That their partner will leave or die and they will be Single again, but less able to cope than you because they are utterly dependent on this other person and it will be a huge shock. They truly want to believe everyone finds love no matter what because someday, they’re afraid it will be *them* needing to find a partner again.

It’s kind of like when you hear someone say to a terminally ill person that “I’m sure you’ll find a cure that works for you.” “Don’t give up!” Etc etc. The reality of death makes them afraid, so they say things to comfort *themselves* and not necessarily the other person. It sounds like their encouragement is meant with good intentions, but it all comes back to fear.
posted by ananci at 8:18 PM on January 2 [26 favorites]


Boy, it was REALLY interesting watching the Black Mirror "Hang the DJ" episode after reading this thread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]


I almost never mind being single, except when it's inconvenient. I have lots of friends, but I don't have a default person to depend on. It's hard to coordinate with friends and I don't like feeling like I'm imposing on someone. It's nice to have someone just take care of shit for you. Like, someone to research what kind of tires are best for my car. Or when I'm too sick to run to the store, so he does it and makes me soup. Or when I need help moving something heavy. There are so many situations where it'd be easier or more efficient to have two people. But no one would want to be that default person without an emotional connection, and it's just not worth it to me right now.
posted by AFABulous at 8:59 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]


> orange swan:
"One of these days I intend to write what I'm thinking of as an "anti-romance novel", about a woman who spends her entire life single (she'll have a few scattered failed relationships). I am so sick of the prevailing romantic narrative ("there's someone out there for everyone!"), of the fatuous happy endings, of the stupid romance plot tropes like the couple who gets engaged after spending an estimated six hours with each other, which never happens in real life, and of how meanwhile there's a near-total lack of stories about long-term singlehood, which is so common in real life. And just for good measure my anti-romance novel will also be a Edwardian adventure novel.

f) Keep in touch, and spend time with your single friends. Part of the reason it's so hard to be single is that so many partnered people cocoon into their relationships and don't bother nurturing their friendships with single people any more. I've had quite a few friends disappear completely on me once they got a partner, then come back like a bad penny once the relationship was over and expect me to support them through the breakup as though nothing had happened.

g) Introduce your single friends to other people in your life whenever you can -- they need to expand their social circles in order to increase their chances of meeting someone -- and maybe even try a little matchmaking if you can think of two single friends who would be a good fit and everyone's up for it. Setting people up on dates is actually easier than it used to be now that everyone's used to online dating, and sending both parties photos and online links pertaining to each other makes the date much less blind and awkward. Don't be at all pushy about it -- it's their choice. Don't take it personally if it doesn't work, and be willing to try again, although if you have tried a number of times and those whom you're trying to set up always seem repulsed by each other, maybe it's time to consider that you may not have the knack of figuring out who has a good chance of being compatible.;-)"


Good. As much as I loathe being single, it only makes it worse to hear all the love songs and see all the lovely romantic movies. I want someone to reassure me it is alright if I am not destined for the romance of the century. (Thought I had that, but now I am divorced.)

Wow. SO true. Can't count the number of times THAT has happened. If I had a nickel for every time one of a circle of friends has answered a query about a friend with "Oh, they've got a new partner", I could move into the Moonlite Bunny Ranch full time and never lack for someone to sleep with.

As much as I would love the chance to meet someone via friends (thus helping with prescreening and avoiding my ineluctable inability to choose potential partners to pursue), I tend to be the odd one out as far as interests and hobbies.
posted by Samizdata at 9:58 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


Relationships can be just as lonely. Maybe more so at times. Can be just as touchless, loveless, nothing to talk about, nothing in common. But there are Reasons why you can't separate. One of you has a chronic condition which requires the help of the other. No matter how unhappy you are, you are not going to be that asshole who abandons a partner when they're at their weakest or sickest.

The worst part is: you're miserable with them. And then you go off on a business trip by yourself for a couple of weeks, with tons of solitude in between the handful of meetings, and you find you're miserable alone too. There's no escape.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 11:38 PM on January 2 [13 favorites]


All of the comments pointing out that it's possible to be lonely, starved for intimacy, connection, and physical contact within a relationship are missing the point. No one sets out looking for a shitty relationship. What they're expressing is the yearning for things that are basic human needs, and that are, de facto, largely inaccessible outside of romantic partnerships. The fact that many romantic partnerships are poor quality or even harmful to the people in them doesn't take away the fact that for most of us finding someone who is willing to give it a go and partner up with us is a necessary (but insufficient) condition for achieving those goods.

Since we're talking human beings, there are individual differences in how strongly people experience these needs. Just as there are some people who seem sanguine about guzzling soylent for every meal, some people don't experience the kind of excruciating lack the author describes in the original articles. But many of us do. I feel that leaning too hard on horror stories about bad relationships is a bit like telling a starving person that it could be worse since, after all, they could be starving and also on fire.

