Okay, I’m going to admit something, but you have to promise not to call the guys with the funny white jackets to come get me.
Something about this little six-month experiment of examining my dating life has me channeling that fictitious self-help expert from “Saturday Night Live,” Stuart Smalley. I find myself looking in the mirror and feeling the need to assure the uncertain green eyes gazing back at me, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggoneit, people like you!”
Singleness can make you do strange things.
One of the worst was a game my college roommate and I used to play. Around campus, at the movies, out to eat or even at the beach, we’d examine coupled-up girls our age and try to figure out why they were in a relationship while we weren’t.
What's She Have That I Don't Have?
“But she’s bigger than us!” my roommate would wail. “And we have better hair!” I’d add. It would go on like this as we compared clothes, facial features and any other superficial attributes we could size up in a short period of time.
I know, it’s horrible (hey, I didn’t say it was a past-time I was proud of!), but show me a single girl who hasn’t at some time looked at another girl and asked herself, how can she be married while I’m still alone?
In our defense, I really don’t believe this game is mean-spirited at its core. It’s about our own insecurities. Deep down, we all need to feel valuable and relationships are a huge affirmation that we’re worth something. I mean, what could communicate value more than another person standing up in front of their family and friends and saying, “I think you’re so worthy, so special, that I want to spend the rest of my life with you”?
And if we can’t find someone willing to say that, or even someone who’s willing to say that we’re worthy enough of taking up his Saturday nights, it can be easy to begin to wonder, “what’s wrong with me?”
Pick Me, Pick Me!
That’s one of the hardest things about being single: It can make you start to doubt yourself. “Am I not pretty enough or fun enough or smart enough for someone to love?” At times I have flashbacks to my elementary school days where I’m waiting to be picked for kickball, standing there trying not to look too worried that I’ll be last and thus labeled a loser.
I know it’s silly. It’s not like everyone who’s married has that status because they were somehow worthy of a relationship while I wasn’t. In fact, some people jump into relationships to mask their own insecurities, thinking if they “have someone” people might not notice their flaws or the reasons they secretly think they’re unlovable. But knowing it’s silly and really believing it are two different things.
There’s a flipside to feeling like you’re single because you’re not good enough. It’s thinking that you’re too good. More than once my friends and I have told ourselves that our single status is very likely because we intimidate guys. We’re too together. We’re capable, competent and confident in so many areas of our lives that a man doesn’t know where he’d fit in. We don’t need someone to rescue us or take care of us (although I admit it would great to have someone to help out the next time I need to take apart my leaking kitchen faucet).
I grew up raised by a single mom. There wasn’t anyone else to lean on so she had to find solutions on her own. I learned early on, you just have to step up and get it done. And so, as a single woman, I do just that. Many of my single friends raised in two-parent homes are doing the same. And that means if we were to ever get married, we’d need to make some adjustments. I’d need to learn to let myself need that other person. But that always seemed like a plus. I’m not looking for a relationship because I need someone to take care of me, I’m looking for a relationship because I want to share my life with someone.
Ready to Turn Pro?
Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe it is possible to become so good at being single that it makes you a bad candidate for marriage. After so many years of being single, it’s hard not to feel like I reached professional status, like I’m in the major leagues. It’s not something I set out to excel at, but as they say, practice makes perfect.
I embarked on this journey six months ago, hoping to learn something about myself and about this weird “still single” state so many of us find ourselves living in. Mostly I uncovered what I already knew on some level: Dating is not for the faint of heart. It takes work, especially after college when you’re not thrown into an environment with hundreds of eligible guys every day. And it’s trickier today than it used to be. We’re single longer and that can make relationships, when we do find them, harder to navigate.
At the end of the day, though, I still believe looking for love is a worthwhile pursuit. Not one that I want to consume my life, but it will always be on my mind. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever find an answer to that one nagging question: “Why is a nice girl like you still single?” Then again, will anyone?
Wendy Lee Nentwig is the editor of a digital download site in Nashville, Tennessee, which is another way of saying she gets paid to listen to music for a living. She’s lived everywhere from Amsterdam to New York City to Southern California and found that dating is just as nerve-wracking in any zip code.
Read the fifth article in this Singles series, "Dating Overkill," here.