Relationships

‘Will I Be Single Forever?’ and Other Pressing Questions

cup of jo's new relationships column

We’re excited to kick off the first installment of our new relationship advice column. Today, we’re answering two reader questions about dating (and we’d love to hear your takes, as well)…

Q. “Am I going to be single forever? I’m 30 and have been single for over three years. I’ve been on over 40 first dates since then and I’m feeling like it’s never ending.” — Louise

A. Louise, I feel you. I’ve been you. And judging from many other reader comments, a lot of people are in the same boat at this very moment. Dating can be hard. And sometimes, it can feel endless.

First off, know that you are not alone. I spent years going on countless first dates. Dates who mansplained my own job to me. Dates who insulted the way my toes looked in sandals. Dates I thought I sparked with, who promptly ghosted. Dates who were perfectly lovely people, but there was no connection. And on and on.

Coupled friends would say things like, ‘It’ll happen when you least expect it!’ and I would want to throw my fries at them. Eventually, (because I had no other choice) I leaned the eff into my single-ness. I focused on the nice things about it — taking up the whole bed; having full command of the remote; decorating however I wanted; enjoying time and space to myself. By my mid-thirties, I completely gave up on finding a partner and really enjoyed the shape of my life. And then I met someone.

Here’s another anecdote. I have a friend, we’ll call her Snuffleupagus (definitely not her name). Snuffleupagus is the quirkiest human being you could ever hope to meet. I say this with love, because her quirks are part of what make her amazing. But she herself would admit it takes a very special, equally quirky, person to be a good match. To make matters more complicated, when it comes to dating, she is the pickiest person in the entire universe. Every potential partner failed to meet her very long, very specific list of standards. ‘Try to keep an open mind!’ everyone said, to no avail, as we watched her reject date after date.

Well, it certainly didn’t happen overnight, but one day, Snuffleupagus met the person of her dreams. What’s more, they recently got engaged. If Snuffleupagus is happily coupled, I promise, there is hope for us all.

But you asked if you would be single forever, and it’s my job to give you an answer. Because I am not an oracle, let’s turn to math. This video calculates the equation of finding your soulmate(s). (Hint: the odds are pretty good.) The overwhelming majority of humans will find a mate — if they so choose. Remember, it only takes one.

In the meantime, though, focus on what matters — you. Try to appreciate how each date with Not The One gets you closer to understanding what it is you want and need from a partner, as well as what you want and need from yourself. Collect funny stories for one day when you aren’t dating anymore. And know that when you do find someone, all these dates will make you all the more ready for the good things in your future. — Caroline

Q. “I am 25, and I feel insecure about my lack of experience, especially with the physical side. I’ve only ever kissed two people and never had sex. I feel like I’m too old to be this inexperienced. How do I move forward with these feelings of insecurity?” — Jess

A. First and foremost, please know you are in great company! There are so many people who have non-traditional dating timelines. (Also, what even is non-traditional?) I remember in my senior year of college, half my sorority was engaged and I hadn’t even gone on a date. I was also terrified that I would never figure out how to have good sex.

After going through my twenties never dating, last summer (at age 30) I decided to face my dating fears head on and just date as many people as I wanted, no expectations. I was nervous at first, but after a while it was so much fun and empowering. I realized that none of my dates knew about my various insecurities or lack of experience — I could be as confident as I wanted to be with each new person!

Lack of sexual experience is a common fear, but I found that a lot of the physical aspects come pretty naturally; the less you’re in your head and the more you let yourself be in the moment with that person, the better it will be. I used to think that everyone who was dating had so much more insight than I did, and that’s also not necessarily true. The more you become comfortable with yourself, the more you’ll realize there’s nothing to be afraid of.

I’d also encourage you to cultivate a sexual relationship with yourself, if you haven’t already. It’s said the most important relationship is the one you create with yourself, and I believe the same is true in the sexual realm. Understanding your body — what you like and don’t like, where you like to be touched — will not only help the other person, but will also help you become more confident when you decide to be physical with someone. 

So, while you’re not dating, think of the kind of person you want to be with and how you want to feel with them. Explore different ways to know yourself more — take yourself on dates with coffee or a cocktail, on a long walk around your neighborhood, make your favorite dinner, watch a beloved movie. When you do feel comfortable to begin dating, don’t be afraid to take the reins and step into your confidence. This is your dating life, and it can be whatever you want it to be. — Kim

Do you have any words of advice you’d like to add? Or questions you’d like us to answer in future columns? Please let us know in the comments. xo

P.S. More posts about dating, including how you know your partner is the one, a seven-step guide to heartbreak and what to wear on a first date.

(Photo by Yura Shevchenko/Stocksy.)

  1. Peony says...

    My biological clock ticking forced me to get out of a long relationship that was not going to end in a happy marriage. It was Incredibly heartbreaking, but being brave enough to do that (the cumulative effect of work I’d done in therapy) made all the difference. I ended up with a man almost a decade younger than me who’s an incredible husband and father. He’s flawed, as am I. We spent some very productive time in couples therapy. We grow together and are in it for the long haul. In my experience finding someone is part luck and part being ready to make use of that luck when it shows up (having your emotional ducks in a row). I had to feel worthy of someone who was not ambivalent about me. I was used to yearning for a man to be more emotionally available, but I was still picking out ones who weren’t. For those interested in a wonderful story about a couple who met in a very random way, I’d recommend finding KarenBritChick on YouTube and watching her video about meeting her husband. It is a wonderful story.

    • Senewa says...

      I read Karen’s story and it was such a beautiful one.

  2. Susan says...

    Jess, I never really dated and never kissed anyone until I kissed the man I wanted to marry. We got married at 30 (he hadn’t really dated either) and have been happily married for more than 4 years :)

  3. Cate says...

    I would love a post on creative/new/interesting ways to meet people (to date)…!

  4. Bern says...

    I would love to hear anything and everything about dating long distance. I recall that a writer/editor at Cup of Jo (or maybe a previous writer/editor) had moved to NYC from the mid-west and she and her boyfriend were doing long distance. Would love any advice, as I recently moved away from my boyfriend for the next couple years for work (and I’m newly living alone), so feeling all the feels! Thanks!!

  5. Tracy says...

    I am heterosexual, and I’ve never wanted marriage or to share a household. I’ve had and raised a child on my own (extremely happily), and have had the same best three friends for 40 years (and, “new” close friends for 10, 20 and 30 years) so I don’t think I’m commitment phobic – I have a fantastic friend family. My best romantic relationship was with a boyfriend who I lived next door to for many years. I know myself well and I’ve stuck to what makes me happy. I do care what people think, but not enough to compromise. So, if you want to have a life-partner work to make that happen, but if you don’t want one, that is OK, too (more than OK – be true to who you are).

    • Tiff says...

      I love this for you! Way to listen to yourself and live ~unconventionally~.

    • L says...

      I absolutely love this! I would love to hear more from others who choose to live unconventionally.

    • Jennifer says...

      Per the comments on “unconventional” — Perhaps we could move on from the conventional/ unconventional language into something like there are many different ways for people to live happy, healthy lives? For me, conventional/unconventional reads right or wrong, which I don’t think anyone really meant. Just wondering if we can continue to think about our word choices…

  6. Holly says...

    I loved this post and all of the comments. I’ve bookmarked articles and other recommendations.

    I divorced when I was 31. At the time, I thought, “I might regret this if I am single for the rest of my life.” Now, at 36, I am 100% certain I would rather be single than stay in that marriage. I’ve been single for 5 years, which isn’t as long as some other commenters. I know being single is better than being in a bad romantic relationship. I know I have grown a lot as a person. Even still, I have a strong preference for being in a good romantic relationship and I am afraid I may never marry again.

    Most people will get married around the average age. Some will get married later. Some may never marry at all. I imagine not everyone who never married intentionally made that choice. There probably aren’t too many young people who decide they never want to get married. At least not enough to make a dent on Collective Consciousness. It takes women who have suffered loneliness and marginalization from society to point out the idea of having marriage as an end goal is an outdated concept. Also outdated is the idea that there is a reason perfectly deserving people are single when they are simply unlucky.

    In the 1920s, the average age at first marriage was 21. By 2019, it was 28. The women who helped turn 21 into 28 were pioneers. For those of us who are wondering when our turn will come, I believe we are as well. Acknowledging yourself as a pioneer won’t take away the long-term yearning, but I hope you will feel some pride for participating in this unorganized project to raise women’s value in society.

    • Maeve says...

      THIS. It resonated with me more profoundly than I can put into words. Thank you, Holly.

  7. Reba says...

    Thanks for this! After years of first dates and bridesmaids dresses, the final straw was being ghosted on a Zoom date (yes, I was willing to try socially distanced dating and yes, even with the whole world on lockdown, he still had a better offer). The very idea of another first date exhausts me. I have a pretty good single life, so I’ve decided not to waste more effort trying to persuade someone to share it. I still want my person, but it isn’t going to happen for me. As you say, sometimes there is no reason. My partnered friends, neighbors, co-workers aren’t better or more evolved people. They are not even more fortunate, because they all have their own battles and disappointments. They are just, in this one regard, luckier than I am.

  8. Rose says...

    Funny thing is, I’ve been coupled for most of my ‘grown-up’ life (had 4 boyfriends from 17 -29 currently dating a wonderful man) but I often wish I’d be single…? Don’t get me wrong, I love my partner, but it TAKES SO MUCH TIME to be in a relationship. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I just often find that I envy my single friends for all the time, excitement and possibility they still have in a way that I only read about when young parents talk about their non-parent friends. Am I doing something wrong? I LOVE sleeping alone, being the sole commander of a fridge and thinking what I’d do to our apartment if it were just me. And I love my partner but being single, or at least having had some years to relish just in my own company… I sort of feel like I missed all that?

    • Heidi Seely says...

      I feel the same way! I’ve never once lived alone (always with parents, dorm mates, roommates, boyfriends, and now husband and kid). I feel like I’ve missed a big opportunity to get to know myself, on my own, with no distractions. I often wonder who that person is, and if I’ll ever meet her.

    • Aus says...

      I feel the same! We want what we don’t have :)

  9. Kate E says...

    Thank you, Caroline! You sweetheart. I really needed to hear that!

  10. Samantha says...

    I’m 44 and just met my partner two years ago – after all my friends got married and started having kids, after I’d spent years on the dating apps, and after I’d been dating over 20 years. But more importantly – it was after I’d become financially secure (and bought a house), my career was stable, and I’d come to terms with the fact that I may never meet someone. I hadn’t had a serious relationship in about 10 years, and I had seen so much bad behavior from men (When did so many of them decide they wanted to be in “open relationships”???) that I had just stopped dating. Now I think that, while I was coming to terms with rolling solo, I was actually “removing the barriers to finding love,” as that great Rumi quote says. It wasn’t that I was “too picky” or not doing dating right or there was something wrong with me. Instead, I think it was critical for me to establish, for myself, that I *could* be on my own, before I was able to *not* be on my own. Much love from San Francisco, Sam

    • HH says...

      Thank you, Samantha. This was so helpful. I turned 40 this year, finished all of the graduate school I will ever finish, bought a house (a year ago), and it’s been seven years since I was in a serious relationship. I can relate to every sentence you wrote from the bad behavior of men to the criticisms by self-interested “friends” that I’m “too picky.” It’s cheering to think that what happened two years ago for you at 42–meeting your partner–could be two years in my future. Somehow that makes it a lot easier to be released from the dilemma of whether or not I should respond to so-and-so on the app or even be on the app in the first place. Maybe it’s not that I’m too picky. Maybe it’s that my partner is two years or days or weeks in my future. Thank you from OK, HH

  11. Katherine says...

    I have been single basically my entire life, but not for a lack of effort. I’ve gone out with guy after guy, but it feels like nothing will ever stick. After being best friends with one of my close guy friends for the last year, we finally decided to give dating a try earlier this summer, though to my utmost despair, it didn’t last very long. I had quickly fallen in love with him over our last year of being friends, but he couldn’t see it working out long-term. I’m 30, and that was my very first “boyfriend/girlfriend” relationship. I spent my 20s getting degrees, traveling, developing hobbies, moving across the country multiple times, living alone, and developing my career, but having that fleeting taste of intimacy and commitment was so tantalizing and impressed upon me just how much my heart desires a long-term committed relationship. I’m so tired of being alone (especially during a pandemic, no less), and the prospect of having to interminably continue moving forward on my own, being strong for myself when I don’t have a partner to rely on, is exhausting and discouraging. However, there is a small sense of community in reading through these posts and being reminded that I’m not the only one going through this right now.

    • I could not relate more to your experience, Katherine :(

    • M says...

      Katherine my own experience is so similar to what you described, sending you love <3

  12. Nic says...

    Thank you for this post and to everyone for sharing your stories! It makes me feel less alone. I’m 34 and have never been in love or in a serious relationship. I’ll occasionally sign up on a new dating app and go through a series of rapid-fire dates like I’m hitting a quota. Within a few weeks, I’ll grow annoyed and delete the app until the next round in 2–3 years.

    I dread going on dates; I act just as I normally would on the outside, but inside I feel suffocated and eager to flee. My few intimate encounters weren’t enjoyable, through no fault of the other person. I was there physically, but mentally I just checked out.

    I hate to call anything about COVID a blessing in disguise, but having life pause like this has given me time to explore some things from my past that I’d compartmentalized. This is not to say that I think all (or even most) single people are suppressing something or need to do this kind of soul searching, but if you feel that awful anxiety and almost knee-jerk desire to cut and run, I’d encourage you to face that fear—when you’re ready. It took me decades and a global pandemic (!) to dive deeper into this facet of my life. It’s hard work and often scary, but it also feels wonderful to let some light in.

  13. Lily says...

    This quote really resonant for me about the change in mindset that happens right before you somehow magically meet someone: “your task is not to seek for love. Your task is to remove the obstacles to finding love you have build up within yourself.” Paraphrasing Rumi.

    Indeed! So many funny signs on my road to dating my now-husband but a big one is that the day before we got together, I went to Nordstrom and dropped hundreds of dollars on beautiful, functional lingerie. I was sick of wearing shitty, dumpy bras that didn’t fit right and I finally had the money. And the next day I was like, you know, maybe we should be more than just friends! Not a conscious decision at the time but the dots connect so clearly in retrospect!

  14. Amy says...

    I’ll add my two cents, which is that after five years of online dating, I did absolutely nothing different and happened to meet my person doing the same old thing I’d always done, swiping through okcupid! I had it in my head that it would take a total change of approach or new dating strategy to turn my bad luck around, but really all it took was time. Maybe there were internal shifts–I was semi-fresh out of a breakup from a short-term thing that gave me some new perspective on what I DIDN’T want–but it’s not like I started doing anything differently. I just kept dutifully online dating and one day it finally worked. I offer this just to help underscore the idea that YOU may not be doing anything “wrong.” It may just not have happened yet.

  15. MM says...

    I just read through almost all of these comments and wanted to share my own in case they are ever helpful :)
    I got divorced at 31 and was moving back in with my parents while most of my friends were married, pregnant, engaged/seriously dating, buying houses, etc. I felt like a failure and that I had just punched my card to be single forever — and with a scarlet letter of “divorced!” on my chest.
    Over the next year I didn’t date, enrolled in some great therapy, enjoyed time with friends and family, and found my own apartment.
    Now at 35 I am in a wonderful relationship of about a year with a man who treats me like gold. A man I never thought I’d find! Plenty of frogs were kissed and dated before meeting him, but I did do a lot of the things in these comments – said “yes” to new experiences, went on countless 1st dates. In fact when I met my now boyfriend, he was one of five first dates I had lined up over the course of two weeks. But I think the thing that helped me the most was getting comfortable with my own company. I really like myself and am proud of where I’ve landed, and I no longer feel like I have a scarlet letter on my chest.
    My timeline looks very different than most of my friends, but I’m getting ok with that because honestly… what else can you do?!

    Last thing, to any other divorced/separated folks out there: I used to say, “I’m divorced,” like it was my whole identity. But in actuality, I was single and had gone through a divorce. Once I thought about it that way, I was able to take a lot of pressure off myself.
    Hugs to all <3

    • SJ says...

      I’m 32 and went through a divorce (love your shift in language for that!) at 31. Relate to so much of this. Thank you. Using this as my beacon of hope.

    • Anna says...

      I’m 47. Have been married to a wonderful man for nearly four years, and still say I AM divorced (from my first husband) with some shame. I’m going to change that. The experience was AWFUL and remains painful, but I am stronger, better, wiser due to GOING THROUGH it. Thank you sincerely for your comment. Greetings from South African. xx

    • Yasmine says...

      I got divorced at 41 after a 17 year marriage and 4 children and haven’t dated since. I’m 45 now. I love being single! I love having my bed to myself, my autonomy, I’ve learned to relish my own company and I take such pleasure in pursuing my interests and tastes. I pat myself on the back for all the things I’ve learned to do independently. As much of a struggle as the divorce was, my mustering the courage to leave an unhappy marriage when I had nothing to go to is something I’m proud of. I was never lonelier than I was when I was married. The only reason to consider disrupting my deliciously content singleness is if I actually meet someone crazy for. I feel that’s a very lucky position to be in.

    • EP says...

