How to Stay Hopeful, Even When it’s Really, Really Hard

online dating and staying hopefulWe all know dating can be disappointing. Yet there’s a big difference between feeling bummed about a great first date who never contacts you again and taking that short mental taxi ride to hopelessness territory. One reaction passes within a few hours, and the other can last days, generating overwhelming feelings and defeating thoughts that usually don’t match reality. As soon as you see an elderly couple holding hands and wearing matching purple knapsacks in the airport, you go to that terrible place of “I’ll never have that! I’ll be alone forever.”

Hopelessness feels bad physically. It can start as a sigh or uneasiness in your stomach and eventually seizes your shoulders and makes your head spin. Hopelessness hurts emotionally. You taste a perfect spring strawberry and ache with longing because you wish you could share the moment with a partner. You refuse to watch romantic comedies. You can’t bear to look at your friends’ “happy couple” weekend pics on Facebook.

When you’re in this state, it’s hard to reassure yourself that all your efforts to find love will pay off eventually. The feelings have hijacked your perspective and self-confidence. Instead of saying to yourself, “Hmm, I’ve having a hard time right now,” you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you’re: A) Unworthy; B) Unlovable; or C) In serious denial because nothing ever works out for you.

Stop reacting! Here are some tips to climb out of the rabbit hole:

1) Stop thinking of love as a destination.

You probably won’t be single forever. You’re just unattached right now. Despite what we might have learned as children, there is no such thing as “happily ever after.” People fall in and out of love and often have multiple marriages throughout their lifetimes. We now live in a society in which there are more single people than married folks for the first time in U.S. history, according to the latest Census figures. So stop thinking of yourself as “not married” or “not in a relationship.” This shift in thinking will free you up to enjoy this phase of your life, rather than view it as a time when you were missing out.

2) Try to anticipate your dry spells.

No matter how full and fabulous your single life is, there are going to be times when you’re sick of your own company. If you see a week ahead of free evenings, and you know that you’ll go a bit stir-crazy running errands three nights in a row, plan something fun to do with friends or family. If going solo on Sunday afternoons feels particularly soul-crushing, accept that invite to the BBQ or find a meet-up group. The key is to schedule things ahead of time, rather than letting lonely thoughts fill your head.

3) Celebrate your alone time.

When I visited my grandmother as a little girl, we played a game called “having a party.” She’d serve me milky coffee in her fancy china cups and play my favorite jazz records, and we’d dress up in her gaudy 1970s beaded necklaces. She taught me a valuable lesson in celebrating the ordinary.

If you’ve been single for a while, the last thing you want to do is celebrate another date-less Saturday night. But it’s a little more bearable if you try to make your own party. Hold a Mad Men marathon. Make yourself a nice dinner with fresh asparagus from the farmer’s market. Pour yourself a glass of wine. This way you’re not waiting around for a significant other to enjoy your life.

4) Recognize everything you’re doing right.

The reality is that people who make an effort to find love usually find it. You can stay motivated when you remind yourself of everything you do towards your cause. Before you fall asleep, make of mental review of what you did that day: Maybe you responded to an email or posted a new profile photo. If you’re working on improving your fitness, maybe making it through a spin class felt like a small victory.

5) Remember this too shall pass.

If you’re in a bad place, give yourself a time limit on how long you’ll let yourself wallow there. Let yourself be in a funk for an evening, for example. The next morning, brush yourself off and send out a few emails.

What helps you get through the hard times?

About the Author:

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.

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