Is There Such A Thing As Being Single For Too Long?

Photographed by Brayden Olson.
I was recently on a first date when the guy I was with asked when my last serious relationship was. It's a fairly typical first date question, so I answered truthfully: My most recent boyfriend and I ended things a little over three years ago. "Wow, that's a long time," he replied. I was seriously taken aback. Shit, I thought. Have I been single for so long that I've missed the boat for a happy relationship?
It's not just me, either. People are constantly quantifying their love lives — how many dates they've been on, how many Tinder messages they've gotten, how many exes they have. "But the funny thing is, it's not just single people who do this. Couples do it, too," says Carlen Costa, PhD, a sexologist and psychotherapist based in Ontario, Canada. "That's why you've got people celebrating six-month relationships." But while the counting is typically framed in a positive light for couples, it's almost always seen as a negative when it comes to single people. Hence my question: Is there such a thing as being single for too long?
The answer is, of course, no. "There is absolutely no set time frame that counts as 'too long' for being single," says Megan Stubbs, EdD, a sexologist and relationship expert based in Michigan. Part of the reason why is because there's no set definition as what "being single" actually looks like. "Some people have lovers, some people have months-long relationships that never get 'serious,'" Dr. Costa says. "Does that count as being 'single'? That answer will differ depending on who you ask."
Take me, for example. I think that I've been technically single since my relationship with my last serious boyfriend ended. But that's not to say I haven't had other kinds of relationships. I've had an on-again, off-again friends-with-benefits relationship with the same guy since that "serious" relationship ended. I've also had a couple of relationships that have lasted a few months, but the term "boyfriend" was never used. Still, I consider myself having been single, even during those relationships, because they never got to be what I consider "serious." But someone else might think that my time-being-single tally is a lot lower than I do.
Thankfully, the actual numbers aren't important. "You need to ask yourself where this pressure is coming from," Dr. Stubbs says. "Is it family pressure? Were you just invited to another wedding and comparing yourself?" Once you figure out why you're feeling like you've been single for "too long," you'll be able to figure out why you may be thinking it's a problem. "It's not that serial monogamists have something up on you," Dr. Stubbs says. "It could be a myriad of reasons — you could be choosier, your priorities might be a little different." You may have also just not found the right partner yet, which is completely normal.
Instead of trying to nitpick the length of your single life and figure out what's wrong, it could help to reframe this time of your life. "Being single offers much more freedom, and can be an extremely expressive time in your life," Dr. Costa says. Dr. Stubbs adds that this is a fantastic time to focus on the things you want to do. "Time spent on yourself is never time wasted," she says. So sure, the numbers may say I've been single for (what some people consider) a hell of a long time. But I've done a lot of growing in that time, too. And I'm pretty happy with that.
Related Video:

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series