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I Shouldn’t Have To Lower My Standards To Find Love… Right?

Thanks for reading Can We Talk?, a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Last time, we heard from Refinery29 readers about splitting finances with lovers. Today, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, helps someone who wants to find love without "lowering her standards." Do you have a question for DeGeare about feeling ignored by a partner or potential lover that you'd you’d like to see answered as part of a future Can We Talk? Submit it here or send us an email at
Dear Moraya, 
My husband died back in 2020. I’ve been single since. Because my marriage had gone south years before he died, I haven’t had sex since 2017 — which is something I'm pretty ashamed to admit. I want to have sex and enjoy it. The trouble is, I don't find men my age or older to be desirable. Men younger than me don't seem capable of moving beyond a few random text messages before they ghost. At the same time, I don't feel society finds women my age to be sexual or attractive, and I'm not getting any younger. Still, I refuse to lower my standards (like others have suggested) just so I’m no longer alone. I’ve tried all the dating sites and nothing works. I don’t drink alcohol and I don't enjoy sports, so I can’t go out and meet men that way. I’ve tried making eye contact at the grocery store, but people keep to themselves. I don’t have friends who can set me up and I work in a high school, so I really can't meet anyone there either.
So my question is: What do I do? I’m tired of being alone.
Dating Is Trash
Dear Dating Is Trash, 
Let's start with what I'm not going to help you do. I'm not going to tell you that you need to go on dates with everyone you can. I'm also not going to tell you to accept a life without sex and intimacy — or to "just settle." After all, being in a relationship just to be in a relationship can be just as painful and lonely as being single. Instead, I want to help you move into the spaces where people you might enjoy exist, with a mindset that will welcome those people to you. 
As soon as I read your letter, I felt a sense of urgency and loneliness that I recognised, and I knew I needed to bring in some big muscles. After all, if your trusted friends are battling it out with you on this — including telling you to "lower your standards" — who am I to think I can make a difference? That's why, in writing this letter, I wanted to make sure it was not yet another waste of your time. I wanted my words to have an impact… hopefully a comforting one. I want to encourage you, and remind you that finding a partner is not the impossible task it may feel like in your mind right now. It might feel like you need to find the perfect grain of sand among millions — to reference an old song my grandfather would sing to me when I was young. In reality, the beach has many beautiful particles that we can marvel in. It’s just a matter of actually being willing to push past the (valid but avoidable) fear of stepping on some sea glass or getting a sunburn. But beautiful connection and uniquely special love can be found when we are willing to work at and be curious about the love we can find. 
To do this, I want to give you clear next steps to help you tangibly shift your mindset. This may require letting go of some scripts. For example, the mentality that finding someone is a lost cause. At the same time keep up the good work of knowing your worth. Continue to hold tightly to the idea that you deserve to find someone with shared values. Of course, to do that, you want to get clear on what exactly your values are. 
I also want to take a moment to acknowledge your grief and the trauma you went through in losing your husband. I imagine it is dancing around in your heart, along with loneliness and love. I would guess that what you've been through might prompt some protective rigidness. When we've been through a trauma, it often makes us see the world differently, and, in an effort to regain control and return to "the way things were," we tend to act out of fear and in ways we feel will protect us. But I'm here to tell you, when you've gone through a major life change or trauma, there's only one thing to do. We must plunge forward into the terrifying unknown — including the dating world. But please know, you're not alone. I’m here with you. 
Moving your mindset from "everyone's trash" to "who can I treasure?" can feel like we are moving a national monument, especially when we have the loss of a lover in the mix. You say you and your late partner were not having sex for a few years, even before they passed. I don’t know if this was because of their health or general issues with intimacy, but, either way, it tells me you have been missing that passion and closeness for a significant amount of time. So the loneliness you feel now — and the urgency to meet someone satisfying — is powered perhaps by an overwhelming craving to be held again, to be close, to feel belonging, and to be understood. 

Grief makes us guarded. We won’t open for anything less than a sure thing — the risk of pain is too great. Softening takes a patient, gentle approach." 

