Hello, I’m Catherine. I’m 26 years old, I have a master’s degree in clinical psychology, and I’ve never been in love. In 26 years, I have always been single and alone (but not necessarily lonely).
I’m not exactly certain how it happened, although, I have certainly been forced to take some detours in my life. I certainly didn’t ask for the overwhelming and debilitating depression and anxiety I suffered from for years. I didn’t ask that my grandmother suffer a long and devastating illness resulting in her death either. These things just happened and they required my attention, at the expense of other interests.
The anxiety and depression made me feel broken, irreparable, and unworthy of good things. I shut myself off to others — friends and family — because I felt I was sparing them the heartache if something happened. I tried for years to keep any fallout from my illnesses at a minimum and sincerely felt it was in the best interest of others.
During this same time, my grandmother became increasingly sick, needing a level of care that required a rotating family schedule. Doctors’ offices, hospital visits, home health care workers — all of these became the norm. I went to class and came home to care for her. I based my life around what she and my family needed from me. I freely sacrificed my time so that I could have the kind of relationship with my grandmother that I could look back on and be proud of — although, this again limited my time for other interests and continued my pattern of shutting myself off to others.
So, as you can see, there have been some extenuating circumstances in my life which prevented me from putting myself out there as much as I might otherwise have; of course, these also may just be the excuses I use to make myself feel better about it all — and, I’m the first to admit that “putting myself out there” (whatever that truly means) is way down on my list of favorite things in life. Either way, I had some obstacles to navigate that left me far behind the curve in the flirting and dating department.
Of course, if I’m being entirely honest, these were welcome distractions from my lack of a love life. Throughout my life, no one has ever shown interest in me — I’ve never really been asked out (saying, “Well, I guess we’re both single and might as well try it…” while shrugging your shoulders, does not inspire a lot of confidence in your decision to take me to dinner) — and I may have shut myself off to limit the hurt this has created. It hurt too much to see everyone around me find someone, even if only temporarily, while I remained alone that I thought, “If I’m not open to people, I can’t be hurt when they ignore me, right?!” How can I feel unattractive and weird because I’m ignored if I didn’t care in the first place? (I recognize the flaws in this logic, trust me.) I also became embarrassed at the amount of time that had passed without my being in a relationship and felt humiliated at the thought of having to tell someone this.
And so, I have spent countless hours sitting across from a therapist discussing my relationship history. I have been told I am “overly adamant” about my independence and too quick to assume that someone is disinterested. I’ve been told I don’t think highly enough of myself (the unattractiveness issue) to exude that attractive level of confidence that is supposed to work like magic in finding a partner. I’ve been told I trust people. Maybe it’s a combination of those things, maybe it’s none of these things, maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe I don’t have any clue what I’m doing.
And, the latter is quite true. My grandmother passed away two years ago and I was fledgling for months, trying to find a new normal, and figuring out what I was going to do with myself. Eventually, I was able to be honest enough with myself to recognize that I needed a change of course and so, I left graduate school, started writing in earnest, and even tried to put myself out there (although, I’m still not sure what exactly that means).
The bad experiences with men still sting, though, making it hard for me to open up and trust someone. Once, I watched two guys point at my friend and then, when placing dibs on her (yep, that happened), say, “I don’t want the friend, she’s fat!” in a voice far louder than the music at the bar called for. I’ve spent many nights out staring at the back of some guy’s head while he flirts with my friend. I’ve had to fend off the creepy middle-aged men who try to touch me and get too aggressive. I’ve been told what could make me prettier by more people than I care to give credit to and I’ve gotten my hopes up and been disappointed plenty — but, I’ve also tried.
I’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone and attempted to take the risks necessary to build the kind of life that will make me happy. When it comes to men and relationships, I have learned that I am awkward, that I get too nervous, that I talk too much. I’ve learned that I make myself seem small, act like I don’t care about the things I care deeply about (my work really means a lot to me), and fill every silence with nonsense. I get afraid that I might be forgotten. I’m insecure about this area of my life, but I’m starting to act like I have value (“We accept the love we think we deserve…” right?) — and that feels incredible.
For the first time in my life, I was interested in someone and I actually told him. I wasn’t as brave as I would’ve liked to have been — I told him in a text message right before my flight took off because I had chickened out the evening before — but I actually put myself out there, even though it meant wiping away a flood of silent tears for the duration of my flight. I sent the text knowing he was unlikely to be interested, but I put value in the feeling that I had and actually acted on it. I’m not even sure I’ve ever been quite so proud of myself — I’ve also never sent a more horrible text message in my life (my awkwardness knows no bounds when it comes to men, as the nonsense silence fillers extend to text messages as well).
I’ve had circumstances in my life that have caused me to be behind when it comes to relationships. I’ve shut myself off because I thought it was easier for everyone else and was a way to protect myself from being hurt. The thing is, it’s also been lonely and I’ve worked hard to re-introduce people into my life, to start trusting people (something that is still really difficult for me), and to take risks. I’ve had to work hard to learn to trust my instincts and stand up for myself, to feel brave, and to trust that, regardless of the outcome, I’m going to make things work — to trust that I’m going to be okay.
Even with the heartbreak, detours, and devastating blows to my self-esteem, I still have hope when it comes to falling in love and settling in with someone for life, a partner-in-crime for the rest of time. It is possible that this is completely misguided but…I have 26 years of being single to prove that I’ll ultimately be fine either way. Maybe I never fall in love, maybe he really is right around the corner, like I’m constantly being told. Either way, I’m not letting the 26 years prior dictate my future. If we accept the love we think we deserve then I think I might finally be on the right track.
So, I’ve never been in love…but “never” exists to be countered, so, now it’s just a matter of timing — which has so far never been right for me.
Too bad timing is such a bitch.