Being Single Is Great, Except for When You Really Want to Be Married


I love my life, but sometimes I wish it were different

by Samantha Mansfield

diamond engagement ring

My mother’s wedding dress looks perfect on me. We share not only the same eye color and face shape, but also, apparently, the dimensions of our thirty-year-old bodies. It’s a pretty off-white color, fitted tightly to the hips, then burgeons out just slightly, falling to the ankles. There’s an enormous bow I really love at the back, and fairly horrible poofy eighties sleeves, which I would like to have tailored entirely off.

So. I have the dress, but not the groom.

I have imagined the ceremony, the reception, the take-home favors—first with R, and then again with J, but somehow I’m alone again, and I find myself losing my grip on the world in a fairly terrifying way. I’m watching way too much TV. I ate danishes for dinner last night. I’m not certain if I have enough work lined up for the fall to sustain myself. I’ve amassed more credit card debt than I’m comfortable with and it’s been hard trying to pay it off. I keep putting more Chinese noodles on my credit card.

I know that I have work to do. I know I need to learn to take care of myself, to get back to cooking the nourishing dinners I have put so much effort into learning how to create. To go to yoga class, to put on my adult boots and find more work and make things happen. To check in with my therapist, to put together the writing blog that’s been at the back of my mind for years.

I know I have to do these things, and each day I watch myself not move toward them. I can’t explain this place that I’m in. It hasn’t all been a loss—I’ve put together a beautiful home to live in, connected with work I love, and have been writing a fantasy novel that’s super important to me. I see my friends, but I keep these feelings of worthlessness I’m drowning in quiet.

I just want to be married.

I know that a wedding is not a marriage, that one day of luscious clothing and dinners and having it all professionally photographed does not make a life together. That it will not inestimably alter the inner work I need to do. I know this, but I’m also so ludicrously wrapped up in the fantasy of it that it’s hard to disentangle the white dress from the imaginary constancy of love.

I want that partner person in my life so desperately. It’s been three years since my first thought-we-were-going-to-be-together-forever relationship ended, and it’s been a long process of digestion and moving forward and giving things up since then. But all along I thought, “If I work hard enough on my career, if I’m more deeply embodied, if my meditation practice is really strong, if I can learn to be really artistically expressive, if I’m comfortable being alone, then…”

Then someone will love me. Then I will find The One, and we will be able to actually create the beautiful wedding of my dreams, and this gnawing sense inside me of being incomplete will finally be dispelled.

But it’s been three years since R. It’s been five more breakups, one disastrously bad date, one cross-country-and-back move, hundreds of hours of therapy, two meditation retreats, and I still don’t have a ring on my finger. I still have a broken heart.

I want to think that being single shouldn’t matter so much to me, that I’m a kickass person and having a partner is not what lends me self-worth, but I can’t. I know that it’s ridiculous, that my life is filled with so many other kinds of love and support, that there are all kinds of rich experiences I’m having and figuring out in my on-my-own life. I know that it’s better to be on my own than in a relationship where I’m not treated as well as I want to be. I know these things, and I’m figuring them out.

But I still want to be married. I want to wear my mother’s dress, throw a big party, and commit to loving whoever it may be through all the life things. I don’t know where or how they’ll come into the picture, but I really hope they do. And I hope I can work on learning and growing and doing all the work I need to until then.

Samantha Mansfield

Samantha is a yoga teacher, homeschool-program-leader, and nature education enthusiast. She lives in Peterborough, Ontario, with her big goofy dog and lovely roomies.

[Read comment policy before commenting]

  • louise danger

    i will start by saying thank you for writing this. i could have written it myself a few years ago (minus the meditation retreats), so when i say “i know how you feel,” i come from a similar place of a broken engagement, some gross relationships of various levels of seriousness, etc.

    and all i can say is, it gets better. focusing hard on friendships and the things that you need to do to be happy as You, not You +1, is the best panacea i’ve found. it sucked. there was at least one late-night teary phonecall to an ex. but… i don’t know. after probably about a year and a half, “no ring” stopped mattering quite so much. i threw myself completely into working, at an office that was so busy i hardly had time to check my email by the time i got home at night, let alone ruminate about missed fairy tales or consider starting a new one. i never really full-stop quit reading wedding blogs, but i definitely scaled it back (consciously or otherwise) until i felt on sure enough ground that i wouldn’t get wrecked if i picked them up again.

    it’s funny; my now-fiance and i started dating after i went on an overnight friend-trip with other mutual friends and one of them suggested that we’d be a cute couple. that was it – i wasn’t looking for anything, i wasn’t really in a place where i felt Ready™ to have a relationship again. and i, too, had The Wedding all planned in my head. the one i’m actually planning now – with money involved, and other people sending me replies to inquiry emails, the Real One – is not very much like that one at all. and that’s great, because as nice as that wedding could have been, it’s not one that represents us the two of us together.

    sometimes you just have to let the boat teeter way over towards the other side of the waves until it feels like righting itself. you mentioned that you have a therapist – they can likely help you to unravel what is still eating at you most about all this, and offer suggestions about how best you can get through it. allow yourself to grieve, but don’t let yourself get caught up in the trappings. you can do it!

    • Your commented reminded me that in year 2 of singleness after my ex, I was super busy for months, hardly having time to eat/sleep/etc.,…and it really helped me stop thinking about it. Not that I recommend that approach necessarily, but it did help that fall/winter/spring pass more quickly than I was anticipating. Year 1 was slow like molasses though. Being sinlge when you don’t want to be can be so painful….

  • Amy March

    I’m really not a fan of the social narrative that says if you are single and unhappy about it you need to work on yourself and you need to figure out how to be happy alone and you need to be a whole complete perfectly realized person alone to find someone.

    lol what? tell me more, half-dozen friends who met their husbands drunk in a bar in college. tell me more about how I need to be absolutely perfect to find someone, friend who has literally never lived alone. tell me more about how if I just took more classes, or found a hobby, or wore red lipstick to the grocery store I would finally find him, friend who is married to a guy randomly assigned to the cube next to hers.

    I’m all for taking steps to love my life single, because I want to be happy- and I am! My life is pretty great. But all that greatness doesn’t make it any easier to be single and it hasn’t made it any easier to find a partner. I just flat refuse the narrative that wanting to be married is a sign that I am broken, and that only by perfecting myself will I find someone. That’s just not how any of this works.

    • Booknerd

      I’m not sure if you read that narrative in this article or are just commenting in general, but from what I read the author is suggesting she needs to get her life back on track, not to find a man, just to be a happier and more content person in general. I don’t think you have to be your best self in order to find a man, but there’s something to be said for living your best life for your own sake. Wanting to be married and being content being single aren’t exclusive concepts, I was a very happy single person in that I had a full life, loved my job, my friends, my hobbies, but I wanted to be married as well, and at no time in the process was I broken.

      • Amy March

        Both. In the article:

        “But all along I thought, “If I work hard enough on my career, if I’m more deeply embodied, if my meditation practice is really strong, if I can learn to be really artistically expressive, if I’m comfortable being alone, then…”

        Then someone will love me. Then I will find The One, and we will be able to actually create the beautiful wedding of my dreams, and this gnawing sense inside me of being incomplete will finally be dispelled.”

        This, in a nut shell, is exactly what I am talking about. It’s not a critique of the author, just my take on this whole thought process.

        • LJ

          It’s very clear evidence of areas we still need feminism, as a society. One part the whole putting of weddings on a pedestal, the other part “if I’m a perfect woman then a man will sweep me off my feet”…. both are SO backwards.

          • Amy March

            I don’t think it is backwards at all to want to have a beautiful wedding, or to want to find the one. These are good things! I think it’s perfectly okay to want them.

          • LJ

            Putting it on a pedestal =/= wanting a nice wedding.

            It’s the more unreasonable expectations…. people who plan amazing beautiful weddings then divorce a couple months later when they realize they wanted the wedding, not the marriage…. having more balanced, gender-equal social pressures around these things would go so far.

          • Amy March

            Saying all this in response to an article about a single woman who wants a wedding though to me is the problem. Because its seemingly easy to say “oh nah this thing you desperately want and can’t have isn’t all its cracked up to be, and its actually not great you even want it” to single people. But people who are partnered get to plan amazing beautiful weddings, and no one routinely pops up to say “do you worry that your beautiful Pacific Northwest wedding with flower crowns and a bar in a canoe was actually too perfect? maybe you’ll get divorced in two months anyway.”

          • LJ

            ………….I thought we were talking about the whole thought process, not this particular example?

            I’m just saying that the “solutions” out there aren’t ideal, I’m not shitting on people’s desires.

          • Amy March

            I just think it’s a bit like reading a post about someone who desperately wants kids and is struggling to conceive, and responding with “ya know I think children are actually just part of our human-centric desire to further our species at the expense of the planet, and besides, some kids turn out to be killers anyway.” Like, okay, that’s a perfectly valid point, but I think the context in which you’ve decided to make it (following my example, making it only to people who can’t naturally conceive, and not in response to couples who had no trouble conceiving) is problematic. And it does come across as telling people “oh hey thing you want that I have isn’t awesome and you shouldn’t really want it.”

          • LJ

            ……………I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

          • Katharine Parker

            I was at dinner recently with a group of women where the one married woman at the table told us all about her beautiful, lavish wedding, including showing the table photos, then followed with “But I got married so young. If I were doing it now, I would just have a simple backyard wedding. Big weddings are such a waste.”

            Great job trying to get kudos for your beautiful wedding and kudos for being morally superior to wanting a beautiful wedding. I hate the narrative that cool girls don’t want weddings or want to get married (especially when it comes from women who already have those things).

          • Vanessa

            Yes exactly. It’s tone deaf. I think it demonstrates a lack of understanding, or listening, or both. Yes there are pros and cons to every situation and wedding planning has its challenges but likely someone in the author’s position would love to have those challenges. That person probably wants to feel heard and to feel like her desire to be married and her fears about it maybe never happening are legitimate. Saying that wedding planning is difficult in response is rubbing salt in the wound.

          • LJ

            I’m assuming you’re referring to my comment being the tone deaf one? I didn’t realize I was addressing challenges in wedding planning, I was just speaking to the feminist argument around the pedestal weddings are put on. I don’t think the LW is wrong for wanting one. I just think that the fact that this situation exists in the first place is interesting. Weddings are so revered, especially by women. Feminism has changed so many things about domestic partnerships of all kinds, and it’s interesting to discuss areas that may need more attention by the strong and educated women on this forum.

            No where do I say she shouldn’t want a wedding. No where do I say that having a wedding is more difficult than being single. Society pushes many women to want a wedding as a sign of having “made it”, and it’s just a crappy society thing that men don’t get. How on earth did y’all manage to twist that into me telling LW that their feelings aren’t valid? I just wanted to AGREE with Amy that it sucks that women are pushed to feel that they need to self-perfect.

            ffs.

          • Vanessa

            I wasn’t referring to your comment, sorry. I get mixed up with the replies when we’re far enough down-thread that it stops indenting. I was referring somewhat to the “wedding planning is not daisies!” comment but also just the tendency of some people to respond to someone saying “I want to get married and I’m sad that I’m not” with that kind of a response. Because I’ve expressed feelings like the ones described by the author and I’ve heard responses like that, and it’s crummy.

          • LJ

            All good…. I understand that people not being able to relate is an issue. I’m still confused with Amy’s comments, but whatever

          • Alexandra

            I must admit I actually do THINK these things quite frequently about people planning amazing beautiful weddings. And actually thought them much more back when I was single and going to my friends’ weddings. It’s much more of a faux pas to say that sort of thing to the person getting married than the other sort of thing to the person who’s not, though.

          • idkmybffjill

            On a different side of it – wedding planning is not always daisies! When single and casually pondering a wedding I basically only thought about the “pretty”, and not about the family, and the process of my fiance and I preparing ourselves for marraige, etc. (I thought about those things more when I met him, of course, and obviously when we got engaged).

            But…. I think it’s sort of a damning experience to imagine wedding planning/preparing for marriage with someone as a dreamscape. Cause it can really really really suck when parts of it are tricky.

            Less things on pedestals, in general, please!

          • Yep

            All wedding magazines can show us is pretty stuff. They can’t show us the process.

          • idkmybffjill

            Exactly.

