It’s very likely that in one form or another you’ve been hearing terms like “wedding season” and “summer romance” for as long as you can remember. After all, these phrases are the cultural drumbeat that accompanies the months of June, July, and August. For single adults, summer is all about meeting, mingling, mating, and marching down that matrimonial aisle. At least that’s what all the songs, magazines, and poems say. Out of your winter den and into the arms of a new romance, right? And everyone else seems to make it look so darn easy. Yet here you are in September again: single, lonely, and feeling like you’re about to turn brown and wither like the fall foliage.
So what the heck happened? In the spring, you swore that this was your year. You got a new haircut, tightened up at the gym, and you looked downright incredible (or at least pretty good) in those tight new jeans. You were dead certain that someone special was going to find you this summer, and then it just didn’t happen. Yes, you had a few warm-weather dates, maybe a romp in the hay or two, but the harvest season is here and there’s no one for you to bring home to mom and dad because the only people you went out with were significantly less than great.
Of course, it’s possible that the people you’ve been dating aren’t the only reason you’re still single...
Let’s face it, if you’re a “one ticket only, one chair at the table, sleeping nightly with the cat” kind of person but don’t want to be, and you’ve felt this way for a year or two (or ten), then it might be time to start looking within. In other words, it might be time to stop blaming the people you’ve been on dates with, the friends who’ve fixed you up with leftovers and losers, and all of those pricey e-Wonderful dating sites that have failed you so miserably. So how about turning that fault-finding magnifying glass you wield so fiercely onto something you can actually change: yourself.
Strike One: Lack of Effort
The first thing to ask yourself is: Am I dating enough? The simple truth is that research shows people looking for a long-term partner should expect to have between 15 and 25 new dates (i.e., meeting a potential romantic partner for a cup of coffee and some conversation) per year in order to find a good match. So yes, there really are a lot of people out there who aren’t right for you, and if you want to find the one who is then you need to be persistent in your search. Sadly, far too many people give up after just a few stabs at coffee or cocktails with a potential mate. Remember, dating is a numbers game. The more you date, the better your chances. It’s as simple as that.
Yes, I realize that dating is both time consuming and emotionally draining. You meet someone at a coffee shop and you know that he/she isn’t what you’re looking for before the lattes cool. Still, there you are, obligated to sit through an hour-long recitation about his career in light fixture sales or how much fun she had with her mother in the Adirondacks. Yuck! Or, even worse, you’re smitten right away, ready to move forward to dates two, three, four, and meet the parents, but the other person doesn’t feel the same way. That sort of rejection can really dampen one’s spirits, to say the least. That said, despite the occasional disappointing experience, you need to remain in the dating game if you’re truly hoping to find a mate. You need to date and continue dating until you find a match, no matter what. Basically, you need to be more invested in the long-term process than in the short-term outcome of any particular date. If you stick with it, the right person will eventually arrive. Maybe.
Strike Two: It’s You
If you’ve been out on the requisite 25 or so new dates in the past year and are still not getting anywhere, perhaps it’s time to consider that maybe you’re not quite the catch that you envision yourself to be, and maybe, just maybe, it isn’t that “endless string of losers” that’s holding you back. It may help here to ask yourself the following three questions, being as honest as possible with your answers.
1. Am I boring?
You want to share life, love, and happiness with another person, but maybe you don’t yet have those things to share. If that’s the case, then you’re hoping “your life” will arrive in the guise of another person. That is very uncool. No wonder you’re single. Like you, others are attracted to people that bring something interesting and exciting to the table. And you don’t. Do you have a hobby? Do you volunteer? Have you been to a play, a museum, a church, a political discussion, a book club, or a class in the last six months? If not, what exactly do you plan to talk about on your next date? If this is your situation, it might be time to focus on expanding your horizons rather than hoping that someone amazing will come along and save you. If you are the person who works, goes to the gym, and goes home (repeated ad nauseam), maybe you should stop dating for a little while, using the break to further explore who you are and what makes your life sing. Interestingly, while you are out there building a life that brings you joy and fulfillment you’re quite likely to meet someone who shares your evolving interests and creativity.
2. Are my expectations reasonable?
If you’re seeking tall, gorgeous, cultured, and independently wealthy, and you’re not willing to settle for anything less, then your name had better be Heidi Klum or Usher. Otherwise, your list of “must haves” reads like the unreasonable expectations of a tween, and no adult in his/her right mind wants to date that. And anyway, a person who is significantly better looking, smarter, and richer than you are wouldn’t be a good partner for you, since successful long-term relationships are built on an equal give-and-take where partners have complementary strengths and weaknesses. So if you’re out there playing the adult version of “Dream Date,” it’s time to amend your list of mating prerequisites to include a few well-worn standards like single, compassionate, interested in a long-term relationship, funny, stable, self-sufficient, etc.
3. Am I a giant mess?
Do you drink a lot, use drugs often, gamble recklessly, have a refrigerator full of half-filled takeout boxes, jump into bed at the drop of a hat, owe a lot of money, or have a dental history in which your last checkup occurred when George W. was president? Any and all of the above are gigantic red flags to potential mates. Yes, people who are disasters are sometimes fun for a hookup, so finding people to have casual sex with is not out of the question for you. But seriously, who is going to date and potentially settle down with a man whose mother still does his laundry or a woman whose father still pays her rent? So be bold and take a good look at yourself, and if you find something that you’d rather a potential date not know about, that is probably the very thing that’s holding you back. Instead of keeping your problems a secret, you could ask for help (friends, family, physical trainer, dietician, support groups, therapy, and the like). By making some lasting positive changes you will be both happier and more appealing to potential life-partners.
Here’s the good news: There is no strike three. In the dating game, you’re not out until you choose to be out. Yesterday’s mistakes are today’s learning experiences. That “special someone” who will complete you, cook you breakfast in bed, never tell you you’re getting chubby, and love it when you get generous with a backrub is out there waiting. In the interim, it may help to remember that you don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy. There are plenty of “terminally single” people out there living wonderful, deeply fulfilling lives that they wouldn’t trade with anyone. Usually, rather than pining for an intimate romance they focus their energies on friends and community, getting their need for connection met in that fashion.
Nevertheless, most people do want a long-term relationship, and this is where the above information comes into play. Yes, it is possible that your expectations of others and your assessment of yourself are perfectly reasonable. If so, keep dating, keep an open mind, and keep a positive attitude about the process even when your dates don’t go as well as you would like. If, however, your expectations and self-assessment are problematic and holding you back, realize that knowing your issues is half the battle. Self-correction is possible, especially when you involve others in the process. Once you begin to see yourself as you really are, make inroads on cleaning up the messiness in your world, and come to realistically understand what you really want/need from a life-partner, you’ve got a decent chance of actually finding that lucky person. Sure, you’re going meet a few duds along the way, but that’s not the end of the world. Finding someone to love who loves you back unconditionally, even with his/her and your imperfections, is well worth the effort.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, he has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships