advice

‘I Like Myself, But I Hate Being Single’

Photo: Yukiko Matsumoto/Getty Images

Dear Polly,

I like myself, but I hate being single. So much of what I read is that when we hate being single, we hate being alone with ourselves. I find this to be untrue. As a diehard introvert, there are few things I cherish more than my precious alone time. I’m no stranger to solitude. I run alone. I read alone. I paint alone. I like to sit and relax and think about my life alone. At no point is there a running dialogue of “I wish I were more like this …” or “I hate this about me …” None of that. I like myself.

So what do I cherish even more than my very precious alone time? Quality time with the person I love. There is nothing like it. I have an idealistic romantic side, and yes, I love being showered with adoration. I love to shower them back tenfold. I love intimacy. I love sex. I love cuddling. I love doing nice things for my partner to make them feel appreciated. For me, love is what makes life worth living. Without it, I feel completely lost. This was not always the case, but my feelings have changed. I want to find my partner, build a family, a life.

After 2.5 years with a partner who I thought was “the one,” it turns out that he was not. It was a life-altering breakup, and it was sudden. I lost my home. I lost my dog. I lost my best friend. The year before I lost my father, suddenly, to a heart attack. The weight of it all has been too much. I’ve been going to therapy every week for months. I’ve tried my best to keep up appearances that “everything is fine” so I can function at work and continue being a good friend and dutiful daughter. But the truth is that the unbearable emptiness is eating away at me every single day. I take responsibility for my own faults that contributed to the dissolution of my relationship, but the larger issues were beyond my control. Fidelity was not his bag. The numerous lies involved to cover up those infidelities were a deal-breaker.

Naturally, I was unable to date for the first few months post-breakup. I could barely eat and get through the day. And then out of the blue, I met a man that I developed an intense crush on, and I met him IRL. How wonderful it was! Things developed quickly, and it felt really great to have that surge of happiness in my life again. But then the red flags showed up.

After dating a considerably older man, I was excited by the prospect of dating a man a few years younger than me, still in his 20s. He was fit and active. We had so much fun outdoors. We looked like such a cute sporty couple. But appearances aside, I gradually realized that he was grossly immature and had some pretty low opinions of women. The cracks began to show in unpleasant ways.

Rather than list a series of these unpleasant experiences, I’ll share the topper. I went out of state to visit my family for a week, and on the last day of the visit, I had gotten my period. I got the vibe that this guy would not be so chill with period sex, even though we never talked about it. So I waited for the obligatory five days for my period to pass. I was incredibly attracted to this man — so waiting 12 days to have sex in the early days of a relationship was practically torture. But I waited. And once I thought my period was over, we jumped right into bed. About 15 minutes into it, I see a disgusted look on his face. He said, “EWW, you smell like blood!” and then ran to the bathroom to wash his penis for what felt like an eternity. I. Was. Mortified. I have had sex on my period before with previous partners, and it was no big deal at all. And I can respect any person’s wishes to not partake in period sex. But he body-shamed me at one of the most vulnerable moments possible. I got dressed, left his apartment, and I broke things off. It was too indicative of what was to come. I was, and still am, extremely disappointed.

I feel stuck. I’m almost 33, and I’m craving a monogamous, stable relationship so bad I can taste it. But after dipping my toe into the online dating world, and then suffering through a series of really awful dates, I’m starting to panic. I was baffled by the men who seemed so normal but talked only about themselves on dates, clearly only interested in hooking up even though their profiles suggest otherwise. It was like they were so concerned with selling themselves that they forgot to ask about me. These are grown-ass men! I deleted the dating apps. I’m so sick with disappointment that I am closing the book on dating until, well, when? How much time do I really have to build this family that I so badly want? Please keep in mind that this family does not even need to involve children. A stable, loving partner comes first. If children happen, great. If not, I can deal. I’m not desperately trying to meet someone so I can have a baby. I want to meet someone to share my life with. Why is this so hard?

As mentioned above, yes, I am an introvert. But I get out. I’m involved in clubs and organizations, and I love hanging with my friends. But I’m not meeting anyone. What do I do with this lost, empty feeling? Why am I, and so many of my smart, beautiful, successful friends, struggling to meet decent men? As much as everyone’s “take time off and find yourself” advice is a nice thought, I’ve already found her and she’s great. I’m ready to meet my equal. Until that happens, how do I deal with this intense loneliness and longing?

Single and Hating It

Dear Single and Hating It,

This morning, my college-age stepson was telling my daughter that the only way to get through middle school without feeling tortured is by remembering, at all times, that none of it really matters. “In a few years, you won’t even remember these people,” Zeke told her. “This is no big deal. It’s going to suck in a million ways, and that’s fine. It’s just something you have to endure without taking it seriously.”

We were having breakfast at my mom’s house in North Carolina, marveling at the bad headlines in the local paper. But my daughter was more focused on a “Back to School” insert that was aimed at kids her age, featuring deeply irritating words, in script font, that said sad things like “First day feels!” and “BOGO free!” (“Buy one get one free,” Zeke explained; I thought “BOGO” might be slang for some fucking bogus human being the likes of which you’d be forced to meet in middle school.)

“I totally have low-key locker envy!” it said above a locker that featured a $5 locker chandelier and $5 locker plush rug, which was a tiny shag rug that, in the photograph, was sticking out of the locker at a bad angle. That struck me as the perfect metaphor for how impractical it is to try to be cool in middle school. You ask yourself “Wouldn’t a locker chaise look nice in here? What about a locker armoire?” and suddenly, not only do you come off like a serious BOGO for trying so hard, but you have no room for your stupid books.