          • LJ

            Yes absolutely. Less things on pedestals and more “WHERE DID ALL THIS FAMILY CRAZY COME FROM. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE.” :p

          • idkmybffjill

            Right???? If you’d told me before the things that would be issues I would have been like…. mmm, you don’t know my family.

            TURNS OUT I DIDN’T KNOW MY FAMILY (in some cases this is straight up literal, as there was some drama about me not inviting family who I legitimately did not know).

    • sage

      Yep, exactly. There is no list of things you “have to do” to attract a lifelong relationship partner, so much of it is happenstance pure and simple. When I met my fiance I was a mess (not even happily single for myself), and it happened anyway because life is weird and unpredictable like that and I was lucky. Some of my closest and dearest friends have been dating with the intention of meeting a life partner for years, and it just sucks that it hasn’t panned out. But they don’t need to work on themselves in order to meet someone and that is a completely frustrating narrative.

      • idkmybffjill

        Totally agree. I was in a decent life place when I met my fiance but I was in no way Perfect (and I’m still not, even though I’m a Bride To Be, which is a totally seperate but also damning social narrative!).

        I have MANY friends who met their husbands when they had what they thought were one night stands with them.

        When I was single I tried to reframe for myself being in a relationship as more like finding a best friend, instead of achieving something. My best friends are all people who I met and just clicked with. I didn’t do anything to earn them (although of course I’ve done work to keep them).

        Being in a relationship isn’t something I achieved, it’s just something that worked out.

        • LJ

          “I have MANY friends who met their husbands when they had what they thought were one night stands with them.”

          *tentative hand raise*

          :)

          • idkmybffjill

            It’s SO common!! TBH I feel like that should be one of the real line items on the “how to get a husband” lists. lol

          • LJ

            Yup! One nighter turns into “hey, that was a better lay than usual… maybe he wants to do it again….” turns into “I think I actually like my FWB as like a friend” into…… here? hahahah

            (excuse the valleygirl dialogue)

          • RT

            Yuuuuup.
            Got together with my fiancée by having a threesome with her and another girl (had only met either of them once in passing) after my burlesque performance.

            ?isn’t it romaaantic?

          • LJ

            bwahahahha!! Mine had a one night stand with my roommate (he was a friend of a friend) and she was like “he’s not really my type, but you’d probably like him!” and it turns out yes I do. She’s one of my bffs and has been for decades. Pretty funny.

        • Christina McPants

          “I have MANY friends who met their husbands when they had what they thought were one night stands with them.”

          It me.

          It not only me, I had been hitting on someone else at that party before my wife snagged me to play kings.

        • Jess

          I am one of those One-Night-Stand turned Marriage people!

          • LJ

            There are so many of us. We should start a club. I don’t know what it would be called though. ideas?

        • eating words

          THIS: “Being in a relationship isn’t something I achieved, it’s just something that worked out.” Because relationships aren’t accomplishments. You can’t just will them into existence. There’s no magical thing that can make you meet a person that you click with.

          • idkmybffjill

            Exactly this. I certainly think you can accomplish things IN relationships. Staying together is fantastic! Working through problems is fantastic! But meeting someone isn’t an achievement, it’s just happenstance.

          • anon-o-tron

            Exactly. People are so different, it’s not like there is some magic formula to meet a person you click with and then make them want to spend forever with you. Sometimes you just get lucky.

        • laddibugg

          “I have MANY friends who met their husbands when they had what they thought were one night stands with them.”

          Another one. I even left his house without exchanging numbers (we had mutual friends so if something bad happened I would have had a way to contact him)

        • Alexandra

          Man, this is NOT how I feel about my relationship…it definitely is something I achieved. Meeting my husband was happenstance, but it was happenstance that I worked really, really hard to accomplish. The party I met him at was one I actually threw, and just making eye contact with him at that party was challenging (I’m pretty introverted and had to work hard to learn to flirt). Social skills were never my strong point and it took a lot for me to get to a place where I didn’t wallflower in every circumstance.

          Plenty of people don’t have this problem, but for those who do–yeah, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.

          • idkmybffjill

            Wow! That’s definitely an interesting new perspective to hear, I’m sorry not to have considered it before.

            It would definitely feel like an accomplishment if forming relationships with people at all was something I’d had to overcome, well done!

            That said, I’d argue that what you achieved was developing great social skills. Skills which led to other fantastic wonderful things in your life, i.e., your husband. Those skills are a HUGE accomplishment.

            I, for instance, am pretty extroverted and rarely had any trouble making new friends. I was honestly only really single for about a year of my adult life between a serious relationship and meeting my almost husband.

            On the other hand, I have a dear wonderful friend who also has fantastic social skills and has never had a relationship. I’m still in the camp of relationships aren’t achievements, because there is nothing I did that she didn’t do – I just happened to meet a person I thought was the best and he felt the same way.

          • G.

            Yep. A close friend once remarked to me “you are so good at friendship, why not relationships?” And all I could say was, “bad luck.” Sometimes I have to force myself to remember how much luck and happenstance play a role, but I think it’s important to do so lest I start thinking of myself as deficient because making and sustaining friendship-relationships is not hard for me (it’s hard work, but it’s intuitive for me). Because dating/relationships is the one realm where hard work has not paid great dividends. There have been some good temporary catches, but mostly a lot of stumbling about with little reward.

          • flashphase

            “dating/relationships is the one realm where hard work has not paid great dividends” –> are you me from a few years ago? I think women, especially those that were academic-achieving type A girls, are told that if they just work hard enough they can achieve their goals. And some people who become partnered buy into that. But actually many things in life are completely out of our hands, and dating happens to be a very visible and highly scrutinized one. I hope our culture can stop ascribing personal traits of desirability or “good”ness to married women and saying that single women are lacking.

            I almost didn’t write my FH back when he messaged me on OKCupid. I think about that a lot.

          • G.

            Maybe :) I definitely fit the high-academic-achieving type (though less type A as I age, for whatever reason), and realizing that hard work was not going to yield the result it does in other realms of my life was really challenging, mentally and emotionally.

          • idkmybffjill

            “I almost didn’t write my FH back when he messaged me on OKCupid. I think about that a lot.”

            SAME.

          • flashphase

            I almost SAMEd you on your family comment, so maybe you are me??

          • Ashlah

            Hey, me too. I actually didn’t write him back until he messaged me a second time. A serious near miss. Luck and happenstance. I think about it a lot too.

          • idkmybffjill

            I actually only even logged in to delete my account! His message was really really good but I was like, “ugh I think I kind of need a break.” LUCKily I read it to my roommate and she was like, girl please. Write him back. So grateful that I did!

          • sage

            This was me too! I read the first email from him, got distracted, and forgot to respond for another like 2 weeks while I went on dates with a different guy.

            Speaking of luck, I was the first and only person my fiance went on a date with that he met online.

          • Kyle

            I *didn’t* message my guy back when he messaged me on OKCupid. We met IRL like a year later when we’d both moved to a different city and were taking a class together. I didn’t realize it was the same guy until I saw his twitter handle (which was the same as his OKCupid handle).

          • Alexandra

            The social skills were an achievement, the ability to discern that he was a good guy was an achievement (I dated some pretty horrible people in my early twenties), the skills to be a good partner were an achievement…meeting him was luck (sort of), but quite a lot of the other stuff wasn’t.

            I knew while I was single that part of the equation was going to be luck–part of it was going to be something I didn’t really have control over–and if that part cancelled out all the stuff I was doing, so be it. I wasn’t going to take it as a sign of my inadequacy. But I also knew that it wasn’t 100% luck.

          • idkmybffjill

            I agree! It’s not a hundred percent luck. My fiance didn’t just arrive on my doorstep one day. But I think, generally speaking, most achievements are things that (accounting for privelege and ability) can be achieved with enough hard work by anyone (all things being equal).

            With enough hard work, people can develop social skills, with enough hard work, people can be discerning, with enough hard work, people can expand their network. Yes totally all these things are definitely achievements! But they don’t always end in meeting someone and I think that’s the difference. And I don’t think most single people are, in fact, just waiting for it to happen. I think most single people who don’t want to be are putting themselves out there etc etc and definitely achieving things along the way. But not all of those people will end up married. And that’s why the relationship isn’t an achievement, in my opinion.

          • Alexandra

            Yeah, I’m reading through this comment thread and more and more realizing that what people are really talking about is–how much of getting married is actually up to us? Which is a pretty central question to a lot of issues in life, actually.

            I think it has to be a combo. Just like most stuff in this category. That’s just my opinion, and I tend to be pretty moderate (but more towards conservative) in all questions that surround this central philosophy.

            I mean, when somebody has a strong marriage that lasts a long time, there’s a tendency to see that as a kind of achievement, right? Now, a lot of people like to say that oh, it’s a crapshoot, they got lucky. Because the alternative–a marriage that ends in divorce–tends to be viewed/felt like failure. And a lot of people would say, nah, it’s not failure, it just didn’t work out, it’s a crapshoot, they got unlucky. And I think there’s elements of that in both circumstances. The crapshoot thing.

            BUT I do think there are things in both circumstances that are within our control. Anecdotally, those things might be more luck or more control, but in the aggregate, I really do think it’s a mix. And so I don’t think it’s terrible to see a successful relationship, at least in part, as an achievement.

          • idkmybffjill

            Sure, I agree that a successful long term relationship IS an achievement – for the couple. Making it last is an achievement, working through fights is an achievement. I certainly feel like we as a couple have accomplished something when we make it through something difficult. But that’s something we’re doing together, not something I’m doing alone. I haven’t achieved anything, we’ve accomplished something together.

            Conversely, I don’t think it’s necessarily a failure when a relationship ends – lots of relationships end for reasons beyond not working hard enough. Particularly because as noted above it takes two to make those achievements happen. The most hard working wife in the WORLD can’t force her husband to work just as hard on their relationship, and vice versa.

            Meeting someone? Not being single? I don’t think that’s an achievement. And I think framing it as one makes single people feel like they just aren’t doing enough. Like getting an A, if they just studied harder they’d get it! But love isn’t like that.

          • Vanessa

            I think the key is that it comes from you, not that it is imposed on you. For you individually to say “hey I was lucky to meet someone I’m compatible with but I’ve worked hard to create a strong, loving partnership and I’m proud of that” is great. What’s problematic is when other people see you from the outside and view your relationship/singleness as a measure of success/failure.

    • Alex K

      I think (hope?) this narrative comes is a distorted way to pass along the idea that most people want to date someone that is happy with their own life. Not that it can’t happen if you aren’t, but it is easier to if you are pretty cool with how most things are going? With that being said, I think if you are happy with work/social stuff/etc but unhappy with being single that’s different from being unhappy with every aspect of your life.

      • Kyle

        Obviously it is easier to get to know and like someone who is happy and has their shit together but it just warps so easily into the idea that you should be happy *so that someone will love you* which is incredibly gross. Happiness is an end in itself. We’re all deserving of love.

        • Amy March

          And it starts from an unspoken assumption that if you are single, it’s because you’re unhappy. Why do people identify “oh, maybe you’re actually really sad and it’s driving people away” as the “problem” to solve with someone who is single?

          • G.

            Right. And I’m sure if surveyed people would say they want to date happy people (I mean, why not?), but in real life, plenty of unhappy people are dating and getting married and staying partnered and plenty of happy people are single. I think it’s very common to be generally content/happy with one’s life — job, friends, hobbies, etc — but unhappily single and that turns into some quest to “become happy” when it’s actually more like waiting to see if a lottery ticket turns out to be the jackpot (aka waiting for luck to run in your direction) than a problem to solve.

          • eating words

            Right, and it’s a way of blaming women for (because this narrative seems to apply mainly to women) for the circumstances of life and the fact that finding your person can be legit challenging.

          • Booknerd

            I don’t think that there is a universal assumption that people are single because they are unhappy. I think that like Kyle said above, people content and happy with their lives are more likely to attract someone to spend time with them. I’ve had friends that were unhappy in their lives and eventually their refusal to do anything but mope about their problems certainly affected my desire to spend time with them, so I can certainly see how they might be lowering their chances of making meaningful connections that end up in a relationship.