Taylor Jackson
With this in mind, I took the liberty of running your question by Taylor Jackson, an astrology, tarot, and reiki practitioner whose work complements more traditional psychotherapy beautifully. As she spoke about the impact of loss on love, she shared: “On an energetic level, grief makes us guarded. We won’t open for anything less than a sure thing — the risk of pain is too great. Softening takes a patient, gentle approach." 
A way to get started on such a path is to start by visualising some of the more positive moments in dating. For example: "being warmed by a compliment, getting dressed for a date, or the rush of a first kiss," Jackson suggests. "Over time you’ll open yourself to these possibilities and you’ll begin to feel excited to connect with others, regardless of the outcome.”
Shifting your mindset to being more open to connection (and less rigid in exactly what form that connection may take) can start there, just in this imagining phase. From there, you can start to focus on how your ideal partner might make you feel. As you think about this, be curious about how your combined energy ideally would feel, and continue to do healing around loss. By attending to the initial loss and any trauma that is alive in your own romantic story, you can heal, and then start putting yourself out there — both in person as you have been trying to, and perhaps online. 
But first, you must do this work of fertilising your soil in order to grow new plants. With time, the garden may become more beautiful than you ever imagined. Of course, getting there takes pulling some weeds. It's clear to me that you know something you are doing is not working, or else you wouldn't have written to me and you wouldn't have asked your friends to weigh in on your "standards" at all. The biggest thing your friends seem to be noticing is that you are being "too picky." What I see is that you are scanning and vetting potential partners in such a specific way based on what you believe will bring happiness to your life. 
There's certainly nothing wrong with that! However, it's worth unpacking your exact beliefs around what will bring joy to your romantic life. 
Maybe you have a checklist (mental or paper or in your Notes app) of the qualities you're looking for in a match. Many of us make such lists, but it's important to deeply examine where your list came from. Think about if this is based on qualities your ex had or didn't have? Or maybe you believe your perfect person is just like you? As I researched my response to your query, I described your situation to superhero dating expert, Logan Ury, author of How To Not Die Alone (please don't read into this book title, this will not happen to you!). “I want you to think beyond the checklist and qualities and focus on the things that really matter,” Ury recommended. 
Perhaps you already felt this is what you were doing with your initial list, but Ury adds: “What we know from research is that there are things that mean more or less than people think in romantic relationships.” In other words, it's worth shifting from this "must-have" list to wondering “how does this person make you feel?” This isn't a question you can answer simply by reading about someone's hobbies or analysing a photo of them.
Even if you're turned off by one thing in someone's online dating profile, that doesn't mean you won't enjoy them. 
All I'm saying is: Sometimes the best way to narrow down a long list is to figure out what your “must haves” are, versus “nice to haves." Or, as Ury puts it, how can you identify what is a “pet peeve” and what's a “deal breaker." Once you figure out how to differentiate, you'll hopefully find yourself dismissing fewer matches from the outset. Of course, we are all particular about things for different reasons, and some of those reasons matter more than others.
But what is really important here is "getting clear on the things that matter," Ury says.
After you mindfully examine your list after a bit of slashing with your red pen and differentiating between those preferences and deep values, let the latter guide you. For example, if you meet someone online or if you meet someone IRL (maybe the grocery store tactic finally works!), are there people with qualities that your old self would have nixed, but that now you might be more willing to explore? Try to figure out: "how might I feel with this person?"
Then ask yourself: “how do I want to feel when I'm spending time with my ideal partner?" There are many possible answers to this question. Could be: "I want to feel important to them," "I want to feel they are genuinely curious about what makes me tick and what I am passionate about," or maybe "I crave a reassuring feeling that comes when I know that someone genuinely cares about educating themselves on different cultures." Now, how do they practice these behaviours? You won’t be able to put that on the list, as that’s one of the wonderfully unique things you will learn as you get to know them. 

Our greatest growth often happens in discomfort.

Of course, the fear and trauma we talked about earlier may stop you from letting yourself get to know someone. If you hear this voice deterring you, I recommend figuring out if this is a real red flag or fear by asking yourself: After thinking all this through and reexamining that list of yours, the next time your friends tell you to "lower your standards," you can simply respond: “I’ll open my mind to new people, and I’ll keep my values front and center.” 
With all this in mind, I want to add that our greatest growth often happens in discomfort. Many wise people across cultures even argue that pain is a part of life, with our greatest moments of transformation coming from when we live on our "growth edge," pushing past fear, with curiosity, of deeper understanding of ourselves, and a truer sense of how we belong in the world. This means walking headfirst into a challenge and seeing it as an opportunity to expand. For you, this could mean spending some time in a different place and being curious about who you are in these different places. Obviously, do not go places you have an obvious distaste for, be it a bar or a sports game. Just places that are not in your routine — maybe a cooking class, a meditation studio, or a new online app. Or you could get even more uncomfortable and try something like skateboarding, or nude life drawing. This way dating is not taking up all your anxious brave energy — instead, it's going into these new activities. This should help your mind feel a little more exercised and perhaps make it more flexible like stretching. 
As you are leaning into all this newness and perhaps you feel more open to who you are dating, I want to encourage you to go on more second dates — even if someone doesn’t check all the boxes, maybe they did have you laughing a little. Just try again. In moving past the first date to the second, we can start to understand how we actually feel being around someone. We are so trained to look for the negative that we often miss out on many positive things, and on the first date, we are often preoccupied with knowing if we feel a spark. Ury explains that an initial spark feeling typically is not an indicator of a satisfying long-term relationship. This is why it's important to focus more on how you feel — after all, you know yourself, not them (yet). As you embark on your second dates, I challenge you to just ask questions, share about yourself, and see what happens. You can come back to your list later, but just be in the moment. 
I'll leave you with this. Remember: You are brave. And, really, what do you have to lose? What if something great happens? What if your friends see your mindset shift and start setting you up on dates, or taking you to parties because you have this new light energy that is infectious to be around? What if you are reading this sitting in a coffee shop laughing, and that person who caught your eye — who is reading some ridiculous book that you previously would have passed judgment on — is now someone you are willing to say hi to? What if!?
You deserve a deep love, that catches your breath out of nowhere and makes you smile from your tummy. But you won't find it if you're not willing to open your eyes and see it. 

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