stop analyzing your single friends

You have to find yourself to find love, goes the mantra. You have to love yourself enough to attract love into your life. You have to be already be complete before someone else can complete you (wait, what?).

A lot of the advice hurled at single people suggests that there is more work to be done. You have to solve your issues. You have to learn to be happy, all of the time, on your own.

Single women are constantly blamed: You’re giving off the wrong energy. You’re too desperate. You’re not open enough. You’re intimidating. Men are attracted to non-threatening, smiley women with big, friendly teeth and a successful career that isn’t successful enough to be intimidating. You have to be self-sufficient but not to the extent that it renders you unfeminine. And don’t text him so soon after the date! And don’t sleep with him right away, for f*@ks sake! Or, wait, maybe do. You don’t want to be weird and uptight about sex.

A happy, committed relationship is dangled like the yummy, carb-y prize at the end of a grueling marathon of personal improvement.

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My own journey to love was more like a lazy stroll down the block.

I am an online dating success story. “Just sign up and try it for a month!” my best friend urged.

I signed up. I jotted a quick profile, slapped up a lone, somewhat flattering photo and flung my single self out into the universe. Two weeks later, I went on a first date with a guy who sounded funny and smart in writing. He was even more than those things. I fell in love with him right away. We got engaged six months later. We’ve now been married for four years and I am still bowled over by his awesomeness. He lights up my days.

So of course, immediately after meeting him, I started preaching the gospel. “You have to sign up!” I told my single friends. “Just try it! You never know who you’ll meet!”

I talked quite a few of them into it. They went out hopefully on first dates. They reported back. Some duds. Some weirdos. And then some guys who seemed wonderful but suddenly disappeared after having sex. Nice guys who they didn’t “click” with. Gorgeous guys who seemed to be drifting, distracted. Cool, shaggy-haired photographer guys who texted “I might be free in an hr. wanna meet up?” and then canceled.

We analyzed and analyzed. I tried to be encouraging.

“Wait,” they started to say, “you met him after being on the site for how long?”

“Two weeks,” I said, but now it felt like bragging. So I began to say, “Maybe a couple months?” But soon even that sounded very quick, unrealistic.

A few of my friends found love online or elsewhere, but the majority of them are still dating. Or they’re not dating right now. They’re taking a break, because, enough already! But soon they’ll try again. Their stories are full of incredible, buoyant hope and, increasingly, creeping resignation and quiet despair.

More often now, they ask, “What is wrong with me?”

We try to figure it out sometimes.

 

“Well, yeah,” I’ve admitted, “you are really quick to say no.”

Or, “I guess you could take these lines out of your profile. And change the picture. Definitely put up more pictures. You need more than just one.”

I’ve given advice I’ve never even considered following.

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Privately, I’ve sometimes wondered if they really are doing something wrong. Maybe this one can be too obliging and this one too demanding and this other one too…serious? Fun? Is there such a thing as being too fun? With other coupled women, I’ve discussed the phenomenon of our single friends. We have tried to solve the puzzle. What are they misunderstanding? After all, we found partners! Maybe we’re just awesome at love?

It’s popular, to blame single people’s personalities, appearances, mannerisms, and jobs for their singleness. And even if most of that checks out fine, we can always mine for something deeper. A quiet, existential failing. A subtle unevenness in intentionality, spiritual tendencies that haven’t yet been sanded down to pleasing symmetry. Small but persistent unresolved issues from infancy.

It’s comforting, after you find someone, to tell yourself that it happened because you’re really great, and your partner is really great, and your mutual greatness united you. The world feels less random and your life feels safer and more destined.

I felt this way a few years ago. And it was nice.

And then I watched many of my smart, kind, beautiful, smiley, clever, successful, talented, warm friends begin to turn a cruel, analyzing gaze on themselves, searching for the “problem” at the root of their singleness. Self-help books nodded eagerly along and accusing articles circulated and I began to think that something didn’t sound quite right.

Not to insult myself, but let me be real: when I met my husband I was twenty-three and cocky, insecure and earnest and full of pretentious grad school-isms. I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was scared. I had frizzy hair and a pimple on my face. And I was wearing a shirt with slightly poofy short sleeves and a floppy lavender satin bow. I thought the shirt was fancy. I thought that looking “fancy” was a good fashion goal.

I don’t know exactly why so many people I know who want very much to find partners are still single. Here in NYC, it might be part of a larger trend. Many of the married women I meet have older husbands. It seems like men might be marrying later. Maybe online dating itself creates a problem even as it offers so many solutions. Dating can feel like sampling ice cream flavors. What’s next? The next one might be even tastier…Maybe women are choosier now than we have been in recent times. We’re more educated, and especially if we’re here in the big city, we tend to have interesting careers that we care about. We have other priorities and are looking for a partner who we find delightful, amazing, the best, because we don’t necessarily need partnership for the same basic financial and social reasons that people used to. I don’t know. Those are just some uneducated guesses.

But what I do know is that my own story, though it is personally very meaningful and takes on epic, fateful proportions in my mind and life, is really one of total chance.

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For people in relationships to stop analyzing our single friends, we need to admit that what happened to us maybe had a lot to do with randomness and luck. Not that we aren’t great. But often, we’re not great in similar ways to our single compatriots. And they are often great in the same ways we are.

It’s not that no one is ever doing anything wrong, or that no one needs to work on their issues and try to be better and try to love themselves before loving someone else. Those things are important, too. But they obviously aren’t the trick to finding a loving, lasting relationship. People in good relationships come by them all sorts of ways, and at all sorts of phases and stages of life. Some of us find love when we’re at the top, succeeding and self-actualized and fabulously vivacious, others of us find love when we’re at our absolute worst. A lot of us find it somewhere in the middle. And then we grow with our partners and we hopefully continue to improve ourselves, the way we would hopefully do that if we were single.

One of the best things about being married, I’ve found, is having a safe space to become a better person without the reason for this effort defaulting at “so you can attract a great man!”

It’s frustrating how random some of the biggest things in life can be, but that, unfortunately, is the way life works. Still, I am willing to bet that my searching single friends will find wonderful partners to grow and learn with. They’ll get lucky, too. And then I wish for them the delicious satisfaction of snuggling in bed on a late Sunday morning, rehashing the details of their fateful meeting, wondering at the tremendous kindness and terrifying, miraculous specificity of the universe.

“What if…” they will sigh. “What if you hadn’t clicked on my profile?” “What if you hadn’t gone online that day?” But they will do it from inside the tall ramparts of self-congratulatory security. They will secretly believe, just a little, that they got this because they are really awesome. And they will maybe believe that they have been awesome all along.

They were awesome all along. They are awesome right now.

But I don’t want to analyze their single friends with them, later. It’s not helping anyone, and often, it’s just downright pointless.

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Unroast: Today I love the way I look with my hair up– I never thought I’d grow it this long again, but it just keeps growing and I’m enjoying the curls, although a buzz cut is never too far from my mind…

I wanted to write a Mother’s Day piece for this week, but something tragic happened and changed my schedule. I’m going to try for next week instead. In the meantime, I’ll be reading an essay on the radio for a Mother’s Day program that will broadcast on Saturday, May 10, at 7:30am on WFUV 90.7FM. I hope I won’t be up that early on that day, and in case you’re not either but want to listen, I’ll share some links soon where you can find it after it airs.

This piece appeared originally on Daily Life

23 Comments »

Kate on May 7th 2014 in friendship, relationships

23 Responses to “stop analyzing your single friends”

  1. Traci responded on 07 May 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    I’m sorry to hear that something tragic happened that changed your schedule! You threw that in there casually at the end. Happy Mother’s Day. I enjoy your writing.

  2. San D responded on 07 May 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    I, too, have single friends. Now in their 60′s they are mostly resigned to being able to “do whatever they want, whenever they want”. My two women friends were in a sense stood up at the altar, where their fiances had second thoughts and the rings were given back. That’s enough to bruise the heart and ego. The two men friends admit it was a combination of “choosiness” and not willing to “compromise” while holding out for Ms. Right and before they knew it, they were old men. All four are now living in luxury. No mortgages, no tuition payments, multiple houses, traveling. Everything in life is a trade off.

  3. Anna D responded on 07 May 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Oh, the ever-running diatribe within my own mind about “still” being single and quickly approaching 30.

    Its a tricky issue, to discuss our want/need/desire to be in intimate relationship (or not), because at the root we’re trying to describe in words something that is deeply emotional and ultimately ineffable. I would counter the choice to refer to recognizing the randomness of life as unfortunate, though – the randomness, as I’ve learned to encounter it, is actually quite awesome in a lot of ways. We often try to over-control our lives, and opening up to life’s being bigger than just ourselves can be freeing. Scary, frustrating, and unpleasant, sometimes, but also exhilarating and empowering to see that there’s infinite possibility in each and every moment.

    On another note, I remember you describing first meeting Bear and the absolute joy a few months later when you shared that you were engaged while we were crossing the GW to head out to teach :)

  4. Krystina responded on 07 May 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Ok. I was totally expecting a picture of your hair!

  5. Sara responded on 07 May 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    In the year between meeting my husband and breaking off a going-nowhere long-term relationship, I was so absolutely determined not to be some stereotypical mopey single person that I worked up this whole plan to become a foster parent in my late 30s and work towards adopting a kid or two as a single mother and show the world I was GREAT at being single. Not that I am complaining to now be happily married, but it took a little mental reorientation when I realized that hey, I might actually want to marry someone instead!

  6. Vicky responded on 07 May 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    As one of the single people out here, I salute this post. Too often we’re branded as too selfish or too something to explain our relationship status (how I loathe facebook!). Whenever I read your writing, I’m always struck that although you’re clearly a lot younger than me, the subjects you write about are universal. The last time I got mixed up (it was far from conventional) with someone, I really thought ‘this is it’ and thought I was so lucky etc etc to the point of almost feeling a little smug or something….and then I got smacked in the face like I’ve never been smacked in the face before, and it was all gone. Just like that. I’ve since developed a very healthy respect for randomness, the unexpected and the complications of human nature, which of course can cut both ways. So now I’m starting to believe in luck again. I used to believe in fate and meant-to-be, but not anymore.

  7. Laurin responded on 07 May 2014 at 8:16 pm #

    Kate, as always, such a well written piece. I’m sorry to hear something tragic has happened. my thoughts are with you. hope you’re okay.

    I’d like to add – it’s awesome that women are more choosy – why should we have to compromise with someone we don’t actually want to be with? We get lambasted for ‘waiting for Mr right’ but then men are ‘sexy bachelors’ who ‘can never be caught’ – there was a good Guardian piece on this recently comparing George Clooney and Jennifer Aniston. I thought it was really interesting.

    I like getting rid of this narrative of ‘you just have to … then! you’ll get a boy’. well no, you may well not. and there is nothing wrong with the peeps in their 60s that San D mentioned – it just never happened to them (and yup, being stood up at the altar would probably put me off relationships for a long time).

    it’s hard not to be a ‘smug married’ sometimes, but it’s so important. Cos it’s hard to be single and to really WANT an intimate relationship but remind yourself that you’re perfectly awesome just the way you are – you don’t need a person to complete you. (Men aren’t told they should do X, Y, Z to make sure they get a girlfriend, but women are told they need one to be good enough.. interesting, had never noted that before).

    anyway, ranting now. Just wanted to say awesome piece, hope you’re okay, and I agree we should recognise the wicked chaos that we’re faced with in this life, as uncomfortable as that can be.

  8. Elena responded on 08 May 2014 at 2:44 am #

    When I met my beloved one, I was looking totally un-sexy and overtired after harsh 6 months at work. I was 38 pounds heavier than I am now and absolutely not looking for love (too exhausted to even think of doing it). We were introduced to each other by a friend who had no intention of matching us, we were supposed to just spend an afternoon together, while our friend was busy. Three hours after the beginning of our walk we were so happily immersed in a conversation that none of us wanted to go home. Three years later we have a 6 mo baby and I just know it was all pure luck to happen this way.

  9. April responded on 08 May 2014 at 10:04 am #

    I met my husband when I wasn’t even looking. I was never “looking” because I had long since given up on any hope of the idea of meeting a guy who actually wanted me (this based on the fact that a not a single guy ever was interested in me, even once).
    Lo and behold, I started a new job and I started flirting (if that’s what you wanna call it…) with my SUPERVISOR. A little embarrassing now, but since we’re married it’s all fine. Technically he could’ve gotten in a LOT of trouble for it!
    I go through the what-ifs sometimes too. Mainly because I only got that job because I had previously quit another job after only two weeks. I had moved to FL for an internship, and found out I hated it, so I quit. I’ve never done anything so shameful in my life. But then I got the other job the week after I moved back to NY, and I was off to NV where I met Andy. I can’t say I regret quitting that internship now! Our 3-year anniversary is on the 28th, and our happiness with each other has never wavered.

