When you’re rolling solo, it can seem like the whole world is in love with being in love — and everyone around you is obsessed with why you aren’t partnered up and pumping out kids. And while you want to tell them where to go or scream, you know you have to keep the peace so you’re not that person.
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But seriously, it can be super-annoying when people feel like it’s their duty to push you out of the “single” box and into the “taken” box. And it can be even tougher if you really do want to meet someone, but you just haven’t connected with the right one — yet.
Even though it may feel like the end is near given everything that’s going on, it’s not the end of the world just because you’re single. Now actually is a pretty good time to put things in perspective, take care of yourself and determine what you really want out of a relationship if that is what you truly desire.
Licensed mental health counselor Anne Posey, LMHC, NCC, shares some advice for embracing singleness, blocking out the expectations of others and putting yourself out there more if you’re ready to meet people.
Is one really the loneliest number?
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do“One,” written and recorded by Harry Nilsson. Also recorded by Three Dog Night and many others.
Two can be as bad as one
It’s the loneliest number since the number one
No is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know
‘Cause one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do
One is the loneliest number, whoa-oh, worse than two
Boy, when you hear songs like this, it’s no wonder that sad, single person tropes exist. Sure, single people might live alone, but does that mean they’re at home weeping in corners, closets or on bathroom floors because no one is there to love them?
Not at all. And Posey says that’s because they’re not alone.
“Most of the time, people who say they’re comfortable alone aren’t really alone. They have friends and they have church groups. They have social groups and they have work — they have lots of relationships. They just don’t have a romantic partner. So, they’re not alone. They’re just not in a romantic relationship. And I think single people experience a lot of societal pressure. But if you’re comfortable and you’re happy, who’s to say that’s not okay?”
However, with the pandemic, Posey says that it’s natural for people to feel lonely regardless of their relationship status.
“It’s common for everyone to feel lonely during a pandemic. Pandemics are abnormal. Our lives during this pandemic are abnormal. So even those in the strongest relationships may feel the stress,” says Posey.
“We may be with our spouse, but we may miss our friends or our social outlets,” she says.
We may have increased anxiety about our health or our partner’s health. We may have disruptions in our sleep and eating patterns. We may have financial troubles. Posey says all of this can contribute to relationship issues.
“I’ve seen people in committed, long-term relationships be very lonely and very unhappy. So, I don’t think being part of a couple is necessarily the only thing that makes people happy.”
Is it normal to be single?
Constantly being questioned about being alone could make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. It also doesn’t help when it seems like there’s a new self-help relationship book or reality show coming out every other day. Despite what you see or hear, Posey says being single is not out of the ordinary.
“It is a misperception that being single is abnormal. According to Statista, 45.96% of men in this country have never been married. For women, that number is 40.87%. So, being single is quite common. However, there is a great deal of stigma around being single and much of it seems to be societal.”
She adds that television shows, social media and even stories we read as children could also contribute to some people’s negative association with being single.
“Almost every media outlet is feeding us information on how to be more desirable to a partner through TV shows that have plotlines centered on relationships. Posts on Facebook and Instagram tend to focus on ‘perfect outings’ with ‘perfect partners.’ Quite often, the important people in our lives are very much focused on our relationship status and how it equates to our happiness,” she says.
“And the fairytales we read as children have us looking for our Prince (or Princess) Charming so we can live happily ever after,” she continues. “Again, I think a lot of it is societal pressure. But, if you’re comfortable with being single and you’re happy, who’s to say that’s not OK?”
What to do when asked, “Why are you still single?”
Even in a pandemic, mom, grandma or your friend who loves “The Bachelor” waaaaay too much is going to hit you with this question. And when they do, keep in mind that you honestly don’t owe them an explanation. To take it one step further, Posey suggests not making excuses or apologies for why you’re still single. When you do this, she says it’s like you’re discounting yourself.
“We can’t manage other people’s anxiety about what’s going on with us. Instead, when they ask why you’re single, you can smile and say, ‘You know, things are fine right now for me. Let’s talk about you,’ and change the subject,'” she suggests.
Posey says people are going to have anxiety about what you do or don’t do, but you don’t have to accept it, you don’t have to buy into it and you don’t have to feel guilty.
“When we start making excuses for why we’re not in a relationship or why we’re single, we just perpetuate the idea that couples are good and being single isn’t. Being single or in diverse relationships is fine, but it ultimately comes down to what works for each individual.”
How to be more comfortable with being single
To loosely quote an icon and reality television host’s words of wisdom, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the heck (are) you gonna love somebody else?” It’s true when you think about it. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin or content with your current situation, jumping into a relationship won’t make things better.
“If we don’t love ourselves, how can we receive love from others? Developing a stronger self-esteem can help us be ready for a relationship or be more content with being single. Both are positive outcomes,” says Posey.
To help put things into perspective and to figure out what you want, she suggests thinking about the reasons why you’re single and asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you more content as a single person?
- If you are content overall, are there outside pressures that make you feel inadequate?
- If you are not content with being single, what do you want in a relationship? Where are you looking to find this person? Are you actively pursuing a relationship or waiting for it to fall into your lap?
- If you’ve had unsuccessful relationships, what caused them to be that way? Is there something that you want to work on when it comes to your own qualities?
She also recommends a few ways to help build your confidence and comfort with being single.
- Make lists of your strengths and achievements. If you can’t figure them out, ask a friend to help you make a list since it’s not always easy to see what others see in us.
- Practice good self-care. Eat a balanced diet, exercise and make sure that you get enough sleep.
- Find a new hobby. Learn a new language, learn how to cook or try something that you’ve always wanted to do.
- Remember you don’t have to be in a relationship to feel connected. Foster a pet or volunteer (even if it is virtually).
- Let your friends and family help you feel connected. Stay in contact with them and reach out when you need to. You don’t need a reason or a major life event to keep in touch.
- Manage your expectations. All those happy Instagram photos that people post may not give the whole picture of what their relationships are like every day. Keep in mind that even those in happy marriages or partnerships experience illness, financial problems and major conflicts.
Many people get hung up on not getting flowers, dinners, candy, jewelry, spa trips or other romantic gifts spontaneously or on holidays. The thing is, you can treat yourself to those items or experiences regularly.
“Doing the things we enjoy or exploring our passions is a very positive pastime. You aren’t required to be in a relationship to live life! Explore things that interest you — run a marathon, build some furniture or visit a museum virtually. Make a list of things you want to try and go do them. You can sit home and mope about being single, or you can be single and do things you enjoy. “
She adds that the thought behind dating yourself is, if you are looking to find a relationship, it’s easier to be open to one when we are happy.
If you’re single and ready to mingle…
Ready to put yourself out there? Nice! Have fun and remember to ease into it instead of jumping into something with the first person who gives you the time of day. Posey recommends thinking about the kind of person that you’d like to be with and then putting yourself in situations that will allow you to meet “the one.” Of course, you’ll want to do this safely given the pandemic and all, so take advantage of dating apps or online meetups.
Posey strongly suggests taking the time to really get to know potential matches. Rushing into things could cause you to miss all of the red flags up front.
“Give yourself time to ensure that you know the person and can spot the red flags. Often, we jump into relationships just to avoid being alone and don’t have time to find the red flags.”
Examples of red flags
Here are some things to watch out for when you’re dating:
- If you find yourself trying to change the other person, or your partner is trying to change you, this should be a warning sign that the relationship may not be viable.
- If you feel uncomfortable, manipulated or used, trust your gut and walk away.
- If you feel like you can’t talk openly about your feelings and problems, this is a warning sign. Communication is vital for a good relationship.
- If someone expects gifts or financial help from the start, that’s definitely a problem.
- If personal details aren’t adding up and it seems like the person is hiding/making up things, move on.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask potential matches what they’re looking for in a relationship. Some people are just looking for a casual arrangement, while others might want a long-term commitment. Talk through this and if you’re not on the same page, you’ll know that it’s not an ideal match.
Don’t force things
When it comes to dating, don’t take the bargain shopping approach. Though it may be tempting to find what you can from a weird assortment and make it work, if you don’t hit it off with the first person, it’s OK. You’ll meet more people. Seriously. Just keep that swiping finger limber.
If you’re talking to someone and they ghost you, don’t keep sending messages with the hopes of getting their attention. Move on. And if you’re talking to someone and find yourself making exceptions even though you know they’re not right for you, take a step back and think about the qualities that you’re looking for in a partner again. If things aren’t lining up, cut that person loose. The last thing you want is to force a relationship with someone who is throwing up red flags left and right just because you don’t want to be alone.
“At the end of the day, remember that your happiness really doesn’t depend on another person,” says Posey.