      Got a divorce, at age 41, with three kids aged 15, 12, 11. (Can you beat this!)
      It’s been less than a year since I ve signed the papers, and yet I ve already managed to enroll to some terrible, terrible first dates and a short relationship with (of course!) a wrong type of man.
      In a nutshell, I am not being myself ‘yet’. Currently I am trying to recover from the toxicity of the past years and I can’t say that I am actually enjoying my own company. I dread being single for the rest of my life, maybe because I have been committed most of my adult years. Reading your post and all the comments, certainly gives hope. A LOT of! Thank you,x

  16. Julie says...

    I didn’t have sex until I was 29 and I was very shy about my inexperience as well. I was often the only single friend in my group and it made me feel less-less desirable, somehow less adult. I’m now 40 and have been with my husband for 11 years. Honestly, being single for that long made me appreciate myself, I realy learned to truly like myself. And I’m not going to tell you to wait for the right person or to just go out and get it over with, that’s none of my business and what worked for me might not work for you (I went on a few dates with a mutual friend, there was a spark, we’ve been together since). I WILL say that making sure you feel comfortable and safe with your sexual partner is caring is important, if only because the experience is sort of mind altering. It was hard for me to focus because I kept thinking “Oh my god, I’m having sex!”

    Being sexually inexperienced is much more common that you may think, and I hope you don’t spend too much time obsessing or defining yourself by it.

  17. Dyketactics says...

    I was single until the age of 29 because it turns out I’m gay. By finally embracing the fact that it really wasn’t them, it was me, I was able to access the correct dating pond and find my true love!

    Until that point, I was dating men relentlessly, scheduling 2 dates a week, while trying to follow all the dating advice from articles and movies and just feeling like I was hitting a wall every time.

    Not to say all single people are actually gay or that all gay people magically find the one immediately, but I think it is a good idea to honestly look at your dating patterns and see what isn’t working and figure out what you actually want.

    • Nic says...

      That’s great! Your story reminds me of Katie Heaney’s book, “Would You Rather?” She had written “Never Have I Ever” several years before about being 25 and never having gone on a date. In her second memoir, she recalls her journey in realizing she was gay.

      I definitely related to Heaney’s dating dread and challenges, though I’m not sure our reasons are the same. I may just be one of those built-to-be-single souls. Was it a lightbulb moment for you?

  18. Inga says...

    Thank you for sharing :)

  19. Siobhan says...

    At 32 I had an attitude of really wanting to meet someone but really not wanting to online dating (again). I went on holiday with a friend who dated relentlessly on the basis that “it’s a numbers game”. So I downloaded a couple of books (one was the School of Life’s “How to Find A Partner”, went home, signed up to Bumble and 2 weeks later met my now-finance. I don’t know if it was the change in mindset that did it, but something shifted. I totally agree being told to work on yourself constantly is annoying. Especially when you can see coupled up friends who clearly need to do some work on themselves haha! Often I do think it’s a numbers game, but finding the balance of giving people a chance/being open minded and knowing yourself enough to not give them too much of a chance is the tricky bit! Also – sometimes there’s no reason why some people couple up before others and some never do. It’s just the way of the world. Which sucks. It’s ok to recognise that!.

  20. Dee says...

    Looking forward to going on this journey with you, Kim! I am recently divorced and starting my life afresh too.

  21. Betsy says...

    I am a single mother with wonderful school-aged children, and while I spend 95% of my time with them, especially now, I still hope I will meet a partner to share in the things that bring me joy. I don’t need full immersion, I am content, but it would be nice to exist together side by side. I no longer yearn for a partner because I want to be married or have more children, or attend couple’s dinners, or any other boxes, but because I enjoy being in a long-term monogamous relationship. I enjoy having an intimate relationship with one trusted partner. Yet each day passes and the days turn to weeks, and surprisingly have turned to years, and I am surprised that I haven’t even had to decline bad dates. Each day is fine, some are even wonderful, but it is lonely not sharing space with an adult partner, not having that connection. I am not sad or longing because this isn’t enough, or because I judge being single as less than, but it is sad because I loved being with someone. I love sharing a bed, holding hands, and doing things with a connected partner by my side. So, while I don’t have a list anymore, I do have a feeling I want to feel again; however, that does not mean I am trying to reenact the past. I don’t want to settle, and I do want that love that comes from the connection of being with a committed partner. And, although I have male friends who are single as well, they have a sense that when they choose not to be they have so many options and feel it is easy to meet people without ever going online, and I often wonder why it is that way still? Anyway, I suppose what I have realized is there is always risk, and at my age, with children, with loss, I don’t feel ready to take a risk and lose anything else, and I only want to gain something, and I understand that is probably not a realistic approach.

    • Ailsa says...

      Betsy I could have written that a few years ago! I was widowed young and with two kids doubted I would meet anyone. I didn’t want to get married again or have more children. I went on lots of dates (through online meets) and enjoyed figuring out what I wanted. My expectations were fairly low to be honest. I just wanted more adult conversation in my life, anything else was a bonus.
      I was my partner’s first online date after his divorce- and we’ve now been together 2 years. He doesn’t complete me, I was already complete- as it sounds like you are too. But he does add so, so much to my life. He’s brilliant with my kids, and we have his son here too half of the time. It’s messy but it’s wonderful. Good luck.

    • Nina says...

      I can relate to this so much. I am enjoying the experience of being single, getting to know myself, not answering to anyone else, etc. But I do miss the companionship of having a life partner you love to go through everyday life. I’m hopeful that I’ll find that again, but I’m not desperately searching. I’m going on dates and keeping my mind & heart open. Just wanted to respond and let you know you are not alone in your feelings about monogamy. ❤️

  22. Brooke says...

    I hope anyone who is single and wants to have an inner support for the hardness of dating and all prevalent advice from friends and family around working on yourself to “deserve a partner“ will read this incredible book It’s Not You by Sara Eckel (her article that sparked it was one of the all time most popular on NYT Modern Love).

    https://saraeckel.com/book-by-sara-eckel

    I felt such incredible peace and self acceptance and joy hearing her rebut so many of the critiques of particularly single women needing to try harder or different rather than the truth that quite a bit of luck and timing is involved in meeting a person you spend your life with. Sara’s writing introduced me to Pema Chodrön’s meditations!

    I’ve also been thankful for other wonderful readings on the joy and dignity of single life even when hoping/ open to a relationship. Writers like Shani Silver, Glynnis MacNicol, Bella DePaulo, and Aminatou Sow. The rich capacity for love and meaning in many places, the industry built around women feeling bad about themselves if not in a relationship or pursuing one.

    I wish there was more conversation at large about the internalized stigma of being single being one of the truly hardest parts of being single. Healing that can be so comforting and liberating. These writers have been deeply powerful in that for me!

    • Heather says...

      I absolutely loved that book too!! I’ve had it from the library over quarantine and just read it last month and it was life changing. I started writing down a quote I liked, and then accidentally wrote down the whole chapter hahaha!

    • Brooke says...

      Oh my gosh, Heather, love that— I was the same way! I took so many pictures to share with one of my best friends—she finally just had to buy the book. 😆🙌🏽

      You might really like this article by Glynnis MacNicol too. I love these women who write so beautifully and hold space for such nuanced feelings of joy and openness.

      https://www.bonappetit.com/story/dating-thirties

  23. x says...

    Ive been in a relationship now for over 4 years, but still feel like I am only experienced with my partner. I only know what its like to be with him. When we first starting dating, he would tell me that every relationship is different, so even though he had more “experience” than me, both of us were equally new to the experience of being with each other. I understand that more now. When i think about what it would be like to begin a new relationship, I know it would feel like a totally new thing, like starting from scratch building intimacy with someone new. We get caught up in what it means to have experience, but we’re all just starting from the beginning all the time

    • S says...

      This is beautiful, thank you. xo

  24. Carla says...

    I needed all these so badly. Thank you so much for this article.

  25. becky says...

    Let’s get one thing straight, before I list everything else, BEING SINGLE IS NOT A DISEASE, virus, or anything anyone should be ashamed of, worry about, or need to defend or explain.

    The idea of waiting for someone is outdated.

    No single person will complete you. Thats a lot of pressure on that person!

    You can not change a person. You should never go into a relationship with this intention. Ever. If they don’t make you happy from the start, if their way of living doesn’t make you smile or open your mind to a different way dont lead them on and don’t insult them by remolding them.

    You don’t need to look at being single as a time to “work” on yourself. There is no work to be done for someone else. Always for yourself. Have a fear you want to over come? A higher degree you want to earn? A trip you want to take? Do it for yourself and only for yourself.

    If you are constantly looking for someone instead of just letting it happen you are forcing it. Engage in hobbies, socialize with friends, do your errands, take a walk. Do all these things because you want to for you and not to just meet someone.

    Please please don’t put your life on hold for any person.
    Be you, don’t apologize for your choices, don’t settle, don’t go by a 5 year plan, a biological clock.

    I am married. I am so in love with my husband. I am my own person. He is his own person. Meaning we have our own interests in addition to shared interests. When I was single, I traveled by myself, ate out by myself, went to school, happily attended weddings, christenings etc.

    Just remember, no marriage or relationship is perfect. The grass is not greener. Married people work hard too.

    • H says...

      Thank you for this.

    • SD says...

      Yes and amen. Thank you!

    • Kristen says...

      This! Thank you

    • Sarah says...

      Maybe this blog post isn’t for you Becky? Your comment begins seemingly well meaning but the last line defeats all of the above, it sounds defensive. No one (in this post) said married people don’t work hard too. Would also love to know for how long you enjoyed being single? The reoccurring theme of those commenting seems to be that they have been single for a long time. Doing things by yourself is cute in short duration but after 5,10,20 years it wears on you IF you would like to share your life with someone which unlike your comment, it is ok to want someone to share your life with. I don’t know why we as a society continue to attack women that admit they’d like to do all the things you list WITH someone. I’ll say what you said, but re phrase it, wanting a life partner isn’t anything anyone should be ashamed of, worry about, or need to defend or explain. This is coming from someone who has done everything she’s wanted to do without waiting for a man.

  26. M says...

    While I totally understand that there is lots of value in telling single people some version of “lean into it and use the time to work on yourself” I am quite frankly sick and tired of hearing it! I feel like I’m constantly working on myself and like so many things in the world are always telling me to! Work on your career, fitness, style, friendships, mental health, cooking skills…the list goes on. What I would like to hear after years of being single is some actual concrete steps to take specifically around dating that I can then put into practice ie. how to use apps better, how to evaluate dates better etc. Not interested in just more generic fluff pieces saying “it will happen”, give me tips to make it happen.

    • Sita Daavettila says...

      Check out the tobemagnetic manfestation work. Tangible steps, results oriented. It’s seriously powerful

    • Allie says...

      A friend of mine made a very determined effort to meet the right person and was eventually successful. Here are some of the concrete steps they took.
      1. Figure out if you have a current pattern that isn’t working out and then examine why that pattern is there and how to change it to something that would serve you better.
      2. Figure out in detail what you really need in a partner but have an open mind about how your requirements might look in reality.
      3. Meet LOTS of people .(Obviously hard at the moment). But LOTS. And not just dates because it may be that the key person you need to meet is a new friend who will introduce you to Your Person.
      4. Do things that interest you but also accept any random, unusual opportunities that come your way.
      5. Be happy with yourself. If you’re not happy with you, then other (emotionally stable) people likely won’t be attracted to that.
      6. Fail fast if someone isn’t right for you even if they’re perfectly nice for someone else. Keep looking.

      Hope something in there is helpful. It did work out for my friend but they were crazy busy and extroverted during The Search.

    • M says...

      Sita I will check that out! And Allie thank you so so much those are very helpful <3

    • Meredith says...

      My dating experience was pre-Covid, so I know this doesn’t translate well to the current climate, but I had AMAZING luck when I approached online dating with a strict set of rules:

      1) I only swiped right on people who bothered to create an interesting bio (and one I was actually interested in!)
      2) I could go on as many first dates as I wanted, I wasn’t worried about finding “the one” or trying to date one person at a time. (This made for some very interesting weekends!)
      3) first date needed to happen ASAP after matching. No endless pen-palling. You can’t tell tone via text and it just makes sense to me to meet as quickly as possible so you don’t waste time on who you think someone is via text only to meet them and find out you were way off base.
      4) first date was an afternoon coffee date in a location of my choosing. That way I knew I’d be somewhere safe and there’s no pressure to go back to anyone’s place, etc. I also noticed this really changed the caliber of men I went on dates with!
      5) don’t worry about whether your date will like you, go into the date excited to find out whether you like them! (I am pretty sure I learned that here!)
      6) DO NOT TAKE GHOSTING PERSONALLY. Anyone who ghosts you is someone you want gone.

      After only a month or so (and tons of first dates!) I realized I was comparing all of the new dates to one guy and none of them were coming anywhere close… so I stopped seeing other people and 11 months after our first date we got married!

      And this from someone who was never going to date online, or date someone that much older (only 8 years older), or marry anyone I had known for less than a year… so I guess an open mind helps too :)

    • E says...

      Very much second “fail fast.” And I think that goes along with not taking ghosting personally.

      The biggest key for me–not to finding “the guy” but to not feeling shitty the whole time I was dating–was actually the advice from this blog (from Joanna’s sister I think?!)–don’t worry about whether they like you, worry about whether you like them! Something along those lines. That was such a shift in mindset for me–I had always been worried about whether guys were into me that my own feelings about them or how they were treating me barely registered. Also, once I did meet someone I really was into, I was less focused on getting him to like me and more interested in getting to know him–which in turn is a great way to get someone to like you!

      I also think that with online dating it’s important to try to break the algorithm–be open to people who do not *seem* like they would be a good match on paper. Because on paper is not what counts!

    • Liz says...

      I just wanted to jump in to share my experience, as I think my perspective is a little different than many of the other commenters. I was single for most of my twenties, dated a few interesting and/or horrible people (LOL) but just didn’t understand how I couldn’t seem to find a person with long term potential. I never was a person who went on millions of dates, I used apps, but only went on dates when the person really seemed to have potential, which made my lack of finding someone even more puzzling because I felt like people who on paper should be a good match just were not! Then one day, out of the blue, I went on a date with someone who seemed kind and interesting (due to my past experiences, I had low expectations of any long term potential though) and he just FIT. We’re engaged and own a house together, about a year and a half after meeting, and I still just kind of wonder sometimes at how it happened. I definitely think that sometimes it isn’t about “working on yourself” or changing your expectations, sometimes it just takes meeting the right person at the right time, and it’s as simple as that. Some of my single friends have said that they’ve found my story inspiring, as it shows that sometimes you don’t need to put so much pressure on yourself and just trust that the right person is out there and you’ll meet them when the time is right.

    • M says...

      Meredith, E and Liz THANK YOU <3 Have been getting pretty down thinking about how much and long dating may be affected by the pandemic and these comments are helping to lift me out of that low

  27. Emilia says...

    I was always single. ALWAYS. No boyfriend in high school. A grand total of one boyfriend in the four years of college, and we were only together for about five months. One boyfriend for a year right after college. And then nothing–for the rest of my twenties.

    And all of my thirties.

    And most of my forties.

    There weren’t 40 first dates for me in that whole time. I tried online dating, on many services over more than a decade, and wound up with no more a handful of meetups at bars that went nowhere. Two guys offered “friends with benefits,” over the years, but not over long periods of time, and frankly the benefits weren’t that great. I didn’t, and don’t, understand why I was cold-bed, never-dating single, but that was my whole life. At one point it had been ten years since I’d had sex.

    Then, when I was 47, I got into a fender bender on the way to meet up with a friend for lunch. I was fine, but my car was totaled. This stranded me in a part of town I wasn’t familiar with. So I called my friend. She called a mutual friend who lived nearby and whom she happened to know was headed to work near the restaurant soon. Even though I was a total stranger to him, he happily agreed to pick me up.

    That was a decade ago. We’ll celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary next month. He is truly the most wonderful partner I could’ve imagined having. I tell this story for anybody else out there who has truly gone a long time–even a lifetime–without love: It CAN change.

    • GW says...

      This is beautiful! Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Allie says...

      I love this–thank you!

    • Betsy says...

      Thank you.

    • CS says...

      Goosebumps. Thank you.

    • Holly says...

      Thank you so much for sharing!

  28. Veronica says...

    Hi MR!
    I think someone you trust and respects you, who are you into and want to enjoy the physical of things with will naturally want to know about your level of experience so that they can accommodate you and make you feel safe. Tell them when you get that far! Until then, remember that sex is not the same as intimacy, and enjoy your other relationships, even the one that eventually leads to sex before it gets there.

  29. Lily says...

    I am so here for this column, thank you! Caroline and Kim, always appreciate your perspectives on singleness, and all the complicated feelings that come with moving in and out of it.

    “Nobody” by Mitski recently came across my radar and, for the first time since a recent breakup (in a pandemic, in my mid-thirties) that left me heartbroken and hopeless and fatigued by the very prospect of ever trying to date again, I felt kind of good: like, I’m so glad I’m utterly alone right now so I can bask in it, with Mitski: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qooWnw5rEcI

  30. Jenna says...

    I think we need to think about the subject of singleness partly as unintended (or actually in some cases it could be intended!) consequences of the way we are parented. I have no idea if this will change the expectations my daughters have but I do my best not to say “WHEN you get married” or “WHEN you have kids,” but “IF you chose to…IF that happens to you…” and not not make an overly-huge deal about being married or having children. It’s hard, because I love being married and being a mom…and I want to celebrate those things with them…but I don’t want to pass on some kind of unconscious belief that they are guaranteed in life or WORSE that I expect that of them.

