I am 32 years old and I am giving up on dating forever. Yes, I’m serious. No, I haven’t told my mother. I had my first boyfriend at 13 – I gave it a good run.
I did not arrive at this decision impetuously. I spent months critically evaluating my past relationships and overall experiences with dating. (For context, I am a cis-het woman who dates men monogamously.) All the blogs, “dating experts”, and my therapist say to have fun with dating but, simply put, I wasn’t finding it fun. Not in the least.
Admittedly, I did have some truly memorable times with the men I courted. I dated one for almost 4 years and fell in love to the point where we were seriously considering marriage. With another suitor, I traveled to parts of the world I never thought I would and was even fortunate enough to live out the date of my dreams. I’ve created countless playlists of love songs, performed lap dances, written love letters, and felt the surreal joys of infatuation and eros. Unfortunately, the floating-on-air highs were always followed by devastating lows. In the end, I always felt like I was coming back to Square One and asking myself was all this worth it? Why was I continuing to willingly put myself through a situation that has a very low success rate?
Here’s A Disclaimer:
I hesitated to even write, let alone publish, this. There is an imposing wall of stigma around a single woman in her 30s and I do not want to add any fuel to that dumpster fire of a narrative. Women are easily dismissed with “That’s why you single!” as if her singlehood is an indictment against her individual life choices and not representative of a sundry of social, structural, and cultural shortcomings.
…Or maybe she just doesn’t want to be bothered with y’all.
“Must. Not. Sound. Bitter.” is the prevailing broken record. “Unattached” women live under the threat of having any grievance (justifiable or otherwise) be trivialized as bitterness. I’m not bitter nor am I an enemy of men or happy couples. This is not a side effect of my parents’ divorce nor a manifestation of my daddy issues. In fact, those things actually made me seek out a significant other with even more hope. I so wanted to believe I could beat the odds.
I am very blessed to have loving men in my life so this isn’t a “men ain’t shit” post. I wholeheartedly believe, even now, that there are incredible men out there who treat their partners the way they deserve. Many I know, including some of the ones I dated, are wonderful people and will make perfect partners for someone else if they haven’t already. This is partially why I refused to settle. I know the great potential men have.
But, Erica, you don’t want to wake up one day old and alone…
There’s this unrelenting notion of reaching some ominous old age and suddenly realizing you’re “alone”. (We have to redefine what “alone” actually means but I will get there). Before I made this decision I explored this concept further by having a conversation with my eldest aunt. She’s 64, never married, and I don’t remember her ever having any man around. She’s always been the cool California auntie that was the first to buy a home, goes on fancy trips, and keeps my mother in check. Her life seems so full so I asked her what it was like to be in your 60s and unmarried. She told me she knew from a young age that she never wanted to get married.
“I just couldn’t see how having a man could add to my life.”
That struck me. I began to wonder what specifically I needed from a partner and were there other ways to obtain whatever those intangible things were. No one in my family is currently married. Why did I want a partner so badly especially considering I had no realistic model to derive these ideals from? I figured what I was missing would be revealed to me along the way so with that, I decided to move forward with my plan.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Early on, I was still quite hesitant to shut love’s door so I decided I wouldn’t go out on any dates with new men. I had long deleted all of my dating apps but I was still in a long-distance situationship with one man whom I had known for many years and we had often expressed a mutual desire to be something more than we were. Our physical distance was what prevented us from being official so I figured I owed it to myself, and to us, to see this through especially since those circumstances were changing. Of course, that ended as things do in 2019: he ghosted me and committed to another woman. Color me surprised…
Additionally, for the past two years, I had a lovely friend who would…fill in the gaps…(read between the lines here). He and I had excellent communication and were transparent about any other people we were seeing. While we definitely had chemistry, we agreed we did not ultimately fit as a couple so we filled that void for each other until someone else came along. Someone else eventually came along for him.
For the first time in my adult life, there was no man. No one waiting in the wings. No potential for a future suitor. No one to fill the gaps. It was just me. Damn, I’m really doing this.
What I have learned over the past year:
Explaining this concept to the general public is extraordinarily hard
Saying you no longer wish to date is an awkward conversation for all involved. We tend to use romantic relationships as a commonality to springboard small talk so it can be tricky when you have nothing to contribute. At my age, people love to ask if you’re married or “seeing anyone special” and if you’re single, they assume that you’re looking to not be. Singleness is treated like a problem to be solved – everyone wants to offer their expertise on how to “fix” it. I’ve found it easiest to just smile and nod rather than explain that this is not something I have any interest in. They are all so well-intended.
