When you’re working hard to achieve your goals and move up in your career, maintaining social connections can become challenging. Factor in the rise of hustle culture, and the societal pressure to succeed at a young age, and there’s no wonder people in their 30s are feeling lonelier — and more stressed — than ever.

New research shows that this generation’s loneliness crisis is expanding, and people in their 30s are especially vulnerable to the stress that comes with social isolation. In fact, many believe that the generation’s dominant focus on career is leading to a decrease in adult friendships, and an increase in disconnection and social anxiety.

“Fighting loneliness is an inside job,” Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tells Thrive. “It’s about the balance you need in your life.” According to Robinson, loneliness is individualized, and it’s crucial to use self-awareness as a catalyst for change. After all, prioritizing your goals at work is important, but if you feel lonely once you leave the office, that can be an added source of stress. Here are a few small shifts that can help you battle those feelings of loneliness:

Prioritize face-to-face interactions

Cultivating new friendships and maintaining old ones can become difficult as other things take priority over your time — so Robinson suggests unplugging after work and putting more effort into your off-screen interactions. One of the reasons for loneliness is how we use technology, he says. “Research shows that as a result of being wedded to devices, people have fewer friends.” Instead of texting a friend to catch up, or connecting on social media, Robinson recommends making small efforts to prioritize face-to-face social interactions, even if it means going out of your comfort zone to meet new people. “Put down your devices,” he urges. “Join a hiking club, a writing group, or any type of social gathering.”

Make the most of the time you spend alone

It may sound counterintuitive, but Robinson suggests that one of the most effective ways to fight loneliness is to spend more time with yourself, and to embrace that inner connection — instead of seeing yourself as disconnected from others. “Engage in activities that help you get to know yourself,” he urges. “Ask yourself if you have balance in certain areas — whether that’s exercise, self-care, nutrition, or sleep.” By making the most of the time you spend on your own, you can reduce the stress that comes with being alone, and feel better about not always being social, Robinson adds. “The best medicine for loneliness is becoming your own best friend.”

Redefine what loneliness means

You’re likely used to thinking that feeling isolated is something that should be avoided and fixed, but Robinson explains that there’s often value in acknowledging your lonely feelings, and then reframing what they mean in your life. By honing in on the feeling and identifying the discomfort you feel, you can better understand what changes you need to make in your life — whether that’s calling an old friend to catch up, or inviting a co-worker to take a lunch break with you. However you decide to make a change, Robinson says it’s important to remember feelings are temporary, and they don’t define who you are. “ is not you,” he adds. “It’s just a part of you.”

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Contents

Why Does Loneliness Peak Before Our 30s?

Six years ago, Naresh Vissa was 20-something and lonely.

He’d just finished college and was living on his own for the first time in a one-bedroom apartment, rarely leaving it.

Like many other 20-somethings, Vissa was single. He ate, slept, and worked from home.

“I’d look out my window in Baltimore’s Harbor East and see other people in 20s partying, going on dates, and having a good time,” Vissa says. “All I could do was shut the blinds, turn off my lights, and watch episodes of ‘The Wire.’”

He may have felt like the only lonely person in his generation, but Vissa is far from alone in his loneliness.

Loneliness grows after college

Contrary to the popular belief that you’re surrounded by friends, parties, and fun in your 20s and 30s, the time after college is actually the time when loneliness peaks.

A 2016 study published in Developmental Psychology found that, across genders, loneliness peaks just before your 30s.

In 2017, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission (an English campaign aimed to profile the hidden crisis of loneliness) did a survey on loneliness with men in the UK and found that 35 is the age when they are loneliest, and 11 percent said they’re lonely on a daily basis.

But isn’t this the time that most of us, as kids, dream about thriving? After all, shows like “New Girl,” along with “Friends” and “Will & Grace” have never showed being in your 20s and 30s as lonely.

We may have money problems, career troubles, and romantic stumbles, but loneliness? That was supposed to dissipate as soon as we made it on our own.

Sociologists have long considered three conditions crucial to friend-making: proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and settings that encourage people to let their guard down. These conditions appear less frequently in life after your dorm room days are over.