    • Nadine says...

      Wow, I love this and *if* I ever have children, I’ll practice it.

    • Holly says...

      This is great! Your daughters can then be leaders in this world and help their friends who didn’t have a mom like you.

    • Reba says...

      As the perpetually single one in my family, I really appreciate this. All my siblings and cousins are very enthusiastically married with families and when yet another of my relationships does out, it is hard to be, not just disappointed for myself, but also feel like I’m a source of disappointment or worry for my parents.

  31. MR says...

    Along the lines of one of the questions in the post (by Jess), I am 27 years old and feel inexperienced. I have only ever kissed one person and have never had sex.

    My question is this: in future dating/relationship endeavors, what do you think about telling your partner you are a virgin? I feel like it would be dishonest not to tell someone that, but I also worry about guys thinking it’s strange that I’ve waited this long and maybe not being interested after hearing that?

    I originally waited to have sex because I am a fairly conservative Catholic, but at this point the reason I am waiting is just until I am with someone who I trust, who I feel respects me and who I am into and want to enjoy the physical side of things with.

    Would appreciate any thoughts on this :)

    • Brendy says...

      I waited a long time too. About the same as you. Once you are dating someone you trust, it’s not as hard as you think to tell them. Unless they are a jerk, they will respect your choices and be excited to share that with you. It came up when it was appropriate… not on the first date. :)

    • Megan says...

      Hi MR,

      Hang in there! This is a hugely personal decision and a good man will be 100% ok with the choices you’ve made. I was a virgin until I got married at 31!! I’d like to think that your thoughtfulness in this process would be seen as attractive, and not the opposite (and fwiw you won’t be comparing them with other partners). Assuming you get to know someone well before you decide to have sex, and that you’ve talked about what you both want and feel comfortable with in that arena, it shouldn’t be awkward when it finally comes down to it! It should just be. . .super sweet. xoxo

    • Jessica says...

      I think you should be honest. You obviously want to be with someone who shares your values and respects you. A guy who has a negative reaction to your dating history is not someone you probably want to be with anyways. If he cares about you and is worth accepting into your life, he will be respectful of this information.

    • Silvie says...

      I feel you on this one! I haven’t kissed anyone until I met my now husband, and waited to have sex until we were married (I was 31). He would have preferred it if we wouldn’t wait, but he totally respected my wish. If he hadn’t, I probably would’ve broken up with him, because it was very important to me. I wanted an equal partnership, and that was something I knew beforehand I wouldn’t want to compromise. When a partner can’t respect that, it’s a sign for me that he / she / they won’t respect you and your beliefs and convictions on other matters as well, and that simply is not a partnership I would want to be in. I’d rather be single :)
      To me, life as a single person is an equally good way to spend your life – it’s challenging when most of your friends are married, because the majority of your circle are living a different life, and may not understand the challenges you face – but it can be done.
      And last but not least – even though I am married now and am enjoying it, I still miss being single at times. It’s very empowering to life your life the way you want to and just doing what and how you want it.

    • Alice says...

      I think if anyone isn’t interested after hearing you’re a virgin, they aren’t the right person to be sleeping with. Your list of requirements- someone who you trust, someone who respects you- absolutely precludes “someone who thinks it’s strange I’ve waited this long”. Honestly, it’s SUCH a cliche, but in my experience sex is so, so much better with someone you actually care about. Waiting isn’t something to be ashamed of at all. Sending hugs to you!

    • DJ says...

      I feel this so much. While I am a lapsed Catholic, “Catholic guilt” and being raised with that messaging are real. For me the hardest part was the anxiety over finally having sex that once I did it, I was like “oh ok, my body does indeed know how to do this.” I ended up losing my virginity to someone I didn’t know well and wouldn’t see again which sounds crazy to some but it actually took off any pressure because there was no expectations. It’s a wild story that my friends can’t believe I actually went through with! (We met on a plane…like in a movie! I always feel like I should be ashamed but am oddly proud every time I tell the story)

    • Julie says...

      I was 29 when I first had any sort of sex (with my now husband). I told him while we were fooling around and he was shocked but not in a bad way, more in a “Oh, that’s an interesting fact about you!” Then it was moot. He was really sweet about it. Your sexual history is really your own business (obviously anything regarding safe sex should be discussed).

    • Kirsten says...

      Yes! Tell them! Anyone who is weirded out by that is probably not going to fit your criteria for who you want to be with. Doesn’t have to be the first thing you say, but definitely say something before things get too intimate.

      And also, it is sort of awkward when you don’t! My now-husband was a virgin when I met him (I was definitely not), was embarrassed about it, and didn’t tell me until we were unsuccessfully trying to have sex. I felt so bad – I would have approached things totally differently had I known and he probably wouldn’t have felt so nervous.

  32. jane says...

    Love both of these answers.
    On my end several of my married friends have staggeringly good men. And each one of them has said, “it’s because I’ve trained them, they weren’t like that to begin with”. Is this a general truth? Do we need to teach this to young girls right away? Am I the only one who did know this? Is this why I’m still single?? lol

    • jane says...

      “didn’t”

    • Emily says...

      Sadly I do feel like this is somewhat of a universal truth, that girlfriends ‘train’ their boyfriends/partners, and it frankly stems from the patriarchal system that makes moms and and parents not teach their sons how to be equal partners or how to have valuable emotional intelligence skills, so that task falls to their partners. When we moved in together, my boyfriend’s mom literally said ‘that’s your job now.’ Like, no! You should have taught him this! Moms of boys: please teach your sons well so that their future gfs don’t have to!

    • liz says...

      DADS need to, too!

    • Siobhan says...

      I don’t think this is always true and I sort of hated the idea when I was dating. It seems sort of sad and super outdated to me, like “men are a bit useless and need mothered”. I have friends who thrive on it but it’s not for me. However I think there’s a difference between having real honest conversations and being wiling to change if there’s something that genuinely bothers the other person (should go both ways) and trying to change/mould someone into who you want them to be, down to doing household tasks “your way”. Of course relationships take work, but I always felt that I don’t want to train up my boyfriend or tell him how to clean/parent/behave. Each to their own but honestly I just always felt that it sounds tiring and I have better stuff to spend my time on!

    • Julie says...

      “Training” a husband isn’t my experience at all. My husband has certainly picked up better housekeeping habits, because other wise he’d be sleeping on the deck. :) What drew me to him I had nothing to do with, he’s exceptionally funny, gregarious, ridiculously smart. What has happened is that we’ve both grown together. He’s become more feminist because he never had to think about certain aspects of being a woman before he was married to one. I’ve become less hesitant to admit that I’m wrong. And we both still have our faults, some days we MARINATE in them (good god he can be petulant and I can have such a temper), but his goodness and his ability to grow as a person, makes him a good husband. And vice versa.

  33. Taylor says...

    Long-time listener, first-time caller here. (I’m 31 and have been reading CoJ since early college!)

    Louise, after dating in NYC for the better part of a decade, I honestly have no real good dating advice. My friend once told me, “They (men) all suck until one doesn’t!” Obviously, that’s an oversimplification but that’s what happened to me. There was no secret or special formula. I just got lucky after what was years of waiting for “my turn.” I met my boyfriend the first week of January (Hinge!) and I unofficially moved into his place in early March to ride out the pandemic. (I’m actually *officially* moving in this week!) I took a risk and luckily, it worked out.

    100 different people will tell you 100 different things. But two things I read that really resonated with me were:

    1. “Unlove Me: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself” an essay by Maris Kreizman. It gave me a lot of hope during some truly lonely times. A must-read, IMO.

    2. “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” by Lori Gottlieb. Coincidentally, I started reading it when I was first dating my now-bf. I understand the criticism surrounding this book but my main takeaway wasn’t that you should “settle.” It was more about adjusting your expectations. It was recognizing that intimacy and intensity are NOT the same things. Historically, the men I’ve been attracted to were tattooed hipsters with a tendency of ghosting. My bf is a tattoo-less product manager who bakes bread. I never thought I’d end up with someone like him but I’m so glad I gave him a chance and allowed attraction to develop.

    Your turn will come. xo

  34. Candice says...

    Jess you are most definitely not alone! I’m 27 and have never been on a true date. Most of the time I feel okay about this, and I love going places and experiencing things solo (which I think heightens the senses), but the pandemic has highlighted more then ever how single I am. Thank you Kim for reminding me that there is so much good in this time.

  35. Sharon in Scotland says...

    I was extremely shy and didn’t have anything to do with men until my one and only actual relationship when I was well over 40. I ended it after 4 years because I wasn’t happy. I went back to on-line dating, had a couple of enjoyable experiences, but overall was depressed by the whole thing. I’ve hidden my profile and occasionally consider going live again, but I can’t really be arsed now.
    Now, at the age of 56, I can’t bear the thought of having someone in my house…………….being there………….in the house…………….all the time. I sometimes have a little fantasy about having a lovely man in my life, but he is firmly in his house and I am in mine.
    I feel I’ve missed out on relationships, learning about men etc, but I’ve always been happy in my own company. I’m not going to settle because it’s not the end of the world if I don’t find anybody, I can carry on eating fish fingers sandwiches for lunch and sneaking downstairs at 4 in the morning to get a magnum out of the freezer to eat in my warm, king size bed……………..all without anybody saying anything to kill the mood………….lovely!

  36. Jenna says...

    I was single for the vast majority of my 20s. I similarly felt extraordinarily frustrated and exhausted and became confident that there was nobody out there for me. Being single and being afraid that I would be alone forever was one of my primary anxieties for years. I dated a very toxic guy in college/immediately after and it took a lot of work to get myself in a place where I was even open to somebody who would actually make me happy.

    For so long, I was seeking narcissistic withholding man-children, only focusing on the adrenaline-rush, lusty-high of the first few dates, or acting out some manic-pixie dream girl fake version of myself that I thought would get me the relationship I wanted.

    Ultimately, what worked was CBT therapy to explore some of the self-sabotaging and unhealthy attachment patterns I had developed in the past and to get into a more loving and kind relationship with myself.

    While I hate that society tells us that we MUST be partnered to be happy, I also think it’s important to be honest with yourself if you DO want that type of traditional partnership. Once I fully admitted that I DID want to be in a monogamous loving relationship, I stopped acting like I was cool with casual hooking up and started shifting my dealbreakers from more superficial ones (must be above 5’8 with an impressive college degree) to more valued-oriented life-plan ones (not religious, must want children).

    Anyway, I met my husband after about a year of therapy, and I’m so glad I was in a space where I was able to recognize the slow build up of a lifelong love, rather than dismiss him because it was “too easy” or because it didn’t feel quite as electric on date 1 (… because those fireworks happened so much later!).

  37. Liz says...

    Good start to this new column! There are so many other cringe worthy sayings us long time single women here like ‘It’ll happen when you least expect it!” but the one that really gets me is when I do meet a seemingly good man, my mom, family, friends skeptically ask “if he’s so great why is he still single?” Ouch. If I’m so great why am I single? You are unintentionally implying I too am broken or damaged in some way. I call them out on this but it doesn’t stop them from repeating the same remark every time. Would love a piece on cliche remarks and how to best respond to them.

    • Brooke says...

      Liz, I don’t know if you’ll come back to see this Sara Eckel wrote a number of articles and then a whole bestselling book with rejoinders to every cliché thing that are well-meaning family and friends say about singleness as well as what we internalize. She’s a real and thoughtful woman and the book is very dear and compassionate and a mix of personal stories and research.

      https://saraeckel.com/book-by-sara-eckel

  38. Silvia Garcia says...

    I really really really needed both of this answer today. I am 27 and don’t have any experience and ui have also never had a bf. So yeah this came in at just the right moment.
    Thanks!

  39. selby says...

    i can’t remember where i read this (and it very likely could have been on ‘cup of jo’) but when i was single, i remembered a story about a “last first date” and that really stuck with me. at some point, you’re going to go on your last first date, so you should enjoy them while you can!

  40. K says...

    @the reader worried about experience — I was there once, too! And it terrified me each time I slowly had to say (at 24, 25) to men I was newly dating that I hadn’t had sex before. Two were a little hesitant and ran; the third was a good guy who was ready to be patient and be with me while I tried new things. He made it easy to start exploring that side of myself. The relationship didn’t last, but my openness to and curiosity about sex blossomed!
    In part in response to the very article cited above (!), I finally started to explore masturbation and self-exploration. I also worked on gaining comfort with my body, both in body image and by simply being naked, which had been presented as sources of shame by family and societal structures though my whole life (something I hadn’t realized until I started on this journey). I walked around my apartment naked, slept naked, got used to just being naked after I showered. Finding comfort in my own sensuality meant that, whether I was or wasn’t with a partner, I was growing the sexual side of my experience. It was a life changing part of my early/mid twenties.

    • Audra says...

      I just want to say this is beautiful, thanks for sharing :)

  41. Sarah says...

    This isn’t meant to be negative, just realistic: the grass isn’t always greener on the other side! I’ve had friends feel very desperate to find a partner and they seemed right at the time, but after getting married, were not a good match. That’s not going to be the case for everyone of course, but I have learned many lessons and someone single and observant of my friends in relationships. It’s okay to take your time, be single, figure out what you want, and remember that one day, you may wish you had that time back. :)

    • Sarah – I agree with you. I think society pushes hard for hooking up (in all forms) at the expense of the beauty of appreciating oneself. I married in my late twenties, and a huge part of that decision was a feeling that I was getting older, wanted to have kids and felt a little embarrassed by the thought that I might be mid-thirties and alone (gasp). That marriage ended, and I am now trying to embrace what it feels like to finally live life on my own terms while being open to how someone else might fit into that picture. For me, neutrality seems to be the key – and being led. I recently read an interview with Wendell Berry in which he talks about being led rather than having to direct everything. I think about that daily now, and with deep breaths, I try to be led.

    • Mar says...

      I agree completely! After years of being single and unhappy, when i has around 27 i met a unhappy married woman in his 40’s who told me i should cherish the few years in my life I would be single because even if i only find a men at 35 or 40 i could be in that relationship for 40 years!! And the change everything for me, i decide to enjoy my “me years”, I travel by myself, and with friends, with my mother, with my grandma…i went to the movies alone in the middle of the day, i took all the opportunities, all the adventures! I decided I didn’t want to spend my life focus on finding someone else but better focus on creating nice memories! And at 30 i met my actual partner, and even if is a wonderful relationship I sometimes look back with nostalgic of the few years that truly belong to me completely, a lot of fun memories …. and if i stay with my partner for the rest of my life, the 7 years a spend single in a hopefully 80 years life is really nothing….. sometime i think what we need is PRESPECTIVE in all the life and not only be focus in a few years

  42. sam says...

    Just wanted to say that while I do understand that Caroline’s response can seem trite, I’m personally glad it didn’t say “You’re perfect the way you are!” or something. Honestly, for many people who know they want to be partnered, “you’re fine the way you are!” is just as bad “it’ll definitely work out”. When you’re sad and lonely, lack the companionship and structure that can come from a family, and exist in a social context that doesn’t know what to do with older single people–that’s not perfect. It’s really sad! I’d actually prefer someone to be like “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be” and to acknowledge the pain and loss. I am thankful for friends and therapists who helped me make the most of chronic singleness; I think it can be done and that single people can live full and satisfying lives. But all of their help started with an acknowledgement of how painful and not-right (for me) the starting point was, rather than insistence that things were just fine they way they were.

    Probably, different people just need to hear different things.

    Years ago, I saw this post about the grief of unwanted singlehood, and for once I felt seen. Dropping it here in case someone needs it: https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/life/single-just-feels-hard/

    • MLN says...

      That article resonates so much, thank you for sharing.

    • max says...

      I appreciate your comment so much Sam. The world doesn’t know what to do with single women who aren’t mothers. This blog doesn’t know what to do with single women who aren’t mothers (whether by choice or not).

      Maybe for future relationship columns it would make the most sense for responses to be generated by those who can relate more to the circumstances of the individuals who are posing the questions. Everyone was single at some point. Perhaps it would have been more meaningful for someone who was still single to respond to Louise’s question. As a single woman (never married, with no children) in her early 40’s, my response to Louise’s question would have been very different.

    • Anne says...

      Max, I would be very interested in your perspective so maybe you could share your response to Louise’s question here?
      While I agree with you that I don’t find myself (childless, late thirties, kinda single) in a lot of the content of this blog, I always go to the comments to seek other input from the wonderful readership.

    • Brooke says...

      Sam, you’re so right there’s so many tensions to hold on talking about singleness. Appreciate your comment and the replies here from MLN, Max, and Anne. I am in my late 30s and have dated off and on but mostly single too.

      I’ve done a lot of deep work allowing room for my joy and sorrow. I think taking away the stigma of singleness is helpful but it doesn’t necessarily take away the grief. I’ve actually found more joy, by embracing grief and longing that ebb and flow.

      And while I appreciate the heart in encouraging someone that they very well may meet a lifetime love, (Which many people do because I know they want people to have hope and encouragement) I always think to myself —not everyone does and what does it mean to have a meaningful solo life and also leave room for that grief? It means a lot to me to not be alone with that reality.

