My last “serious” relationship ended roughly two years and seven months ago, and I’ve been single ever since. In that amount of time, four of my cousins have gotten engaged, two of them have gotten married, and one of them has had a baby. I, on the other hand, moved into my own apartment, got my dream job, and carried on a six-month affair with a guy whom I’d never call my boyfriend, but who would order Ubers to my place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at 11 p.m. so that I’d make the late-night trek to his apartment in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
But he wasn’t the only guy I’ve dated during this time. I’ve been with two new-to-NYC British men, the only hipster with an earring working at Morgan Stanley, a lawyer who picked me up on the subway, a dermatologist with whom I’d go out whenever he was in town from San Diego, and an actor from Texas who wound up living with me for a month, but who (again) was never my boyfriend. I am the embodiment of those women some articles warn against when they talk about the dating apocalypse. I’ve been on multiple apps and websites, and I go on plenty of dates. But I have yet to find what most people classify as love.
This is a fact that has always been terrifying for me. I grew up in a house with two parents who are still crazy about each other. I was fed a steady diet of Disney movies and YA novels, and being a member of a very traditional Italian-American family meant there was a lot of emphasis on family — the one you were in and the one you’d eventually start on your own. All I’ve ever wanted was to fall in love. I measured my relationship progress against other women's — a habit that I’ve, regrettably, never seemed to kick. Even now, whenever a friend or family member finds themselves in a new relationship, I wonder why it hasn’t worked out for me yet.
Lately, I’ve been trying to weigh the prospect of a life without love. If I’m being honest with myself, the idea of never finding that one person to settle down with is scary to me — like, Freddy Krueger scary. But whenever I try to share this fear with friends, I’m met with the same response: “You’re so young! It will happen when you stop looking! Nobody really winds up alone!”
This is frustrating for many reasons, the least of which is that I am not someone who will ever stop thinking about it. I will freely admit the fact that I am more than a little bit of a control freak when it comes to my life. I wanted to be a writer, so I made myself a writer — with all the long nights and ass-busting that come along with it. I wanted to live in a studio by myself, so I make it happen — even if it means skipping out on brunch or a party so I can actually pay my rent.
This is one aspect of my life that I can’t control, no matter how much I try to.
But this is one aspect of my life that I can’t control, no matter how much I try to. And that inability to fix the one thing in my life that I want to fix makes me so anxious — anxious enough that I put myself in therapy to try to work through my need for control. It stems from a line of thinking that so many of us have: “If I work hard at something, I’ll get something in return.” It’s a very millennial way of thinking — one that was taught to us by parents who came of age in a time when that adage rang true (or, at least, truer than it does today).
We’re a group of individuals who believe that we deserve a prize for putting in work — I mean, we got participation trophies in sports. But the truth of the matter is that not everyone gets a shiny new car at the end of the day. We can work our asses off for something our entire lives and still have nothing to show for it. For me, that might be the love life I always imagined for myself. And that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll never be in a relationship again. I could meet someone, fall madly in love, put years into a relationship, and it might not work out. That happens every single day.
But here’s the thing to remember: Plenty of women wind up alone. And they’re okay. More than okay, even. In fact, a recent study of more than 51,000 adults in the United States showed that older, never married women are some of the happiest people in the country. The data, which was collected over the course of 31 years, surveyed levels of happiness in different groups of men and women: married, never married, divorced, and widowed.
And while married men and women tended to be happier than the divorced and widowed men and women, never married women were actually just as happy as their married counterparts. “Never married, older women are, in a lot of years [of the survey], indistinguishable from [those of] married, older women,” said study co-researcher Gary Ralph Lee, a professor emeritus of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. So while many people (including, admittedly, myself) have a negative image of single, older women in their minds, the real picture is much rosier.
This got me wondering: What would my life look like if I didn’t find love? I could split my time between New York and Europe, like I have always dreamed of, without having to worry about a significant other back home. While having a family is something that I’ve always wanted, there’s nothing stopping me from having a baby on my own — whether through a pregnancy of my own or adoption. If I decide not to have kids, I could be, as my brother once suggested, a rich, stylish aunt who travels the world. And just because I’d never get married doesn’t mean I won’t have love in my life. I have my family — and for the other kind of love, I’d have an entire world full of men to spend my life with. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Rebecca Traister and Kate Bolick here. Their books, All the Single Ladies and Spinster, respectively, really changed the national conversation around single women and forced me to realize that being alone didn’t mean my life was over.)
I’m attempting to toss my timeline out the window, and realize that I can’t force someone to adhere to the idea of a relationship I’ve idealized in my mind.
When I spell it out like that, it doesn’t sound too bad. But when I’m sitting on yet another horrible Bumble date, or when a guy I’ve been dating for a few weeks decides to ghost out of nowhere, it’s easy to feel pessimistic. So I don’t know that there’s an actual answer to this one way or another. No matter how I romanticize single or partnered life, whatever happens for me is going to have to be okay — because this is the only life I’ve got.
For now, I’ve just been working to relinquish control. Instead of getting nervous and cagey whenever I meet a new man, I’m trying to just go with the flow. If and when I feel him pulling away, I try not to comb through my text messages, figuring out if there was a way for me to keep him from changing his mind. I’m attempting to toss my timeline out the window, and realize that I can’t force someone to adhere to the idea of a relationship I’ve idealized in my mind. And it’s been working. I’ve slowly weaned myself off the myriad of dating apps that once clogged my iPhone homescreen, freeing up a ton of my time. And I’ve filled that time with yoga classes, brunches with my girl gang, and, sometimes, nights at home alone enjoying my own company.
But the best way for me to get over my fears is to sit with them until I’m comfortable. And while the thought of being alone until I die is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat, it’s time for me to realize that a life without a man does not equal a life without love. So the next time someone tells me I’ll definitely find someone, I’ll likely answer truthfully. “Sure, I might,” I’ll say. “But I could also find a lot of different people without settling on one. And that might not be so bad, either. Now pass the wine, please.”
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at maria.delrusso@refinery29.