  10. Maya responded on 08 May 2014 at 10:13 am #

    Although we haven’t had much success thus far, my husband and I take the approach that, for single friends who are looking for partners, our best approach is to try and introduce them to single friends of the appropriate gender for their desires. It mostly won’t work, but at least they feel like there’s someone on their team, trying to help them find who they’re looking for- and who knows, it might just work, one of these times…

  11. anon responded on 09 May 2014 at 3:21 pm #

    Although I’m an atheist, I always get a kick out of that saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans (Woody Allen, said it, I think, and I adore him). Sometimes we think we know, I mean just KNOW things about ourselves, others, life in general, etc. The most important thing I’ve learned now that I’m in my mid-forties is how much I have left to learn. It keeps me humble. I got married young to the wrong person — I think I knew it right from the start but I was trying to get out of a bad home situation and it was the option I chose. I actually stayed for eleven years, which was too long. But I learned a lot. About myself, about people. Then I met the love of my life. I mean, wow. Perfect for each other. Blissfully happy for almost ten years, everyone said, ‘oh man, if only I could meet someone like that, he treats you like you’re his whole world, you two are perfect for each other, look at how you are together/look at each other/love each other!’ And it was all true, it was wonderful, I was thrilled. He was the sweetest, kindest, tenderest, funniest, most loving man I ever could have imagined. We were definitely going to be together forever. After a bad marriage, how incredible, and I felt lucky every day of those ten years. And then one day he said, I don’t want this any more; it’s not your fault, I still care about you, but I don’t want this life with you anymore. And that was that. A few years later and I’m still trying to figure it out, to understand what happened. All I do know is that we really never know what’s going to happen in life, we spend our whole lives trying to fully understand ourselves, we can’t ever fully and completely understand another. So the advice I give everyone is this: just live the best life you can, be kind, be grateful, find love and friendship and take nothing for granted, be peaceful, be humble, hopefully have moments of great joy….and don’t ever tell anyone else how to live their lives. Focus on living the best life you can and be glad every day you fall asleep with a smile on your face. Some days you won’t, but that’s part of life too. At the end, what matters is more smiles than tears.

  12. Kate responded on 09 May 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    @anon
    wow. this floored me. thanks for sharing.

  13. mel responded on 11 May 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    I always thought being single was kind of exciting, and not a terrible place to be if you’ve got a good friend to split the costs.

    The version of the saying I always received was “You have to love yourself before you can love others” and it seems like such crap logic to me. It’s totally backwards!

    How can you love yourself if you’ve never bothered to love anyone else? If a person has never done anything out of love for someone else, then it’s no wonder a person can’t find a reason to love him/herself!

    On the other hand, there ARE lots of people who are overly self-depreciating and will go on and on about their mistakes and their victimhood and truly repel all love.

  14. SJ responded on 13 May 2014 at 5:36 am #

    Hi Kate,

    I’ve been silently following your blog (all the way from India!) for a while now. I’ve been on the verge of leaving a comment for quite a few of your blog posts because they all really struck a chord, but I didn’t because I felt self conscious about expressing an opinion here.

    But, after reading this post, I felt like I really had to comment.

    I’m 32 and single. My last serious relationship was 9 years ago. I actually haven’t had a boyfriend in 9 years. I don’t analyse my dates with anyone, but that question ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ I ask it after every failed date.

    My self esteem is really low. I am extremely conscious of the way I look. It’s probably because when I was younger, my friends called me ‘monkey’ because of a protruding upper jaw line.

    A lot of the times, I blame my looks for a failed date. He didn’t call me because I wasn’t good looking enough, or thin enough.

    After a lot of help, I gained a bit of self confidence. I don’t love myself yet. There’s still a long way to go, but I think I’m headed in the right direction.

    But, every time I don’t get a text in return, I will always ask that question.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say, thanks for writing this. I always feel like I read the right things when I’m supposed to. And, this came at exactly the right time.