      This article by therapist Lori Gottlieb gets at it. I don’t think I would ever talk this critically to my married friends as I do feel their love and understanding (Unless they are particularly minimizing and then I would just address that) but I love how validating it is about the ambiguity of the grief of singleness you don’t know will end. Like so many things in life, embracing the many textures, emotions, and unknowns is more liberating and calming.

      https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/06/how-be-okay-being-single/590854/

  43. Spring says...

    I was single from 26-32. During this long stretch I was searching for love (and getting sidetracked a number of times by unavailable men – emotionally unavailable or already in relationships but giving their focus and attention to me during a time I was deeply lonely). Needless to say, my confidence took a major beating and I started to realise how closed off I was. The best thing I did was read “Let Love In: Open Your Heart and Mind to Attract Your Ideal Partner” by Debra Bernt. I did her exercises and then sought out a hypnotherapist to help me rewrite my inner belief system about myself. I found my life partner while undergoing these sessions. If I hadn’t done this work on myself I believe I wouldn’t have given him a chance – or I would have inadvertently signalled to him that I wasn’t worth exploring/pursuing. I remember lamenting it was too quick that I found him (!!) because my whole energy had changed and people were really noticing – for the first time in years men were approaching me in cafes, the library, the train. I think for anyone who is single for a long time (not by choice), it may be worth examining your internal narrative and seeing what you project into the world.

  44. Taylor says...

    To the person who feels like dating will never end….I feel you! I’m 28 and have been single for many many many year (7?) and have not done much dating. Sometimes I feel like it will take forever to find someone but like the article says, take advantage of the single-ness. I literally have a wall in my living room that I painted pink and I have a sparkling chandelier in my bedroom because someday someone else won’t want those things. My married friends love their husband and children but they are great for reminding me to enjoy the time by myself.

  45. Gracie says...

    In “The Mother of All qquestions” Rebecca Solnit talks about the chase after happiness vs finding meaning in life and it makes so much sense!

    For some people being in a relationship is a cop-out of finding meaning in one’s life. I say this as someone who has been single in the past for a really long time, now happily married, but it has not changed my point of view. A couple is still two individuals who supposedly each answer for their own happiness, and each finding meaning in their lives but are simply doing it side by side and not for each other. Otherwise people end up in codependent relationships or just end up being really good at living in denial of their own existential questions…

    Being single can be lived as an opportunity to find meaning, evolve as a person and be perfectly happy. This is where the trope of “meeting someone when you least expect it” comes from – it usually happens when people have reached contentment in their single life and it often looks attractive (moreso than neediness, unfulfilment, etc).

    So I guess my point is if you’re single and you embrace it, you can’t lose! You can find balance, satisfaction and meaning in your life whether you meet someone or not.

    • Ker says...

      Wow Gracie I really like the way you phrased that: “A couple is still two individuals who supposedly each answer for their own happiness, and each finding meaning in their lives but are simply doing it side by side and not for each other.” Lots for me to think about.

  46. Tess says...

    This reminds me a bit of my amazing single neighbor when I was in college. She was about 75 and single. Very maternal, always taking care of the students next door. She’d never had a date or relationship in her life.

    Then – she met someone at the swimmingpool. They went out on a few dates and we were thrilled for her. One day we saw her come home early in the morning. We ran to her, wanting to know everything.

    She said: “Is this what all the fuss is about? I can do a better job myself.”

    And lived happily alone ever after.

    • Tiff says...

      This is the best!

    • Laura says...

      Amazing…I love this story!

    • Ren says...

      I remember the hairpin! So many website gone by the wayside.

  47. Elaine says...

    Thank you for this post (and especially for everyone chiming in in this comments section). It’s embarrassing to admit but at 34 I am both inexperienced and wondering if I’ll ever fall in love especially during these covid times…

  48. Katie says...

    This RESONATED. Being single IS hard!!!

    Sometimes I worry I’m being too picky. Recently I described a date to a friend: all the ways that I needed to compromise, lower my expectations, be more imaginative to make it work… She just looked at me and said, “Um, Katie? He sounds… not great.” It was SO VALIDATING! It helped me remember to trust my feelings — no point in twisting myself into a pretzel trying to like someone I don’t. I’d rather watch New Girl on my couch with my dog.

    I loved this new york times essay (to add to the modern love essays in the comment section) — better to be alone than to be in a relationship that makes you lonely!!!!

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/style/modern-love-coronavirus-single-your-ex-or-nobody-for-months.html

  49. Kukla says...

    Question.
    I was in a relationship for over a decade and I thought things were going well when all of a sudden, he wasn’t my person. It was that simple and it was that complicated. Suffice to say, I lost everything. I lost my best friend, my lover, my home, my savings, my everything. Here I am, three years out of the relationship and I’ve managed to purchase a house (in the horrifically expensive California market), am working on myself but I can’t help but not know where to turn to find someone. I’m not wanting to look online and want to meet someone organically.

    Problem: I’m Greek and I constantly give off a look like I’m “too busy” and unapproachable.

    • Calla says...

      I think if you want to meet people not online you just have to be really patient. I’ve never met anyone in person (I think I also don’t give off the most approachable vibes). It’s great if you have friends who are thinking of you and setting you up, or work at a company with single people your age but I honestly don’t know how to make it happen in person. I used to try new hobbies and meetups and I’ve made a ton of close female friends that way but never met a man.

  50. PFC says...

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter. I think some of us ‘old marrieds’ can sometimes gloss over how difficult it was to be seeking a partner and constantly wondering “when will I meet someone”. I think we forget because navigating marriage or a long-term partnership with another human is complicated! Even after you make that commitment, you are still two individuals with your own hopes/dreams/issues/perspectives; no amount of jointly-filed tax returns can change that. Investing in yourself is an extremely worthwhile endeavor that lasts a lifetime and doesn’t (shouldn’t!) stop just because you meet someone.

    • Jenny says...

      Dang! That’s a great comment! I love this perspective— you’re always in a relationship with yourself

    • Annie says...

      I am 40 and have been single for the past 9 years. Maybe I won’t be single forever – I have hope I might meet someone to share life with. But It’s increasingly improbable I will meet someone in the traditional sense of marrying and having kids, which is what I wanted.
      In the meantime, I have sought to build a meaningful life for myself. There is a lot I love about my life. There have also been a lot of struggles/challenges that have come with having been single for so long. It would be great if we could actually acknowledge/discuss these, although I appreciate a dating column is maybe not the place to do it. I have struggled with loneliness. I have also struggled at times with feeling like a failure and thinking that there must be something wrong with me (even though rationally I don’t think that’s true). I agree wholeheartedly with the comment below that often society doesn’t know what to do with women like me. A few years ago I was at a kids birthday party and started chatting to a lady. She pointed at the kids and casually asked which one belonged to me. When I said none of them I don’t have kids she gave a little laugh then pointed to the group of men chatting and asked which one of those belonged to me. I had to say none of them I didn’t have a partner. She gave me an odd look and then without a word she turned her back on me and went to join another group of women to talk to, leaving me standing on my own. I tried to tell myself that she might have been embarrassed at her faux pas or didn’t know what else to say and that’s why she walked away. But I saw the look of disgust/pity/contempt that she gave me. She shunned me in a way I often feel shunned by society. A single childless woman wasn’t supposed to exist at that party. Well, I guess I’m just here to say that I do exist, and I know there must be others in my position. It would be so nice to hear our voices represented in the mainstream media and normalised more. It seems that so often we only appear in the romcom type narrative as the woman who doesn’t know it yet but she’s about to meet the love of her life and everything will ‘work out’ when she least expects it. Well, not everyone who wants to get married and have kids meets someone in time (not everyone wants that of course and should also be represented. I’m just talking from my perspective as someone who wanted those things but it hasn’t happened for).

    • Catherine says...

      Annie, I resonated with your comment so much. Long time single, never met ‘the one’ in time to have children. Also an introvert (though you’d never know it) so find getting out there a challenge. Not being part of a couple means being penalised for not fitting into a neat slot – I don’t get invited to the bbq because I don’t have a man to bring, like a salad to offer up for the buffet! Yet I’m attractive, funny, kind etc etc. Tried joining a child free group but they all were child free for biological reasons or by choice. Didn’t fit in there either. I have tried online dating but jeez, so many grim dates!

    • Brooke says...

      PFC!! Absolutely brilliant and empathic. I love how you’re giving distinct validation to the hardness of the waiting/ wondering and sometimes immense vulnerability of singleness as well also paying homage to the ongoing unfolding in committed partnerships.

      They don’t cancel each other out and they are both different kinds of poignant and alive .

      Thank you, thank you!

  51. Amy says...

    Long time reader here. I love the familiarity of certain standard columns, but it’s fun to see you guys trying something new, too. If you’re taking suggestions for other article ideas, I’d love to see content that addresses aging in an honest way – plastic surgery, botox, emotional tumult, menopause, etc. I feel like I could fill a thimble with what I know about menopause! I miss the motherhood around the world columns. Any articles that address being a good friend in specific circumstances are always appreciated (best housewarming gifts, how to help a friend in this or that situation, traditions or routines to start with friends). Just spitballing! Keep it up, Cup of Jo team!

    • Em says...

      I second this! Don’t get me wrong — we’re spoiled for riches on this site and I was one of the heaaavy commenters on the post that lead to this series, and I am so here for it.

      But also, this! At 32 I recently went for my second round of botox. I have zero regrets and love it. No one has noticed and that’s what I wanted! Which I know sounds bizarre. And I know many folks of the age gracefully,
      love yourself, beauty at every age etc. ilk have THOUGHTS about all of this and I would love to have input from COJ and the comment discussion to follow. Is Botox distinguishable on the vanity spectrum than my bff who had breast reduction surgery (not for health reasons)? What about hair dye to cover grey? Why are so many of us reluctant to “admit” anything we’ve had done? If in a hypothetical world you could get such procedures done for free, would you? It’s fascinating and i want to have the conversation HERE! Love you all xxx

    • Rae says...

      Motherhood Around the World | COVID19 Edition
      Maybe you could revisit past contributors and see how Motherhood has changed.

    • Jenny says...

      Menopause! Happens to half of people, nobody talks about it!!!! I’m so excited to work with women navigating healthy aging as a doc! Why is Premarin cream for post-menopausal WAP so expensive and Viagra’s covered by insurance? There is no greater force for action that women as we age.

    • Kat says...

      I’m here for all of this!

      On the botox point, I sometimes see it as a self-investment since more attractive people tend to make more money. That said, I haven’t had it in months due to COVID and feel alright. But when I’m back in the office surrounded by younger colleagues, I may feel differently.

  52. Sarah says...

    Things I wish I had known then AKA advice my now-experienced self would give my deeply-and-anxiously-inexperienced 20-something self: 1. Do everything super slowly. It gives you time to calm your nerves and ground yourself in the moment, and it is highly likely to be perceived by the other person as sexy teasing rather than stage fright. 2. Inexperience can be super hot — focus on the thrill you can create in the other person rather than the fear you feel in yourself. Remember that no matter how much sex a person has had, that person is inexperienced with any new person they hook up with for the first time. No one can accurately predict what another person is going to like and not like, and preferences vary wildly. I used to think it would be shameful or pathetic to have to ask my partner what to do in a sexual situation, because I thought you should just be able to intuit it or let your sexual instincts guide you. Now I realize that even when you know exactly what someone wants, it is so sexy to ask and to be asked by a new or long-time partner, “What do you want me to do right now?” (You can amend the question depending on what you are actually willing and wanting to do.) The best part is that after you get the answer, you just need to follow directions! 3. If you think about it from the other person’s perspective, being the first or one of the first people to have been granted access to your most private sexual self can feel pretty great. Keep in mind that it likely only feels bad to you, and that it could be exciting and/or flattering to the other person. 4. Experience or lack thereof does not predict sexual “talent” or know-how. I was speechless when this divorced guy I liked, who had been married for more than a decade, was by far the worst kisser I’d ever encountered. In order to stay married for 10+ years, I’ve got to believe that his ex-wife was into his kissing style for at least part of that time. All to say, inexperience means very little when it comes to satisfying vs unsatisfying sexual experiences. So go forth and have fun!

  53. Dana says...

    I am deeply happily married with a kid, and virtually all of my friends are in the same boat. But I admittedly found myself getting super bummed while reading Caroline’s first response. As I read, I wished her perspective focused less on “it’ll happen!” and more on “you’re incredible regardless! Look at all the beauty life has to offer you, partnered or not!”

    • Sandra says...

      Yes! Because the truth is, it might not happen. I fully believe in putting yourself out there and meeting a lot of people if you want a partner, but not putting your life on hold and treating finding one like it is some sort of be all end all destination.

  54. CP says...

    I really appreciate all these perspectives. It’s so true to me that you stay for the comments on this blog. Perhaps another advice column topic, but I’d also be curious to hear from people on this blog who entered into relationships to (maybe unconsciously) avoid being single and come to find they are not completely fulfilled. I’m currently in a relationship with a lovely person and while we have love for each other, we also don’t have that “spark” and it makes me wonder if we, dare I say, settled for each other or maybe worse, unconsciously let social pressures make us think we are better together than single. How do you know if the “lid” actually fits the “pot”?

    • Jen says...

      Sounds like you might already know the answer.

    • Jules says...

      I have a friend in the same situation and my suggestion to her was “this is perfectly okay, if you are okay with it!” If you dont have a spark but have love, and you dont personally require a spark to be happy- then be happy!
      I would wonder if societal pressures are making you feel like it needs to feel a certain way to be right. But if you feel like you’re missing something that you WANT to feel then move on!

    • Kat says...

      I feel this, deeply. I don’t have the answers.

    • M says...

      I wondered this myself for many years and for a long time, the answer I came to was that no “spark” was okay, there were other more important parts in the relationship. The one day I realized it was no longer okay. I struggled with whether or not that somehow invalidated the entire relationship and I concluded that sometimes people need different things in relationships at different times in their life and that’s okay.

  55. Jules says...

    I feel this so much, because I used to wonder if I’d find someone to love in that way allll the time. I thought I’d never find my partner. I had abusive relationships and long-term duds. And then when I found my husband I continued to wait so long due to bad timing… all the while wondering if I was imagining the deep feeling that I knew he was it. It was such a long journey and I always feel so much for others going through it. Our stories are allso different and there is no way to know how long it will be, but if you are single and dont want to be or are waiting for someone to love in that way – I hope you find them soon. And I also promise if you feel like I did for a significant amount of time, waiting and wondering, itll make you very grateful later that you waited for someone who was worth you.

  56. frugaljd says...

    For the first question, I totally relate. Not just single but never had the kind of relationship I wanted and in my late 40s. So, I live the life I want. Move all over, travel when I want, try new hobbies often, eat where I want, etc.

    Instead of thinking it is you–maybe the guys are not ready. I have a few male friends and when they are ready, they are ready. Until then . . not so much.

    Just don’t blame yourself for being single. Enjoy your life!

  57. Steph says...

    I was 25 when I first had sex. I’m 31 now and have since had lots of it. Don’t sweat it! Just do you!

  58. Sally says...

    Thank you so much for these questions and thank you to all who are posting such lovely, helpful comments. I’m 30 and have never had a serious relationship. Some days that stings and some days I can’t imagine ever giving up the single life. All of this was so nice to read.

    • Maelle says...

      Hey Sally! Same here: i’m turning 30 in a week and have never been in a serious relationship. I just got kind of broken up with by another guy who “wasn’t ready” 4 days ago, and have been feeling pretty depressed since… I love being on my own and really enjoy my life as it is, but for the past year or so, i started feeling like something was missing and that definitely stings. I never really had this feeling before. This post (and your comment!) was definitely comforting to read.

  59. Kamina says...

    With respect to both these questions, I have a podcast reccomendation: Monica and Jess Love Boys!

    Monica and Jess friends who are both single. She’s 32 and has never had a boyfriend. He is 43 and has had thousands of sexual partners but still hasn’t found the one. They sit down together and each week talk to a different dating expert or therapist, and give each other dating challenges to complete. I self-reflected and grew so much listening to their journeys…and they make you feel SO SAFE. They are incredibly vulnerable, but they don’t judge each other’s situations (and neither do the experts) and it makes you feel like you don’t need to worry about your deal either.

    https://armchairexpertpod.com/monica-jess-love-boys

    xx

    • Tiff says...

      I looked forward to each episode of this show. It was so good!

  60. J says...

    Thank you for saying this. I found Caroline’s response to be well-intentioned, of course, but trite. First, the advice “you’ll find someone when you’re not looking” has never been helpful to me, and paradoxically has led me to feel like I have to be on alert at all times (at the grocery store, waiting in line at CVS, whatever) since I could potentially meet someone there. Also, as a 32-year old woman who wants to get married and have a family, I’m facing a biological clack and simply don’t have the luxury of waiting for a great guy to magically fall into my life.

    Echoing what other people on this thread have mentioned, I’ve heard “you’ll find your person!” at least a hundred times from family and friends, and I know they are trying to reassure me, but no one can know what the future holds! Being smart, interesting, funny, pretty, etc. is no guarantee of finding love. Hearing this from a person in a relationship, who can look back on their single time knowing that it came to an end, misses the mark.