“There are a lot of myths about what the 20-something years are all about,” says Tess Brigham, San Francisco-based licensed therapist who specializes in treating young adults and millennials.

“Many of my clients think they need to have a fabulous career, be married — or at least engaged — and have an incredible social life before they turn 30 or they’ve failed in some way,” Brigham adds.

That’s a lot to take on, especially all at the same time.

So, does loneliness stem from a fear of failure?

Or maybe the cultural landscape just makes it seems like you’re the only one failing, which in turn makes you feel left behind and lonely.

“If you add in social media, which is everyone else’s life highlight reel, it makes many young people feel alone and lost,” Brigham says.

“While the 20-something years are full of adventure and excitement, it’s also the time of your life when you determine who you are and what kind of life you want to live.”

If everyone else — and that would be everyone on social media, including influencers and celebrities — seems like they’re living that life better than you, it may lead you to believe you’ve already failed. You may feel the urge to retreat even more.

But adding to the issue is the fact that we aren’t changing how we make friends after college. During your school years, life could be compared to living on the set of “Friends.” You could pop in and out of your buddies’ dorm rooms without so much as a knock.

Now, with friends spread across the city and everyone trying to forge their own path, making friends has become more difficult and complicated.

“Many young adults have never had to work at making and building friendships,” Brigham says. “Actively building a community of people who support you and making friends who add something to their lives will help with the loneliness.”

Sociologists have long considered three conditions crucial to friend-making: proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and settings that encourage people to let their guard down. These conditions appear less frequently in life after your dorm room days are over.

“Netflix makes sure they don’t have to wait for the next episode next week; fast Internet on their phones gives them all the world’s information with a 5-second wait time; and when it comes to relationships, they’ve been presented with a swipe-to-dismiss model of relationship building.” – Mark Wildes

Alisha Powell, a 28-year-old social worker in Washington, DC, says she’s lonely. Since she isn’t in an office, it’s harder for her to meet people.

“I have this deep longing to mean something to someone,” Powell says. “I’ve found that while I can experience sadness and unfortunate events by myself because I expect it, the loneliest moments I have are when I’m happy. I want someone who cares about me to celebrate with me, but they are never present and never have been.”

Powell says because she’s not following the life of working nine-to-five, getting married, and having babies — which are all ways to actively build a community — she has a hard time finding people who understand her deeply and get her. She has yet to find those people.

Yet the truth is, most of us already know how to be less lonely

Studies have been bombarding us about disconnecting from social media; publications have been telling us to write in a gratitude journal; and the standard advice is overly simple: go outside to meet people in person rather than keeping it to a text or, as more common now, an Instagram DM.

We get it.

So why aren’t we doing it? Why, instead, are we simply getting depressed about how lonely we are?

Well, to start, we’re growing up on social media

From Facebook likes to Tinder swipes, we may already have invested too much in the American Dream, causing our brains to be hardwired for positive results only.

“The millennial age group grew up with their needs being fulfilled quicker and quicker,” says Mark Wildes, author of “Beyond the Instant,” a book about finding happiness in a fast-paced, social media world.

“Netflix makes sure they don’t have to wait for the next episode next week; fast Internet on their phones gives them all the world’s information with a 5-second wait time,” says Wildes, “and when it comes to relationships, they’ve been presented with a swipe-to-dismiss model of relationship building.”

Basically, we’re in a vicious cycle: we’re afraid of being stigmatized for feeling lonely, so we retreat into ourselves and feel even lonelier.

Carla Manly, PhD, clinical psychologist in California and author of the upcoming book “Joy Over Fear,” highlights how devastating this cycle can be if we let it continue.

The resulting loneliness makes you feel ashamed, and you fear reaching out or telling others that you feel lonely. “This self-perpetuating cycle continues — and often results in strong feelings of depression and isolation,” says Manly.

If we keep thinking about life in terms of getting what we want when we want it, it will only result in more disappointment.