  15. Kate responded on 13 May 2014 at 9:27 am #

    @SJ
    Thank you so much for commenting. Every time I publish a post or an essay, I have that flutter of fear- I understand feeling self-conscious about putting your words and yourself out there. It’s hard for me to respond to this without getting immediately corny, but my instinct is to try to reassure you: you are fine. I don’t know you, but I know that you are fine. You are deserving. And anyone who thinks you aren’t thin enough to be loved or something is maybe not a good person to fall in love with anyway. I know, cliches. But true ones. But also, I know what it feels like to blame my appearance for everything that goes wrong. It sucks. You feel like you’re acknowledging some dark secret truth when you tell yourself, “I’m probably just not pretty enough.” There’s this grim ring of reality to it. And yet it’s wrong. It’s just a frightening, helpless thought, so we tend to think it, the way we tend to look at a car wreck. But you are definitely attractive enough to be loved. The rest is chance and luck.

    Also, the whole “monkey” thing? Kids are so dumb sometimes.

  16. SJ responded on 14 May 2014 at 6:22 am #

    This made my day, Kate! Thank you so much for responding.

  17. Gena responded on 14 May 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I take issue with–and indeed, offense to–the notion that being uncoupled is some sort of condition that demands analysis. While I absolutely support the quest for partnership, I’ve personally never found that my life is necessarily more fulfilling or happier when I’m partnered. As a matter of fact, what I’ve found is that I’m often quite a bit happier, more productive, more satisfied, and more content when I’m single.

    We–all of us, men and women–need to start accepting that there are real and valid reasons why being unattached is attractive, both in the long and the short term. It’s true that many people dislike being unattached, and of course a good deal of our efforts to see people coupled off stem innocently from that fact. But I’d wager that more and more people would be able to enjoy–and admit to enjoying–the state of singledom if it weren’t so socially taboo to do so. I’m 32, and since 30 I’ve been amazed at how many enlightened, intelligent women have bristled, overtly or subtly, when I’ve stated that I like to be single. I’ve also been surprised at how many people offer unsolicited advice about dating, coupling, and so on, the subtle implication always being that partnership is one of life’s obvious and universally shared objectives.

    There is beauty and value in sharing your intimate, private life with another person. I happen to have a boyfriend whom I’m crazy about right now, and I see clearly how much his presence–the conversation, the shared activities, having another person to discuss things with–enriches my life. But I also valued and embraced the things that came with being unpartnered just a few months ago–the space for personal growth, the complete, unadulterated self-sufficiency, the joys of being able to prioritize my needs, and not having to share my time, space, or energy.

    In the end, I’ve relished both partnered and single phases of my life. It’s impossible to compare them or to say that one was better than the other; they were just different, and enabled different kinds of personal development. I wouldn’t apologize for either, and I celebrate them equally. I try to do the same with friends, feeling happiness when someone finds a truly great dynamic, and also encouraging and applauding periods of unattachment.

    Good food for thought, as always, Kate!

  18. Kate responded on 14 May 2014 at 1:18 pm #

    @Gena
    This sounds really healthy. Thank you! I always love your confidence and smart, thoughtful take. It’s cool to see this comment.

  19. Andrea responded on 14 May 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    I don’t understand why many people complain that they are in their 20s or 30s and are still single. Especially since they have probably all have at least dated or been in a relationship. I am as single as one can possibly be. I have very little dating experience, have NEVER been in a relationship, and have never even had sex! Oh, and I’m almost 50. You just have to accept that some people in the world are just meant to be single. For life.

  20. Mary responded on 14 May 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    @Andrea,

    The reason people in their 20s and 30s complain is because they know it’s a slippery slope: if you don’t find someone in this prime age, you might never… At least that’s my sentiment.

  21. Gena responded on 16 May 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    @kate,

    I’m always reading, even if my post-bacc curtailed commenting for a while. Lots of love and respect to you as always!

  22. Sarah responded on 01 Jun 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    It’s so easy to turn to finding fault with ourselves when something doesn’t seem to be working in life. Thank you for reminding us that finding love is a totally random occurrence that happens at different times for everyone. It has nothing to do with our self-perceived faults. Instead of looking for problems with ourselves and others, we should look at the positive qualities that make us happy!

  23. Julie responded on 08 Jun 2014 at 2:43 am #

    Hi! I’m actually curious about OkCupid, even more so because of your astounding success with it! :P Do you remember what percent “matched” you and your husband were?