    Dating feels harder and weirder than ever right now, and is something I really struggle with. If there were a recipe to meeting someone and having a happy relationship, no one would be unhappily single (or unhappily partnered, for that matter)! I appreciate all the responses on this thread that make me feel a little less alone in a pretty lonely time.

    • Alyssa says...

      Agreed, and well said, J!

      More than assurances that just can’t be offered, I so appreciate someone speaking to that longing, tender, and truly unknown place. Life without a partner can be incredibly meaningful and joyful and still contain great longing and difficulty. Not to mention the tremendous amount of family and friend advice that alternates between “findvsomeone by trying harder or find someone by not trying”, which creates distance instead of empathy and sitting with the unknown together. Plus I don’t think anyone has fully processed what it means to be single and/or dating during a global pandemic!

      I wish Caroline had put her self back in the place before she met her partner that she’s written from other times. She’s written so brilliantly in the past on these things and I just wonder if she just didn’t have enough space here to go as deep.

      I always find Sara Eckel speaks to all of this so well.

      It’s Not You or the Math
      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/fashion/sometimes-its-not-you-or-the-math-modern-love.html

      Being Single at Weddings
      http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/06/26/being-single-weddings/HUrIuquqJ1bRPXrrpC8YAP/story.html

      The Problem with Cool Single Girls
      https://www.salon.com/test3/2015/05/21/i_choose_to_be_single_partner/

  61. Mel says...

    I think the question we’ve been asking ourselves – “when will I find someone?” – is actually the wrong question. Rather, the question is, “what am I willing to compromise to get the outcome I want?”

    I know that’s not the fantasy that society has spun for us, or frankly, that I have spent years spinning for myself. But it’s also the realest, truest way to be happy, in my opinion, with who you are and what you have now. It’s not settling – it’s just life. As many have mentioned in other comments, the problem isn’t in the meeting, it’s in the keeping. And to keep someone around for the long haul, I do think we have to let go of our conception of what’s perfect, and find perfection in what is.

    There’s a lot to say about the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking but the one thing I actually really enjoyed is that it makes so clear what people think about in finding a partner. And they’re not ashamed for wanting what they want and pursuing that relentlessly. In western culture, it’s so taboo to be that specific in desires traits like: career, salary, cultural traditions, height, weight, family, etc. That’s not to say that people don’t think about potential partners in that way – I think many people do. But instead it’s obscured in coded language that can make this process more difficult, especially when you are already unhappy with being single.

    I suppose I don’t have much advice here. But just chiming in to say I think the “you’ll find someone when you least expect it” mentality is irritating, and also demonstrably wrong sometimes. And it robs women of the agency we have to craft a life that we want – even when what we want has to evolve over time due to the real circumstances of our lives. You can be happily single, paired, monogamous, poly, and maybe all of them at different points of your life. But they’re all equally valid and worthy of respect.

  62. Allie says...

    As someone who just started a dating app four days ago, I actually really appreciated Caroline’s hopefulness and her story. I take everyone’s (great!) point that our culture denigrates singleness (especially for women) and that there are many forms of love and connection outside of a romantic partnership that are so often devalued and minimized. I love thinking about and seeing different iterations of what a rich life of love and connection looks like outside of normative coupling. But I am also glad for the folks who acknowledged how it is painful and challenging to *want* romantic love and partnership even while knowing that we are all okay as we are, single or paired. It’s a really hard balance to strike. I’m grateful for the thoughts here (but admittedly, I am glad in this moment of vulnerability to see stories of people who have, indeed, met someone without settling).

  63. Tash says...

    I was single from 23 to 31! Dating in New York with the Tinder and OkCupiding was a nightmare for me. I kept dating but I was just always single. There is no amount of not looking, letting the universe bring them to you or whatever else that worked. COULDN’T FIND HIM. I had guys ghosting me because they didn’t realize I was so dark-skinned(I’m Black), or they felt like I was too chubby, or my job was better than their’s plus all the other we just don’t get along stuff. There were times where I couldn’t even find people I wanted to just hook-up with and there was a very, very long time where I didn’t have any type of sex with another person. I felt like I was doing everything on my end that would help me find a partner, including putting it out there that I was open to blind dates! Even after all that, date after date showed me what I didn’t want and how it was better to wait so that I could find someone that treated me the way I deserve. While I was dating, I was working on my friendships, traveling, trying to work my way up in my field and celebrating my friends marriages. It was hard. In October 2020, I will have been with my partner for two years. And while I have had to make some small compromises, I am in a healthy and happy relationship. And I truly feel that is because I didn’t settle and I kept looking. I hear you, after the umpteenth date, its truly okay to feel like you will be single forever, I sure did. It might take 100 dates, but when you find someone you know is right for you, it will be worth it. And in the meantime, enjoy being single, and if you haven’t get to know yourself.

    • Evie says...

      Thank you for sharing this <3

  64. I’m 35 and single, and resonate so deeply with the feeling Louise speaks of. Will I find someone to share my life with? I spent way too much time in my 20s pondering this question, and now, in my 30s, not as much. Because the truth was and is I don’t know. And sometimes I wish we would acknowledge that. That instead of saying, “It will happen when you least expect it,” we would lean into the idea that maybe it will happen, and maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s OKAY.

    We don’t get everything we want in life, and I’ve accepted that a partner / husband / long-term lovahhhh might not be in the hand I’ve been dealt. That doesn’t mean I’m not out there living and trying. But I guess I’ve come to see the life I’d live with someone is just different than the life I’d lead alone. Both are wonderful and hard in their own ways, and neither is better. I’m learning to settle in and just enjoy the ride (and all the bad dating stories I’ve gathered for that memoir I’ll publish one day).

    • anna says...

      If you could go back and give your 20something self advice on changing that perspective, what would you say? I just turned 22 (which I know is young!) and it’s really discouraging to be single right now. The vast majority (not exaggerating) of my friends are dating, married, engaged, or having babies. It’s HARD to feeling like I’m the only one out or that there’s something so wrong with me that I can’t find someone. Anyway. I’m trying to shift my perspective and not be so hung up on the idea that I need a partner to have a full life and would love tangible advice from people who’ve done just that! The things that helped me before- being active in my church and serving in my community- have really been impacted by COVID.

    • Holly says...

      Oh Anna, I feel you! I currently have ZERO single friends. The rest are in long-term relationships and married and have kids, and sometimes it feels like I’m the weirdo in the room and everyone knows it.

      But then I realize I could be married… to the wrong person. I could find someone tomorrow who would probably marry me, but is the point to just be married? No. It’s to find the right person to build a life we both want, and maybe finding that person is just going to take time. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing. Shift your energy away from “finding someone” and channel it into doing all the things you enjoy — that would absolutely be my advice to my younger self. Because the irony is if you’re out in the world doing things you love, you may also cross paths with someone who enjoys those exact same things.

      One last note: I’ve always loved the engagements & wedding section of the NY Times. But I especially love it when they feature a couple in their 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond getting married. They always look happy AND more peaceful somehow. Because you know these two humans didn’t spend 60 years on earth to settle for the wrong person. They waited for the right one. And that’s exactly who I aspire to be.

      Hugs to you! xo

    • Sarah says...

      @Anna – you really are so young, and since you mention church, I assume you are a Christian. Getting married/having babies young is typical of that lifestyle (I was in it for many years), but there is SO much helpful growing for you to do in your 20’s. You will likely look back and be grateful for the time you were able to spend getting to know yourself. Trust me what I say I’ve been there – my 20’s were filled with my friends getting married. And it was HARD. But now that I’m in my 30’s, I can reflect and see how happy I am that I did not get married at 22. Get to know YOU. Find out what makes you happy, where you want to travel, books you want to read, classes you want to take, career opportunities, etc. Don’t let marriage (or lack thereof) be the sole focus of your life. And definitely don’t let the church make you feel that you are missing out by being single – I know I felt that way in the past.

  65. Jane says...

    I’d like to add: there’s a chance you will, indeed, stay single — and that you’ll be happier than you ever could have imagined. I turned 40 last week. 29-year-old me would be horrified that things didn’t go according to plan: get married, buy a house, have a baby, have another baby. The only one of those I’ve got is the house, and I did it myself. Instead, I have a dream job (I love what I do, work with nice people, get paid great, and am rarely stressed), the world’s cutest cat, a sweet and cuddly dog, amazing friends near and far*, a beautiful home I plan to live in forever, and a gorgeous garden I just renovated, where I can sit and look at my plants in bloom and read a book for hours with no interruptions. So, I haven’t been on a date in a few years, but honestly, it rarely crosses my mind. Life is full. It’s not what I expected my life to turn out like, but it’s so much better. <3

    *who are mostly at their wits' end with their partners and children right about now

    • Catherine says...

      This is lovely to hear Jane thank you.

    • Mar says...

      Loved it!

  66. Laurel says...

    My old roommate and I used to have a phrase: “you can have a shitty boyfriend if you want one.” Whenever one of use would be feeling down on ourselves for being single, wondering why everyone else was seeming to find love, the other would call out: “you can have a shitty boyfriend if you want one!” It helped put a stop to the wallowing. This isn’t to say that other peoples’ partners are shitty, but it was a reminder that we weren’t on the lookout for just “a boyfriend.” We could probably have that if that’s all we wanted. We were looking for the right person, and we were choosing to wait for it.

    • Jill says...

      Great self check! Love it!
      Smart ladies!

    • Sam says...

      Ooh I love this

    • Em says...

      So good, so true! Can’t wait to share w my bestie :)

    • Diana K says...

      Yes! I use a variation of this when my parents talk about never having grandkids. I say “I can find a stranger and give you grandkids in 9 months flat, is that what you want?” They didn’t enjoy that one, but I did.

    • Ren says...

      Diana I love this so much, made me laugh and I’m totally using it next time I get asked this by family. And sharing it with my friends.

  67. Martina says...

    I hope this isn’t a weird question, but what’s the best way to support an old friend who is going through this “Will I be single forever?” reflection? I have a friend who is such a catch, so smart and thoughtful and beautiful, great with her brother’s kids, and it’s gotten to the point where she feels too embarrassed to talk about it anymore – though I know it gnaws at her. We’re in our early 40s and I think she had hoped to have a family by now. I realize it’s not my place to force the issue, but I just wish I could help short of arranging discreetly disguised setups…

    • Calla says...

      If she’s open to setups I think that’s actually great, I always wish my friends would try setting me up. I think the main thing is to just indicate that you are happy to listen to her, repeatedly. She wouldn’t be the first one to be embarrassed to talk about it. I often worry about burdening or embarrassing other people by expressing my loneliness, and its something that comes up often, not just one time. So I would just make sure she knows that you aren’t annoyed by hearing about it and aren’t trying to fix her.

      As another commenter mentioned, often the best thing to hear is just “I’m so sorry, that sounds awful and you don’t deserve it”.

    • J says...

      From my POV as a longtime single woman (I’m 32), what I’ve found the most valuable is for friends to listen without judgment or advice, however well intentioned. That’s what has made me feel the most heard and validated, but of course I can’t speak for everyone. Your friend is lucky to have such a supportive friend in her life!

    • Sam says...

      This resonates with me.

      I guess one thing is…does she want to find someone? If so, I highly recommend “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping” (which I mention in comments below) not just like to find someone but because I think it can ease some of that embarrassment, and also just kind of rejuvenate a social life.

      Otherwise, I say find ways to honor her life in the way that coupled peoples lives get honored. Find occasions (promotions, graduations, moves, etc) to like stock her bar or pimp out her kitchen. Coupled people have all these opportunities to get grown up things like dishes and towels, not to mention getting their Big Life Events celebrated, and single people just don’t. Also, involve her in your and your family’s life like she’s a central part of it. What got me through my single years was knowing that there were people—my friends, their husbands, their kids—who loved me as much as anyone ever could, who couldn’t imagine their lives without me, and who treated me like a default part of their family. (These kids—when they draw pictures of their family, always, unprompted, include me!)

    • Jess says...

      That’s the situation I’m in, and that’s how all my friends – including my male friends – have always described me. Personally, I appreciate friends’ attempts to set me up. They stopped after they were all partnered up. Also, it really upsets me when friends comment that marriage is difficult, having kids is difficult, they miss their freedom, etc. in an attempt to make me happy that I don’t have what I’ve always wanted. Acknowledging that I’m lonely and that I’m unhappy being single and without kids would make me feel better. Sometimes a pity party with friends is needed.

    • Chandra says...

      In a global pandemic you will definitely be single a while longer. Grim but true and I’m single too. Although I’m at the stage of giving up. Good luck to us all!

    • Diana K. says...

      I love this question, I am the single friend! First off hype her up when you see her, compliment her bod, her achievements, her cooking skills, lay it on thick. Even a vague “what have you been doing, you are glowing” feels really good and shows that she has value outside of being in a relationship. Second, take her out one-on-one. Girls nights happen less frequently when your friends all get married and it’s easier to meet new people this way. Third, I love a setup but based on your wording, she might not? Don’t disguise your setup, but maybe gently bully her into one. Dating is a numbers game!

    • E says...

      It seems to me that one of the strongest ways to *support* this friend is literally just to be supportive–maybe especially in ways that we traditionally associate with romantic relationships. Spontaneous small gifts or gestures, making an effort to spend time together one-on-one, celebrating important moments, that kind of thing… The best thing about having a partner (to me) is that I have someone I can kind of assume will show up for me (no guarantees though, haha!). I think showing up for a single friend can help ease that situation, though it does not “solve” it. Also, you don’t need to biologically produce children to ‘have a family’–that can mean so many things and exist in so many ways. That window never really closes, even as the biological clock ticks loudly.

    • Cay says...

      Please, please, please don’t set your friend up unless she explicitly asks for it. Speaking as the single friend, it is always incredibly obvious and uncomfortable.

      I think it is worth examining your friendship and how you communicate. You’re stating her feelings a lot here but…has she actually verbalized them or are they an assumption on your part? I ask this because I’ve found that partnered friends often view it as their place to “fix” their single friends and (I mean this lovingly) it’s just NOT at all. Or does she potentially feel uncomfortable because most of your friend activities center around bringing along partners, always including/talking about children, etc. – so her life path feels like it’s an outlier? I think making sure that you are fully invested and interested her current life, not the one you think she wants, is an important step in making sure she feels like she is in a safe space to talk about tougher topics.

    • B says...

      I think one of the best ways to support her is to ask, “how’s your heart?” As that “perpetually single” friend, I often talk with my friends about their partners and relationships and matters of their heart. I’ve always found it interesting that the same kind of question is rarely asked back about how my heart is doing. Just because this heart of mine is not in a relationship, there is a lot of processing going on, highs, and lows, – similar to how it might be if I were in a relationship. Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes I’d like my singleness to be acknowledged more, on the same level of importance/relevance as if I were in a relationship. Rather than this silent part of my identity.

    • Calla says...

      Wow loving everyone else’s suggestions! It’s so true that so many activities center around partnered people in a way that makes single people feel left out. I second Sam and Diana’s suggestions about doing things with her one-on-one and finding ways to celebrate her. And please please please don’t preface those invitations with “Hey, my partner is out of town/unavailable tonight, are you free?” It really stings when people explicitly tell you that you are their backup after their partner.

    • Martina says...

      Thanks for all the suggestions and feedback. Love this supportive community! <3

    • Em says...

      And give her a raise!!! These 1 bedroom apts ain’t cheap!! haha

      I fully support all of the other recommendations here but would also encourage you to evaluate how you are splitting costs with her in group scenarios. Consider splitting that vacation home rental by adults who attend, not by rooms occupied. I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’ve been able to voice this to my family, where all of my siblings are engaged or married that I too deserve a room in the vacation house that has more than a single bed shared with my 12-year-old niece. Or when we hire a photographer for family portraits – maybe I shouldn’t pay the same amount as my siblings who are really interested in portraiture of their children. We often don’t consider the financial implications of being single and fully supporting yourself in a society that is often financially set up for partners!

    • Em says...

      Oh, and do the romantic things “reserved” for those in couples with her. Ask her to dance at that wedding – yes, especially the slow dance. Or have your partner dance with her – not out of pity – but because slow dancing at weddings is so, so lovely, and no, she’s not going to “catch feelings.” Spend the afternoon reading poetry in the park together. I love whoever commented about sending her flowers or celebrating the small things in her life. Just because we’re single doesn’t mean we should miss out on romance or intimacy in relationships ~

    • Annie says...

      I love this question. It makes me feel seen- and that is the gift you can give your single friend. I also love everyone’s answers. Being single is hard (emotionally and financially) and we often get little support let alone acknowledgement, especially from married friends/society. I feel this keenly because all my friends are married with kids. Emotionally, my friends often don’t want to hear about my emotional struggles. They want entertaining stories of awful dates or fun girls nights out a few times a year when they get a break from their husbands and kids and relive the freedom of their single years. But if I can’t really discuss and share my life, including hard feelings and real struggles with my friends then I have no one else to talk to! That’s the thing about being single!
      Financially, where I live there is an expectation you are living with partner on a dual income built in to prices- especially rental prices- and a dual income is the only way to survive comfortably/get ahead. Could people/society start acknowledging this at least?
      Also, I just want to say that as the one single friend I always get asked to house sit/pet sit for free while friends go away on a family vacation. I field this request at least 5 times a year even though I always say no and I’m sick of it. Please stop asking!