    • Jess

      I *get* the attraction of the “She was unhappy and single, so she worked on herself to create a great life, and suddenly people took notice of that and she got married and lived happily ever after” narrative. It makes for great movies.

      But realistically, there are lots of people who are single who are out there living awesome lives and just wish they weren’t alone. No self-love montages are going to make people around them realize “Oh, this is the person I’ve been waiting for.”

      There is no amount of happy that yields a spouse.

      • Amy March

        Yes. It’s a happy narrative! It makes it seem like a problem with a clear cut solution. It’s a way for people who fear being alone to reassure themselves that they are okay, because they don’t have xyz problem that keeps you from finding someone. It’s something to say to a friend who is just sad. It’s just not actually true.

        • G.

          It’s also so American: just bootstrap your way to a relationship. American narratives resist luck, but there’s so much freakin’ luck involved in finding the right person to marry.

          • Danielle

            Exactly! “Work hard enough and you’ll get what you want.”

            Well, no. It doesn’t always work that way.

        • Amy March, I think this is a good and interesting point about it being about fear and people needing to reassure themselves that there’s a *reason* somebody isn’t single. And then they can feel good that it won’t happen to them.
          ETA: I mean *is* single.

    • Alexandra

      We have this fairy tale unit with my ninth graders where we pick apart the underlying messages of various fairy tales. The girls all immediately pounce on this fallacy. We always have a great conversation about why marriage is seen as the ultimate reward for a young woman. And the narrative that if you are beautiful and virtuous (Cinderella) a wonderful handsome prince will eventually show up and take you away.

      As someone who was single for a very long time, I can say that the real solution to finding a husband (if that’s what you want) after college, when meeting eligible single guys becomes much more difficult is yes, being emotionally healthy, but mostly…it’s a numbers game. Numbers and luck. I probably dated (as in, went on dates with) around 60 or so men during my decade of singlehood. I pretty much had a can’t say no policy. I’m introverted and I found it stressful, to be honest. But I knew I really wanted to get married and have a family, and I knew that I did have some control over the situation (again, though, there is sadly some luck involved).

      Sitting around in your apartment becoming more and more optimized in whatever way, or working out more and more, or getting better and better at your job–all great things to do just from a mental health standpoint, but if it’s marriage/a long term relationship you’re looking for, you kind of have to treat it like a job search and pound the pavement. At least, that was my experience.

      • Amy March

        But, literally no one asked you, a happily married woman, to explain to them how to solve this problem. And that is my point. Your solution was tons and tons of dating and a can’t say no policy. And I am delighted it worked for you! But it is not “the real solution” and it’s also not some secret idea that single people just need explained to them one more time to get it. I promise, no one who is unhappily single is sitting around like “wow, dating more is the solution?!? I’ve never thought of that!”

        I think everyone, including you!, means very well, and wants the best for the people they love, and genuinely gives this advice from a wonderful and kind and caring place. But it grates like nails on a chalkboard to me.

        • idkmybffjill

          It’s also just not always true! Lots of people met their partners with very little dating at all! There’s just not a formula.

          Being single can really suck. And when you read advice that doesn’t work for you, that can really suck.

          I remember how much it sucked when I was in this AMAZING PLACE in life and somehow couldn’t meet someone, and my roommate was kind of a mess and somehow always had a suitor. And frankly, in the grand scheme of things I was barely single. And it STILL sucked.

          • Alexandra

            There’s not a formula, exactly–sure, plenty of people meet their SO in weird ways, there’s lots of anecdata out there about how people meet–but after reading a couple of studies/books on the subject, it really seems like turning it into a job search kind of situation tends to work pretty well (although it can take a while). Anyway, that message made me feel a lot better about having some control over the process than the alternative message of just waiting around for somebody to notice me.

          • idkmybffjill

            I guess for me, if I was still single while practicing this behaviour it would make me feel like a failure.

            Some people date this way and never meet someone! Not everyone ends up married.

            The only thing that really made me feel a bit better about being single was taking away any sense of accomplishment in having a relationship. I said as much below, but I reframed it as making a best friend. Sure, I could put myself into situations where I would meet more people (I online dated… admittedly hella casually, but that’s where I met my fiance), but ultimately it would just click with someone or not at some point. I couldn’t make it happen no matter how hard I worked.

          • emmers

            Yes to this. When I was single, I tried to “live my best life,” and “put my self out there,” and all that nonsense. But it very much felt out of my control as to whether or not I would be in a relationship. As someone who was single for a long while, and then got married, I think of myself as lucky, not like I figured out how to become partnered– because I didn’t! Pure luck.

        • Alexandra

          The point I was making isn’t so much advice as it is an alternate message to the “become the beautiful wonderful dream girl and you’ll get the wedding you always wanted” narrative.

          The real narrative is more like…yeah, be a happy person, but marriage isn’t a reward for being happy/wonderful/beautiful/perfect–it’s generally the natural outcome of goal-oriented behavior seeking out long-term commitment. Which is more empowering, in my opinion.

          • Amy March

            You’re still making lack of marriage into something single people did wrong though. If the way you get to marriage is just the natural outcome of “goal-oriented behavior seeking out long-term commitment” do you see how that implies that if people just do a better job at that goal-oriented behavior then everything will work out? It’s the same issue- one says “be perfect in life and you’ll find him”- one says “search perfectly and hard and it will come”. But neither of those statements are necessarily true- lots of people seek out long term commitment seriously and still don’t find it. It isn’t always natural, and a message that it should be isn’t empowering. There’s a real difference between “hey this worked for me” and “here is the real solution.”

          • Alexandra

            Well, yeah, I mean, when it gets down to brass tacks I’m just using good ol’ Aunty Priscilla’s old adage about “you have to put yourself out there!”

            I dunno. Worked for me. I never felt like I was doing or being something wrong by being single–the self-doubt thing was something I was able to put away, eventually. I just figured–hey, I know I’d make a good wife, I know this is something I want, it’ll work out eventually when the cards fall my way, and if it doesn’t I know it’s not because I wasn’t worthy or because I did something wrong but because that’s just not how things went for me. But I definitely want to do everything I can to encourage things to go the way I want them to.

          • idkmybffjill

            And the inverse is true too! Lots of people don’t seek out long term commitment at all and still find it.

            Like sure, if you put yourself in a place where you are meeting lots of people you might have better odds of meeting the person you’ll end up with. Arguably you’d be better positioned, statistically, than if you never spent time with anyone you didn’t already know.

            But there’s never a guarantee! And honestly there are plenty of stories of people who ended up with their best friend who they’d had around for years and it just took something clicking finally.

            You just can’t make it happen, and honestly – it’s a little smug to pretend otherwise. It implies that every married couple ended up married because they were both following a longterm path of marriage seeking behavior and that’s just false. Are there married couples who followed this path? Absolutely. But it’s not all of them, and I would even argue (with no actual evidence other than no one I know has followed this path) that they’re not the majority.

        • Kyle

          I still remember a conversation from it must be at least ten years ago with a married friend (well, friendly acquaintance) and another perpetually single friend where the married friend just kept telling us that we shouldn’t worry because we were great and we were going to meet someone and I’m sure she had specific suggestions and it felt SO GOD DAMN TONE DEAF I wanted to scream. I finally said to her something like “I don’t want you to tell me that I’m going to meet someone, I want to know that I’ll be OK even if I don’t,” and it was kind of a watershed moment in my life, and she had no idea what I was talking about.

          I know she meant well but I wanted to murder her.

          • Vanessa

            YES. I have a couple married acquaintances who always ask my very dear single friend “tell us your hilarious dating stories we are so boring and married/ dating sounds so fun!!” and it is excruciating. They think they’re being supportive and enthusiastic about her dating life when they’re really torturing my friend by putting a spotlight on a part of her life she’s not happy about, all the while without suffering any of the miseries of actually being single.

          • Kyle

            Ugh, this used to stress me out so much. I was never much of a date-er* and coupled-up friends (or relatives, even worse) wanting to know about my dating life made me want to run. Even when I was happily-single, never mind when I was unhappily-single.

            * At some point I just kind of decided that I was OK with being single forever if it meant I never had to go on another OKCupid first date; I eventually did meet and fall in love with a wonderful guy and got to know him in a non-date situation.

          • G.

            Oh yes, there’s the times when my parents’ friends ask, “have you tried online dating” as if it’s new. And I want to throttle them. I’d also like to throttle the people who tell me I need to just keep doing online dating when I take breaks because I can’t handle the awfulness of certain messages and boring/weird/uncomfortable first dates. Online dating totally works. Sometimes. For some people. It’s also a hellhole, and I wish more people who have not endured its hellish qualities could accept that even if they don’t viscerally get it.

          • Sara

            I have so many friends who have met their lifelong partners via online dating. It was just not for me – I tried it for a few months, went on 1 date which actually didn’t go TOO terribly, but I am just too nervous, sensitive and high-strung of a person to wade through the gross/unintelligent discouraging messages in the hopes there is 1 diamond buried deep in there.

          • Katharine Parker

            Aside from the sexually harassing messages, the worst of online dating was guys who would be so rude if you didn’t respond fawningly over whatever dumb message they sent. I couldn’t handle how many guys would tell me I was a snob or a bitch or whatever if I let a message sit for a day.

          • G.

            Oh my god, yes. I recently bucked up and put up a profile again, only to get multiple variations of this. In addition to the snob/bitch accusations, there was
            –the questioner: “what, have I lost you already?” [I replied once, you messaged again *5* times. Yes, you lost me with those 5 messages before I even had a chance to read one.]

            –the whiner: “But there are so few XYZ in this city. We have so much in common. Why won’t you answer me?”

            –the dunce: “oh I didn’t mean to send you those messages about my cat, I thought I was sending them to a friend. But since I did, you should answer me anyways.”

            –the mansplainer: “I thought you said you were interested in ABC. Then why didn’t you respond to my ode to ABC. I have so much to tell you. I can’t believe you don’t want to meet to talk about all the brilliant things I know about ABC.” [About something I know way better than you, but whatever.]

            WTF. And then all the harassment. And the men who write things like “you must care about your health and appearance.” And the men who overtly want to cheat. I just can’t deal.

          • Katharine Parker

            Yes, yes, yes, yes. It is a dark world.

            I found Ok Cupid especially bad for this. Guys have too much info about you, and anyone can message you, and it really brought out some terrible people. Obviously it works for others – but I hated it. On tinder at least you both have to swipe right. It doesn’t eliminate the awfulness, but OKC was particularly demoralizing.

          • Sara

            This is so awfully condescending. It also reminds me of my friends with children who love to laugh and say similar things about their “friends without kids who are still fun and actually have lives.” On the surface it seems self-deprecating, but the genuine tone always comes off condescending to me.

          • Ashlah

            I’m currently the only person in my office without kids, and I get this all the time. It’s completely condescending.

          • Sara

            Yep. I’m in a similar boat in the workplace. Cannot count the times I’ve heard “You’ll understand when you have kids” (I am, and will remain, purposely childless) or “Oh I bet your weekend was way more fun than mine since you don’t have to worry about kids!” or “You are so lucky you can take a vacation like that, I could never do that since I have kids” etc etc… might as well just reach out and pat the top of my head, that’s how it feels.

          • Ashlah

            I do plan to have a kid, but the comments serve as a reminder of what NOT to say when I’m a parent, and also as a motivator to continue doing awesome stuff when we have a kid, instead of being a Debbie Downer about parenthood.

          • idkmybffjill

            “I want to know that I’ll be OK even if I don’t”. God – if only we as a society spent half as much time figuring this part out as we do suggesting how women can be perfect or carefree or diligent enough to meet someone I think it would be so amazing!

          • Alexandra

            After a decade of being single before I got married, I just don’t go there with my single friends. Because when people brought up the topic of “why Alex is single” it used to be like having someone poke at an open wound for me.

            However, I do remember an aunty who was also single until age 37 telling me about her experience, and it was tremendously encouraging.

          • G.

            Yes, oh yes, oh yes. I have a (married) close friend who is especially good at reminding me that I’ll be okay no matter what, and that means so so much.

          • LucyPirates

            I had this conversation with my mother…

        • G.