There are clearly some for whom close friendships, hobbies, nights out at the pub, and masturbation are a way of fully and satisfyingly meeting their human needs. Those who don't find this an adequate substitution, though, are left sorrowfully casting about for comfort and relief. It can be a hard thing, slowly coming to realize that your life might just be, in this respect, an unredeemed tragedy.
posted by informavore at 3:52 AM on January 3 [29 favorites]


Amen, informavore!

And women who stay single or get divorced are healthiest. Funny how the stat for men is always presented with great sorrow, and often, but the stat for women – I mean when have you ever heard it framed as "women who get married or live in long-term partnerships particularly suffer and live shorter lives"? Never. And yet the science shows it time and again. Like, we're waaaay healthier single.

Proof that anyone can come up with a study about anything. What? I can't even. You know how I'm going to die someday? I'll be crying due to loneliness while driving, and my reaction time won't be good enough.

So... I got my shit together and became physically and financially much more healthy than I've been in quite some time, and... nobody wants to be with me?

Human beings are so random, aren't they. I never ever drink, and the only two real boyfriends I've had (over 25 years ago) were dealing with substance issues, and were attracted to me due to my stability, or something.
posted by Melismata at 4:38 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


One of the reasons I felt such great relief reading this thread is that most discussions of being single that I've read on the internet are about choosing to be single and being happy with that choice. It has always seemed to me that what most baffles my coupled friends is that they assume that if you really want something, you get it. So I must not want to be in a relationship. It's absolutely impossible to discuss the pain of being single with anyone I know. A lot of my friends and family even assume I must be confused about my sexuality, which... I'm not.

Like the writer of the first essay, I always thought there was just one weird trick that would change everything.
posted by maggiemaggie at 4:45 AM on January 3 [9 favorites]



Also, serious question, do men get their own version of Crone Island?


Whose permission are you asking, exactly?
not sure, if we're talking about the metaphorical island or the Slack community but in case it's the latter: huglife.slack.com

disclaimer: it's been rather dormant for the last year or so. Critical mass for conversation and community has been difficult to maintain, but that shouldn't stop people from trying to revive it.
posted by bl1nk at 5:21 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I met and married in my late thirties/early forties, and we've been together for 15 years. I love him, I love having someone to depend on, my family loves him. Still, if he died or we got divorced, I would NEVER willingly live with another man.

My darling husband whom I love is very often a fucking chore. Ego-fluffing, having sex I have no interest in (thanks menopause), listening to him tell me things I disagree with 100% because it's not worth the argument, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, watching the explosion-filled movies, taking his clothes out of the dryer - nope. I lived alone before I met him and I would go right back to it, with glee.

ETA that I see I didn't address the topic, but vented instead. My apologies. It's been a rough winter.
posted by corvikate at 6:50 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]



I'm mostly the single that has grown to being okay or maybe it's just resigned to being single. I have things I like doing, am generally content about it and although I'm not against the idea of finding a partner I don't actively seek it out or think about it much. That's most of the time. Then there is days like today where it's become obvious my elderly dog is declining fast, I have a vet appointment this afternoon which I may not be able to get her too because of the weather and I'm not sure what I'm gonna do if I can't, I know in the pit of my stomach that something is really wrong and decision time is looming and I have a job interview tomorrow for a job that I not only want but really need. Right now I miss having that intimate someone that I can lean on and that I don't feel like I'm putting out.

I know I can get through this. I'm strong but gawd is it nice to not always having to take care of bad and hard shit on your own. Even if it's just having a shoulder that you don't feel bad crying on. Know what I mean?
posted by Jalliah at 7:00 AM on January 3 [21 favorites]


Is that a pen name because being named “Aimée” (loved) and writing this article seems harsh.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:27 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


“The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren’t and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why.”
-Kurt Vonnegut


This kinda makes me mad because Vonnegut was asserting no prediction for an individual can be addressed by Harvard, that he also called the Ruling Class' Polytechnic. But Vonnegut certainly expressed and iterated the naturalism of Stephen Crane and Red Badge of Courage that eliminates any narrative of bravery for how any individual escapes alive because Vonnegut survived "the last moral war" as he put it. Or to quote a movie that consciously addresses the facts and fictions of exceptional outlaws and authority and its reportage, "I've always been lucky in the order," and "Deserve's got nothing to do with it," Unforgiven(1992)

Because probability and desired outcomes are richly described by aggregate and outlier. The premise of this FPP is facile in respect of an individual because some number will most certainly be so "unlucky"-- it is a certainty.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:37 AM on January 3


Aw man, hang in there, Jalliah. Sending good thoughts your way. I wish there were some way to make this confluence of events easier. I'm sorry it's this hard!

informavore, I also hear what you're saying here.

I feel that leaning too hard on horror stories about bad relationships is a bit like telling a starving person that it could be worse since, after all, they could be starving and also on fire.