  68. Bridgette Stone says...

    I’d love to know advice for supporting a partner through fertility struggles. I happen to be a woman married to a woman. I’ve had five miscarriages and my wife and I have definitely grown in the way we support one another through the pain of loss coupled with the desire to start our family. We recently switch to my wife being the one trying to conceive. When it didn’t take I think we both were a bit shocked. We were hoping the odds would work out in our favor this time….What I realized is that we needed a whole way of supporting each other because what worked for each of us previously, didn’t apply with the new dynamic….

    • Kristin says...

      Seconding a post re: fertility struggles and how to support a person dealing with the intense, never-ending grief of failed treatments and miscarriages. There was an infertility post on Cup of Jo about a year ago, and it was great. But I would like to hear from people who are in the thick of it, as I am. I am 2.5 years into my journey and apart from making a good number of embryos, it has been nothing but pain and loss (and surgeries!).

      Bridgette, if you aren’t familiar, the subreddit for infertility is a great place. You will not get force-fed toxic positivity there. You will not get wished “baby dust.” I have found it a safe space for emotional support and for the nitty gritty questions about treatment protocols, shots, etc.

      Here is a link from the r/infertility FAQ regarding emotional support: https://www.reddit.com/r/infertility/comments/7bgwk6/dos_and_donts_of_supporting_your_wife_during/?st=JAIAWCIJ&sh=c2d64e4b

      Best of luck to you. Infertility is so f***ing hard.

  69. sam says...

    I can’t recommend “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping” by Henry Cloud enough. It’s not perfect, but it totally took the pressure off dating for me and… I guess it changed my life. After 10 years of unhappy dating and medium-happy singleness, I read the book, put it in to practice, and am… engaged??

    • Joaquina says...

      Cool that it worked for you but this is another example of, “just work on yourself/Learn to let go/Stop looking and then you will meet The One!”.
      Your book is no guarantee that will happen for others, sorry.

    • Sarah says...

      This is really more about putting work into yourself and finding your own self-worth. The book may be helpful to some, but not to others. Therapy, trying new things, traveling wherever you want to, etc. is part of self-discovery. While this book was your path, it’s not necessarily helpful to imply, “Read this book, you’ll get engaged just like me!”

    • Sam says...

      Hey, I’m sorry if my post came off as thinking it was as simple as reading a book or that this book would help everyone. I don’t think it would help everyone.

      But the truth is that the advice in this book helped me open up, feel better about dating, and meet new people (including new platonic friends). I went from totally unable to enjoy dates—if I could get them—to tending to enjoy them and eventually finding someone I wanted to remain with. The book didn’t tell me to work on myself. Rather, it gave me concrete suggestions to try to meet new people, relax about dating, and enjoy myself in the process. Is that what everyone needs? Surely not. Will everyone who reads this book end up married in a year? Doubtful. But as someone who had sifted through a lot of useless, hurtful dating advice, it was refreshing to read something helpful, and I wanted to share.

  70. Kim Windyka says...

    Emily—Can definitely relate about the sadness aspect, too. I’d like to have children someday, but only with a partner, so that’s been a bit of a reality check lately with the clock starting to tick. Not to mention, my parents are getting older, and I’d love for them to see me happy with someone!

    Calla—I hope you enjoy it! It was the first book that wasn’t trying to tell me to fix myself or that I needed to jump through hoops, and I trust the author because she was single for almost all of her 30s before eventually meeting her husband. And yes, the one comfort in all of this is that I’m always surprised at how many women are in the same situation!

  71. Agnès says...

    Jess! You can totally have an experienced sex-life with yourself! It’s not because you’ve had a lot of sex that you’re good at it; it’s about chemistry and desire. Let it grow… (and do use your vibrator! that would be my best advice!)

    • Anna says...

      Love this advice Agnes! I agree. Along this topic I highly recommend the Juliet Allen podcast and especially her podcasts focusing on self pleasure-there’s plenty to choose from!

  72. Julie says...

    Long time reader and infrequent commenter, but felt like I had to chime in in this discussion! I met my husband when I was 34 (online dating), but I fit the description of both of the questions! I dated casually but really didn’t have serious relationships prior to him, and I had lots of anxiety about my lack of experience! As other commenters have said, when you find a partner who is truly a good fit for you…they won’t care about your lack of experience! Most guys I told actually respected me for it. You are way more worried about it than they will be. And if you do find someone who makes you feel bad about it, that’s probably a strong indicator they aren’t a good fit for you. Also, wanted to add a word of encouragement about getting married a little older….for me, it’s been great. By your mid 30s, you know who you are, what you want, and what’s important to you! I have found marriage to be so much fun. And I think a less mature me at 25 would have struggled more. All that to say, I know when people tell you to keep “putting yourself out there” it can make you want to scream, but when you find your person, it really dies make all the struggle worth it!!

    • Kate says...

      I love this! I was coming here to share something similar, which is… is there something wrong with being ‘single’ forever? Society often suggests coupledom is a place to aspire to and we’re told that we need our ‘other half.’ But I think it’s so helpful to always ask ourselves why we want to be in a [monogamous sexual] relationship and make sure that it is really what we want! Oftentimes what we crave – physical needs, companionship, connection – can be found other ways that are just as meaningful. Whether single or coupled… there are different paths to fulfillment that don’t all look the same. The article articulates it better than I, though, so thanks for sharing!

    • Sally says...

      Katie, exactly! I kind of wish that had been said above in the “will I be single forever?” question. Sure, the odds are in your favor, but also, yeah….you might be single forever. And that’s ok! I can think of a few friends of my parents (people in their late 50s and 60s) who have never been married and they are leading rich, full lives. Maybe they’ll still find someone, maybe not. But the point is, they’re doing just fine.

  73. Deanna says...

    I know right now isn’t the best time for this suggestion, but my best tip for meeting someone is to take a solo trip to somewhere else in the world. I met my husband after years of (happily) being single on a solo trip to NZ, a friend met her fiancé who’s from the U.K. in Australia, and my aunt who’s been single for all of my life moved to North Carolina last year without knowing anyone and has now been dating her neighbor for a year. I know it’s cliched, but do the things you love, figure out how to be happy and single, and maybe it’ll happen. Or maybe it won’t. But a relationship does not guarantee a happy ending…so make your life everything you want it to be without one.

    • Agnès says...

      I love your comment and so agree with you.

    • Anna says...

      Great advice!

    • Sandra says...

      I love this comment, and second this !

      3 years ago I realized that I really really wanted to change jobs and move across country to a warmer climate (think : from New York to California, but in Europe), even if it meant being further away from my friends and family. I was very excited at the prospect and although it was stressful at times, I moved, made new friends (and kept the old ones of course!) and…met my partner 3 weeks in, ahah.

      Cliché I know, but I guess making this move FOR ME was also the sign that emotionally and mentally I was ready either to be single or to be partnered with, but happy with myself and the life I had chosen anyways.

  74. B says...

    It’s so hard when you want to be paired and can’t find a partner. It’s so hard to keep dating and meeting people when you just want to meet YOUR person.

    I did all of the things listed above- worked on myself and appreciated my very happy solo life, went on ALL the dates (hundreds, no joke), did all the Apps, turned off the Apps and tried to meet people IRL, tried to see the positives on dates with no sparks, etc. etc. I went through waves- sometimes having the energy to keep doing, and other times crashing and wanting to just accept a life alone because I was tired and hopeless.

    One thing that really helped me keep afloat was gathering support from my community. Sometimes, there are times when being single is really hard, and I asked my friends to help make it better. For me, this looked like telling friends that going to weddings alone was hard, and my friends responding with generously sharing themselves and their husbands and boyfriends as dance and dinner partners. It looked like having a friend appoint herself as my “dating coach”, asking for mini write-ups of each date I went on, and providing hilarious feedback, so that even when a date felt like a waste of time, it at least made me reflect and sometimes laugh. These small things made me more comfortable and confident in my single life and dating life.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I love this, B.

  75. Katrina says...

    I have a question: for those in a committed relationship, how do you, once and for all, overcome The Things You Always Fight About?

    I have been with my husband for 10 years (dating for 8 / married for 2), and am really happy and in love with him. However, we have very different personalities, and have had varying versions of the exact same fight every few weeks/months for the last DECADE. Most days, we are able to overlook & move past The Things, but when life is particularly stressful and our patience is thin (ahem…global pandemic), we have blow-up fights about The Things and can’t seem to resort to the normal communication tools that usually work day-to-day. Help!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is such a great question! I once read that every couple has 2-3 fights they just rehash for their entire marriage, and that definitely rings true for my own marriage!

    • Agnès says...

      At the end of the day, what annoys you has to do with you, not your partner! working on yourself with a therapist (a psychologist) is the best. It will change your life.

    • Candice says...

      The Gottman Institute touched on ‘gridlocked issues’ on their blog recently (sort of): https://www.gottman.com/blog/healthy-relationships-in-practice/ . I highly recommend their books whether you are happily or unhappily married/coupled.

      Personally, my husband and I are also complete opposites. There are so many times when we’re not even disagreeing on something that our differences make it more work than if we were similar. But we’re committed to the well-being of the other person and sometimes that means being honest/vulnerable with each other about ‘that trait would be hard for anyone to deal with’, to ‘I know I’m terrible with xyz, and I recognize that, and I’m trying to get better.’

    • Ana D. says...

      Couples therapy. If you could’ve figured this out just the two of you, you’d have done it already. Call in a pro skilled in mediation and non-violent communication.

    • Ange says...

      Another plug for the Gottman Institute! We did a workshop with them and they said 70% of the issues you fight about won’t be resolved and their 3 steps are quite helpful:
      Define the minimal core areas that you cannot yield on.
      Define your areas of flexibility.
      Devise a temporary compromise that honors both of your dreams.
      Hopefully you can reach a compromise and accent each other’s position.

    • Sarah says...

      THERAPY!

    • Megan says...

      Wanted to second the recommendation for the Gottman books! They talk about solving your “solvable” problems and making peace with some of these recurring fights. Might be helpful for you!

    • Alex says...

      You decide, after 20 years together in my case, to invest in a good marriage counselor and wonder why the F you didn’t do this 15 years ago.

    • Ari says...

      When giving relationship advice to his friends, my husband would always remark “every couple has their one fight…what is yours and can you live with it forever?”. Generally speaking, ours is I feel he doesn’t see the forest for the trees and he feels I see a tree and think I’m in a forest. The thing that has worked for us, among very good communication and conflict resolution skills that took a decade of work, is the hardest/tightest hugs you could muster and a commitment to shortening the distance between blowing up and saying “I’m sorry.” With respect to the latter, there are times that I’ve preempted my rage with an apology! Anyway feel you/see you!

    • Meghan says...

      Ah! Such a good question. My partner and I went to a workshop called “Safe Conversations”, not really knowing what it was. It ended up being tools and a framework created by two married therapist PhDs that, “empowers you to talk without criticism, listen without judgment, and connect beyond differences.” It was SO powerful for us because it identified that the root of many of our constant fights were power struggles. Once we worked at identifying and peeling back the issues relating to power and how it is distributed in our relationship, we began approaching these same fights in a different way. It also helped us tune in to our childhood wounds and name our needs in the moment. We certainly still have similar fights but we somehow can approach it from a different angle which allows us to breathe new life into the same old. Does that make sense? I definitely recommend checking it out and I’m sure there are commenters who are more knowledgable about it than I am! If you’re interested you can you google, “safe conversations by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.” Ps. I love this new series!!

    • Maggie says...

      @Anges— nope, pretty sure it’s him.

    • Lauren says...

      We have one of these issues and call it our “irreconcilable difference”! When we’re the most upset about it it’s truly awful and we sometimes feel like we’ll have to break up, but that’s the only time we ever feel that and otherwise, we’re extremely compatible!

      It might make you feel better to know that even though my husband and I have learned to “fight well” to the point that we stay on each other’s side and rarely even feel like raising our voices, it hasn’t actually made the issue itself any easier to handle. It’s there and it sucks, but/and we want to live together. If we didn’t want to live together it would be a different story!

    • Courtney says...

      I really recommend Dr Sue Johnson’s book Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. It helps a lot for figuring out how to get out of those cycles of the same arguments – or, in the case of my relationship where we are also very different people, you get a little bit better at stopping the cycle every time you have an argument.

    • Katrina says...

      Oh my gosh – reading these responses could almost make me cry! Thank you, thank you for all of these responses. This thread MADE MY WEEK. Can we all meet up for a glass of wine and laugh about what The Things are in our own respective relationships?!

      @Joanna – you are Alex are major #MARRIAGEGOALS, so it means a lot to hear you say this!
      @Maggie – LOL, I want to hug you for saying this. (But @Agnes, I can also appreciate where you are coming from and know there is some truth to it).
      @Ana, Sarah & Alex – thank you for reinforcing the idea of therapy/counseling. I have thought of trying this before, but it feels so much like the last step before divorce. I feel like you only ever hear about therapy as in “We tried therapy, even that didn’t work, and then we got divorced” but Alex’s comment in particular gave me hope! We don’t often hear about the therapy success stories!
      @Lauren – thank you for saying “we sometimes feel like we’ll have to break up” because that is how I feel right now, and it is reassuring that other couples sometimes feel this way too. (I often wonder – am I really happy in my marriage if I sometimes feel like we need to break up…?)

      Full disclosure: After a particularly rough few weeks topped off with a big, fat fight about one of The Things, my husband and I decided we needed a break and I left to stay at a friend’s for a few weeks. Tonight I am talking to him for the first time in a week, and I can’t thank you enough for all of the advice…ugh, relationships aren’t for faint of heart!

      (And to those of you who are single and longing to be in a relationship – please know, there are many times I daydream about being in your shoes. The grass is green on both sides – maybe just slightly different shades. Please have ice cream for dinner, spend too much money on shoes, do all the things that make you happy as often as you want to, and appreciate the luxury of designing and living your life without compromise).

    • B says...

      Go to therapy. Have The Fight in front of your therapist. Many times. Have some sessions more about your partner. Some more about you. Share your feelings. Feel alone. Refuse to touch each other, even when your therapist asks you to. Give each other the post-session silent treatment. Have The Fight again. And again directly after your session. And again in the next session. But, a little better. Get sidetracked. Use therapy to deal with an emergency. Come back to The Fight, a little better. Feel like you’re the winner of therapy! Consider stopping therapy. KEEP GOING TO THERAPY. A month or two of boring sessions. Have The Fight again, not in therapy — terribly, this time. Sarcasm, contempt, storming out. Maybe therapy’s actually a bust? Rehash the fight in therapy. Have The Fight again on your own, a little better. Laugh out loud, preen when your therapist says “Keep doing whatever you’re doing.” Have sex right after the session and order takeout. Giggle uncontrollably at the start of your next session. Stumble onto raw, vulnerable aspects of The Fight that you didn’t even know existed. Have a new, tougher version of The Fight, not so gracefully. Hold hands tight while you say hard things. Discuss the issue that causes The Fight, a little better. Feel stronger. Feel sure. Have The Fight, a little better.

    • Lauren says...

      Katrina, after going through therapy (specifically the “third wave cognative therapy” that’s standard nowadays and is FANTASTIC) I’m convinced that even couples who literally had no problems would benefit from it! It opens your eyes so much, and helps you feel better throughout the day, and helps you understand people so much better. Check it out! ;)

  76. Kerry says...

    After my 16-year marriage ended, I took a year to myself to remember who I was and what I liked about myself.

    Only then was I ready to date — I went on 48 dates between March and October 2017, and I had a blast! No expectations, I kept it simple. First dates were for a drink only — never dinner, unless the spark was there. I thought of each hour-long date as a conversation with someone interesting who maybe wasn’t for me. I won some, I lost some.

    And then, the minute I decided to take a break from dating, I met someone who checked all the boxes except for one (he’s a teeny bit shorter than me). He is wonderful and I am happy. But it took us a full year to decide we should officially commit.

    It’s not a date, it’s just a conversation. And you’re on no one’s schedule but your own.

    • Jeannie says...

      Love all of this <3

  77. I’ve never commented on a post here, but I just wanted to say that as a 34 year-old “perpetually single” woman (save for a few short-lived relationships and hookup situations, etc.), I feel this so much! It’s especially hard right now during the pandemic, as before it hit I was finally feeling great about just going out and being social and traveling solo and doing things that make me happy, but obviously that’s not really happening at the moment—and it’s difficult to believe that someone’s just going to turn up on my doorstep because I’m absolutely over with online dating and deleted all the apps.

    One book I’d highly recommend for my fellow single ladies is It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single by Sara Eckel. She makes the case that sometimes, there’s no particular “reason” you’re single…you just are! It’s a really refreshing and comforting book. Best of luck to all of us out there! :)

    • Emily R says...

      Kim – I’m in the same boat, although I’ve put a toe back into the online dating world. I’m turning 41 in 8 days and I’ve been single since I was 29. I’ve dated A LOT in those 11 (almost 12!) years.

      I’m mostly okay with it, but I’m sad about babies I didn’t have, and partners I haven’t bring home to my parents, and being left out of some things because I’m not a couple.

      But I think you’re right. I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m active, and outgoing, and I’ve joined clubs, and I have lots of friends, I’m attractive! I’m just single – and it’s just the way I am.

    • Calla says...

      Oooh I’m definitely gonna check that book out, thanks for the rec!