          This is what pissed me off about that “big data” your way to finding love book published a couple years ago. It was pretty much offering “widen your geographic search horizons” on online dating sites as the magic cure as if 1) people weren’t doing it (some are willing, some aren’t); 2) 100 miles makes a difference everywhere (in the mid-Atlantic, yes, in Kansas City, not so much); and 3) it just reinforced the “you need to work harder” mindset, instead of acknowledging that dedicating yourself to dating as a job may still fail, and that sucks.

          • Alexandra

            Ah. I’m starting to understand what the real argument here is–how much of finding a spouse is actually under one’s own control, and how much of it is not?

            That’s actually a really interesting conversation. It’s kind of a conservative/liberal thing.

            Whenever this argument comes up in any context (economical, social, etc.) I always assume that the moderate answer is probably the correct one–as in, some luck/circumstance, some bootstrapping. More on one side than on the other anecdotally, but statistically, more of an average.

            Because most of us probably know some singles who make us say…yep, I know why that person is single. And we also know some singles who make us say…huh, guess it just never panned out.

          • Amy March

            The thing is, you might think you know why that person is single, but you don’t. You just don’t. Horrible people find love. Why is this particular one not? You have no clue.

          • idkmybffjill

            Right, because as many people who one might be tempted to say, “yep, I know why that person as single”. There are probably other happily married (or not) people that make one say, “How are they married?”.

            The answer is = Chaos! It’s chaos. Some of it seems logical and some of it doesn’t.

          • Alexandra

            But…DO horrible people really find love?

            I just don’t think it’s 100% luck or 100% control.

          • Amy March

            YES. What are you even talking about? Literal murderers in jail find love. So when you are looking at someone, judging them, thinking you know why they are single, you are wrong. You don’t know.

          • Alexandra

            I mean, they might “find love” as in find somebody who’s willing to get into a romantic relationship with them, but is that really love?

          • Poeticplatypus

            Please, pray tell, how would you define love?

          • Alexandra

            Yikes not touching this with a ten foot pole. So that’s a no, then, for our own actions having anything to do with the ability to meet, cultivate, and sustain a successful long-term relationship?

          • Amy March

            No, its a no, then, for thinking you are somehow so wise that you can tell as an outsider why someone is single. It’s smug, it’s condescending, and its not true. That’s the comment these replies are responding to.

          • Alexandra

            For Pete’s sake, you don’t have ANY single friends that in the back of your mind you kind of know…girl, you have issues. (ETA–not YOU have issues, but the hypothetical friend).

            I do. I will be honest that I have a friend like this. I also have some friends who I think have their shit together really well, and who I think could easily get married, it just hasn’t panned out yet.

            I mean, is it that horrible/condescending for me to think that? Maybe? Do I say it? Nope!

          • Amy March

            I know all kinds of people with all kinds of issues. Some of them are single, some of them are married, and no, I have no idea why or how they are in different categories. If I told you that I had a friend who was one month out of a divorce, from a ten year marriage, with a 4 year old, still living with his ex-wife, would you think you knew why he was single?

            What if I told you he wasn’t- he was happily dating someone he would get engaged to 4 months later.

          • Alexandra

            For a lot of situations–yeah, it’s super complicated, lots of stuff involved, some crapshoot kind of stuff, some personal issues kind of stuff.

            Which is why I really think the whole thing IS a combination of factors in which luck does play a big role.

            But I’m just not willing to say it’s 100% luck. Because in a way, that’s just still Cinderella waiting for the prince to find her with her lucky natural beauty and her lucky natural virtue.

          • Poeticplatypus

            From remembering how all of my relationships started there was nothing i personally did to make our first meet happen. We just crossed paths at the right time. Cinderella wanted to go to the party she meet and danced with the prince and things happened. Now if we want to think about a princess that had an actual relationship let’s examine Princess Jasmine from Aladin. She met Aladin by chance and they went on a date, then they even lived together and did eventually get married. But did they work hard to meet each other for the first time? Nope.

            Meeting someone is a game of chance. There is no magic formula.

          • Mooza

            Ahem… Alladin got a genie to make him fake rich, pretended to be a prince and turned his pet monkey into an elephant then marched down to the castle to try to get her father to orchestrate their marriage. So – meeting someone? Yes, luck. If meeting someone means literally physically/digitally bumping into them. But then- actually talking to them, following up, being open to them not being what you imagined (if we’re already on the subject of Alladin)… that’s not luck. That’s on you. I think that’s the point Alexandra is making and honestly don’t understand why so many people are objecting. Seems pretty straightforward.

          • Poeticplatypus

            And as their friend would you tell them why they are single after said friend pours out their feelings on being single? Would the advise spew out, “Girl, you single cuz of…..” No! Because it would be a rude thing to assume you know why that person doesn’t have a date. And you might lose a friend

          • idkmybffjill

            Romantic love isn’t a reward for a life well lived. It’s just not! It’s not okay to think that. There are many many wonderful people who want to find love and just don’t.

            Cultivating and sustaining a successful long-term relationship? That is an accomplishment made by two people. Sometimes it has to be worked at. Sometimes it is exceedingly easy.

            We have to stop putting value judgements on whether or not people are married.

          • Alexandra

            Well of course it isn’t a reward for a life well lived! And one of the women I admire most in this world is 77 years old and never married or had a romantic relationship of any kind. My dear aunt is 64 and in the same category. Personally, I was headed for this and had made my peace with it and had no feelings of inadequacy as a result.

            BUT a long term relationship IS one way of having a well-lived life. And it isn’t 100% luck, as well-lived lives in general are not.

          • idkmybffjill

            I agree – I don’t think this thread is about having long-term relationships though. I in no way think long term relationships are luck. But meeting the right person with whom you can sustain one kind of is. It’s the one thing in the equation that can’t be controlled for.

            Two awesome people could both be looking for marriage, be in great places in their life, line up value wise on paper, meet, and just not click.

            Conversely, two people who are kind of a mess and not at all what each other is looking for could meet and end up really making it work (I would say that I’ve never known a long term relationship that was 0 work, I do not think making it work is luck).

          • Alexandra

            Yeah, the meeting has quite a lot of luck to do with it. The meeting part is not entirely under one’s own control. Which is why it makes for great movies, great novels, etc. Which is why it can be so frustrating for those who would very much like to be in a romantic relationship, but aren’t.

            I guess my own survivorship bias makes me a true believer in the idea that there’s less luck involved even in the meeting. Because I had to do so much going out, so much manipulating of my circumstances, down to even changing jobs (in large part to expand my social horizons) to finally, finally meet my spouse–after meeting SO MANY other guys who just weren’t suitable beforehand–that I tend to think…well, yeah, kind of luck, but man I worked hard to get that meeting to happen!

            Funny story–the guy I met at that party and wound up marrying…his best friend lived two doors down from my good friends. He actually house-sat for the friend at the same time I was house-sitting for my friend, in the same building. He ate at the same takeout joint down the street. Knew several of my friends. Eventually wound up living two blocks away from me.

            This was true for three years, and we didn’t meet until I switched jobs and was teaching English across the hall from now-husband’s roommate. Luck?

            OR if I were relying purely on luck, would we have kept on having near-misses? I dunno. It’s just an anecdote.

          • idkmybffjill

            I have a similar anecdote with my fiance. We met online in one of my brief stints (I would usually go on about three dates and then stay with one of those guys for a couple months, repeat), during this stint he was the only person I wrote back to.

            As it turned out, we had TONS of mutual friends. We probably would have met at a party at some point. I suppose the argument could be made that we made it happen because we both got online. But it was truly truly luck that we clicked! I didn’t do anything to make us click, and neither did he.

            I met other guys with whom I shared social circles, went on dates with, and it just didn’t work. This one did, and I didn’t do anything to deserve it. It was lucky.

          • JC

            My best friend from college is my boyfriend’s best friend from high school. My boyfriend came to visit our college once, stayed at the guys’ house where I spent 90% of my time, and we didn’t meet until years later. They went to a party that I wasn’t invited to!

          • Alexandra

            Ah, but was it just luck? OR did you put effort into maintaining good friendships with people you trusted, so that when you met the guy (online) you had the wherewithal to know that he was a good guy?

            This is totally a Malcolm Gladwell book.

          • Amy March

            Yes, it was just luck. Because she could have put all that effort into maintaining good relationships so she would be able to recognize someone good, and still never have found him.

          • Alexandra

            True! But is that 100% luck?

          • Ashlah

            I mean, you’re sort of right in a pedantic way in that if you leave your house you have a better chance at meeting someone than if you literally never step outside your front door. I do understand where you’re coming from, especially given that you consciously made changes in your life that you feel led you to finding your spouse.

            But there is so, so much luck involved. Enough that it feels more right than not to say that it IS all luck. Because maybe that person who literally never stepped outside their front door has a lone housekeeper, and one day they get to talking and they fall in love. And maybe that person who goes to a social event every single night just never finds the right person. You may have made changes that improved your social life, and that may have led to you meeting your husband, but that doesn’t mean that you MADE love happen in your life.

            There is nothing a person can do to guarantee they’ll find love. THAT is why it’s luck.

          • idkmybffjill

            Nailed it.

          • idkmybffjill

            Right. Or he might not have liked me in person! There are 5465498635465 reasons why it doesn’t click. When it does it’s just…. well I can’t think of anything other than lucky.

          • idkmybffjill

            I think this is a good point. I guess why it’s important to me to frame it as luck is because to do otherwise implies that my fantastic single friends aren’t doing things as well as I did them and it’s just not true!

          • Alexandra

            For sure, a person can do everything and be everything great, and still it just doesn’t pan out. And this is true in lots of different arenas of life–education, career, accomplishments of every sort. It’s just not always in the cards. But…are all of these things really just 100% destiny or luck?

          • idkmybffjill

            Hmm, parts of them, yes? Some are talent. Some the luck of genetics. Love? The luck of happenstance.

            I think what’s important about this conversation isn’t necessarily isolating what is chance and what isn’t. Because you’re right, for most things in life it’s a mix of choice and chance.

            I think what’s important is realizing that when single women are told that meeting someone is an accomplishment it’s not okay. It leads to feelings of failure that are completely unwarranted. And it would be good if women didn’t have to feel this way.

          • Alexandra

            Sure–feeling like a failure because one is a single gal is very tempting given our cultural assumptions on the subject. You are definitely swimming upstream to have the mindset: I’m an attractive person, I have good social skills, I’m 100% ok with myself (or not, but whatever, none of your business, we all have issues), AND I’d like to be married, but if I never do that’s not a reflection on my personal character or gumption. It’s just how things did/didn’t work out. I remember how hard that mindset was. How I fought for it and had to plug my ears from the noise suggesting every possible thing to the contrary.

            I hold that it’s possible to have that point of view (difficult! Given the noise surrounding us on the subject) while simultaneously making conscious decisions that would facilitate meeting someone.

            Because if it really is 100% luck, if there’s nothing I can really do about it at all…that’s pretty disempowering. If luck is an element, but there’s also some things to help the process that may or may not work but they CAN help and often have helped for many people…now there’s something I can try. And trying doesn’t make me a failure if it doesn’t pan out.

            Because after all, part of it really is just luck.

          • idkmybffjill

            I guess this is just a question of differing experience.

            I have zero long term single friends who haven’t tried going on as many dates as possible, upping their flirting skills, ‘perfecting’ themselves, doing all the things people are told to do to facilitate meeting someone.

            I suppose if I knew someone who never tried to meet anyone and was like, “ugh why am I single!” I might suggest that they do something to put the odds more in their favor. But I think it’d be a little smug of me to assume they hadn’t already thought of/tried that.

          • Alexandra

            Ah. In my personal experience, I had a good friend sit me down and tell me what I was doing that was leading to my being alone. She was wonderful about it and said that I was a great person, but she had some very specific and helpful suggestions about what I could do differently (stop sitting around in my studio apartment. Change jobs. Ask people to set me up. Date online. Get a haircut and stop wearing t-shirts from high school with holes in them.) I also read some books on the subject.

            And then it took years. And the whole time I had to keep telling myself that I was a perfectly fine person living a perfectly fine life. And I’d still be telling myself that now, and it would still be true, if it hadn’t been for half luck/half me making conscious changes that were awkward and uncomfortable.

            Which is just my own stupid story, I realize.