I guess for me it's more saying, I empathize? I'm starving and also on fire, and I'm not saying it's OK for you to be starving, or that you should like starving because it could be worse. I'm saying, I understand your pain, and I'm sorry it hurts, and I wish I had better answers for all of us. I get how it could seem otherwise, but that's what I meant, at least. I'm empathizing with the ridiculousness and pain and loneliness too many of us go through as humans, whether we're single or with someone. Fair enough? To me, part of the point is that coupledom and singledom aren't the discrete states we so often make them out to be, where one is inevitably difficult but happy or something and the other is difficult but unhappy or something, or where one necessarily means we're all alone and the other means we're not, or where one means we're further along in life and one doesn't. I don't think any of this is that simple.

My husband and I have been dog-sitting this week, and his illnesses have been flaring up, so I've ended up doing most of the work. And one thought was basically that as lovely as this dog is, if we got a dog, its care and socialization would largely be on me. He would be a fallback—and per your comment, Jalliah, I know how privileged that makes me, to at least have the possibility of help if I really need it. But it also means that we probably won't end up getting a dog, as much as we both might love to and it might be good for us, 'cause I see how hard this could get. And I think I would resent his enjoyment of and relationship with any dog we might get if he weren't partnering with me on its care and putting in the work and respecting and backing me up on my decisions with regard to its health and training. I'm just not that selfless. As I was taking over his shift with the dog yesterday, when he wasn't up for it, I reflected on how some single parents say they find one thing easier, which is that they're not waiting for someone they can't rely on to step up and fulfill their promises, at least not as often. So there's that. As is often the case, thoughts and discussions about pets are of course also a proxy for trains of thought about other future plans or lack thereof.

Anyway, being human sucks a lot sometimes, and I'm sorry it's this hard. I'm sorry if my comments make it feel worse for anyone.
posted by limeonaire at 7:37 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


meanwhile there's a near-total lack of stories about long-term singlehood, which is so common in real life.

I can only think of one, or rather only one positive one -- the Miss Read series. Miss Read resists all attempts to be set up and rejoices in being single in pretty much every book.
posted by JanetLand at 7:43 AM on January 3


Jalliah, I hope you get through the day with a little bit of luck. Not being able to get around because of the weather makes everything so much worse.

All this advice about relationships reminds me of a lot of the money advice that's out there. So much of it seems to be about how if you have the right frame of mind about money it will work out, or work out better. The crash of 2008/9 doesn't seem to have stopped it, or maybe it's even worse. If you don't have money, choices you have made have probably contributed to that but so has the position you are in because of all kinds of factors. And you are not going to make it better by having a different attitude. Expecting that is just going to make you feel worse.
posted by BibiRose at 7:56 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I'm a lonely bitter old man but... Humans spend much of their time connecting with other people. In most situations you can find love. It may not be canonical partnered love but if you learn to appreciate the joy of being with people loneliness won't necessarily go away but you will experience love. If your goal is to build a relationship that has the form that every one tells love looks like, then you've set yourself a different and probably more complex goal that just finding love or lessening your loneliness.

It seems like every year society get better at manufacturing loneliness and alienation but as society does that genuine emotional connections become rarer and more valued. Go out to dinner with friends. Sleep with random people. Party. Sit around with strangers playing boring board games. While you're doing all that pay attention to the people around you and love them. Some of that love will come back.
posted by rdr at 8:05 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


JanetLand--just added the first Miss Read book to my reading list!

As a single person, I put a lot of emotional and physical energy into being the loyal, dependent friend. The one who is reliable, the one who should be called in an emergency, the one who is willing to listen about familial issues (though usually friend's don't discuss romantic/partner issues with me). I don't have a go-to person for every emergency and a lot of my small needs (like when I'm sick, and I just want someone to thoughtfully make me dinner and tell me to go to bed early) aren't met, but I feel like I do have people I can really lean on in times that aren't true emergencies, but wouldn't be relevant/stressful if I had a partner. Things like letting the dog out for me around dinnertime on days I'm going to be working through the night on project that I can't leave for an extended period of time. Actually, all the scenarios I can think of relate to the dog. I trade pet sitting etc favors with a lot of married/partnered friends, but I rely on them much more heavily than they rely on me simply because they have a partner.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 8:08 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I'm a lonely bitter old man but... Humans spend much of their time connecting with other people. In most situations you can find love. It may not be canonical partnered love but if you learn to appreciate the joy of being with people loneliness won't necessarily go away but you will experience love. If your goal is to build a relationship that has the form that every one tells love looks like, then you've set yourself a different and probably more complex goal that just finding love or lessening your loneliness.

Yeah, so, this is exactly the kind of not-helpful thing that "single but pretty much wish it were otherwise" people hate because it comes across as being a fancied-up way of saying "your standards are just too high".

Also consider - even if our goal is the somewhat-less-complex "I want a decent amount of sex with someone I can at least enjoy hanging out with", there is a double standard when it comes to whether you're a woman who is seeking that outside of a conventional relationship, or you are a man seeking it outside of a conventinoal relationship. I happen to be a woman who digs sex, but I don't dig the slut-shaming I'd be getting if I got into the "hookup culture".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:32 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


If I'm your friend and you're feeling that kind of loneliness, please tell me, I will hug you and stroke your hair and rub your shoulders and platonically cuddle on the couch and sleep in the same bed with you.