      I totally feel you too. It’s especially hard right now with no end in sight and so much time spent alone. Sounds like there’s quite a few of us in the same boat!

    • Brooke says...

      Kim YES! I recommended this book further up the post and it makes me so happy to see you did too.

      Calla, hope you get to read it too! It’s so healing and calming!! Emily I resonate with your words and think you’d like it too.

      To quote the author, “We are not puzzles to solve, just people waiting for the luck to meet the right person while we live real lives.”

  78. Leslie-Anne says...

    In 1987 Steve Martin was in a movie called Roxanne. He played a Cyrano de Bergerac type character. He had a physical “deformity” that would render him single for life, he thought. In spite of that he lived an absolutely wonderful life; he ate the best food, had the best house, hung out with great friends, had a great job. At the time my girlfriend and I were both single and thought we might stay that way forever, so we decided to live like Steve’s character. We would have absolutely wonderful lives, come what may. And so we did. One of us is still single and one of us has been married, with children, for 31 years. Both of us are living wonderful lives.

    • Julie says...

      I LOVE that movie. Must rewatch it again soon!

  79. Jess says...

    I can relate to Jess (I’m a Jess, too!) I’d love to read more about people in their 30s and 40s and how they navigate lack of physical experience in dating. Specifically, how to tell someone that you’re very interested in about your lack of experience? Being a virgin? There’s a major shame factor that’s hard to get over. It’s even a running joke in tv sitcoms and in popular movies.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a great question, jess! thank you!

    • LE says...

      I’m 29 (30 in one month!) and just had sex for the first time with my new boyfriend (we’ve been seeing each other for a little over two months). I was pleasantly surprised by my boyfriend’s reaction to my ~big revelation~ that I’d never had sex (by which I mean intercourse), and I’ve been on the whole pleasantly surprised by the reactions of men I’ve chosen to tell previously. I’ve often found that my anxiety about what they’ll say is completely disproportionate to their reaction. If a man is genuinely interested in you, he’s interested in your life experiences, which includes your experience not having sex (I prefer that phrasing rather than “lack of experience). Your experience dating without having sex is still a valid experience that’s part of your life story up to now. The important thing is that you feel empowered to make whatever choice you deem is right for you–if a man can’t support that (whether it means continuing to not have sex or deciding to do it), then he is simply not worth your time (easier said than done, I know!).

    • Liz says...

      I was a Jess too into my 30s – now married with a toddler. I found it so so so stressful. Fun going on lots of dates? Are you kidding? I was so stressed about the end of the date, when I thought it would be so obvious how inexperienced I was. Here’s what I’d say to Jesses now: 1) no one can tell easily what experience you’ve had, despite how awkward you feel, 2) experienced people are often also really bad at “it” (whatever it might be) anyway, 3) there is no “correct” time to tell someone and no wrong way to do it, and 4) the partners worth investing in aren’t phased when you let them know. If someone reacts badly, then they are not worth your time or energy anyway (saying this from hard earned experience!).

    • Dominique says...

      When I was navigating this, I quickly realized that if the guy got weird or creepy about it, that was a deal-breaker for me. Like Le and Liz said, most people are generally supportive. I got a lot of “Thank you for being open with me. We’ll go at the pace you are most comfortable with.”

  80. Elsa says...

    Three cheers for your comment, DM! I’m 41 and just started my first serious relationship, so I’ve had loads of time to think about being single. I have so enjoyed spending decades learning how to do single well and reveling in the fact that as a single person I had an incredible amount of freedom — not only to go places or to do things, but to get to know and fall in love with myself. I don’t understand why getting married has to be the happy ending for every singleton. And what a hurtful, tone deaf thing to tell someone who is single is it only takes one or there is someone out there for everyone. This implies there is something wrong with being single. I’d love to hear from fellow long-term singletons on this issue.

  81. Theresa says...

    Someday you will look back on your experiences as a single woman with nostalgia. We can generally see life phases beginning and ending (high school graduation, start of college, college graduation, first job, first apartment, etc.) But when it comes to finding your person, the timeline is unknown (that’s the worst part). I was single for a long time too and sometimes I think back on those years and think to myself “it wasn’t so bad.” Keep the faith – if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

  82. B says...

    A question in the original post asked about learning/practicing finding yourself as desirable and sexy.
    I’m struggling with this, in part from little dating experience, being raised extremely religious, and some personal issues that I’ve worked to get past.

    I’m dating, and finding it difficult not to equate repeated rejection on that front with a lack of desirability on my end. Additionally, when I’ve explored my sexually in a casual sense, I’ve experienced frustration from my partner about my relative lack of experience/skill in comparison. Has anyone else experienced this? If so, how did you deal with it?

    • Calla says...

      That sounds rough! I don’t know if it will make you feel better but honestly repeated rejection is par for the course. That won’t make it sting less but just know that is true for most people, it definitely does not have to do with you!

      Anyone whom you have invited to have sex with you should feel happy to be there (as should you). If they are at all unkind, impatient or frustrated they do not deserve to be there. A good sexual partner will be communicative and happy to meet you where you’re at.

      I haven’t dealt with this personally, but one thing that might be helpful is to be as open and positive and excited about it as you (hopefully) feel. I have found that often when I am feeling ashamed of or embarrassed about something, other people really pick up on those vibes and respond accordingly. I guess what I’m suggesting is a kind of fake-it-till-you-make it approach. Act as though there is nothing wrong with your lack of experience (which there isn’t, but it sounds like you may feel) and convey your enthusiasm to learn about what you like. Hopefully you will eventually find a partner (or partners) who are equally excited to explore with you!

    • Lauren says...

      I’m sorry you experienced frustration from partners about your lack of experience! Honesty they sound like jerks. Maybe if it was very clearly a one-night stand where you both agreed to ‘service’ each another, complaining would be normal, but if a person is actually interested in connecting with you, your background would just be a part of that connection. Maybe you’re one of the many people who aren’t into casual hookups. I hope you find someone hot who’s also kind and patient :)

  83. Katie S. says...

    Jess,
    Maybe this will make you feel better (and sorry if it makes you feel worse) but there are many, MANY people out there with decades of sexual experience who, imho, are far worse in bed then others with less experience. In fact, my ex-boyfriend had been a virgin and I didn’t even know it! That’s a story for another time, but essentially he was just as good if not better in bed than previous, ‘experienced’ men. The same goes for kissing! You’ll be just fine :)

  84. Emily says...

    Question for a future column! I’m 22 and have been with my boyfriend for almost 6 months. He knows for sure he wants kids, I’m *pretty* sure I don’t. We’ve talked about it a little, after I made a joke about “hating” kids and it upset him to think we may have very different visions for our future. The pressure (not necessarily from him, but from society as a whole) that I need to decide RIGHT NOW whether I want kids or not is really stressing me out. I’m in love with him and we’re young, should this be a dealbreaker right now?

    • Katie S. says...

      No one can truly answer this except yourself, but here’s my story. When I was your age I felt the exact same and was pretty sure I didn’t want kids. Not 100% sure, but close. Now I’m almost 28 and I realized it wasn’t that I didn’t want kids it was that I didn’t want kids in my 20’s! The older I get the more comfortable I become with the idea. I can’t say that will happen to you but 22 seems awfully young to know what you’ll want out of life later on, especially if it’s not a ‘I KNOW I feel this way’ type of thing.

    • Amanda L says...

      I’m gonna flip side Katie S.’s response :) In my early 20’s I thought I did want kids someday. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me at all, but I just assumed I would want them because I think some kids are really fun and I’m good with them. Cut to meeting my now husband at 24 and getting married at 31…and we don’t want them. I definitely check in with myself often to be sure (I’m now 35), and also with my husband, but it’s a definite no for me still. Mostly because the REALITY of having them is so much harder than just the idea of having them (for me personally). You are feeling that you don’t want children now, and you can’t bank on that not changing. I would suggest having an open and honest conversation with your BF about WHY he wants kids and WHY you don’t. I think that convo could inform you both in really interesting ways.

    • Julie says...

      Emily, you DO NOT need to decide right now whether you want kids. You and your life will likely be quite different when you are 32 and again at 42 and so on. As Katie said, your feelings may very well change as you get older and you change but they may not. The only ones who should be part of the decision are you and your longterm partner. And then if you are not on the same page, yes it is a deal breaker. But at 22, you really don’t need to make that decision yet.

    • Sarah says...

      I was a fence-sitter, leaning childfree for a long time. I agonized over the decision and even went to therapy to get some help thinking about it. Anyway, a resource that was really helpful for my husband and I was a book called The Baby Decision. Overall, even if the book doesn’t help you decide one way or the other, it validates both choices. Good luck!

    • Nicole says...

      Emily! I know this is such a tough spot to be in. I met my now husband when I was 24 and he was 31. At the time I didn’t want kids and he didn’t either. Around my 30th birthday things started to change for me (such a cliche, but it’s true about that damn “clock”). I realized, like Katie S., that is wasn’t that I didn’t want kids ever, I just didn’t want them in my 20’s. This came as quite the surprise to my husband and led to couples counseling and lots of long, difficult, emotional discussions. I’m not saying you’ll change your mind or that your boyfriend will either, but the communication you have about it now will make all the difference. You don’t need to be 100% one way or the other, but just keep an open dialogue about it and explore your “why’s”. The person you are now is so different than who you will be in 5-10 years and if you can both grown and change together you might just end up in the same place when it’s time to decide for good. After all of the aforementioned talking and reflecting, my husband and I are now actively trying to have a baby and we’re so excited. We couldn’t have seen this coming all those years ago but here we are!

    • B says...

      I had children at a rather average age for my demographic (early thirties, educated East Coast upper middle class) and rather wish I had started younger, but even I think 22 is very young to be making decisions about this. You have a good few years before you really need to be making decisions about whether or not to have children. You might change your mind, and you might not, but there’s no way to know right now. This isn’t to say you should sink a lot of time into a relationship that you might feel has no future. Maybe the answer is to make it an ongoing conversation, and just take your own and each other’s temperatures on the topic every so often.

    • Emily says...

      Thank you all so much for your input!! All of this is really helpful. I don’t really know why I’m putting pressure on myself to decide, it’s just hard when I feel like all of my friends know for sure they want to get married and have kids (but it makes me wonder, have they really thought about it or is it just the default?) So I really appreciate the different perspectives :)

    • Erin says...

      When I was 22, not only did I not know whether I wanted kids, I also didn’t know if I wanted to get married, what city I wanted to live in, or what kind of job I wanted to have. Now I’m 42 and I do have great kids, a great job in a profession I love, and a nice place to live. My marriage didn’t work out, so “Do I want to get married?” is an open question once again. Living with those open questions can be *really* uncomfortable, but I have found that gently giving myself time to figure out the answers helps a lot. Emily, things will happen that help solidify your direction; on the job front, an internship I had in the middle of grad school (when I was 25) made me realize “Oh, THIS is it! This is what I want to do!” Keep actively exploring and thinking about your options — related to kids AND to other stuff in your life, since kids are just one piece of the bigger puzzle — and the answers will gradually emerge.

  85. Tiff says...

    I have to comment because I identify with both of these people incredibly…or did until this pandemic. I’m 36, went on my first date at age 28, had (bad) sex once around that time, kept doing first dates and just not finding someone that I wanted a second date with or that wanted a second date with me.

    Enter pandemic and a really lovely man who got “stuck” in my city for 4 months longer than he had planned to be here. We met on an app, texted for a month, finally met distantly and began seeing each other regularly for 1.5 months. He has since left for the city he was supposed to go to 6 months ago and has been away now for almost 2 months. Somehow that doesn’t even really matter. It sucks, but it’s working so far. It’s fun, he’s lovely, and I’m happy!

    Dating him has been way more amazing than I ever could have imagined and whether it works out with us or not (a 2,300 mile distance sure is a lot of miles), I’ve learned a lot about myself, about what great looks/feels like, about how to be me in a relationship, about sex, etc. and I get to take all of that learning with me. What a gift! I do hope it works out though, because he’s lovely and is the first right-feeling person for me in a sea of no thank yous.

    • Abigail says...

      This warms my heart, so happy for you, Tiff!

    • Margaret Forsey says...

      Oh, this is such a lovely story! I am happy for you. So nice to hear about something going well in these challenging times! Best wishes to you and your guy. 🙂

  86. Jane says...

    I felt like Louise for a very long time and I’ll tell you what worked for me. Like many women, I had a list of qualities I looked for in a mate. You really need to throw that list away and think what is the ONE thing that matters most. Focus on that one thing and give a chance and open mind to everyone who meets that one criterion AND (very important) are a kind and decent human being. You might be surprised how easily and naturally you fall for someone without the #2 or #3 on your list. I did not fall in love immediately with my partner, in fact, there wasn’t much spark on the first date. I think it just takes longer sometimes and that is totally ok too.

    • Roberta says...

      I completely agree! I really feel for the letter writer: I spent my late twenties and early thirties single (after a relationship which, although wasn’t toxic, wasn’t the healthiest either). All my friends were engaged/ married/ married with kids: I had endless opportunities to meet them for a coffee but nobody to do anything with on Friday/ Saturday nights. I threw myself into life and meeting people like a good single person: running club, climbing club, meet up groups, online dating, ballet classes (that one was more for me!). Whilst it was fun, it was also exhausting. I remember dragging myself to a party once during a particularly busy time at work: I was hungry, exhausted, coming down with a cold, but felt I had to go because I couldn’t miss the opportunity to mix with new people I didn’t know. Expensive trips to weddings, being the only single person at dinners, listening to endless pregnancy/ baby chat (great, but not all the time!). Having to take kindly meant but crap advice from loved ones and friends (my favourites: “just go to a bar!” and “you’re too successful, maybe change jobs?”)….I’ve had it all. After a particularly depressing episode of feeling endlessly single, I decided to completely change tack re: online dating. Before, I had had a pretty clear idea of what I was looking for. However, I realised that I was trying to replace my not-so-heathy-maybe-he-was-my-boyfriend? ex. Which was crazy! I decided that I was going to date anyone who was not my “type” – all they had to be was kind and respectful….and I’m now getting married!

      The first time I met my fiancé, I honestly didn’t feel the spark you hear about: I had a nice time with a guy with good chat. However, a few minutes after meeting, I remember thinking, “this is exactly the sort of man my mum would like me to date” (queue internal groan!) and “oh god, if I keep meeting him, I’m sure I end up married to him” (!). You see, by this point, I was actually loving my single life – I had plans, I was confident, and I really saw having a bf as an impediment to all of that. However, his chat really was good, and we had fun together so we kept meeting up…..and well, let’s put it this way – my mum has never been wrong and now I love this man! Whilst he perhaps was not my type on paper, he is absolutely my true type: a supportive, respectful, caring man who is really into me and into being in a relationship with me. If I’d focussed on what he was not, I wouldn’t have been able to see what he is – just wonderful and open to trying the things that I like (such as wild swimming). So my only advice – and I know this is hard to achieve in the age of apps – is to try to move away from the shopping list approach and focus instead on the person: are they interested in you? Are they interested in being in a relationship with you? Are they interested in exchanging interests (hobbies etc) with you? Are they good chat? If you have all of those things, it may be worth letting something develop for a while, even if the “spark” is not necessarily there immediately.

      Best of luck, chick. And remember – your life is NOW. It’s not going to begin when you find a partner. Make plans! Decorate your home! Go on holiday! Build a beautiful life and you will love it regardless of what happens x

  87. Celia says...

    I was really looking forward to this column, but I have to say I really resent Caroline’s answer to the first question. Many dating columns (and friends, and mothers, etc etc…) have been asked this question before, and so I’ve seen and heard an answer like this many times. While it is encouraging to (single) people like me to hear that ‘there’s a lid for every pot,’ so to speak, I’ve always felt this type of answer does a great disservice to those who do end up single for life despite longing for a different outcome. I’m sure we can all think of a lovely older friend or relation who remained single, many of them utterly charming, beautiful, kind people. The reality is we younger single folks may very well end up like them, and that doesn’t have to be a tragedy! Reinforcing the idea that *most* people do find a mate seems to further ostracize this group–what makes them unlike most people? All of the stereotypes tell us it’s some kind of unpleasantness. Truth is plenty of horrid people find love. And plenty of wonderful people don’t. By all means, please keep reassuring us to stay hopeful, keep an open mind, seek humor in the ups and downs, and learn from experience. But I hope this column will be more mindful of how it uses language like “when you do find someone”–as if this were a certainty. When writing from the perspective of the lucky *most* (as it seems all of the authors of this column will be doing), I hope you will do more to dispel the fear and self-loathing that often accompany the prospect of a life lived alone by shedding light on what can be a perfectly acceptable, happy outcome.

    • Diana says...

      Seconding this! For every person who finds answers like this encouraging, it just heightens the anxiety for someone else who hasn’t found “their lid”.

    • Margaret Forsey says...

      You make good points, Celia, I am so glad you shared them. Yes, some people may not find ‘the one’ , even if they really hope to. I have a friend who is beautiful, cool and talented, who has been single for years, dated a lot, but never found a good match. It is so important to remember that people can be single and still lead happy and awesome lives. Like you wrote, It doesn’t have to be a tragedy.

    • Jessica says...

      Agree with you very much, Celia, and with Jennifer below.

    • Robin says...