            For single friends who’d like to be married, I think it’s best to treat it as any other thing that isn’t ideal. Acknowledge that the person wants something that’s a good thing to want. Acknowledge that they’re a great person regardless of how that particular thing works out. That life can still be amazing and great either way. That in a lot of respects, it IS just luck. But also the encouragement to put in the arduous work involved with getting that luck to happen…I needed a whole support crew while I was in my dating years. They were awesome, never wrote me off, never were condescending about it, never acted like it was something I shouldn’t want or that there was anything wrong with me for wanting it OR not having it yet.

          • idkmybffjill

            You know. This really truly clarifies your perspective. Good for you and for your friend!

          • Amy March

            It’s not just feeling like a failure though. It’s being told that you are a failure because finding love is a skill and if you don’t have it that is on you. I can handle my feelings of failure totally fine, but being told by others that I am doing it wrong? Absolutely not. And being told by others “here is the way to do it” when a) I didn’t ask, and b) nope, there isn’t one way to do this, is infuriating.

          • Alexandra

            True that there isn’t ONE way to do it, and that in the end, no matter what one does, it may just wind up being a never gonna happen, move on, doesn’t mean I did anything wrong or that I was an unworthy person. And also true that giving unsolicited advice is obnoxious.

            To be honest, there were times when people gave me advice as a single person that it sounds like you would have bristled at. But for me, I took it as the person trying to be kind and compassionate towards circumstances that we both knew weren’t what I really wanted. Sometimes people were a bit tone-deaf or ham-handed. But they generally meant well.

            The story of any single person who still desires to be married isn’t over yet, is the thing. What would have actually bothered me would have been if they treated me as though I was just #foreveralone and that was it. The ones who were optimistic, even if they offered some hackneyed suggestions that I had already heard, were the ones who I wanted around me.

          • Eenie

            1000000% the most important events in my life have just been luck. I spent so much time agonizing over the big decisions (what to study in school, what school to go to, what jobs to take, etc.). But what really mattered? Deciding to help a friend move (met my husband). Asking someone for directions (met my best friend). I could go on and on. But I know these were all luck. What happened afterwards (building the relationships) was all on us to cultivate and it took work.

          • G.

            “Two awesome people could both be looking for marriage, be in great places in their life, line up value wise on paper, meet, and just not click.” Yes. Yes. Yes.

            And I’ve found that as I get older, some married friends want to give “advice” in the guise of relaying their current life experiences that dismisses the “click”/chemistry part of the equation — “you don’t need butterflies, you need to find someone who will get up at 3 am and clean the baby’s mess” as if all I’m looking for is someone who is cute and makes me swoon. Actually, I need the butterflies to start things off and won’t marry someone who expresses disinterest in pulling his share, but by the same token, I’m not marrying the first feminist guy I go on a date with if there are no butterflies. Finding the butterflies with the values at the right time is luck.

          • idkmybffjill

            Right. Something has to be there that makes us want to keep talking to each other enough that we get to that point.

            Unless it’s an arranged marriage, I don’t think people end up married by being like, “you seem like you’d be into 3am wake ups, want to stay committed for life?”.

          • Colleen

            “Finding the butterflies with the values at the right time is luck.” Yep.

            Timing can often be just as big a part of it all as luck. I met my husband when I was 21. We were friendly acquaintances for a long time but didn’t date until 11 years later. Why? Because the butterflies weren’t there until then. We were lucky we met, lucky we stayed in the same social circle, post-college, and lucky there were finally butterflies when we were both looking for love and long term commitment at the same time so many years later!

          • AP

            ‘Finding the butterflies with the values at the right time is luck.’

            Oh my god, this! When I was online dating, I was seriously considering this guy who bored the hell out of me because he was good on paper and nice and friendly, but I was just NOT attracted to. He had the feels, but I definitely did not. I had almost completely given up on the idea that butterflies were something that even existed, let alone something I should explicitly look for. And then I met my now-husband and had that core-shaking moment of, ‘THIS is what I was looking for!’ The luck part was that he felt the same way too.

          • idkmybffjill

            If they think it is – yes?

          • G.

            I think meeting the right person is 100% luck. Making a relationship requires a shit-ton of work.

            Obnoxious, annoying, smelly, gross, mean, vicious, boring, terrible human beings find love and relationships. And wonderful, thoughtful, kind, attractive, smart, funny, wise human beings don’t. It’s a crapshoot.

        • KEA1

          Also, my mom has thankfully stopped doing this, but in practically the same breath she would criticize me for not going on more dates and not dating multiple guys at once (!!) like she did, but ALSO rail on about how a woman should never ask a man out. I truly don’t know if I have ever felt more unloved or like more of a failure than when I was basically being taunted for the fact that I have *never* been one to get asked out that often.

          • Amy March

            “you should get out more! say yes to everyone!”

            Ummm okay but what about when no one asks? thank you, giver of unsolicited advice who has never faced this problem, for highlighting the worst part of it for me. I wish people could get it through their heads that they aren’t being nice when they do this.

          • Ashlah

            Oh my god, that is so infuriating and ignorant. So (unknowingly) cruel.

          • G.

            I don’t think most single women are sitting on piles of unanswered invites, if any invites at all. I think there are a lot of assumptions that single ladies are asked out all the time, but unless that means obnoxious cat-calling, I don’t find it rings true.

          • Katharine Parker

            Who are these women that are inundated with men clamoring to date them?? I know none of them.

          • G.

            Me neither.

            Also a (married male) friend sorrowfully informed me that he knows tons of awesome single (straight) women and no men to set them up with. I think that’s more common than not. So no clamoring and no real pool of men anyways.

        • guest

          I got married in my early 30s and spent a very, very long time single. It aggravated me very much to be faced with the constant competing narratives of “get out and date — look for someone!” and “perfect yourself – you’ll find someone if you’re content in yourself not looking!”
          Dating more wasn’t “the solution” for me. I said no sometimes, I didn’t “get out there” all that often (parties? bars? volunteering events?). I was in graduate school, worked a lot, dated very little, and got lucky. Good luck to everyone.

      • Lisa

        I think you are right. The answer to incomprehensible things, like the weather, or the economy, is almost always numbers.

      • Floozy

        I sort of agree with this. It is a bit of a numbers game, and a lot of just right-place-right-time, but I also think its being open to people who you might not immediately be in to.

        I say this because I have pretty much never been single. My sister, on the other hand, has had a few boyfriends, but otherwise always single. She is the outgoing one, she is the more patient, nicer one, and she is the one with a “full” life. I have very few hobbies. I am a homebody. I take my dog to the dog park and don’t talk to anyone. I hate making small talk with people in public places. In most ways, I do not do a good job of “putting myself out there.” BUT–I also hate being single. I think these things are different. For better or worse, I dated lots of people. Some were short term, some relationships went on too long. Some were fun people that I had nothing in common with, some were nice but boring, some were not great people. I was open to dating them because I didn’t want to be alone. Its not a great trait, I know, but I think its actually common to be like this.

        My sister is not like this. To date her, you have to be cute, smart, passionate about the things you do, outgoing but can’t come on too strong, etc. etc. etc. She doesn’t like it when someone hits on her or tries to buy her a drink. She is not here to waste her time on just anyone. She has very high standards, which is good. I know a lot of people like this, too. A lot of them are single. This is totally fine, rational behavior. The thing is, she turns a lot of people down without getting to know them at all. Because she would rather be alone than go on a second date with a guy who she didn’t click with on the first date. Or go home alone, because the guy at the bar wasn’t her exact type.

        And honestly? My now husband is not anything like he was the night I met him in terms of his real personality–he is better! He is not anywhere close to the best-looking guy I’ve ever dated, but he is the best lay I’ve ever had! He was not the one I thought I’d end up with, but I am really happy that I did. Obviously, this is lucky. But it was also my (flawed, embarrassing) refusal to be not-single that resulted in our relationship.

        I know my sister would not want to hear this reasoning, but I wish I could tell her: just lower your standards! Not forever, but just for a few dates. Might not be helpful, but its honestly why I think I’m happily married.

        • Alexandra

          Oh I totally agree, but this doesn’t seem to be a popular opinion. All day I’ve been seen as rude and condescending to suggest that there’s anything a person can do to increase the chances of getting married.

          It’s a very complex subject, to be sure. Personally, I tend to be pretty dogmatic and confident of my own opinion on something like an internet forum, but in real life with real people I realize there’s a lot more to it and the sorts of things that are appropriate to actually say to people are very different from our private opinions. Which may be why it’s fun to comment on the internet…and why it sometimes results in so much blow-back!

          Back during my decade of singleness, I actually wrote myself a list of policies for dating, based on research I’d read on the subject. One of my policies was to always go on a second date unless the guy did something blatantly horrible on the first one. If he was just a “meh” then the second date was mandatory if he had any interest.

          For my husband, there were no big sparks flying the first few times I met him/went out with him, but my “meh” rule went into effect and as I got to know him I realized he was really special.

          I guess having a list of policies for dating might be somehow weird, like a “The Rules” kind of thing. They were MY policies, not something imposed on me. I just read a lot about statistical practices that tended to lead people to finding long term mates. Disclaimer: yes, doing “everything right”, “putting yourself out there”, and “not being too picky” does not always lead to finding a compatible partner. And there are things one SHOULD be picky about!

          • mooncaf276

            Tbh, agreeing to a second date barring huge misbehavior is something I’ve done….and it got me ditched a lot because of “lack of interest” on my part on the first date (one of the odd parts of dating websites is that single people are ever more disposable, because there’s always the next best thing that’s really not best). Apparently I only had a few hours to decide I felt a connection with whoever I met with. If there was a situation where I tried to feel some connection, I eventually was acccused of leading men on (which was fair in a couple instances, because I was trying to do things “right,” and give the guy many dates). After years of this, I gave up on conventional dating, and I’ve been at it for 15 years.
            (my family still accuses me of “lack of effort,” unfortunately, which is why I don’t exactly trust them anymore. And of course, the older I get, the more I have to perhaps tolerate loneliness, mistreatment or eventual divorce). Among my relatives, there are many cases of settling in some form or another: tolerating being alone more often than not, tolerating cheating, tolerating verbal abuse. The jaded part of me wonders if that’s the key to short-term marriage, anyway. Back when marriage was more of a business arrangement, it certainly was.

            I don’t disagree with any points about trying to get out and meet people. But I also think….well, if anyone knew how to find a relationship or make it last, there wouldn’t be so much written about it, just like parenthood. The plethora of advice means that none of us have a clue.

        • G.

          As my guru Sara Eckel would say, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being picky (It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single). Maybe your sister skipped over someone who could have been a good match, but it’s just as likely she has saved herself a lot of time and annoyance by holding strong to what she cares about.

          I went through a period when I listened to the people telling me I was making judgments too quickly and I should give men more chances — so I stopped following my instincts and went on more dates and one of those dates turned into more dates and led to a relationship. But that was actually terrible (not abusive — just one of those dating someone who was not right for me, didn’t align with values that meant a lot to me and became a leech who was hard to get out of my life — and frankly, I knew all of that from the get-go but was trying to disregard my gut instincts and “try harder” per my friends advice). For me, it wasn’t worth it at all. It might have been for someone else, but it was a crappy experience that I hated dealing with.

          So I went back to trusting my gut and not prolonging things with people I knew I wasn’t into. Perhaps it comes down to this: I want a partner, and I sometimes feel very lonely, but I don’t hate being single. I love being independent and making the right decisions for me.

          Here’s the thing: I know other people who behave in the same way, who have partnered up, so I think it’s about honoring who I am/we are as individuals, not assuming that getting out there and going on tons of dates and stringing along relationships to avoid being single is the method. It worked for you, but it might not have. There’s no method. Sometimes the stars align, sometimes they don’t. You’re happily married, maybe your sister will be, maybe she won’t be. But if it happens, it will happen on her terms. And that’s a good thing. Because happy doesn’t happen on other people’s terms. And going on dates just to go on dates is no guarantee and can be a lot more devastating than being picky and holding strong to what matters to her.

          • LittleOwl

            Yes!! I had a similar thing happen when I started questioning my instincts. I learned a lot from it, but I really regret that I let myself get into that situation. Thanks for sharing.

        • Amy March

          It worked for you! But there is no reason to extrapolate and decide it would work for her.

          • G.