When someone wants an update on my life, I tend to shift focus to other aspects: I got a new job and it’s going well. I submitted a proposal to present at a national conference in my field. I finally made it to Paris and had the time of my life. Although I’m fairly certain you would rather hear about a husband, a house, and kids, I would prefer to highlight the other areas of my life that are just as fulfilling to me.
They’ll still ask “Are you seeing anyone?” anyhow…
I have love in my life.
I truly believe that I have been blessed with the best friends in the world. I have an uncommonly vast network of people that have proven to be more consistent than any man I have ever dated. We as a society do not put the same significance on platonic relationships as we do on romantic ones and that has never made sense to me. We all have friends that have been there before, during, and after the shelf life of a boyfriend. Yet, we are not expected to invest in those friendships with the same fervor. We tend to view romantic relationships as a stronger commitment even though it is common knowledge through our own experience, and every marriage statistic ever, those bonds are reliably capricious.
My friends really do love me unconditionally. This past Valentine’s Day, I surprised 19 of them with hand-written personalized cards to remind them of how important they are to me and to remind myself that I am surrounded by love. (I sent the 20th one to Mr. Situationship and it got lost in the mail. Take the hint, Erica.) On a day that can be nauseating to single people, it gave me something to be excited about.
I recognize that there are a lot of people in this world that do not have close friends in the way or volume that I do so I am choosing to invest in that love even more instead of feeling like I am somehow lacking because I am single.
Redefine what it means to “be alone”.
I’m not alone. I have family. I have friends. Single women are not alone. If there are places I want to go or experiences I want to have, I can invite people to go with me. I just fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to Paris and I went with 7 of my best friends (yes, I planned an international trip with SEVEN other people. Best friends in the world). That was a trip that I only wanted to go on with a significant other and now I couldn’t imagine a better time than what I had with my friends.
Also, it is perfectly okay to do things by yourself. I’ve gone to so many concerts alone that I now prefer to do it that way. You don’t need to wait on anyone to experience something you want to experience which brings me to my next point…
Women are socialized to always be appealing to and considerate of men – even a man we haven’t met yet.
Another common dating adage is to use your single season to work on yourself so when you meet The One you’ll be ready. As someone who has had long stretches of single time, I found myself religiously taking inventory of any personal characteristics or habits that were not conducive to a successful romantic relationship. I wanted to be as good of a partner as I was asking the universe for so I was abundantly aware of all the ways I could potentially weigh down my future partner. The anxiety became crippling and self-deprecating at times.
Adding to the anxiety, being a single woman means you always have to be ready. You could be at Trader Joe’s or at church or at yoga class and – boom – the love of your life could be there! You never know when you’re going to meet The One so be prepared, open, and always keep an eye out for him. It’s honestly exhausting and I just didn’t want to do it anymore.
I also realized how much I was subconsciously “saving” for when I was in a relationship. I was waiting to go to Paris for my honeymoon. I figured at a certain age, I would be moving in with someone so I didn’t want to invest in new furniture quite yet. I’ll buy a house with someone eventually so it would be better to just wait. I had been trained to think about my life choices in preparation to become part of a pair and because of that, I was missing out on actually living my life.
Finding a good Friend With Benefits is not as easy as you would expect.
Let’s be real: I can easily find someone who would want to have sex with me but I would like someone who I trust and feel like I can be myself with. Those sorts of relationships can take more time to invest in than you think and the process has some similarities to dating for love which I loathe.
What I still have yet to learn
How to encourage your friends to continue dating when you have let that dream go.
I always feel like such a hypocrite encouraging them to never give up hope when I have decided that I would rather opt-out. Can I still be a hopeless romantic even while I abstain from romance in my own life? I genuinely want my friends to find partners and have their “happily ever after” even though I no longer believe in that for myself.
What do you do when “Physical Touch” is your love language yet no one touches you intimately?
Can a girl get a cuddle buddy? I swear I’m going through withdrawals. Someone put their hand on my knee and I flinched. I’m growing less accustomed to having anyone in my bubble.
Who should I list as my “In Case of Emergency”?
No, but seriously. My mother lives 600 miles away…