      Interesting comment Celia. I also noticed that Caroline’s answer was “no, most likely you will not be single for ever”. I found it interesting that they chose a non-single person to answer the question. I wonder how the answer would change if given by an older, single woman who has remained single. I liked where Carolyn was going when she talked about leaning into being single. I think it was a good response that addressed Louise where she is at now, encouraging her to experience singleness as it is happening, embracing the good, experiencing the bad, etc. I personally think Carolyn should have stopped her advice giving after that and avoided saying “one day it will just happen!”.

      It reminds me of advice columns for infertile people, which 99% of the time end with “and then I had my miracle baby!”

      Honestly, I don’t like hope, even though I also experience it from time to time. It’s a form of fear… hope is avoiding fear, and hope detracts from living in the moment.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      this is such an interesting thread! thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

    • Emily R says...

      Thank you! I’ve come to realize I’m that older friend who will never find her lid. It’s not perfect, but it’s okay.

    • Calla says...

      Couldn’t agree more! Sometimes when I bring up the struggles I feel finding someone to my parents they kind of brush it off by saying “Don’t be silly Calla, you’re not going to be single when you’re 30, 40, etc”. And it totally has the opposite effect that they intend. Every time they say that it reinforces the idea that ending up single would be the WORST thing that could happen to me. It’s so much more comforting to acknowledge that yes, I may end up single. While it’s not at all what I want, sometimes just acknowledging something makes it seem less scary and overwhelming.

    • Meredith says...

      Yes! I did a LOT of dating in my 20s and 30s, felt the exact same way at 30, and am…still single at 38. I had a baby on my own at 35 and don’t think I’ll ever get married. It’s not out of the question but I tend to be single. I’m NOT convinced there’s “someone for everyone”. And even if I do find my “lid” so to speak that won’t change my perspective.

    • Lauren says...

      I think you can both be right: for sure some people never find anyone, and for sure the odds are pretty good.

      It really does seems like what kind of person you are doesn’t have much bearing on things, I have a friend who’s better than me in pretty much every way (in my opinion), and she doesn’t want to be single but she is. Nobody has an idea why other than she just hasn’t met anyone (yet). I really think she will but it’s possible she might not. We all probably know people who almost nobody likes, but who are always in a relationship. A lot of the time it just seems like a mystery.

    • Danielle says...

      I appreciate this comment. I’m 41 and spent most of my adult life single, except for a couple of relationships that ended after a couple of years. I did “all the right things”, travelled, pursued friendships, hobbies, education…So much dating! I told myself I was strong and independent and could be happy single. But the truth is, I was sad and lonely a lot. I just wanted to meet a kind, stable man who wanted a family and who I found attractive-it was so frustrating and inexplicable that it didn’t happen! My mother would always say “you’ll meet someone” and I would get so annoyed–“but what if I don’t?”. I really think it’s a crapshoot in the end. I met my husband at a BBQ just after I turned 40. I was just thinking today with a flood of relief how grateful I am to have met him, and to have that love and affection and companionship in my life now. And thinking about how fulfilled I feel now, sharing my life with him and planning our future together…of COURSE I felt a yearning and sadness before. I think it’s okay to really want to find someone and to be happier with someone than alone. I know I would have accepted being single my whole life, but I also would have felt a lot of grief and the feeling that I missed out. I guess what I’m saying is, I think it’s okay to be sad and frustrated at the unfairness if it. I will add that those years alone did help me grow and learn to love myself better, and now I think I really, really appreciate my husband and our relationship in a way that I might not have otherwise. Anyway, sending hugs to anyone who’s finding it really hard and lonely.

  88. DM says...

    It sounds like these two questioners want a relationship and the advice is lovely for that, but I’d like to add to the larger conversation that it’s also quite wonderful to be single your entire life if you like.

  89. Scott P. says...

    You’re not alone, Jess & Louise, and everyone else. I too find myself single, a veteran of crappy first-dating, not-very-experienced-at-all, and stuck inside due to global pandemic … so basically the thoughts of eternal bachelorhood are a daily battle.

    I just hope when the virus subsides I’ll have some renewed confidence to leave the house, and everyone will be open to new things with new people.

    • Calla says...

      I’m hoping for the same! I think some things about the pandemic have put things in perspective for a lot of us. I’ve had a lot more open, vulnerable conversations with acquaintances and coworkers which has left me feeling more willing to be open with everyone. Not seeing people for long stretches of time makes me not want to waste time when I do meet people I like, I’m hoping that stays with me and I can be more forward with people I’m interested in in the future!

  90. In my experience, the best thing you can do as a single person looking to find the right partner is to spend your time focusing on becoming/being the kind of person you want to be. Maybe that means learning a new skill you’ve always wanted to know how to do. Maybe it means being more adventurous, or more giving. But when you approach life focused on being your best self, you will inevitably come across other individuals who are doing the same. I realize that this advice is much harder to follow through on in the age of COVID, but it was true for me, and I’ve seen it work over and over for friends of mine. In a way, it makes the old saying of “it’ll happen when you least expect it” true, because if you are focusing on your own journey as an individual, you are less likely to be consumed by trying to find a partner

    • Margaret Forsey says...

      I experienced something really similar. I had been in a pretty abusive relationship in my late twenties. After it ended, I felt so repellant, and was struggling in many areas of my life. I began to slowly and steadily improve my life. I learned to drive. I took some courses. I made some new friends. I started a workout routine I loved. My life changed in so many good ways. A few years later I met my now husband, a lovely man. Of course, not everyone will meet someone, as other commenters have noted. But, like you wrote, it is good to focus on your journey as an individual. Whether you find a partner or not, you will be all the happier for it. 🙂❤️

  91. Taylor says...

    Hey Louise!

    I’m 28 and have never had a relationship before. Dated and dated but nothing seems to stick. Lots of lessons learned, some fun stories but at the end of the day, things can get really lonely (more so living alone in this pandemic). I’m with you, girl.

    • Scott P. says...

      Same here. Slightly older, but fighting the same fight. No past to speak of, and obviously no “present” either. Here’s to the future.

    • Calla says...

      Living alone right now is rough, I feel you! Also I just wanted to point out that in my experience the people who are most bothered by those who don’t have any relationship “experience” by a certain age are usually people who get in relationships for the wrong reasons.

      I had a friend whose late-twenties boyfriend never had a girlfriend before her. She was worried about it, but I was more worried about her given that she had been in several years-long relationships with people she didn’t feel that strongly about.

      I might be apprehensive about getting seriously involved with someone who only had flings and one-stands by choice. But someone who wants a relationship and hasn’t had one yet strikes me as someone who is very intentional and patient, and therefore the kind of person I might want to be with.

  92. Jennifer says...

    Re: the first question, I think there might be some value to saying that there’s a possibility that maybe some people will be forever single (meaning won’t marry or end up in a lifelong committed relationship). Anecdotally, I have friends who have tried to find a partner for years and who are absolute CATCHES and yet they remain single. It feels as though women continue to evolve and men are not keeping up, so these phenomenal single women have more and more constraints on who fits into their life because the older they get, the more fulfilled their lives become. And since settling is not in the cards for these women, they remain single. I think there’s a conversation to be had about whether or not it makes sense for everyone to couple up. Maybe it shouldn’t be the assumed outcome for everyone. Not sure if I’m making sense, but I think it’s worth considering. The “you’ll find one when you least expect it” comes off as so patronizing to a 30-something single woman. I think she might sometimes just like to hear: “Sorry, that really sucks. I’m here for you if you wan to talk about it.”

    • This is the answer I needed to hear for myself. Thank you.

    • E says...

      YES. I wish I could give you a handshake, a high five, and a hug.
      Signed,
      -30-something single woman who is refusing to settle

    • Jessica says...

      I agree wholeheartedly about the “you’ll find someone when you least expect it” advice feeling patronizing. I’m 38 and you know what, I’ve been least expecting it for a very, very long time. And you know what, that’s okay too. I would love to fall in love and find a life partner, but I feel like questions like Louise’s are about more than just looking for comfort and confirmation that “you’ll really find love someday!” Because the truth is, we might not–and that prospect can be really scary and really sad.

      The best advice I ever read on this topic came from an old Ask Polly column (Heather Havrilesky’s old advice column at The Hairpin), where she asked a question back to a reader who asked, “what if I’m single forever?” Her response: “what do you need to make that look good to you?” I have thought about the answer to that question long and hard myself, and I think I know what I need to be okay being single longterm, maybe even forever. Being single can be hard and lonely, but it can also be freeing and joyous–both sides are equally true. I would love to see the conversation around singleness recognize the complexity of that experience in the same way that we, culturally speaking, recognize the complexity of being married/partnered.

      Louise, you might meet the love of your life tomorrow in your socially distanced, masked line at the grocery store. Or you might meet that person 10 years from now. Or you might be the coolest single lady in her 70’s on the block. No matter what the future holds for you, what do you need to make that look and feel good to YOU? Best of luck out there to you and all the single ladies! We’re all going to be alright.

    • M says...

      “what do you need to make that look good to you?” – I love this question! I would love to read a whole post with stories from women of all ages who have done just that, and what it looks like. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Calla says...

      Yes! That is absolutely what I am hoping to hear every time I confide in someone. I think people inherently want to “fix” a problem when you present them with one. But when you are sad about something that is out of your control and people start in with well meaning advice about what to do it feels like you’re not being heard. “Sorry that really sucks” is 100% the right response.

    • Amber says...

      Jessica, I loved your reply!! Such wisdom and good advice.

    • Meredith says...

      I completely agree with this, and with the other comment that finds Caroline’s response to this question troubling and alienating. Maybe next time get someone who’s not in a relationship to answer that kind of question? The “it’ll happen for you!” response is really unhelpful. I agree 100% with both Jennifer and Jessica, and am so glad they both wrote!

    • Rebekah says...

      Yes! Seconding, thirding, etc. “what do you need to make that look good for you”? For me, growing up, I had a single aunt who always seemed unhappy, grouchy, and stuck. It was a huge fear of mine to end up like her while I watched both of my siblings easily move from one relationship to the other– I could just see myself becoming a grouchy old aunt.

      Then one day (and I wish I could remember with more specifics) I realized – I have a job that provides me with more than enough income for a single person, I have the flexibility to travel (pre-COVID), and as a single person I basically do what I want, when I want. I wouldn’t be the grouchy aunt, I could be the cool, exotic aunt. That “looked” great to me, and suddenly I felt very excited about my possible future of being single forever.

      I do have to add– soon after, I met someone. I absolutely hate the trope about finding them when I least expected it and do not believe that is what happened. I think a few things fell into place in my life to make dating easier and less grueling for me. And I make sure to check in with myself frequently to confirm that I’d still be very happy to be single, because nothing in life is certain.

    • J says...

      +100000 to Jessica’s suggestion of the Ask Polly column, one I reread often – here is the link for anyone who is interested!

      https://www.thecut.com/2014/11/ask-polly-what-if-i-never-find-love.html

      As Calla said, people mean well and want to help you “fix” your problem, but unfortunately there’s no easy solve here. The unsolicited advice doesn’t make me feel heard or validated, but it’s very uncomfortable for people to sit in not knowing how to help and simply say, “this is really painful, and I’m sorry you’re going through this”.

    • MJ says...

      Echo everything Jessica said above. I have definitely mapped out what single forever would look like for me if I never find a husband or life partner. I recommend No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNicol on that topic. I realized I was bisexual in my mid-20s, however, I’m in my late-30s now and finally found the courage to act on it just this year (with a woman I’d been crushing on for years at that)! There’s still no guarantee of coupledom, but now a wife seems like something I’d really like to have someday.

  93. Abbie says...

    LOVE all of this!!

  94. Lauren says...

    I had to comment on this post because I have lived BOTH of these experiences so hard. Despite having what I recognized as a beautiful, full life, I spent my twenties feeling almost defined by my perpetual singleness (I ached for a family of my own) and anxiety over my complete lack of sexual experience (and part of this was a choice – for religious reasons, I decided to wait to have sex until marriage – but the fact that it was a choice didn’t make the anxiety any less real or the knowledge I’d be passed over by plenty of men because of this choice any less painful). I actually dated a lot, but the connection never lasted more than 5 dates at most. Even if you know you’re a lovely, normal person with lots of friends, it sucks and it takes a toll.

    But this is my advice to all my kindred spirits in this phase of life: don’t allow being single or inexperienced to become an excuse to stop building your life. Press forward, and create the life you dream of living. Work toward becoming the person you dream of being. You do not need a partner to do this. In fact, you’ll have more freedom of choice on your own – you can move where you want, study what you want, work where you want, surround yourself with the people you want. And it may be, in the course of this life-building, you’ll find a connection with someone inline with yourself, who is also pursuing his/her dreams, who is as interesting and passionate as you. And even if you don’t, you’ll have a kick-ass life exactly as you hoped.

    At 32, in a new city where I moved to pursue my career dreams, I did meet someone at a game night (I LOVE game nights) hosted by some favorite friends from undergrad. He and I connected and fell in love. Although different from his, he completely respects my sexual choices and has never made me feel ashamed (happy to report the wedding night was fire). Now we’re working on reshaping our fully formed, independent lives into something beautiful and combined. And getting ready for the first addition to our new family!

  95. Calla says...

    I’m always a little wary of the “it comes when you least expect it” comments especially when they veer towards “and therefore you should just try less hard” because it can make it feel like your own fault for wanting and trying for a relationship.

    I’ve been single for 9 of my 10 adult years and like to think I’ve never let it hold me back from anything. I’ve moved all over the world, traveled alone, tried many new hobbies and put myself into countless situations I was nervous about. But I still would like to have a partner.

    So sometimes when friends imply that I will find a partner when I stop trying or caring or “get to know myself” better, it stings. It makes me feel like I just haven’t done enough work yet to deserve it. And we can all point to counterexamples of happy couples who never did things independently or went on journeys of empowerment and self-discovery.

    Sometimes you are single for no reason at all and I think its OK to live your single life fully and also be lonely and wishing for a partner.

    • B says...

      YES to this! You can be an ever growing, empowered woman who loves herself AND have a deeeeep, aching desire for the companionship of a romantic partner. I get so tired of advice saying, once you are complete in yourself you’ll find a partner! Like you say, it makes me feel like I must have to work even harder to get in the “right place” with myself. And I do cherish and love my relationship with myself, but can we ever be totally complete with ourselves? Isn’t part of this human gig to innately need others?

    • Kate says...

      THIS, 1000%! Thank you for vocalizing this. I’m 33, have a good career going, and engage deeply in hobbies (including those that connect me with large numbers of people, which makes the common “go try hobbies” to meet someone advice very frustrating), have a lot of friends, and am generally a very thoughtful person working on myself consistently through therapy, journaling, and reading. On paper, it sounds like I’m doing everything “right” so then hearing that I should go work on myself to meet someone sounds really unfair. I don’t want to sound like I’m competing with other people, but I know not every couple out there only got together AFTER they both turned over every possible stone for themselves as single people – it’s not just possible. And then it just feels like something is permanently wrong with me as a result.

    • J says...

      Absolutely. Working on yourself is great, but does not inherently make you more deserving of love and belonging. I could argue that I’m in a better place for a relationship than my friends who met their now husbands early on in college, yet they’re married and I’m not! The advice to “get to know yourself better” is of course well meaning, but makes me feel like I just haven’t tried hard enough, when I’ve done everything in my power to find a partner.

      It’s hard to grapple with, but there is so much in love and relationships that’s out of our control – it depends quite heavily on luck and timing and there’s not much we can do in the meantime besides try to stay open and honest, which is no easy feat in dating.

    • Nosz says...

      Yes! Humans really cannot control everything – it is not like you do A – you get the result – but it is terryfing to admit. We tend to say things to people that make US less afraid-how we are coping with problem instead of staying with THEIR fellings. Life is random. When you get what you want it is not always your success, and people who didn’t get the result – didn’t do enough or too much. It reminds me of Kate Bowler “everything happen for the reason and other lies I loved”
      It is what it is. Life is the way it is. We are lucky to wake up this morning and read such wonderful comments and great blog. Have a nice day.

  96. Loopy63 says...

    And BAM…COJ ticks all the boxes for a great blog post, yet again.

  97. Sara says...

    Both of these answers are so, so, so on-point. What a great way to kick off this series! I’m looking forward to future posts!

  98. CEW says...

    For after you find someone: I still follow the “5 to 1” ratio for relationships. For every one bad moment, you’ll have had five or more positive interactions. I’ve seen friends throw away relationships that were generally working well, and others not walk away from some in which they were overwhelmingly miserable. Don’t “settle” for anyone, but be realistic and don’t sweat the inevitable conflicts that will occur in any healthy relationship.

    • Helen says...

      Reading Jess’ question, I think there’s a little misconception in the way sex is seen. You don’t need to go from 2 kisses to having intercourse with a person. There’s a whole rainbow of things you can do to get more physical. Start by talking a walk together, move closer together when you’re sitting next to each other. Enjoy all these little steps that you’ll only feel in this depth when you’re just getting to know each other. Wait until you meet the right guy, and then take time to EXPLORE. Explore your bodies, get to know the person & the physical body and don’t feel the need to rush ‘it’ at any point as long as you don’t feel the inner urge to do it. Even experienced people like to take time.

    • kd says...

      Love this perspective. Thank you. xx