Encountering each and every human being you meet for a date as a sign of how your love life will turn out is a little bit like stuffing your locker full of accessories until you can’t use it anymore. It’s like my daughter reading the words “I totally have low-key locker envy!” and getting a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach about middle school, in spite of the fact that those words were written by a 38-year-old white male copywriter in Portland, Oregon. These are impulses, feelings, and moods that don’t reflect reality or predict the future. There’s no reason to experience every sad young chickenshit who’s afraid of the female body as a sign from the universe that your prospects for love are slim. This is mulch, not tea leaves. Don’t read into it. Toss it onto the compost pile and move the fuck on.

As you leave a bad date or a disappointing encounter, you can’t say to yourself, “My chances at finding love just got slimmer.” Instead, tell yourself, “In a few years, you won’t even remember these people. This is no big deal. It’s going to suck in a million ways, and that’s fine. It’s just something you have to endure without taking it seriously.”

I can tell that you believe in yourself. But do you believe in love? Because if you really believe in love, then fucking BELIEVE IN LOVE full stop. Don’t say “I believe in love but I’m afraid it won’t find me!” Don’t repeat “WHY DO I HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS?” until your torture becomes a religion. That is not believing in love. Don’t say “I believed in love and then this worthless biology-fearing BOGO robbed me of that belief!” Belief that can be stolen from you IS NOT REAL BELIEF. When you love your body, body-shaming from others is nothing but hilarious. “My magical, gorgeous body, which could someday CREATE A BRAND-NEW HUMAN BEING OUT OF THIN AIR, is dirty and disgusting, and your dick is beautiful and must be kept sterile? YOU ARE A TURGID BAG OF GERMS WITH A FLACCID COCK HANGING OFF IT!”

I know you’re above those sorts of outbursts, but I’m not. My point is: Be a true believer. You believe in yourself but you don’t believe in this world, and you must yield to reality, yield to the glory of daily disappointments, yield to a universe of flaws, swimming around your face like mosquitoes, like period blood, like germs. I don’t know that you’re an introvert so much as someone who is resistant to reality. You like to keep things safe and clean, and that seems easier in a vacuum. You’re incredibly sensitive, so you’re sometimes easily depressed by clumsiness and ignorance and script fonts that blare about “First day feels!” You can love yourself and love your time alone, but eventually it’s time to take your circus on the road and share it with the world. It’s time to CELEBRATE the way you are instead of staying protected from the real world and then feeling hurt by it.

Because of course you’re going to meet millions of terrible people. That is reality. That is being alive, full stop. It doesn’t have to crush your spirit to recognize that. You can have a sense of humor about it. Stop hanging up locker chandeliers and fucking own the truth: You want more. You will not settle for less. You believe in love, you believe that you will find love, you are determined to stay open and find love. CELEBRATE THAT. And also? You do want to have a baby. CELEBRATE IT, CELEBRATE IT, CELEBRATE. Own your faith. Own your vision.

If you want to find love, you can’t try to seem cooler than you really are. Love doesn’t honor that kind of marketing effort. It’s OKAY to talk about how absurdly bad your dating experiences have been lately. THIS IS REALITY. There are good men, good women, good people in the world. True love is always possible. But you have to believe in it. When you believe, truly believe, you won’t be overcome by loneliness and longing.

Remember that some of your intense loneliness and longing is really mourning in disguise. Don’t underestimate how long it will take to mourn your father, and try not to confuse your sadness and despair over losing your father with your longing for love. Mourning can make you focus on love and sex as means of escape. Be honest with yourself about how sad you feel about losing your dad. It’s going to take years to move through this. You can feel your sadness, even when you’re alone, and it doesn’t mean that you NEED someone to help you with that pain. Pay attention to how much you view finding your partner as an exit from feeling crushed by the loss of your father. You’re going to feel bad about your dad no matter what happens. Embrace that reality.

Embrace the contradictions and conflict embedded in your current moment. You can mourn and celebrate at the same. You can feel crushed and feel proud at the same time. You can be vulnerable and also tell the BOGOs and the turgid germ bags of the world to fuck right off. Turn to the book of Kendrick Lamar, which tells us:

I got loyalty got royalty inside my DNA

Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA,

I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA

I got hustle, though, ambition flow inside my DNA

You can swim through shit without ingesting it or becoming it. You can use nightmarish experiences to help you grow stronger, to reaffirm your belief in yourself and in love. You can honor the richness of life and the darkness of death, the whole scary picture.

You can wake up in the morning and say to yourself:

I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to

Antisocial extrovert, and excellent mean the extra work.

Pick any line and repeat it to yourself, as you show up for your next date. And yes, you should date, once you’re ready for it, once your state of mourning allows more room for it. You can be angry and still believe in love. You can return to your faith when things go wrong. You can laugh in the face of dick-washing cowards. When someone tries to make you feel small, you can say:

Tell me something. You motherfuckers can’t tell me nothing.

I’d rather die than listen to you.

My DNA not for imitation

Your DNA an abomination.

“Why is this so hard?” you ask me. It’s hard because that’s reality. The world is filled with people you do not want to fuck or marry, and you’re going to have to meet some of them. It’s hard, but it doesn’t have to torture you. Stop trying to fight reality. Your struggles today are good for you; they’ll strengthen your faith in yourself and your faith in the love that you WILL eventually find.

You will find it. People who believe in life-changing love are the ones who find it. Keep believing. You can embrace reality and keep believing. You can honor death and keep living. Say this to yourself: I will believe in love until the sky falls. This is how I choose to live. When I believe, the stars shine more brightly, the birds sing together in chorus. Fuck the BOGOs. Love will come to me in time. My job is to be patient, to try to take the obstacles in my path less seriously, and to savor the sweet, sad wonders of this day.

Polly

All letters to askpolly@nymag.com become the property of Ask Polly and New York Media LLC and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

‘I Like Myself, But I Hate Being Single’