Dear Sara: I am 37 years old, and I am single. I have had two long relationships but have been single for a while now. Sometimes I feel great about my life, and sometimes I feel very depressed about being single. Sometimes people are really supportive towards me and sometimes they are not.
I discovered that my strength is to go on dating sites, follow dating coaching, and go to networking events, etc. But I find it difficult to allow feelings of sadness to just be instead of doing things all the time to desperately change my single status. I realized that, underneath all this, I feel that I am not good enough the way I am. One date mentioned that I was too sweet. Another guy gave me the feeling that I was not rich or trendy enough. I had the feeling that in order to make us fit together I had to change the interior of my apartment into a more modern style and come across as somebody who loves to socialize a lot just as he does.
Recently, I am learning to be vulnerable and share my feelings. I tried to open up to a married friend of mine by saying that I’ve just had enough of dating for now and shared how I felt. She only asked how many men I have contacted on dating sites. She gave me the feeling that I was not working hard enough to change my single status. Two other married friends gave me the feeling that I should work harder to find someone; otherwise we won’t have enough things in common to keep the friendship working.
One of the other reasons I am working so hard to find a husband is because I would still like to have children. If my biological clock was not the issue I would feel more at ease about being single. It is painful to see much younger friends of mine being married for more than five years already. Some of them are pregnant with their third child already. It hurts a lot. As if I am being stabbed in my heart. It feels as if it is not fair. – E
Dear E: You’re right. It’s not fair. But people don’t like admitting this—especially those who have exactly what you want, a spouse, and children.
I’ll get to them in a second. But first, these guys: Too sweet? Not trendy enough? This kind of feedback says a lot more about them than you. The only thing it reveals about you is that you’re a nice person who isn’t overly concerned with superficial things like home furnishings. Would you even want to change this about yourself?
Okay, your friends. People in couples tell their unhappily single friends to “work harder” for nice reasons and for not-so-nice reasons.
The nicest reason is that they love you and want you to be happy. They can’t stand seeing their sweet, thoughtful, non-materialistic friend feeling lonely and anxious. They want to help, but since they can’t help, they offer advice. Telling you to try harder feels optimistic because they’re essentially saying you’re in control.
On the other hand, the people who said you need to find a partner or else the friendship “won’t work” have a different agenda: their own comfort.
Life is unfair—we are told this as children. But in my experience, people currently sitting on the sunnier side of this equation want very much to believe that their happy circumstances are a result only of their hard work and fine character. Those are important, of course, but when it comes to romantic love chance plays a big part, too. For your friends to grant that you’re simply unlucky, they also have to face the idea that their more pleasant circumstances might also be a result of chance, rather than character. Telling you to get back out there is a lot easier.
Whatever their motives, your friends are ignoring your actual experience—you are working very, very hard. So I don’t have any advice on how to find your person, but I do have some thoughts on how to manage this emotional terrain in the meantime.
First, if your friends are unable to hear you on this topic, I’d suggest you stop discussing it with them. You don’t need their uninformed opinions in your head—you need to access your own wisdom.
The best way I know to do this is to allow yourself to feel that sadness without judgment. This does not negate doing the work of dating—the “getting out there” blah, blah, blah. In fact, I think it makes it easier. Allowing yourself to have those uncomfortable feelings is a good way to practice self-acceptance, to develop it, like a muscle.
Feeling sad is not an indication of a character flaw—it’s an indication that you’re a human being. I have found that learning to accept my darker emotions—to say, “I feel sad right now. That’s okay, everyone feels sad sometimes” makes them a lot easier to handle. When you learn to relax into your uncomfortable emotions, you develop both self-acceptance and bravery. This can give you a kind of confidence that isn’t contingent upon external circumstances.
Obviously, this kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight, but if this interests you, there are many wonderful resources that can help get you started. Let me know how it goes.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questionshere.