When you start writing about your romantic life, people tend to assume certain things about you. Over the weekend, a guy asked if I felt pressure to seek out strange sex and dating experiences in order to make my stories more interesting. (I don’t.) A friend of mine figured I’d start having a harder time finding men to go out with, since they’d be afraid of being turned into content. (I haven’t.) But the biggest misconception I've come across is that since I’ve started writing this column, I have gotten over my fear of being alone, and that I’m 100% fine with being single.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten more comfortable with my current single status, and I’ve started to enjoy my life a lot more. I don’t obsess over the idea of finding love like I did in my early 20s, and I do consider myself to be in a much better mental space now than I was then. But that isn’t to say that I don’t have bad days, or bad weeks, or bad months. I still do — in fact, I’ve been quietly dealing with an overwhelming sense of sadness and dissatisfaction for the past three months.
This past spring was rough for me. I met a guy who I thought was great, only to have things whither on the vine two months later. Around the time that relationship started to falter, my grandmother passed away. Her funeral happened to fall right smack in the middle of two weddings I was in. On top of that, another cousin got engaged, along with half of my Facebook friends. And is it just me or is everyone popping out babies at the moment?
All of these things happened within about a month of one another, so I wasn’t able to properly process my emotions relating to any of them. So once things settled down, and I wasn’t living my own personal version of Four Weddings & A Funeral, my feelings all kind of hit me at once. Without even realizing it, I fell into a major funk. For the first time in a while, I was dejected over being single. “I don’t see a situation in which I’ll ever get married,” I told my mother over the phone. Since so much had happened to me in such a short amount of time, I couldn’t process why I was feeling this way.
Then, over a glass of wine with my fabulous friend Marie-Laure a few weeks ago, I explained to her that I’d been feeling off this spring. “Well, a lot happened to you,” she said. And then everything snapped into focus. I was hurt by the breakup, but I was devastated by my grandmother’s death. She and I were close, and she always knew that being single was something that bothered me, so it bothered her that I was bothered. She wanted me to meet someone so I could be happy. When she was gone, I felt so much sadness over the fact that she’d never get to see me fall in love and get married. It felt unfair — especially when I saw people around me hitting those milestones at the same time I was grieving. It’s still something I’m bitter over.
In my inability to label my issue, I’d lumped all of my emotions under the “I’m Sad Because I’m Single” umbrella, and then allowed them to run wild. Around the time of my chat with Marie-Laure, I’d been furiously swiping on dating apps, lining up tons of dates that went terribly, and then feeling worse about my situation. Her ability to see my life from an outsider’s perspective made me realize what was actually bothering me — and that my coping mechanisms were all wrong.
Once I identified what was really happening in my head, I was able to work on feeling better. I first started out by giving myself permission to feel what I was feeling and be sad. Rachel Sussman, a relationship counselor and expert in NYC, says that that’s important — to a point. “If you’re single, and you really want to be in a relationship, sometimes you are going to feel really bummed out when you’re at another wedding alone, or something happens that reminds you that you’re single,” she says. “But you should give yourself a mental health day and let it be limited. Try not to allow yourself to wallow, or else you could fall into a funk, which could lead to you feeling even worse.”
So that’s what I’ve been doing. If I feel sad about my grandmother, I let myself feel it. If I’m sour over the fact that I have yet another wedding to go to alone, I feel it, but then figure out ways to move past those feelings. Visiting my family back home in New Jersey has recently left me feeling even worse about my situation, so I’ve been spending less time there. And instead of acting ecstatic for someone every time they show off their engagement ring, or talk about their husbands, or the amazing anniversary gift he bought them, I understand that I don’t always have to be happy for other people. Sometimes, I physically can’t be happy for them — and that’s okay, too. It doesn’t make me a bad person, or a bitter, single bitch. It means I’m 100% normal.
As for those terrible dates? Sussman says that’s a very common web we single folk weave for ourselves. “If you over-compensate [on your dating apps] and you line up a bunch of bad dates, you’re going to feel worse,” she says. In the past, I’d taken myself off the apps completely. But she suggests a more moderate approach. “You can date, but it doesn’t mean you have to go on multiple dates a week,” she says. “It can feel very overwhelming if you’re going out with too many people. Keep your expectations in check, and take it a day at a time.” So now, I only log on to my apps when I want to — not because I think I have to. I haven’t been on a date in over two weeks, and it’s actually been quite nice.
Lately I’ve been focusing on self-care: going to yoga classes, going for runs, journaling, and trying to remember what I’m grateful for. It’s definitely helped me feel better about everything. I’m still sad over my grandmother’s passing. (In fact, I cried a bit while writing this column.) But that’s normal, and it will get easier as time goes on. And as for being single, there's one thing Sussman told me that I’ve been keeping in mind: “You’ve got to be hopeful that if this is what you want, that it’s going to happen someday.” There will definitely be days when I’m sad about being alone. But if I can stay hopeful, I know I’ll make it out the other side.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.