Romance is hard work. But on the plus side, nothing makes this feel like a real advice column quite like tackling a good old fashioned lonely hearts question! What I’m saying is: your iffy love lives keep us in business. So let’s ditch the preamble and do this thing, shall we?
[Reminder: Wanna talk about YOUR love life? We’re can get down with that! Send your questions and concerns to [email protected] and let our certified* team of experts** weigh in. Collectively we’ve experienced all kinds of romantic scenarios, including PLENTY of embarrassing ones. *not actually certified **not real experts]
This week we’ve got a serious dating conundrum. The kind that happens when you’re not dating. Like, at all:
Dear Pajiba Overlords,
I’m a 26 year-old female who has never been in an ~official~ relationship. I’ve casually dated a few guys in college, but nothing longer than a month. I’m living back in my hometown, which unfortunately is pretty red and full of rednecks. I haven’t been on a date for four years. I also haven’t, uh, got much physical experience.
As I get older, I’m getting more paranoid about being single for so long. I’ve tried a few dating apps, but haven’t had much luck. Meanwhile, a lot of my friends are getting into serious relationships or married. I definitely feel like the odd (wo)man out.
What’s a girl to do? Is it weird or abnormal to have been single this long?? Every year I lose hope on ever meeting someone to settle down with.
Blue in Texas
I feel you so hard. I grew up in a tiny-ass town in the middle of nowhere where dating was always a crapshoot (emphasis on “crap”). And I recently moved back to my home state to live in a slightly different tiny-ass town. Sure, I came with a partner in tow, but I’ve talked to friends about what local Tinder scene is like and, uh… no thanks.
So yes, on the surface it’s simply a numbers game. Fewer people total means fewer dating options that would fit your general taste (in terms of age, or political leanings, or what have you). But there’s a lot more going on in your letter that I think we should unpack before we get to the real advice part.
— 26 isn’t exactly old maid territory, you know. Cut yourself some slack. You’re still practically a baby!
— It is not weird or abnormal to be single, EVER. Being single is normal, and vibrators are GREAT, and dry spells aren’t the end of the world, and nothing is worse than settling. Trust me. Being single is vastly superior to dating an asshole. Especially a red state asshole.
— Why do you think being single might be weird? Because look, it’s fine if you want to be in a relationship, but don’t let anyone around you or society or whatever mess with your mind and make you feel like you’re less-than or lacking just because you don’t have a date tonight. Make sure you’re doing what’s right by YOU. Because like 50% of your friends who are getting married and making babies around you right now? They’re gonna get divorced, or they’ll stay together and just be miserable. And that’s not a knock on marriage or procreation, but a comment on the reasons why THOSE folks made the decisions they did, when they did. It’s like that age-old example about jumping off of bridges just because your friends are, only with less death and more general unhappiness.
— And definitely don’t give in to the perception of being the token single person in the room. As Kayleigh put it: “People feel uncomfortable with your perceived sad lonely state and either try to pair you off or keep comforting you with how there’s someone out there for you, they promise! It’s all very Bridget Jones.” Don’t let their discomfort make you feel like you’re doing something wrong.
— Which isn’t to say that you’re weak or crazy for wanting what you want. There are very real societal pressures around women settling down before they’re dried up old husks at the age of 30. We may know that’s bullshit, but sometimes it’s still hard not to feel like there’s a ticking clock (biological or otherwise).
— And speaking of pressures, one of the biggest advantages of being in a relationship isn’t even emotional. It’s financial. The sad truth is that it’s hard to live on a single income these days, and having a partner to split the bills with is just really fucking useful. That’s not to say that you should take advantage of a person for their money, but I do think it’s worth acknowledging one of the more practical sides of romance, because it’s not all hearts and whispered sweet nothings.
— Some things are worth the wait. And I’m not even talking about finding the mythical “ONE”, I’m talking about finding someone who treats you with respect and you can have a conversation with for a little while.
So, what should you do? Well, you’re in your mid-twenties. You’re just barely scratching the surface of who you are and what you really want for yourself. You’re still growing. Enjoy it! Emily also felt that need to be in a relationship early on, and said: “I wish I hadn’t spent my early twenties being upset about a thing that isn’t upsetting. I was fine. I should have just let myself be fine.” What we’re saying is, you may feel this way now, but in hindsight you may realize you shouldn’t have worried so much.
So instead, maybe focus on being happy and loving yourself now, because in my experience it was a lot harder to find a guy who loved me right if I didn’t even know what that looked like. Even the best relationships might not last forever, but no matter what you’re always going to be stuck with yourself. So why not make being with yourself a good thing! And while you’re at it, put some energy into building a network of good friends. They can fill your social calendar and provide you with emotional support, and help you not feel lonely. And maybe they know someone who might be your type…
It’s different for everyone, but I found I had much better luck romantically when I actively stopped looking for partners. And sure, I’m probably just trying to justify my laziness, but the bar I eventually set for myself was that I wasn’t going to date someone unless I enjoyed spending time with them as much as I enjoyed spending time with myself. Literally: I’m my own threshold for love. And yes, I had some… really ridiculously long dry spells between relationships, but I never regretted it. Because occasionally I’d break down and go on an awkward date to remind myself how much better I treated me than that dude who tried to jam his tongue down my throat in public did.
But on the other hand, that whole thing about kissing some frogs? It’s kinda true. One of the most effective ways to learn about yourself and what you’re looking for in a partner is to date around a bit. So maybe give the people on the dating apps a shot, if there’s someone who looks like they might not suck completely? Or, better yet, plan some trips to places with a better dating pool. Hell, you’re in Texas — spend a few weekends in Austin and see what’s up. Or find other excuses to visit more populated (liberal) areas. And if you can, move to one. As Genevieve pointed out: “At least in the big cities I’ve lived in there’s a lot less of an expectation that you’ll get married and ‘settle down’ in your 20s. Your 20s are for working ridiculous hours while living with 5 other people to make rent. Maybe sleeping with the occasional friend of a friend when the mood strikes.” Maybe what you need is a context shift to help you see that you’re not the odd woman out.
Or just take TK’s advice and listen to Sammus. She knows what’s up:
In conclusion, Emily says: “You’re good, letter writer. Move where you want, do what you want, fuck everyone.” Rinse and repeat that advice forever.