The key to tackling loneliness goes back to keeping it simple — you know, that standard advice we keep hearing over and over again: go outside and do things.

You may not hear back or you might get rejected. It may even be scary. But you won’t know unless you ask.

“There is no quick fix when it comes to loneliness or any of our more complex feelings,” Brigham says. “To take the steps means you’re going to have to be uncomfortable for a period of time.”

You’re going to have to go out alone or walk up to someone new at work to ask them if they want to eat lunch with you. They could say no, but they might not. The idea is to see rejection as part of the process and not a roadblock.

“Many of my clients overthink and analyze and worry about what happens if they get a ‘no’ or they look foolish,” Brigham says. “In order to build confidence in yourself, you must take action and focus on taking the chance and putting yourself out (which is in your control) and not on the outcome (which is out of your control).”

How to break the cycle

Writer Kiki Schirr set a goal this year of 100 rejections — and went for everything she wanted. It turned out she couldn’t meet her goal because too many of those rejections turned into acceptances.

Likewise, whether it’s friendships or life goals, seeing rejections as a form success could be the answer to overcoming your fear of failure.

Or, if social media is your weakness, what if, instead of logging on with the FOMO (fear of missing out) mindset, we try to change the way we think about other people’s experiences? Maybe it’s time to take the JOMO (joy of missing out) approach instead.

We can feel happy for those enjoying their time instead of wishing we were there. If it’s a post by a friend, message them and ask if you could hang out with them next time.

You may not hear back or you might get rejected. It may even be scary. But you won’t know unless you ask.

Vissa finally broke from his cycle of loneliness by setting simple goals: read a book once a month; watch a movie every day; listen to podcasts; write down positive business plans, pick-up lines, book topics — anything cool; exercise; stop drinking; and stop hanging out with negative people (which included unfriending them on Facebook).

Vissa also began online dating, and, while he’s still single, he’s met interesting women.

Now, he has a different view out his window.

“Whenever I am down or depressed, I walk to my dining table, look out my window overlooking the downtown Baltimore skyline, and start playing and singing Anna Kendrick’s ‘Cups,’” Vissa says. “After I’m done, I look up, throw my hands in the air, and say, ‘Thank you.’”

Danielle Braff is a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter turned award-winning freelance writer, specializing in lifestyle, health, business, shopping, parenting, and travel writing.

I am officially the last single person in my friend group. How did this happen? It feels like just yesterday we were being rejected from Raya, and now suddenly everyone is scouting for wedding venues upstate—except me. I’m starting to realize how different—and freakish—being single feels in your 30s. And it doesn’t help that our 30s is also the decade where we spend so much of our time and money celebrating other people’s coupledom. Because, of course I want to spend Labor Day weekend manually inflating a 6-foot blow-up penis, drinking a month’s rent worth of rosé, and pretending to be happy for Karen.

When I was younger, I took it for granted that my friends would always be available for hungover brunches and emergency threesomes. But now, seeing my friends usually means being the one single person amid a mob of couples, who treat me either like hired entertainment (“tell us a funny Tinder story, clown!”) or like their problem child. For instance, for years now my friends and I have spent summer weekends at a shared beach house on Fire Island. There are three bedrooms and one pullout couch, and suddenly this year I keep being demoted to the couch, so that the couples can have “privacy.” Excuse me, but do single people not need privacy? I get that they want to have sex on their vacation, but where am I supposed to jerk off? This is my vacation too, people! There’s no other way to look at it: I am a hashtag victim of couple privilege.

As a millennial feminist, allow me to run with this victim thing. Last week I had a new air conditioner delivered, only to realize that it was too heavy for me to carry up four flights of stairs to my apartment. So, being single, I had to hire a random man from the Internet to carry it for me. Then I had to hire a different man to install it, only to have that man explain that I’d bought an AC with the wrong voltage for my building, which meant that I had to rehire the first man to carry the AC back downstairs again. When I told this story to my mom, she responded with a sigh, “See, this is why you need a boyfriend: Air conditioners, broken toilets, a raccoon in the basement—that all becomes their problem.”

