should i be upset that i don't have a partner?
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dear mixed feelings,
I've come to the realization that all of my friends are in some type of relationship. I am the only one who isn’t, and I don’t know if I should be upset with myself or not…or maybe not upset, but sad or disappointed?
Whenever I'm out with friends, the topic of partners always comes up and sometimes lands on me where they ask, "when are you going to meet someone?" or "are you still on Tinder?” The truth is, I’m honestly scared to meet someone. I don’t have the greatest self esteem and that has always pushed me away from dating apps. Ever since high school I’ve convinced myself that I will be #foreveralone, even though…romance is something I want and something that is important to me. But, I just can't push myself enough to meet someone…
All of my friends have found their ideal partner just by existing and not really [using] dating apps. [Many have met their] partners at church or at their job, which I’ve always found cute because I watch way too much TV. I really want the same for myself, but because I'm not conventionally attractive by societal means, it feels basically hopeless and I end up feeling sad/ashamed of myself.
Whenever I realize I'm alone in this, I end up getting irked or possibly jealous of my friends being lovey dovey...maybe it's because I have all this love and it feels like I'll never share it with someone...? I can't really figure it out. Should I be upset that I haven't found a partner at my age? How do I get over this slight jealousy I have with my friends' relationships? What's the best advice you could give to someone who is afraid of the dating world?—SadGorl69 (the 69 is bc I’m a cancer sign), she/her
Dear angelic SadGorl69,
You are not alone in feeling this way, trust me. I’ve felt this mixed bag of emotions more times than I’d like to admit. Not that it matters, but I’m 27, and people around me are starting to get engaged and living “mature, adult lives.” In fact, one of my best friends is engaged and six months pregnant. So, that desire to be in a relationship feels stronger than ever.
At times, I wonder why I haven’t found someone who feels “right.” But I’ve slowly come to the realization that way more people feel like they haven’t found their match than I might have thought—no matter their age. Your age should not determine the goals you set for yourself. And while dating can bring up a lot of emotions, the first step to unpacking your feelings of jealousy and nervousness around meeting someone, is identifying what you really want from your relationships—platonic and romantic.
Jealousy can be sparked by something as simple as not having the same clothes as someone, or it can go deeper and hit us when we see someone else living a life that we want. But it’s important not to compare your life to what you perceive of someone else’s. We live in an age of constant oversharing, and social media’s highlight reel can make it seem like society’s pressures are firing from all sides. One study found that social media has become a tool for self-affirmation. “Facebook users gravitate toward their online profiles after receiving a blow to the ego, in an unconscious effort to repair their perceptions of self-worth,” the study found. That’s not to say that everyone who posts about their relationship online is bragging, but if it feels like everyone has found their match, remember that the people around you may not be as happy in their relationships as they say they are.
That said, healthy friendships (and healthy relationships for that matter) can’t thrive without communication both ways. It might be a good idea to have a conversation with your friends about how you’re feeling, as well as set any boundaries that will take the focus off of you needing to find someone. Sharing personal anecdotes about the pressure you feel they’ve put on you is a great way to open the conversation. Follow up with “I feel” statements to keep things about you so your friends don’t feel attacked. Ultimately, no one can tell you how to feel and no one should—especially if it feels detrimental to your mental and spiritual growth. As scary as it may seem to have these conversations, boundary setting often relieves stress.
It’s impossible not to feel jealous—it’s a universal feeling we use to deal with our own shortcomings. While you may never completely eradicate it from your life, you can process your tangled relationship with it. I’ve learned to combat jealousy by turning my negative feelings into support and understanding for myself and others. “The way we speak to ourselves matters,” says psychotherapist Elizabeth Beecroft. “Try to avoid putting pressure on the ways you should feel and remind yourself that you are in charge of your own narrative.” Just because someone else seems like they have a better life than me doesn’t mean that I won’t be there someday, and acknowledging that takes some of the pressure off when I feel the urge to compare myself to anyone. “Reminding yourself that you are on your own unique journey and welcoming only the relationships that you truly want, can be a way to combat negative self talk as well as feelings of jealousy,” Beecroft adds.
get out of your head
The current state of dating culture almost feels like it was designed to exacerbate anxiety. How can you decide you like someone over six photos? Dating is hard and oftentimes traumatic, especially when it feels like you don’t fit ‘typical beauty standards.’ It’s easy to be unsure of yourself and think that you don’t fit in, but that’s something that makes ‘you’ you. My stepmom always tells me that there’s no such thing as normal. It takes time to unpack, but going to therapy has helped me process a lot of negative feelings I’ve felt about myself and dating.
“Ease yourself into it,” Beecroft says. “And remind yourself that you’re in control of how you choose to date.” Something to ask yourself is if you even really want to be in a relationship, and if so, what kind? You mention that romance is something that’s important to you, but it might be wise to zero in on the kind of romance you want. Do you want to casually date? Do you want something long-term? And more importantly: What traits do you want in a partner? Evaluating what you really want out of a relationship might quell some of your anxieties around exploring the dating world and the apps that come with it.
It might also be helpful to reframe how you perceive dating. “Try to identify any dating experience you may have had in the past that you enjoyed,” Beecroft says. “Associating dating with more positive memories can make it seem like a less scary experience.” It’s easy to be sad or disappointed when everyone around you is in some sort of loving state of mind, but the best thing to do in this situation is to love yourself for every moment that another person can’t. Now is your chance to get to know yourself better, that way it’ll be easier to understand the standards you set for yourself and how they might become qualities you look for in someone else.
Find hobbies you enjoy. Taking an art class, exercise class, or going to a game night at a bar are some great ways to meet people who are like you. It’s exciting to find interests that aren’t explicitly tied to meeting a potential partner, like joining a book club or making friends at your local cafe or restaurant. You never know when you could meet someone and if you put yourself out there and don’t meet someone right away, your new best friend could be right around the corner—and that type of relationship is as important as a romantic one.
On days I feel most hopeless about my dating life, I just have to have hope that it won’t always be like this. Soulmates don’t have to exist just within our romantic relationships. We can find them in pets, friends, good books, and places. Recognizing how you feel and the specific details of what you want is the first step at being able to do something about your situation. No one can change that, take that away from you, or make you feel small about it.
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