One of my favorite poems:

The Abandoned Valley by Jack Gilbert

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:24 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


Dating in the age of tinder sounds exhausting. I am glad my dating years ended before that became the norm.

Can we add this to the list of things never to say to single people? I mean, my friend just had intense oral surgery today. I didn't respond to the news by telling her all about how scary surgery is and how relieved I am to not have to have surgery and it sounds so terrible and MRSA is a huge problem and I'm just so lucky not to be in her situation.

Similarly, when I had to make an unexpected purchase on Christmas Eve, I didn't tell the people working in the store that I was SOOO relieved not to have to work on Christmas Eve, and it seems so unfair that some people have to, and I would just be a mess if I couldn't spend Christmas Eve with my family and drinking hot chocolate.

When people are discussing their pain, popping in with "that sounds terrible, glad I don't have to deal with it!!" is rarely a good impulse.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:44 AM on January 3 [43 favorites]


I should add, I was one of those people who believed, heck still WANTS to believe, in capital-L Love that is true and eternal and perfect and powerful. But I learned that no matter how much you may Love someone, it does not mean they'll Love, or even love, you back. Even if they may claim to Love you, for a while, they can decide they don't anymore, and "Love is eternal" just doesn't jive with that. I am so messed up by my view of Love that I only found one Love and when he left, it has been very hard to be 'unfaithful' to my own idea of Love. I feel a lot like a true Christian who is seriously doubting their faith, objectively realizes they were wrong, but still hopes like hell that Jesus will show up one day and tell them they were right all along. It makes for great drama and poetry but it's a shitty way to live.
posted by The otter lady at 9:52 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


A complete asshole I wasted a year of my life on immediately after my marriage ended in 2012 said (in a 'people tell you who they are/ listen to them' moment) that people dating in middle age are 'addicts, losers and/or social weirdos.' Well, he is all three and his addiction is internet dating sites which he patrols closely for newly single women who look like his ex long term partner - yogi, blonde, curls, tans. He gains several hundred new Facebook friends a year all over the world from his addiction and in all cases he presents himself as the amazing caring gardener and hippy with a string of bad luck. And he just slowly dances his way through the same steps - chase, layer on 'deep' conversations' and the negging, dismissing, overt cheating and public repudiation - time after time. He's serially engaged, he's serially victimised and has to delete all evidence that these fiancées ever existed. I'm almost addicted to watching it unfold online and I can't unfriend him as a result.

I couldn't believe the triad of dysfunction he said attended dating in middle age. I hate that it even exists as a notion. Yet, I'm feeling more and more that I have slid that way myself. What are my addictions and weirdnesses as I age? I feel like single life and loneliness has done a number on my life and headspace. I was smoking again until recently. I have to remind myself not to drink before 5pm. I am anxious more than not. Sometimes the news on tv makes me deeply tearful and upset. I occasionally feel my public self is a brittle facade concealing a misanthropy that scares me, and that I only truly love my animals. I'm in a friendship group in which we talk about this stuff a lot. We laugh about it and do some faux reporting of our sinful misanthropy to the group (yay friends) yet occasionally a long term coupled person we know will sneer and make us all feel terrible. We end up calling each other late at night to wonder if that person was right, are we too far along the track of our middle years craziness, or I dunno, menopause. Are our weirdnesses getting out of hand and do we need more help keeping each other on some kind of square social track where we are Great People and 'catches' - and yet none of us looks for anyone. I'm like athaniesiel above, having a LDR where I see my lover a few months a year. It's all I can seem to manage of being up close and intimate with someone else's addictions or weirdnesses.

(I have to say though, that coupled people accept a helluva lot of crazy weird shit from each other. I guess they don't care as long as they can tell themselves they aren't lonely.)
posted by honey-barbara at 10:08 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


For most of Western history marriage was a primarily social and economic institution. Various people at various times had varying expectations about how much romantic love would be a factor in their marriages, but in a world where marriage was literally a job for women, literally the thing that kept a roof over their heads and food on their plates, and where divorce was socially and legally difficult to impossible, I can't imagine people had quite the same expectations we do around finding a partner we think is great and sexy and who thinks we're great and sexy and who also makes a great roommate and coparent and primary source of emotional support, forever. I just can't imagine that most people's marriages, circa 1000-1960, were like that, so I can't imagine that it's what most people expected to happen.

I agree with you in substance, but I disagree with this framing, because it focuses on how things have changed for women instead of for men, which is the opposite of my experience (and that of every woman I know). Most single women in their 30s that I know are in a sort of Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice position: if they could find a Mr. Collins, they would probably take him! Not vicious, unlikely to beat or rape you, conceited and petty but with limited ability to do real harm, happy to let his wife do her own thing 90% of the time, gaining access to structural cultural support and the ability to have a family? That’s the dream. I don’t know anyone who seriously thinks they should spend their lives holding out for a Darcy.