            This. I understand the desire to rationalize behavior, but I don’t understand the impulse to assume that because it worked once for one person, it will work for anyone, anytime. Dating is not an arithmetic problem.

      • Eh

        Your dating strategy reminded me of the therapist who told me that I needed to date 10 men a year. She also was against thinking about marriage until you are at least 30. That wasn’t my style.

    • sofar

      I hate that narrative, too. I know WAY too many awesome people who are living their best life who are still single (and way too many truly negative, awful, lazy people who are married) for that to be true.

      It’s all luck. Pure, dumb luck.

      I went to a party and met my husband, and we were attracted to each other. I can’t even say my life was particularly “together” at that point, or that I was doing affirmations in the mirror, or that I was “open to love” or any of that other drivel. We both went to the same party one random night.

      People don’t like the idea that finding a partner (or not) boils down to luck because our society likes the notion that we “earn” things we “deserve.” But it’s luck, plain and simple.

      • “It’s all luck. Pure, dumb luck.” – all of this.

        I tried to do the affirmations and work on myself and really embrace my single life. And none of it mattered. My husband and I had the dumb luck of tweeting each other, and here we are married. But I wasn’t any more “together” when we got together, in fact I was a bit more broken after breaking up with the guy I thought for sure was The One.

      • april

        “It’s all luck. Pure, dumb luck.” Yup. Marriage was never really a life goal for me – I was raised by my (awesome) single feminist aunt, so I had a pretty good model for living a fulfilling life as a single lady. My goal in high school and college was just to date for the fun of it. And I did some of that, but then I became really good friends with a boy from my dorm … A year and a half later I asked him out, he said ‘no.’ Then a couple months later I asked him out again, he said ‘no’ again but then sought me out an hour or so later to say ‘okay.’ And approximately 7 years after that we got married. Life is weird.

    • flashphase

      This! Sara Eckel’s book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single was TRANSFORMATIVE in helping me see this narrative and unwind it for myself.

      • G.

        I love Sara Eckel and her book!!!!!!! her first NYT piece changed my life and I keep it around to read when I’m down on my single life. Love her and her thinking.

        • flashphase

          Really changed the way I thought about dating. And made me feel so much less alone. I have even given it to friends struggling with dating or breakups. She is so awesome!

      • Nicole

        I haven’t read this one, but I read Outdated: Why dating is ruining your love life and it was transformative for me in helping me deal with how I could be both happy single and deeply hoping for a relationship and to see some of the dynamics that made that a hard place to be.

        • Alexandra

          Now I want to read it. Thanks for this.

        • flashphase

          yup – I got a lot out of this book too. It helped me see cultural patterns I hadn’t questioned before.

  • the camel

    Reading this article is both my worst fear and a source of strength for me.

    In sum…my 5 year, thought-we-would-be-together-forever relationship suddenly took a drastic turn. My partner decided last week that he doesn’t want children. Ever. Up until this point, while I was more interested in having kids, we had both been in the “we are open to and want to have children when it suits us in terms of career stability and finances” camp. And while I could imagine my life without children, I couldn’t imagine my life without trying to have children (if that makes sense).

    This conflict also highlighted some other problems/concessions I’d been making in my relationship that I suddenly realize I’m not entirely happy about. He doesn’t like to travel for my family functions, despite my parents offering to pay his airfare and for hotel rooms; he wants to have a guest house for himself to just retreat into when he gets home from work so he can recharge (extreme introvert); he doesn’t want to get married unless it makes sense for taxes.

    There are a lot of little things as well, that I can live with if that was it. And on a micro level, in terms of how we interact with each other on a day-to-day basis, this relationship is about as ideal as ideal can get, but I don’t think our values match up anymore…

    Honestly, all these big things piled up slowly, to the point where with each one, I said to myself: “I can live with that.” But now, all these straws are breaking the camel’s back. And I have to have a discussion with him about it ALL. This is a discussion I’m pretty sure will end in a break-up, as much as I will fight for it not to. (Soo… naturally, I’m avoiding it/trying to figure out how to bring it up)

    It will be a very grown-up break up, I’m sure, but it will be so, so painful.

    And my biggest fear in this is that this relationship was it, but I’m not ready to settle. So, in sum, thank you Samantha for writing this – for being so honest about your feelings of contentment and also disappointment and also conflict. It’s a window into a life I might have very shortly.

    • Alyssa Andrews

      Oh, I am feeling for you; getting to that point in a relationship when you realize there are some deep incompatibilities is so hard and sad — and you want to ignore it, but it’s like once you see those things in the relationship, they’re impossible to “un-see” and they can drastically and quickly change a relationships’ course (though in my experience it’s always ultimately been for the best, even if impossibly hard). Thoughts and hugs from this corner of the world.

      • the camel

        “it’s like once you see those things in the relationship, they’re impossible to “un-see””

        Yes. this is exactly where I am. Thanks for the hugs.

    • toomanybooks

      A while ago now, I met a girl who I started dating and pretty soon into it, she was looking through the books I owned that were by a particular author and scoffed at one about marriage. I immediately knew that while I had already started feeling attached to her, since getting married was not important to her (and in fact not a concept she put any stock into at all), we would end up breaking up. I spent a good amount of that “relationship” steeling myself for a breakup – I kind of thought she would break up with me, actually – and imagined preparing things to comfort me when the inevitable happened: putting together a playlist of a certain type of soothing music, wearing loose-fitting layers, going for walks, eating chocolate. I got involved (and stayed that way, for a while) anyway because I’d never been this close to having someone to be with.

      As it turned out, there were a number of other big strikes against her too (or red flags) and I ended up happily breaking up with her and going into a real relationship with someone much kinder and more compatible with me – my fiancée.

      A different situation from yours, but as is the case with you and the author, marriage has always been something I wanted (even though I kind of thought I’d be Forever Alone).

      • the camel

        thanks for the reply. reading this article and the entire comments thread has been cathartic. Forever Alone is totally daunting, but better than being Forever Alone Together.

    • gonzalesbeach

      that sounds incredibly hard right now. and it’s totally okay to not to rush to the end. seems like a gentler approach and maybe that will help over time. take care of yourself.

      • the camel

        thanks. it’s so hard how sudden this all came on, glad to have some support to not talk about it RIGHT NOW. I need a minute to collect my thoughts at least…

        • gonzalesbeach

          someone close to me is in the same situation- partner deciding against kids. and said person is taking time to figure out their feelings/position, talking with a counsellor solo and probably at some point joint. and not rushing that process or whichever end result is. still living their daily life in meantime. and that’s okay. sounds like you have a lot to think about and feel about, and if you need to give yourself breathing room -that’s totally wise. *internet hug*

  • Sara

    I relate so hard. And look – there’s a lot about my life I love. I’m fiercely indendepant (to a fault perhaps). I’m financial sound. I have a great group of friends that I like to do fun things with. I’m just ready for that next phase where I’m married and talking kids with him. I had a conversation with one of my good friends about feeling bad that I ducked out of some social stuff and ended up just hanging at home with the dog all weekend. She said that was basically her dream weekend. I pointed out that the difference is, I live alone. She’ll eventually talk to her husband even if she’s a slug all weekend. I’ll talk to my dog. While he’s good company, he doesn’t exactly talk back.

    I try really hard. My friend jokes that I basically live those ‘top ten ways to meet a great guy’ lists without meaning to since I’m always busy and active in a lot of things. But yet, single. I worry about being alone when all my friends are married and having kids. I’m sure it’ll work itself out eventually, but when even Tinder fails to get you a date, I just feel defeated a bit.

    • Amy March

      Ugh I hate that response. Um no, alone all weekend as a default isn’t your dream weekend, or you’d never have gotten married.

      • Kyle

        I’m one of those assholes who genuinely misses being single and might say such a thing. As much as I love having my partner around, having a weekend entirely to myself, with no one else’s wants or needs to worry about is a genuine treat and luxury. When I was single I sought out company, and now that I’m partnered I seek out solitude. I think that’s a pretty natural way to feel about life, isn’t it? Like, complete balance in social interaction doesn’t just happen.

        • Amy March

          I mean, I do get it. Of course, a weekend alone is a fantastic treat when alone time isn’t something you usually get! I just think the time to share that sentiment is not when talking with a single friend who feels bad about the weekend of alone time she just had. I’m not saying I rage at people who do it or anything, but it feels very insensitive when I say “oh thing was hard” and your response is “omg thing sounds amazing so jealous” when, if you reflected a bit more, we aren’t really talking about the same thing.

          • raccooncity

            YES BECAUSE….As a rule, undercutting/minimizing someone’s feelings with “i would appreciate that exact situation” sentiments is an asshole move. period. Does everyone do it accidentally from time to time? Yes. Does it matter whether or not being alone is fun or not fun relative to your life situation? Not at all. It matters that your friend is telling you about a their perception of their life and if you can’t deal with focusing on not-you for 2 seconds, then work on your friendship skillz.

        • Booknerd

          I feel the same way- I miss the solitude of living alone and being responsible for my own time without considering others, it’s a “perk” of being single. Being in a relationship has other “perks” for sure, but when I do get a weekend of solitude around my house I full on celebrate it

        • Sara

          I get the idea that it sounds nice. Its just when you live alone its endless solitude and not just a ‘treat’ every once and a while. And its surpising how easily you can go without actually interacting with someone. I didn’t hold it against my friend cause I know her, and I know she loves to veg out on the couch so she was being pretty honest. That would be her ideal weekend. She just forgot about her husband :)

          • Kyle

            I get it, I was single until I was 35. Routinely went days or even weeks without talking to anyone outside of work!

        • sofar

          Same here. My husband is out of town this weekend, and I’m saying “No” to all the Social Things — and planning on staying in and baking pies and infusing water with fruit and watching Netflix documentaries and putting on facial masks and waking up whenever I want and having the WHOLE apartment to myself.

          Yes, I realize this is a luxury that comes out of being married. Yes, I remember being single and crying when a friend in a relationship would cancel on me last minute. Like, don’t you understand that dinner with you was the ONLY social contact I had planned for this weekend, and now I am alone for two days???

          • Lexipedia

            Things I wish I could’ve said to my coworkers at my new job during my long period of painful singledom.

            “No, I don’t have an amazing weekend full of fun things planned because I just moved to this city and have no friends or boyfriend”

            “Yes sometimes I enjoy living alone, but you waxing poetic about how you miss it while also talking about the fantastic new house that you just bought with your husband to whom you got engaged/married within 9 months of meeting him doesn’t make me appreciate my life more.”

            “No I haven’t been to those three hot new restaurants because I would have to go alone, but I’ve had one drink at the same bar 20 times on bad first dates and haven’t tried their delicious pasta because no date was good enough to actually order food.”

            “When you go on a group date with all of your partners and invite me to bring someone, the reason I told you I was busy was because I can’t even scrounge up someone worth going on more than three dates with. And no, I don’t want to amuse you and said partners with my raunchy tales of singledom.”

            “No, you don’t wish that online dating was a big thing when you were single”

          • lizzers

            Yesssssssss.

            I would add:
            “Yes, rent is crazy expensive in this city! I recognize that this is a universal workplace bonding topic! It must be lovely that you and your partner can split some costs and make a home together…I exclusively buy furniture that I can physically carry home myself since I don’t yet have a friend in town that I feel I can ask a favor of.”

          • Lexipedia

            “Thanks for giving me advice on how to find a partner. The fact that you met your wife in freshman year of college where you are literally surrounded by thousands of horny, desperate teenagers means that you have no idea what you are talking about.”

    • lizzers

      I totally feel you. My work offers a flexible schedule, where you can work an extra hour a day and have every other Friday off. I opted out of this schedule when I first started working, and at lunch my (married, male) coworkers would always ask me why I would possibly give up having a three day weekend. Eventually I just stared at them and said, “listen, I live alone. Yes, Friday is great for sleeping in and running errands, but then I have two more whole days alone, sometimes with minimal human interaction. So I like coming to work on Fridays, okay?”

      • Sara

        Oh man, I once was out of work for like a week with the flu. It was winter, I live alone and I pretty much didn’t speak to anyone for like ten days. I was so so happy to go back to work and I didn’t even like my job.

    • G.

