I’ve spent the majority of my twenties alone. I made great girlfriends, established myself professionally, traveled, and learned. But I always felt something was missing: a relationship. A partner in crime. A guy to bring to family functions and holiday parties, to snuggle with on Sunday afternoons, and pose for Facebook profile pictures. When I compare myself to friends in relationships, I wonder: “When will it be my turn?” When do I get to fall in love and get married?
On occasion, I throw myself elaborate pity parties complete with researching sperm donors, stalking happy couples on Facebook, and impulsive online shopping. But for the most part, I try to stay hopeful. And if nothing else, I’ve learned some lessons along the way:
1. Keep the bar raised high.
It’s not hard to find a boyfriend. If any of my girlfriends or I wanted to be married, we could probably pluck someone off the street and be hitched in no time But that’s not the point! The goal is to find someone great. To fall in love and be happy; not just to avoid being alone.
Being single is annoying but what’s more miserable, I imagine, is being stuck in an unhappy marriage. So why settle? I’d rather be alone at 27 than divorcing at 37.
2. You’ll fall in love again.
He wasn’t “the only one.” The first time I fell in love it was hard to imagine that I would ever love again. And then I met love interest #2, who swept me off my feet. When that ended, I was convinced I would never love again…until I met guy #3. And then #4. By 5,6, and 7, I’ve gotten used to the ol’ song and dance. I no longer worry, “This is it! I’ll never find someone as great as X!” Because experience has shown me that someone new always comes along, and usually they are even better.
3. A man won’t change for me.
Hi, my name is Sarah, and I’m looking for a relationship. You’re not? That’s totally fine but please see the exit door to your left. If a guy says he’s not interested in settling down, I won’t waste my time on him anymore, no matter how much chemistry we have. He’s not going to change for me. So why drag myself through the heartache of getting attached and wanting more?
Like most lessons, I learned this the hard way. His name was Joseph and we met in high school where he had a reputation for being a player. At 16, I thought this sounded like a fantastic challenge, not a red flag. After years of on and off, I was never granted the title of girlfriend. We went on 1, maybe 2, proper dates. The main characteristic of our “relationship” was that it was entirely on his terms. To him, I was out of sight, out of mind. But to me, he felt like oxygen.
As an adult with some hindsight, I don’t blame him for this heartache. I jumped into things knowing his reputation, but hoping that it would be different with me. It never is.
4. Oxytocin is a mofo.
Oxytocin is that little chemical inside the female brain that makes us turn into stage 5 clingers. The strangest thing about Oxytocin, I’ve realized, is that it’s not necessarily about the physical. There are guys I become crazy about but we’ve barely grazed shoulders. I’m thinking of one person in particular; we worked together, we never dated, but I was absolutely in love with him. He was harder to get over than my last proper boyfriend.
Whenever I’m implementing lesson #1 (AKA keep the bar raised high), oxytocin is the crazy voice in my head who forgets all the bad things about XYZ guy and just wants to stay with him no matter what. It’s the enemy of reason!
5. Get over yourself and get online.
Online dating is the pits. And by that I mean it’s humiliating and feels really weird. But apparently about 35% of relationships start online. So do you want to find love? Cool, then get online. Put up attractive pictures, fill out a profile, share about what you’re looking for, and go on first dates. Anyone who judges you needs to realize it’s 2015 and not a big deal anymore.
6. Dating = humbling.
I will admit that many things in my life have come easily. School was a breeze, friends weren’t hard to find, I have a loving family and great job. But this—dating—has been my Achilles heel. It’s embarrassing, to show up year after year to family functions alone. When my prospects don’t work out. When everyone from great Uncle Lenny to my acupuncturist is setting me up on dates. But on a positive note, being vulnerable, experiencing failure, and leaning on others to vent and cry, has softened me. It has brought people closer to me. I’ve built a thick skin but maintained an open, hopeful heart. And I can be grateful for that.