The difference I see between the modern paradigm and the historical model of marriage is that every dude we meet seems to want a pornographic Princess Peach— you won the game, and now you’re rewarded with a hot girl! Not a potential business partner (which would be more historically accurate— it wasn’t until the 19th century that women were forcibly divorced from the family’s finances), not an ally as you face larger antagonistic forces (feudalism, enclosure acts, factory shutdowns, strikebreaking), not someone with muscular shoulders and soft hands to help during the calving season, not even someone who makes the best pie, anymore. Hot face, hot body, and never disagreeing with men’s preferences or choices under any circumstances: these are the standards that that crop up again and again, in men I meet, in the men my female friends meet (and date), in AskMe questions, on r/relationships, in Ask Prudence, anywhere you look.

It isn’t that women can’t be terrible too (they obviously can)— but that the baseline of what the majority of men and women view as the bare minimum seem so totally opposite.

“I want to meet someone who won’t hurt me and who I can probably count on if the basement floods” is not that far removed from a foremother’s goal of “I hope I am wed to a village boy who will not beat me senseless and who knows how to plow a field.” The difference I experience is that once upon a time, most village boys were hoping to marry a woman who was good at churning and maybe also had a sweet smile, even if her cheeks were scarred with smallpox. “I deserve a flawless pornstar who will not work but who will not rely on me for income or ever ask me to change” is a much more ahistorical desire than “please don’t hurt me more than I can stand.”

(Men of Metafilter: I'm sure this doesn't describe you. But in the aggregate, the men that most women meet in online dating are usually much closer to Robert from "Cat Person" than any of you.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:11 AM on January 3 [23 favorites]


If I'm your friend and you're feeling that kind of loneliness, please tell me, I will hug you and stroke your hair and rub your shoulders and platonically cuddle on the couch and sleep in the same bed with you.

I wish it were easier to find such people. So many lovely things like this (and caring for someone while sick, and making meals together, and the general tenderness of looking after someone and having someone look after you) are tied up with coupledom, and you miss out on it if you are single by choice or by circumstance.
posted by mochapickle at 10:13 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


sometimes i feel almost physical pain when i see other people touching and happy. i'm happy for them. but also i just hate that there's nothing i can do to fix that except depend on another person. (yes yes massages etc but it's not the same and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn't understand.)

I am not a super touchy person but physical closeness is something I really missed after I moved to the US. In South America, hugging, holding hands, just holding someone in general (or intertwining arms while you walk) is acceptable not just in couples but with friends and family (although guys may have to go to female friends or relatives for anything beyond hugging because fragile masculinity).

Part of me appreciates the respect for personal space people have here, but I am sure I would feel desperately lonely if I didn't have my husband and other immigrant friends and relatives to hug and kiss. It's really comforting and it doesn't have to be sexual at all.
posted by Tarumba at 10:38 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


> fiercecupcake:
"If I'm your friend and you're feeling that kind of loneliness, please tell me, I will hug you and stroke your hair and rub your shoulders and platonically cuddle on the couch and sleep in the same bed with you.

One of my favorite poems:

The Abandoned Valley by Jack Gilbert

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?"


GAWD! I have been single for over 5 years, and divorced for over 10, and I STILL have problems with adapting to sleeping (just sleeping) alone.
posted by Samizdata at 10:43 AM on January 3


There are probably a millions discussion like this on the web, but this one stands about. Thank you for posting.
posted by 4midori at 11:10 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I know that my first comment in here was about trying to soldier on with being single, but this is giving me a chance to vent.

Of the myriad things that frustrate me: I actually am on OKCupid, and now and then I take a stroll and browse the guys, see a few I like. I then "like" them. sometimes they've already "liked" me back.

Sometimes, too, I even send a message.

And then 90% of the time, nothing happens after that. As for the remaining 10% -if they write back, it's a one or two-line response, that gives me absolutely nothing to hang a second conversational volley back on. So I can't do anything further.

And yet somehow people say I'm not the one doing enough.

Single guys! *Learn* *how to write* *emails!*
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


his addiction is internet dating sites which he patrols closely for newly single women who look like his ex long term partner - yogi, blonde, curls, tans. He gains several hundred new Facebook friends a year all over the world from his addiction and in all cases he presents himself as the amazing caring gardener and hippy with a string of bad luck. And he just slowly dances his way through the same steps - chase, layer on 'deep' conversations' and the negging, dismissing, overt cheating and public repudiation - time after time. He's serially engaged, he's serially victimised and has to delete all evidence that these fiancées ever existed. I'm almost addicted to watching it unfold online and I can't unfriend him as a result.