But it’s not just that being single suddenly feels alienating in your 30s. It’s also that dating itself becomes more difficult. For one, the stakes are higher. You don’t want to waste your time on someone who doesn’t feel like they could be “the one.” But simultaneously, thinking “would he make a good dad?” after knowing someone for the duration of a martini makes you feel like an insane, rom-com cliché of a woman. Not ideal.

Essentially, we are far more discriminating in our 30s than we were in our 20s, which is both a blessing and a curse. We know more about what we want and what we won’t tolerate—but to a point where almost no one is good enough. I find myself having thoughts like, “I could never date him, he wears V-necks.” Or, “He was nice, but he sleeps in a mezzanine bed.” And this perpetual dissatisfaction is especially true in New York, where inflated egos are paired with incredibly high standards and the illusion of infinite choice. That cliché of thinking “someone better might be just around the corner” is real. But I keep turning corners, and I keep meeting finance guys with high cholesterol who just discovered Williamsburg. Sigh. Sometimes I think I should’ve picked someone when I was 25 and stupid, and then just made it work.

16 Reasons You’re Alone Even Though You’re Amazing

You’re this incredible, beautiful, amazing woman. You know it, but for some reason you’re still alone. Who could possibly make a better girlfriend than you? You honestly get tired of the same question – how is someone so amazing still single? It’s like they’re blaming you for something. It’s not your fault. It’s okay to have standards, a busy life and just not have met the right person yet. Ease up on yourself. Yes, there are a variety of reasons you’re alone. Just remember, it won’t be that way for long.

Everyone so far has been sub par.

Yes, there is lucky guy out there who is as amazing as you are. Why should you settle for some sub par, boring partner? You need someone who shines as brightly as you. Why waste time on guys you know simply aren’t right for you?

Life is completely hectic.

Despite what everyone else might think, you’ve got an extremely hectic life. You’re busy with work, making time for your friends, spending quality time with family and exploring new hobbies. You really don’t have time to spend scouring the world for a guy. The right guy will appear and suddenly fit into even the most hectic schedule.

You’re sick of searching.

It’s easy to burn out on trying to find someone. You might be amazing, but you’re sick of searching only to be disappointed again and again. Sure, you’re sick of being single too, but you just need a break. You’re definitely allowed. Let the guys find you instead.

Guys just want hook ups.

What happened to committing? You give it your all, but the guys you date just want to hook up. They’re not interested in a future. You’re lucky they even committed to a few dates. Yeah, gentlemen seem to be few and far between. You’re too amazing to settle for just hook ups.

You don’t put up with others’ crap.

Whether it’s a boyfriend or friend, you’re not the kind of woman to put up with being used in any way. You’re not afraid to tell people to get out of your life. Sure, you might be alone, but it’s far more peaceful than dealing with the drama and whining.

You have standards.

Good girl! Jumping into relationships just to avoid being alone only leads to disaster. Stick to your standards. You deserve only the best. You have better things to do than pretend to like guys you’re not interested in. Ignore any naysayers. My guess, they settled. You don’t have to.

Guys find you intimidating.

It’s sad that so many guys are intimidated by a strong, confident, independent woman. If they only knew how amazing that made you, right? Real men respect women like you. They’re not intimidated in the least. It’s finding them that’s the hard part.

You’re happy with your life right now.

Being alone isn’t a bad thing. Things are going great in your life. Why mess that up with a relationship? It’s okay to just focus on what makes you happy for now. You can do the whole relationship thing later.

Friends trump boyfriends.
How many breakups have your friends helped you through? How many friend breakups have your boyfriends been there for? Exactly. Guys come and go. Friends stick with you. You’re so busy having fun with your friends that a relationship is the last thing on your mind.

You have your own dreams.
At one point, marriage and a family were the only dreams a woman could have. Now, you can do whatever you want. You’re not lonely, you’re busy working towards your goals. You’re building a career, finding the home you’ve always wanted, traveling the world and all those other things that tend to fall to the wayside once you’re dating someone.

