How To Be Single

When people ask you how things are going you tell them “Fine. Everything’s fine.” Because it is. You’ve settled into a nice career, you love your roommate, and you’ve been eating well. Those five pounds you gained in the winter are gone and now you just stare at your flat stomach in the mirror, hoping it will unleash some secret about being happy. Grab the fat and revel in how little there is. Stare at it for a long time until you feel like you have rolls again. Go to bed.

Watch everyone around you get into relationships that make sense. These people aren’t disposable idiots you’ll laugh about over brunch the next day. They’re sweet, attractive, and responsible. Simply put, they’re marriage material. You can’t say anything bad about them even if you wanted to. (You don’t want to, do you?) Feel a warm sense of relief that your friends are no longer dating losers and then feel an immediate surge of panic. This is Serious. These are Serious Relationships. These are the weddings you’ll attend at 29 or 30-years-old and give toasts to. These are the people who will take your friends away from you. Like most things, it’s bittersweet. You try not to think too much about it and just smile. Smile wider. Smile tighter. Smile till your face breaks in half then pick up the pieces and apologize for making such a mess.

You had problems. You did. You had habits that prevented you from being loved. You spent too much time in altered states, so you scaled back. Now you only drink two glasses of white wine at dinner and smoke pot on Sundays. You think this will fix everything, you think that by making these positive changes everything will magically be better for you. You’ll be at peace.

That didn’t happen though. Well, it did a little bit, I guess. You are happier without the junk. This is an undisputed fact. You feel better, you look better. Everything is just better. But it wasn’t a miracle cure. When Saturday afternoons roll around, you still fill yourself with dread. You still busy yourself with mundane activities to distract yourself from the fact that you’re alone, that you’ve failed to connect with another human being. If you did, you would have your Saturday afternoons booked. You would be able to be 100% happy about your friends and their Serious Relationships. You would be able to feel less anxiety. “Don’t stress. You’ve made it. You’re already here. Somebody loves you. Shhh, no more nightmares about Saturday afternoons, okay? Someone will take it from here.”

You’re bored. All of the pieces of your life puzzle have come together except for That One. The most important one. Or maybe it just seems like the most important one because you don’t have it. No, screw it. It’s the most important one. I’m sorry, it is. Finding someone to chill out with for the rest of your life is more important than your steady job and good eating habits. Maybe if things were crappy, maybe if you hadn’t stopped drinking so much and gotten fat, you would have other terrible things to distract you.

That kind of thinking is disgusting, isn’t it? It’s the absolute worst! But those thoughts cross your mind when you spend your thousandth night in, when you feel the pressure of an invisible clock working against you. You’re starting to get antsy now. The fear of scooping up your own shit at the age of ninety is becoming palpable. Hurry, hurry.

You date but you’re underwhelmed by everyone. You know in the first five minutes whether or not it will work. Five minutes. You take people home sometimes anyway and you hold them so tight. You pretend that you love them and you create your own fantasy. “In this fantasy, I don’t want to get rid of you in the morning. And action!” You get sad when they leave and you don’t even know why. You used to always know why you felt something but it’s becoming less clear these days. This, somehow, seems like the scariest thing to you. This idea that you’re losing touch with yourself and forgetting the reasons why is terrifying. Because at the end of the day, you only have yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you know no one. TC mark

image – Vinoth Chandar

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Melissa Messer

    Ryan O’Connell and I might be the same person.

  • Salvador Ramirez

    nice work :)

  • Aladin Sane


  • AnnaMariaPhilippeaux

    “Smile till your face breaks in half then pick up the pieces and apologize for making such a mess.”I read that over a few times. I liked it a lot. I’ve smiled that smile and wondered how my face did not actually break.

  • Anonymous

    why does everyone write the same on this website these days?! does anyone else notice how formulaic these things are?!

    • FC

      Ryan started this “How To” shit, and this the muthafuckin thanks he gets?

  • Bobekmoans

    this is brilliant thanks. exactly how I feel.

  • anon.

    Wow…this is exactly what I’ve been thinking for months.

  • Hannah Moire

    I have a someone but I’m very much out of touch with myself and it’s slowly but painfully killing me. aargh, help!

  • And I Know

    Those words of wisdom about knowing in the first 5 minutes is is to true! I learned that to be true and it’s fantastic to have it reaffirmed by Ryan.