Oh god there's more than one of these insane people? Definitely knew someone who did/does essentially this, only with different hobbies and a different type in mind. I'm sorry you went through that. Yet believe me when I say it is somehow comforting in the weirdest way to hear that there's some sort of bizarre archetypal pattern of man who does this sort of thing. What do you even call this? Sociopathy, perhaps? But this specific type of online dating– and social media–enabled sociopathy is, I feel like, a thing that has only emerged relatively recently. I am equally fascinated and horrified by it.
posted by limeonaire at 11:44 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


As for the remaining 10% -if they write back, it's a one or two-line response, that gives me absolutely nothing to hang a second conversational volley back on. So I can't do anything further.

EmpressCallipygos, you are not the only one. Just last night I had a "conversation" with a man on OKC. He was the one who emailed first but managed to make it through an 11 message exchange without ever writing a question or showing any interest in me. It was a series of me asking a question about him, his answer about him, my response to his answer about him, then more about him.

His profile lists "curiosity" as one of the six things he could never do without. Silly me. I thought he meant his own curiosity, not women being curious about him.
posted by mcduff at 11:53 AM on January 3 [14 favorites]


I stopped using dating sites awhile ago. I'm not conventionally attractive, so I rarely got responses to my messages. I did, however, get a lot of interest from couples looking for a threesome, 40 year old men who had never had a job, people I know who wanted to say hi (UGH. NOT THE PLACE), and dudes who seemed only able to type "lol" or "sup."
posted by Stonkle at 12:12 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Ego-fluffing, having sex I have no interest in (thanks menopause),

Not to pick on you corvikate (I know you were just venting), but people complaining how they Just Don't Want Sex Anymore With Their Partner is yet another thing that makes us long-term, miserably single people insane. It seems like almost every day there's a mainstream advice column somewhere where there's a letter saying "My spouse doesn't want sex anymore, but I do! Help!" And it takes a lot of effort to not shout BOO FUCKING HOO out loud at the screen.

Single guys! *Learn* *how to write* *emails!*"

Yup. The day I left JDate for good was several years ago, after a conversation with a guy who literally couldn't say anything besides "I dunno" and "I'm bored." What did you want from me, exactly? Ah, right, all that emotional labor...(My cousin just successfully met someone there, and he's giving me these creepy vibes, argh.)

I stopped using dating sites awhile ago. I'm not conventionally attractive, so I rarely got responses to my messages. I did, however, get a lot of interest from couples looking for a threesome, 40 year old men who had never had a job, people I know who wanted to say hi (UGH. NOT THE PLACE), and dudes who seemed only able to type "lol" or "sup."

Same here, Stonkle. My first online dating experience was in college, on a university VAX system, and the guy still holds the record for being the worst kisser ever. And it hasn't changed since then. But it's baffling: I know more than one person, including a few mefites, who have gone onto mainstream dating sites, dated four or five people, and the fifth person was The One. How does that work?? I asked those people. I dunno, they said, I just looked for someone compatible and there they were. So, online dating is a thing that works. And according to this article and all my close friends and family and former therapist, I'm not doing anything wrong. So, what is it then? It's times like that when I become convinced that there's some higher power involved, perhaps cursed as EmpressCallipygos said.
posted by Melismata at 12:35 PM on January 3


Not to pick on you corvikate (I know you were just venting), but people complaining how they Just Don't Want Sex Anymore With Their Partner is yet another thing that makes us long-term, miserably single people insane.

And suggesting the lack of libido is from menopause didn't help either becuase I'm going through that state and my libido is still definitely there and that is part of my damn problem
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


Me too EmpressCallipygos!
posted by Melismata at 12:47 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


And women who stay single or get divorced are healthiest. Funny how the stat for men is always presented with great sorrow, and often, but the stat for women – I mean when have you ever heard it framed as "women who get married or live in long-term partnerships particularly suffer and live shorter lives"? Never. And yet the science shows it time and again. Like, we're waaaay healthier single.

Before everyone starts spouting this as some un-nuanced fact, please take time to read the actual study, in which you'll find that this comment is simply untrue. Whether marriage or divorce negatively or positively is a messy, complicated thing, and it is certainly not the case the "science shows it time and again."

For example, this study (which is an interesting one), did find that women who got married gained more weight than unmarried women - but the average weight gain was 2 pounds. Furthermore, this study found different findings than previous studies possibly to to age (everyone in this study was post-menopausal) and time course (three years is very short) - for example, other studies have found that the weight loss in divorced women disappears if you follow them for 15 years.

Also, this study reported lots of p-values but no effect sizes (likely because they are, as in the weight gain case, small). They also measured psycho-social things, some of which appear to become worse with divorce or remaining single, but did not include them in their modeling, as far as I can tell, for some reason.

These are interesting studies but lets please fucking read the article and not just turn these into silly headlines like "x are healthier than y." It's super misleading.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:57 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


One thing that drives me crazy is that the advice people give is so contradictory. For example:

"You should build a complete life all on your own otherwise you will seem needy and that's not attractive."
-- and --
"Your life is too complete. There's no room for a significant other."