You’ve been there, done that.
You’ve been in relationships. Now you just want a break. It’s like a bad diet. After you’ve been through a few, you just want to be alone, eat all the junk food in the house and be happy. You’re still amazing, but you need a break from the relationship status merry-go-round for a little while.

Being alone suits you.
Do you really need a significant other to be complete? No. You’re in charge of your own happiness. You make yourself feel complete. Alone is like a badge of honor. If others can’t understand that, tough. It’s your life. Being alone actually looks damn good on you.

There’s no room for compromise.
You’re definitely not a pushover and it scares guys. They love to try to get you to compromise. Whether it’s sleeping on the wrong side of the bed or trying to get you to quit your job and move closer to them, you’re not willing to change your life because someone else doesn’t like it. You’ve worked hard to build your life. Be proud and stay alone until someone worthy comes along.

You’re uniquely interesting.
The most amazing women are incredibly unique. Maybe you love going to antique bicycle races or have a passion for crocheting miniature kittens. Sometimes it’s just hard to find someone who’s a good match for your unique interests and personality. It’s not your fault you’re not like every other woman out there.

You can’t stay in one place.
Relationships usually imply settling down in a single location. You’re young and amazing. You want to travel and you consider Airbnb your favorite site. Life’s too exciting right now to worry about long distance relationships. It might get lonely at times, but the moment you catch a flight to the next city, you forget all about it.

You’re busy working on you.
What do you want from life? Hell, do you even know what you want in a relationship? Even the most amazing women need to take time to work on themselves. It’s a sign you’re strong and honest with yourself. You don’t need a guy complicating your life until you’re finished figuring out who you are and what you want.

Being alone isn’t a bad thing. Enjoy the time and have fun. You have plenty of time for a relationship. Here and now is all for you.

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Are You Wondering Why You’re Lonely?

Source: Volodymyr Nik/

As a psychotherapist, I often hear how lonely and isolated people feel. Even if married or successful in their careers, many people carry a painful sense of disconnection and alienation.

Here are some things that may be contributing to your loneliness and fueling the epidemic of loneliness in today’s society.

1. Criticizing People

John Gottman’s research into what makes partnerships thrive highlights criticism as one factor that leads to breakups, along with contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness.

As an interesting exercise, notice how often you silently or actively judge others. Many of us have grown up with so much criticism, whether at home, in school, or while playing sports, that it feels normal to be judged. But criticism hurts — a hurt we may deal with by protecting ourselves and not showing our true feelings and desires. Building a wall to protect our tender self contributes to our isolation.

Feeling criticized in our adult life may trigger a fight, flight, or freeze response. We either withdraw or lash out at the person who has criticized us. Attacking or freezing up keeps us isolated and poisons the potential for intimacy.

As we become more mindful of when we’re being critical, we can notice the feelings and unmet needs that underlie it. Instead of pouncing on our partner with a sharp, hurtful comment (“You’re so unavailable, your work is more important than our relationship!”), we can reveal our loneliness — and perhaps take the risk to be more vulnerable (“I’m feeling lonely for you” or “I need a hug”). When we replace criticism with a more tender, less defensive response, we’re more likely to draw our partner toward us.

Criticizing others may be an extension of how you judge and shame yourself. Being more gentle with yourself may soften your tendency to criticize others.

2. Shaming Others

Toxic criticism triggers toxic shame. Many of us grew up thinking that something is wrong with us. When we become the object of criticism, we may revert back to the hurt child — the one who can’t do anything right. Shame is such a deeply painful emotion that when it gets triggered, we find ways to distance ourselves from it.

Bret Lyon, Ph.D., and Sheila Rubin, LMFT, who lead workshops on Healing Shame, characterize shame as a form of trauma. Our impulse is to avoid it by shutting down — or shift it to the other person, blaming them and making them feel the hurt that we don’t want to feel. Lyon describes shame as a hot potato. We want to pass it on to the one who shamed us or transfer it to another person. This shame-transference is a reflection of how painful shame is, and how we’ll do almost anything not to feel it.