      Yep, this is my life. It has many wonderful parts to it, but I also covet being in a partnership. I had a brief spring relationship that was a break in my generally single adult life. For many reasons, both of us knew it was time-limited. It gave me a window into what I really do want — not with that guy necessarily, but in general. So outward signs of a fantastic single life notwithstanding, there is something else I seek but haven’t been able to catch. so.many.feelings.

      And since I recently moved to a new city and I’m on a deadline for a huge (solitary) work project, alone is my regular mode. And I’m an introvert who likes alone time, but it can be a bit much. That weekend alone with my dog is a little too common.

    • Hmmm, I mean some people are also just super extreme introverts. I very happily enjoyed my weekends with just me and the dog before my husband came along (it was a little lonely before the dog, though). It was a dream to have a couple days a week where I could literally not talk to anyone. I would do that multiple weekends a month and it would be really wonderful. Not getting those weekends of no human interaction (except rarely) is something I miss a lot and is honestly one of the harder parts of being married.

  • ruth

    Oof, I feel you. This reminds me so much of where I was at several years ago. I wish there was something I could say to make it easier, but all I can say is I’m sorry you’re going through such a tough time. Being single can really really suck sometimes And life can turn on a dime – for a better or for worse. The thing that really made me relate to your post though was when you said you were writing a fantasy novel :) I wrote my first novel, an urban fantasy, during the 7 or so years in which I was single. It took me a long time to finish that book, but I am so glad I did. I agree with what Amy March said that single women (and women in general) are given such a strong message that they have to be perfect – and I think it’s b.s, but from my personal experience the one thing I did that more than anything made me feel really good about myself was finishing that manuscript. Whatever else was or wasn’t working in my life, I wrote a book dammit. Whether it ever got published was beside the point; I had a finished, 300 page story. It made me feel like a “real” legit writer. So, while I’m not usually one to give advice to strangers on the internet, I highly recommend finishing that fantasy novel you’re writing :) The world needs more great stories. Last year I ended up selling that first book to HarperCollins, and it’s out in the world now, with the sequel coming out in December – which is super exciting, but honestly the most amazing feeling came several years ago just knowing that I could trust myself to finish what I start. I wish that for you, and I wish you the best with whatever comes next in your life!

    • Congratulations on your book being published! That’s quite an achievement :)

      • ruth

        Thanks Stacey :)

  • Stream of Conciousness

    When you are looking at wedding inspiration and imagining your perfect wedding, don’t forget to mentally imagine the rest of it.

    Married life is just life with a companion added. It includes days where you don’t have it in you to be a good partner, and days when your partner will disappoint you also. It will probably eventually include serious illness that will tax both of you in the extreme. For every happy interaction you imagine, imagine the sad/angry/tedious interactions also.

    You are not wrong to want marriage. But it might help you to be more patient if you regularly take time to imagine the hard parts of marriage rather than only the fulfilling parts. I wish I had thought about it this way before I married and divorced. I really bought hook, line, and sinker the idea that married life was magical.

    There is magic to be had with couples who are well matched. My problem was that I thought it was marriage itself that was magical and I had to learn the hard way that no, it’s the right person for you that’s magical. Even that can change if life throws enough shit at you.

    I look at an older couple I know who had a great marriage – financial prosperity, travel, romance, and true compatibility. He’s 19 years older than her – she’s in her 50s and he’s in his 70s. He’s been to hell and back recently with his health and can no longer speak easily due to strokes. He can’t travel. He can’t have sex. Meanwhile, she is still energetic enough to still wish to have adventures. In one fell swoop, much of what was enjoyable about their marriage is gone. There is still a bond, but I can see her restlessness. Sometimes, she isn’t able to conceal her resentment of the changes and I get the feeling she feels trapped. She said snarky things about a divorced friend her own age who is enjoying an active sex life with a new boyfriend. I could see that she was jealous.

    Marriage can feel like a trap just as much as it can feel like a joy – even with the same person depending on circumstances. Don’t mean to say that it’s wrong to have marriage as a goal, but just to be realistic that it’s not the answer to everything forever.

    • G.

      I think most women who want partnership/marriage, especially if they’ve reached their late 20s and 30s, are well aware of the hard parts of marriage. There are plenty of us who reached 30, 35, and beyond, who are well aware that there is nothing magical about marriage. But it is perfectly valid to want partnership, to crave it. As the author says, the wedding is a stand-in for wanting so much more — that throwaway phrase “just life with a companion added” is actually huge, especially when you’ve been on your own for decades and more. Of course, the companion brings challenges and hardships! Of course, there are hard discussions and shitty unplanned circumstances! But I don’t just want any old companion, I want a true partner (which means I’m not looking to marry just to marry, I’m looking for a partner).

      Here’s the thing: when you’ve been single for a long time–which many many many married people have not been–you often know yourself and what you want very very well. You also know the very real challenges of being single, emotionally, socially, and politically. Thinking about the hard parts of marriage is not an answer, it’s a dismissal. Don’t dismiss a single woman because she wants a partner.

      • Amy March

        yes all of this is so true and so important

      • Stream of Conciousness

        Not dismissing. I said that it’s not wrong to want marriage.

        Maybe not you and not Amy March, but many singles don’t look at the whole picture. My message is for them.

        • Amy March

          I just disagree that these many singles not looking at the whole picture exist. I don’t think me and G are particularly wise or anything! Single people are just as capable of understanding reality as everyone else.

          • Stream of Conciousness

            They are capable, but depends on the age and/or life experience. As I said, I wish that I had looked at marriage more holistically. I was in my thirties when I got married and still didn’t get it.

          • G.

            Yep. Much as I think Amy March et moi are truly brilliant people, I don’t think we are carriers of special secret wisdom. I know more than a handful of single women (of many ages, but especially in their 30s). None espouse marriage as a magic cure-all. We just want to find a partner/life companion/our person, warts and all.

      • NotMotherTheresa

        Particularly if you have religious or other moral objections to divorce, a better way to describe marriage might be “just life with a person handcuffed to you”, because honestly, sometimes that’s how it feels!
        I love my husband so, so dearly, but yeah, some days, he feels more like a person who I’m handcuffed to than a true, voluntary companion.
        Being single is hard. Being married is hard. When you’re married, you start to forget how scary and crushing the single life can feel. When you’re single, you don’t realize that marriage can feel just as scary and crushing.

  • Leah

    Wanting to love and be loved, to be someone else’s priority, is the most normal thing in the world. And yet, seeing it all around and not having it oneself is excruciating, hits us right in the self-esteem as we get older and more kick-ass, except for that gaping hole in the middle of our hearts. Therapy helped me, but really the only thing that ended the excruciating was being in that kind of relationship.

    And it sucks that there aren’t better solutions. And you describe the suckage beautifully.

    • G.

      This. So much this.

    • G.

      Also I think the “wanting…to be someone else’s priority” is part of the equation I’ve thought about more and more as I get older. I have sobbed to friends about not being anyone’s number 1, not having a default person to talk to/hug/vacation with (not that I don’t have great friends, but it’s just not the same), etc. And I worry a lot about what would happen if I got sick or injured, especially while in a new place without a clear community yet (whereas some of the other new folks in my job moved w/partners so they have a starter community I don’t).

      • Leah

        Agreed – it’s the Lack of a default teammate that can be hardest. Friends are great, family is great, but they almost always have a default person that has to be a higher priority than you when stuff goes down. And truly feeling that is some of the most alone that we can feel – and that is when being single is most gut-wrenchingly sob-worthy. Here’s to friends, communities (including on-line ones!), family, and all of the other people who help make it a little better.

        • G.

          So much this. And community matters so much in those awful times of being and feeling searingly alone.

          (This is part of why maintaining and sustaining friendships as adults is so important as friends can stand in for default partners when stuff goes down. But it takes intention and thought and work — I am forever grateful to the (married) friend who not only dropped everything to drive me home and stay with me when there was a sudden family death, but also dropped off her daughter with her mother so she could give me her full attention for 24 hours. Her decision to do that for me was such a powerful testament to love in the context of friendship, which is why I bristle when people talk about friends as lesser than family. But anyways…)

      • emilyg25

        I just want an emergency contact!

        This is a big deal, and it’s okay to want it.

        • G.

          Yes. Thank you!

  • Alexandra

    This was totally me! I was single for ten years after breaking up with my only long-term boyfriend before my husband. It was this endless cycle of highs and lows. I would go through periods of being really discontent and impatient with the situation, and then I’d have long spans of time where I was totally ok with it.

    I dated like crazy and formed a strong support network of friends. Friends were very, very important. I had friends of many types:

    1. My “parent surrogate” friends (in their sixties, would have me over for dinner once/week and we’d hang out, talk, watch movies/tv

    2. “Aunty/uncle surrogate” friends (a childless couple in their forties; they have a great marriage and are a lot of fun to be around; I went out to dinner/events with them a lot and never felt like a third wheel)

    3. Several good girlfriends to go surfing/hiking/camping with (they were kind of a revolving door because I live in Hawaii, which tends to attract a lot of transient people)

    4. A couple my age with two toddlers (I was their aunty surrogate–watched their kids for them, brought them meals and played board games with them after the kids were in bed)

    So I had a great group to keep me balanced and sane while I navigated the wild wild west of internet dating. I was very methodical with my dating, and got pretty good at not getting super emotionally caught up in anybody. I knew exactly what I was looking for.

    Ten years later, at age 32, I wound up meeting my now-husband through some new friends at a new job (I actually changed jobs specifically because 100% of my coworkers at my old job were middle aged married ladies with no interest in setting me up, and I spent so much time at work it really wasn’t optimizing my chances of finding someone).

    We dated six months, got engaged, and got married five months after that. Three months later I got pregnant. Our three year anniversary is Thursday! I’m due with our second baby on Christmas Eve. A lot changed for me in a very short span of time. I got everything I wanted and everything I despaired of during those more sad periods in my single days.

    And you know what? Being single is hard, but sometimes it’s awesome. Being married is awesome, but sometimes it’s hard. There have been trade-offs. A LOT of trade-offs. I’m so thankful to be married and to have my two kiddos, but I do sometimes look back at my single days and think…why was I so unhappy? Oceans and oceans of me time and me money! Never having to compromise! Never having to worry about dinner/leisure time/in-laws/SLEEP/all the skillions of little things you have to worry about when you’re married.

    And then I just laugh. It has to stop, the discontent. There will never be a perfect situation. I’m trying to just be thankful in every moment I get. Even the hard ones.

    • BD

      “And you know what? Being single is hard, but sometimes it’s awesome. Being married is awesome, but sometimes it’s hard. ”

      Okay, I was going to post a long comment about this but I think your last two paragraphs sum it up pretty well. I think it’s damn normal to have a great life and still feel like you’re missing out on something. It’s not a sign that you or anything in your life is broken, it’s just life.

  • gonzalesbeach

    beautiful piece Samantha. hits right in the feels. thank you for this.
    and I know this is not a post about depression – but – for anyone who has persistent feelings of worthlessness /losing grip on the world/loss of pleasure in activities/ persistent depressed mood etc. – please talk to your doctor/primary care provider or your mental health care provider if you have one.

  • macrain

    I definitely know the feeling of being down and watching yourself day after day NOT do the things you promised you would to get out of it. I talked with my therapist about leaving my job and never even bothered to update my resume, let alone apply for a new job.
    And you know what? In the end, I did come out of it, but it wasn’t because I left my job. As it turns out I actually do like my job, I was just in a miserable place. I think what I needed was rest and stillness. I needed to do as little as possible because I just didn’t have the energy for it. And eventually my energy returned, and I went back to feeling good about life and all of it’s possibilities.
    Everyone is different of course, but sometimes if we are tired, it’s because we need a damn break.

    • idkmybffjill

      Love this.

  • raccooncity

    Hey, this is a great article with lots of meat to discuss and think about – and I just want to shoutout the Canadian author! (We’re an obsessively patriotic people in our own way…don’t ever let people tell you we’re modest about our country.)

  • Anon

    As someone who is (quite happily) married, I just want to say:

    Sometimes I wish I was single.

    I love my partner but being married is HARD. It is lots of work, and anyone who tells you differently is selling something. My life doesn’t look the way I expected it to, because we’re making sacrifices to follow my partner’s dreams (to be fair, we’re also making sacrifices to follow mine) I want a baby so badly it physically pains me. But my partner is in school and it’s not a good financial or emotional decision to have a baby right now. I have to live in a country I’m not wild about because they’re in school.