OR

"You are trying too hard. Don't go into situations looking for available men."
-- and --
"You really need to put yourself out there and be open to meeting people. Always look your best."

OR

"Don't go on first dates expecting anything, pretend it's just a meaningless meeting over coffee with a new person. Don't invest anything in it."
-- and --
"When you go on first dates, act like you are going to meet someone you are really going to like. Get excited about it. Wear sexy underwear! Shave all the parts!"
posted by mcduff at 1:01 PM on January 3 [15 favorites]


Just now I was starting to reread the Complete Stories of Dorothy Parker for the eight hundredth time. In the introduction, Regina Barreca says, "On a bad day it's not hard to dream up a conspiracy plot which demands that ... women who don't act nicely get left alone." It seemed apposite to this thread, and to the inner struggle of a woman who feels that putting up with patriarchal nonsense should not be a tradeoff for a partnered life.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:26 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Part of the issue with talking about this to people who aren't in the same boat as oneself is that, even if they are fully sympathetic, their understanding of your problems is built on an entirely theoretical framework. Most people will have past experience of being lonely to draw upon, but that is quite different from being isolated. The comment above about having to skip certain AskMe questions in the vein of "I feel so alone and my partner sympathizes, but..." really resonated with me. I always feel like a bad person when I get annoyed at another person's genuine distress, just because they enjoy supports I can only dream of and don't get caught up in the same barriers I face daily.

I suppose that's why this thread has been rather depressing for me. I am currently in the beginning phase of "doing everything" to build a fully autonomous self-actualized life by myself. It's bittersweet to know that all this effort and anguish I'm putting myself through might ultimately end with a certificate of self-acceptance. The real love I wanted was inside me all along? Gee, thanks! Wait till I tell the friends I made along the way! Oh right, they're all married to each other.

That said, I'm glad this thread is proving helpful to people. It's certainly been heartening to hear that feelings I've had have been experienced by others. I don't know how many of you are here because you are, like myself, on the autism spectrum and/or have a mental illness diagnosis list the size of their arm, but regardless I truly understand how you feel, on a deep visceral level.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 3:55 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


I have been single far more often than not in my life - for 8 years at a stretch, at least, depending on the definition, maybe for even longer stretches, and also been in a variety of very different kinds of relationships. I have so much sympathy for those who are unhappy with with their singleness. My reaction to reading this is to want to give everyone in this thread a hug, and I often have this strange impulse to (if possible in some multiverse) be a good partner to multiple I know of, both male and female, despite how crazy that sounds, an impulse that has led me astray several times in the past.

I've had the view that a maintaining a relationship was not much different to a corporate job -
you need to always regulate your emotional response even in the face of unfair circumstance, perform services and receive compensation in return on a consistent basis over a 40 year career where the nature of your needs and the needs of your business partner are constantly evolving, do it well and you have a pretty good chance of a mutually beneficial outcome. It's absolutely a skill you cultivate and then get better at, and I believe I could (and have been) happy with a wide selection of people I know, like I could have had a fulfilling career at many major corporations in the country.

I've always joked that I would marry for political and economic purposes, not love, or do something like sell my "citizenship" on those communities where relatively rich people from 3rd world countries desperate for residence would pay $30,000 or something to marry you and then slowly migrate their extended family across over the next decade...

I acknowledge a lot of this comes from speaking from a position of privilege: due to my socioeconomic position, I have the luxury of picking and choosing the people and community I associate with and I'd like to think I have a good sense of people who are fundamentally "good", just like my "choice" of jobs is constrained within certain bounds that ensure I wouldn't almost never get one that is particularly crappy.

I guess from a corporate perspective we can have laws that say, you need to treat your employees well (certain legal rights, minimum wage, unions) and improve everyone's lives, but the effort to educate and train people to be better HUMAN BEINGS so they can be worthy partners to others, I really really wish that is something we could do as well as a society.
posted by xdvesper at 4:26 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I guess from a corporate perspective we can have laws that say, you need to treat your employees well (certain legal rights, minimum wage, unions) and improve everyone's lives, but the effort to educate and train people to be better HUMAN BEINGS so they can be worthy partners to others, I really really wish that is something we could do as well as a society.

I hate to say it, but to do that, you've first gotta break out of the corporate paradigm, because it has no intent to allow any of us to have enough time to ourselves to actually give our relationships the amount of work, effort, and patience they need. No, job for corporate first, personal life second, and if you can't accept that, well get out of here , you should feel lucky to have a job at all!

To be able to build better human beings, you have to cut corporations out of the picture entirely (or at least regulate them to the extent that people can actually function without the majority of the country being in abject poverty.).

Most corporations goals are to create better workers who won't complain or question or want to have a voice in the workplace, but just put their heads down and get work done. They don't give a damn about creating better human beings.