  • Guest

    this is very good

  • AL

    Wow. Perfectly said.

  • Lily

    I’m not sure whether to be depressed or content.

  • Anonymous

    …story of my life. Where’s the BUT in this article?

  • SG

    This is everything I’ve been feeling and more. Wow.

  • Lifeinmetallicneon

    So true in a creepy but beautiful way, especially the last paragraph, which makes me wonder how he managed to hold a mirror to my life in such a way that i feel guilt and relief at the same and still managed to laugh at all of it without crying or puking or lighting all of my journals on fire to destroy evidence that all of this is true.

  • Guest

    why do we feel the need to pair ourselves up with someone for the rest of our lives? I agree with a lot of the points this article makes. Posted it on fb, my boyfriend did not seem to like that one though

  • annie

    Decide to stay sober. 
    See cute man (you think you could, one day, possibly have a crush) on with the girlfriend you heard he had but didn’t believe. 
    Decide it’s a good idea to have one shot of whiskey, end up drinking at least 8. 
    Realize you’re about to cry so decide it’s time to go home.
    Crash your bike.
    Sob uncontrollably on the sidewalk with your bike on top of you.
    Honestly answer that no, you are not ok, when a nice car of gay gentlemen see you hysterical on the sidewalk bleeding from your knee & hand
    Let them tell you how terrible men are.
    Understand your public meltdown needs to end. 
    Try to get on your bike but realize you’ve bent the frame.
    Walk the remaining 5 blocks home.
    Wonder why you thought you were sober enough to ride your bike home.

    This was my night last night. My day has been terrible until just now. Thank you Ryan. 

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to hate this just from the title, but I couldn’t. Dammit Ryan!

  • Cherchez la femme

    I don’t get it. Why is it called “How to..”? There’s no advice.

    • Veronica

      Check out Ryan’s other titles; a lot of them are “How to….” I think it’s not so much a description of the content of the article as of the form: second person and lots of imperative sentences, usually more than in this one. The content is really a description of [being single/whatever it is], but the “How to” format seems to make that description resonate quite well and differently with a lot of people (including me). 

  • Emallthetime

    this emo beyond comprehension….

  • Anonymous

    How to Be Single
    – Be a truly, happy, adjusted, smart, awesome, hilarious INDIVIDUAL whose self worth is not contingent upon another human being. – Go to art shows, house parties, lunch on Saturday, concerts, and farmers markets alone and still have an amazing and memorable time because you love yourself and are proud of who you are, who you’ve become, who you want to be. 
    Maybe your void, Ryan, is something only you can fill. Not someone else. I think you’re looking in the wrong place for your savior to relieve you of your nagging unhappiness. It makes me sad that an overwhelming portion of your articles are about others disappointing you or not living up to your expectations. 

    • Liz

      I think the void you speak of is all too true – it’s partially caused by the secret inner fear that by having not found “that one” we, singles, are missing out on the best possible party there is to experience on this earth. However the chunk you’re speaking to, the other major contributor to the void, is in not taking the time to find solace and peace within oneself, hence the emphasis on hoping for that one special person to come along and make everything ok. To illuminate the darkness that we more often than not cast upon ourselves.

    • Anonymous

       I totally agree with you but I realized that the older you get the more tired it makes you to do this all alone. I’m not talking about “being alone because you are not in a relationship” but about “being alone because all your friends are in a relationship and so don’t have time/don’t want to have time for doing such things”.

      Plus you are more often surrounded only by couples.
      For example: some weeks ago I went to a housewarming party where I only knew the host but as a single you are open for everything. Well, in the end we where like 15 people and I was the only single. Either they were there with their partners or showed there wedding ring around. I still had a good time but this just left a bittersweet taste.

      • Agree

        I experienced this too the other night and for the first time I realized how single I am. But for some reason I was ok with that, because I knew deep down that my friends weren’t happy in their relationships.

  • Tess

    So so true. Every part of it. Except the title. I didnt learn how to be single. I just learned what single life is like. Which I’m quite aware of. haha


    That last paragraph… I feel it and it scares me. I’m not going to stumble through that fantasy anymore.

  • Claire

    Ryan I just wanna be best friends.

  • Gregory Costa

    I’d rather learn how to be in a relationship…at the end of a workday, the only thing I want to cuddle with is my kitty.  And a bowl of ice cream. 

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