    I don’t want to be Debbie Downer–I love my partner, and being married is generally awesome. But there are definitely upsides to being single. I point this out (perhaps more than I should) to people in an effort to counter balance the “marriage is awesome and you must try it or you suck” cultural expectations.

    So–big hugs. I get (truly) how much it sucks when your life doesn’t look like what you thought it would (or want it to). But from the other side–being single is pretty great too.

    • lindy

      Please don’t say that. If you actually wish you were single, you could be. It’s called a breakup. You’re with your partner because you love them and being with them is better than being single. Married people who say “I wish I was single” mean well, but they don’t get it.

      • LJ

        Soooo she’s not allowed to voice occasional doubts about significant life choices?

        • G.

          Doubts about life choices are radically different from saying “sometimes I wish I were single…because marriage is hard” [and by implication, don’t worry/whine about being single.] No one doubts marriage is hard, but if it’s too hard there’s a solution: end it. But being perpetually single is hard and has no ready-made solution: you cannot manufacture a partner, no matter how hard you wish to. To reiterate what others have said above, it is condescending for married people to tell single people that they have it good or decent or whatever just because marriage comes with challenges. No single person doubts that.

          • LJ

            Not everyone sees divorce as an option – there are lots of different religious backgrounds around.

            She is allowed to say “marriage had way more sacrifices than I expected and those weigh on me a lot. I think of when I was single and didn’t have those stresses, and I miss that time”. She is allowed to have her opinions on her own marriage.

            “I get (truly) how much it sucks when your life doesn’t look like what you thought it would (or want it to).”

            Am I the only one who read that line? She’s not against you…….

          • Amy March

            Sure she is. And we are allowed to feel that her choice to share that particular feeling in this context is tone deaf, insensitive, and part of the struggle of being single.

          • emmers

            I totally agree that those thoughts are valid. But since it’s an essay about the particular challenge of being single, it’s probably not the best place for them.

          • Anon

            That wasn’t what I meant, but I do see how it could taken that way. I’m sorry if the comment came across as insensitive–that wasn’t my intention at all.

        • Ashlah

          Not to someone who’s lamenting not having exactly what she’s complaining about. She’s allowed to do whatever she wants, but it’s pretty tone deaf to tell someone who’s upset about being single that being married isn’t that great. It’d be like a wealthy person telling someone struggling to pay their bills that money isn’t that important.

          • LJ

            Problems are still problems. Invalidating someone’s problems because other problems out there are worse is not cool.

          • Ashlah

            That’s not what I’m saying at all. “Married life is hard” and “single life is hard” are both absolutely valid problems worthy of discussion. I’m just saying that maybe this isn’t the right place for the “married life is hard” discussion. Others, including you, obviously disagree, but I’m not alone in my sentiments. I remember being single, and a friend telling me that their relationship was hard in response to me crying about being alone would not have been received well.

          • Anon

            I’m clearly missing part of this thread, but I wanted to chime in–it wasn’t my intention to compare the hardness of being single to the hardness of being married. I feel (and see) that being married is often presented as awesome all the time. And while it is awesome, it’s also hard. I don’t understand what it’s like to be single and desperately want to be married. I’m not trying to say I do. I’m just trying to present the other side of being married. That–while awesome–it’s hard. And society paints it as awesome all the time or on the verge of the divorce. It’s usually neither. It’s usually awesome and hard. I guess–I wanted to remind the world that being married isn’t all roses and sunshine. I’m sorry if it came across as insensitive or tone deaf. I can see why it would, and that wasn’t my intention. I’ll try and be more thoughtful in the future.

          • Amy March

            That is a really nice comment, and I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate it!

      • Anon

        Let me be clear: I am married to my partner because I want to be. I wake up every day and choose to love them (in fact, that was in our vows). I’m just saying that, when it’s hard or when I’m having a bad “I want my life to look different” day–sometimes it flits across my mind that being single would mean I could do that. This is usually immediately followed by “But then I wouldn’t have partner and that would suck”. Both thoughts can exist at the same time.

        • Sara

          Occasionally realizing “omg if I wasn’t married I could have this entire morning to myself” (an observation) and literally wishing to be single (a desire for things to be the way they are not) are two very different things. And I do not think being grateful for your partner/marriage and wishing you were single can exist at the same time. You may ricochet between those two thoughts, but they are separate, concrete and directly contrary thoughts, and the ricocheting would give me pause.

    • Emily

      I feel similarly to you, especially “my life doesn’t look the way I expected it to.” My single life was good and challenging and my married life is good and challenging.

  • Pingback: Being Single Is Great, Except for When You Really Want to Be Married | weddingcarshiregeelong()

  • NotMotherTheresa

    “I know that a wedding is not a marriage, that one day of luscious clothing and dinners and having it all professionally photographed does not make a life together. That it will not inestimably alter the inner work I need to do. I know this, but I’m also so ludicrously wrapped up in the fantasy of it that it’s hard to disentangle the white dress from the imaginary constancy of love.”
    From someone who is currently trying to recover from a post-wedding emotional hangover, believe me when I say that sometimes disentangling the two remains difficult even after the big party and fancy dress.
    Somehow, a part of me imagined that pulling off the perfect wedding would somehow make my husband and I the adults we wished we were, rather than the ones we are. During all of those months of planning, a little piece of me believed that if I did everything just right, I’d get a golden key on my wedding night that unlocked a better version of adulthood–one with a nicer house, matching furniture, rewarding careers, and awesome hair.
    It didn’t. We’re still us. The only difference is that our bank account is now much emptier.

    • Stream of Conciousness

      Me too!!!!!!!!

      And that’s what I was getting at in my original comment. There are plenty of people like us who mistook the the trappings of weddings and setting up a new household as a shortcut to the feeling of being loved, of being finally “home”, and of gaining some stability we felt was painfully missing.

      In reality, speaking for myself, it was both my existing life and my husband that were not right for me. So we got a divorce five years later.

      Of course, I see how it’s different for a single person who has created the life they want, and is just missing someone to share it with. I was more like the letter writer in that I was confusing getting married with creating a life.

  • Heru

    Ironically, and counter-intuitively, it seems to all fall into place when you drop the wanting of it; or perhaps, rather, one must become “unassuaged of purpose and delivered from the lust of result.” The kicker, and the paradox, is that you can’t drop the wanting to get it, otherwise there is still a lust for result. We have to let action happen through us, sure the final result with happen in its own time. if we simply keep working, keep growing, keep acting and trying, and never stop until you get what you want, you will get it.

    “In order to accomplish a thing we must believe in our possibility of doing it, and this faith must be translated at once into acts. When a child says: “I cannot,” his mother answers: “Try.” Faith does no even try; it begins with the certitude of finishing, and it proceeds calmly, as if omnipotence were at its disposal and eternity before it. Dare to formulate your desire, then set to work at once, and do not cease acting after the same manner and for the same end. That which you will shall come to pass, and for you and by you it has indeed already begun.” ~ Eliphas Levi

    Don’t listen to anyone who says you should not WANT to be married or in a happy relationship, but also don’t think you need it to complete you. It is some weird paradox, and a play of the tension between the desire for a thing we do not have, and the enjoyment of the present moment. Learning to sit with the paradox, and to let yourself be shaped by your emotions while also at the same time time shaping them, is one of the hardest challenges.

    In the end, I think much of it simply comes down to our decision to live life in all of its terror and warmth, to be willing to try, to fail, to try again; to desire, and to be burned by desire, and to keep desiring until we start to learn to trust the Life-Force, to trust in the process, and to be up for the adventure of life. Yes, it can seem scary, and hard, and overwhelming; but we have within us the same force which created universes, which moves planets, which causes suns to shine and plants to grow. That force is in us, and is us, and as soon as we learn to take refuge in it, to trust in it, all those scary things seems a little more manageable.

    Plus, you always have friends ;)

    <3

  • Eh

    I know not all articles will mesh with me but this one rubbed me the wrong way, and I think I’ve figured out why. I dated a guy for over 5 years and I thought we were going to be together for ever. When ever I would bring up marriage he would accuse me of wanting a day (i.e., a wedding). I actually didn’t – I have never dreamed about my wedding day. I was willing to go to city hall and sign papers. I wanted the security that being married provides. We were common-law in a place where common-law and marriage are almost equal so he didn’t see the point. He didn’t understand that those protections marriage provided that common-law didn’t were important to me.
    I don’t doubt that the author wants to be married and wants partnership. I think she sees her wedding as kicking that off. I just had to get past everything about the wedding day she has dreamed of to see that.

  • Shawna

    If you haven’t please go watch Iliza Shlesinger’s Confirmed Kills comedy special on Netflix. I didn’t know about her before, but she is a new fave comic (Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra still 10 stars). She has a great bit on letting women be when they’re single, it being ok to move on if it’s not working (don’t be afraid to be alone), and how people don’t wake up betrothed. “Why are you single?” “Because the last one was a dick and I’m not stupid.”

    Hooray feminist comics.

  • TheOtherLiz

    I disagree with the sentiment that “it happens when you stop wanting it so hard.” But I would encourage you to ask yourself why you want marriage. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a wonderful wedding day, but if you do want marriage as you say – and I believe you – make sure you take the time to assert to yourself why. Journal about it, talk to your married friends about it. Make sure it’s not just because it’s the natural progression of relationships, or the glitz of the wedding day. Why? Not because, again, I don’t believe you, but because knowing what you want and why is going to help out a lot. I had many disappointing serious relationships, and then I took a good hard look at what I wanted. Like you, I found the guts to say out loud “I want to get married” – and I live in a town where we’re supposed to care about our careers, and be the chill women that are fine with just moving in together and going with the flow. I made myself really think and pray through what I wanted and why – I wanted a lifelong marriage to a partner who was egalitarian/feminist, smart enough to keep up with me, shared my faith, and would want to have kids. Only when I had that all sorted out did I have the right criteria in mind when I went on dates. Then I ended things with the dead-ends as soon as the writing was on the wall, and got serious quickly when the right one came along. And when I said to him, a month in, “Do you ever want to get married?” and he said, well, duh, we’re dating aren’t we? – it was such a relief. I hope you get that same acknowledgement that this dream for your life is every bit as valid as other dreams you have for yourself. And that you treat it like any other goal you want to achieve.

  • mssolo

    It’s kinda interesting how much some of these discussions are driving home the difference in US dating culture to UK to me. The idea of going on a lot of dates isn’t particularly common over here (though it’s becoming more so through online dating). Instead, narratives focus on friends-to-lovers or hookups-to-relationships. The assumption is that you’ll fall in love with someone you know, either through work or friends or family or social groups (or hooking up previously), and then get drunk enough at a social gathering to awkwardly admit it to them, at which point they awkwardly admit it back, and then you start awkwardly dating.

    It’s why people get creeped out by strangers striking up conversations over here – there’s an assumption if you’re asking strangers out in bars it’s because when people get to know you better they don’t want to be in a relationship with you. Of course, that isn’t true – abusers often have a lot of friends who think they’d like to be in a relationship with them, because they’re good at manipulating people that way – but there’s definitely a cultural resistance to a US style dating culture that a lot of single people find frustrating over here. If you’re not a social person (and especially if you work from home) forming the pre-dating relationships can be hard, and break ups can be even harder because it can cut you off from former social groups. But on the flip side, there’s less obsession over misogynist concepts friendzoning, there’s more time to make decisions (you already know the person well enough to know if a second date is worth it) and better understanding that you can’t game the system, because it’s not a game.

    I guess my only advice to the LW is to let go of dating and start looking for friends. A writers group might be a good place to start. At the end of the day, you’ll have more friends, and whether or not you remain single, that’s a nice position to be in.

  • Calico

    I’m 70 and still single, no kids and live in an over-55 community so I have the perspective of age. BTW I like my life as it is and have absolutely no regrets about either husbands or offspring. I see what happens over time and it’s not pretty for the most part. Maybe they were once good relationships but by and large they prove the words “familiarity breeds contempt.” Look at those unappealing husbands and screaming children you observe around you – could tolerate them for more than a year? Take a more rational view and think of the monetary consequences of marriage and the awful prospect of future co-joined debt – which can become your debt.