Sorry, looking at basic human relationships through a corporate lens honestly couldn't make me more pissed off. It's the one major thing that has DEHUMANIZED me in my life, corporations. Treating me as a line item, not a person. Treating me like my personal life doesn't matter, and if I'm troubled because of loss in my life, well, tough shit, get back to work. (See: Amazon.)

In other words, just.... No.
posted by deadaluspark at 1:44 PM on January 4 [4 favorites]


And for those of you who might be thinking that there's always a happy ending and "well, look at all these awesome single people on awesome Metafilter, why don't some of them get together?", well, let's see. 10 years ago, I went to several meetups (I even organized one), and did not meet anyone. I also watched two people outside my age range get together and start dating. Also around that time, one Mefite pursued me persistently (I ignored a couple of red flags in the name of all those external voices yelling don't be picky!), and we went out several times, but he was just too needy and weird, and was looking for someone with nursing skills, which is so not me. (He was later banned from Metafilter for trolling.) That's all I'm good enough for, I guess. Yup, definitely a curse or a higher power or something.
posted by Melismata at 1:52 PM on January 4 [3 favorites]


Quoted for truth:

"before blaming others, think: whats the 1 constant in all your failed relationships? its that cursed egyptian amulet why do u even have that"
posted by ananci at 4:15 PM on January 4 [16 favorites]


I think it's just so hard for some of us to meet and mesh. It's not like I don't know attractive, nice dudes that I meet in places that I'd like to meet people at, but they don't want me whatsoever. I'm average looks at best, so that's fair, I suppose. I know I can't be picky, but.... as for the few dudes who have wanted me, I really don't want to date someone who's old enough to be my father and likes to be creepy and to lord it over me about how "experienced" he is, which seems to translate into "I can tell her any ol' bullcrap and she's too young and dumb to know better." The Venn diagram of overlap is nonexistent.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:09 PM on January 4 [6 favorites]


Going back to the coupled friend that doesn't want to hear about your single-life problems: Sometimes it's not fear or whatever. Sometimes you just feel like talking about relationships or their lack thereof is like rubbing it in the person's face. I've never been single as an adult while my best friend has been more single than not. We talk about it, because we are best friends and we can, but I always have this feeling in the back of my head that anything I say is just rubbing it in.

Not saying there aren't clueless people out there who absolutely do it for reasons mentioned above, but some of us are just really self conscious about the ways we've been lucky.

(Thank you for the tips for coupled friends of singe people. I'd like to think we are a really good couple for 3rd wheels, probably because in general we don't have many friends so each one gets alot of attention; and my friend and I have always been affectionate, but I will definitely start trying to up my game)
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:13 AM on January 9 [2 favorites]


I’ve been thinking about this thread a lot. I met someone wonderful recently, the first person I’ve been all “fuck yeah” about in...honestly, possibly ever? And they just aren’t in a place for a relationship, and probably won’t be for a long, long time. Or maybe it’s just that they don’t want a relationship with me — either/or, really.

But it’s had me thinking about the sheer difficulty of all of this. Timing, chemistry, wanting the same things. Are my expectations for partnership just unrealistic? They don’t seem impossibly high: someone I have fun with, someone I want who wants me, someone who is generally kind and emotionally literate and available.

And yet.

Mostly what I’ve learned is that it isn’t me. I think I’m capable of the kind of partnership I want, I just haven’t found it. And that leaves me free to grieve not having it without blaming myself for not having it, which is about a gajillion times better than I was doing before. It’s ok to feel sad about things that are not my fault. I know that, now, and soon I’ll be better at putting it into practice.

I don’t think I want extraordinary things, really. I don’t think any of us does. Fundamentally it’s to be seen by someone, good and bad, and be loved for it, just as I see them, good and bad, and love them for it. And if that doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. And accepting this has made me more picky about the friendships I invest in, because, frankly, I don’t have the time or energy for people who will shy away from the realities of my life — those coupled friends who get really uncomfortable with your singleness, and the attendant difficulty that brings? Yeah, I don’t have the spoons for that anymore.

Not sure where that leaves me as I get older. I feel like I want a club for people in this situation. But there’s so much stigma attached to being alone, not by choice, that I wouldn’t even know what to name it.
posted by schadenfrau at 11:23 AM on January 9 [9 favorites]


I've heard that club called "incel," but we really don't want to be around those guys.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:28 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]


*googles incel* holy shit jenfullmoon, that's an understatement. First time I've heard that term, thanks.
posted by Melismata at 1:01 PM on January 11


Upthread I a) posted a list of things partnered people shouldn't say to single people, and then b) mused that perhaps I should do a blog post on the subject, since I thought of lots more to say and my initial quick effort was well-received.

After nearly a month of intermittent writing and editing efforts, I finally have that blog post written and posted. It's called, "On the Care and Feeding of Single People". Enjoy!
posted by orange swan at 12:56 PM on January 30 [8 favorites]


That was one cathartic piece to write. Finally I had something productive to do with all those aggravating and dismissive things partnered people had said to me over the years!
posted by orange swan at 6:53 AM on January 31


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