I frequently hear from readers who are confused about why they’re single, and their letters very often include a detailed list of their attributes. They typically go something like this: “I have a great job, lots of friends, work out regularly, am active in my church and frankly look pretty darn good for my age.”
I understand this impulse—I used to mentally tick off my fine qualities when I was facing yet-another wedding or Valentine’s Day or Saturday night on my own. It felt productive somehow—like I was actively trying to solve the riddle of why I was alone. And in a culture that puts a high premium on self-esteem, focusing on my strengths seemed like the best course.
But now, reading these lists bums me out. While I’m glad these readers are able to recognize their good qualities, I wish they didn’t feel compelled to plead their case.
Even when you judge yourself positively, you’re still judging yourself. You’re still buying into the idea that there is a standard that separates couples and singles, a bar that you have yet to clear.
We write these lists to elevate ourselves, but I think they diminish us. They read a little too much like a catalog copy for a kitchen appliance or a used car. In great shape! Lots of baggage space! You’ll never need another! There is an underlying anxiety to them, as they also inspire the inevitable shoe-drop question: So what’s the catch?
Valentine’s Day is coming, and if the oncoming barrage of heart-shaped paraphernalia has you massaging your attributes like worry beads, I’d like to suggest an alternative. What if instead of parsing yourself into a bunch of pleasing qualities, you honored the gloriously complicated mass of humanity that you are?
Would you still be lovable if you lost your job? If you gained twenty pounds? Would you be worth knowing even if you weren’t a gourmet cook or a triathlete? Is there something inside of you that transcends your great sense of style and your ability to speak French? Are you more than your career, your looks, and the number of likes on your last Facebook post?
When you practice this kind of self-acceptance—the kind that does not care about how much money you make or how many Instagram followers you have—you gain a kind of superpower. When you accept yourself unconditionally, you become extremely difficult to manipulate. The perpetual message that singles receive—that you’re not quite good enough—loses its power. When you know your worth, you no longer feel compelled to prove it.
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