Shame aversion — the refusal to feel any shame and work with it skillfully — may contribute to our isolation. Instead of noticing when it arises and being gentle with ourselves, we dissociate from it, because it feels so overwhelming; it deregulates our nervous system.

Rather than sinking into shame and getting flooded by it, we can notice it, allow it space, and realize that shame has arisen, but that we are not the shame.

3. Struggling to Be Perfect

Perfectionism is often driven by shame and fear. We’re driven by the notion that if we can be perfect in our words and actions, then no one can shoot arrows of criticism at us. The problem with perfectionism is that it’s unattainable. And it diverts us from the emotional availability necessary to feel connected with people.

Avoiding shame by trying to be perfect prevents us from taking risks to show our authentic self. We hide our true feelings, our weaknesses, and our wants, fearful that if we expose them we’ll be rejected or humiliated. Our intention is to protect ourselves from pain, but keeping ourselves hidden increases our isolation.

The more inner strength we tap into, the more we realize that it’s OK to have flaws. We can accept and love ourselves despite how people respond to us. We have no control over how others might perceive us. But we do have control over how we view ourselves. The more we hold ourselves with respect and dignity, despite our shortcomings, the more we can reveal ourselves to people in a natural, straightforward way. As a result, there is more potential for real connection and intimacy in our lives.

The failure to accept our imperfections may lead to stonewalling behavior, which Gottman identifies as another factor that leads to divorce. We have difficulty engaging in authentic conversations, because we’re afraid that we’ll fail — or make things worse. It’s safer to flee to the computer or television when our partner wants to discuss our relationship.

Realizing that we don’t have to be perfect may prompt us to talk more openly with our partner or friends. Listening with a sincere heart can help us feel less isolated. Deeper connections can arise by offering the gift of non-defensive listening.

We can find more meaning and richness in our relationships if we take the risk to be more vulnerable — revealing our authentic feelings rather than attacking or shaming people. We will live a less lonely life if we let go of the isolating belief that if we can’t say or do something perfectly, then don’t bother.

The loneliness that you might feel is rampant in our society. By taking the risk to engage with people — whether through your smile, your humor, or sharing your feelings or a kind word — you take a step toward healing your isolation. Simultaneously, you may be offering a gift that helps others feel less lonely too.

© John Amodeo

Why We’re Fated to Be Lonely (But That’s OK)

There are few more shameful confessions to make than that we are lonely. The basic assumption is that no respectable person could ever feel isolated – unless they had just moved country or been widowed.

Yet in truth, a high degree of loneliness is an inexorable part of being a sensitive, intelligent human. It’s a built-in feature of a complex existence. There are several big reasons for this:

– Much of what we need recognised and confirmed by others – a lot of what it would be extremely comforting to share – is going to be disturbing to society at large. Many of the ideas in the recesses of our minds are too odd, contrary, subtle or alarming to be safely revealed to anyone else. We face a choice between honesty and acceptability and – understandably – mostly choose the latter.

– It takes a lot of energy to listen to another person and enter sympathetically into their experiences. We should not blame others for their failure to focus on who we are. They may want to meet us, but we should accept the energy with which they will keep the topic of their own lives at the centre of the conversation.

– We must all die alone, which really means, that our pain is for us alone to endure. Others can throw us words of encouragement, but in every life, we are out on the ocean drowning in the swell and others, even the nice ones, are standing on the shore, waving cheerily.

– It is deeply unlikely that we will ever find someone on exactly the same page of the soul as us: we will long for utter congruity, but there will be constant dissonance because we appeared on the earth at different times, are the product of different families and experiences and are just not made of quite the same fabric. So they won’t be thinking just the same as us on coming out of the cinema. And looking out at the night sky, just when we want them to say something highbrow and beautiful, they will perhaps be remembering a painfully banal and untimely detail from an area of domestic life (or vice versa). It is – almost – comic.

– We will almost certainly never meet the people best qualified to understand us, but they do exist. Probably they once walked past us in the street, though neither of us had the slightest idea of the potential for connection. Or maybe they died in Sydney two weeks ago or won’t be born until the 22nd century. It isn’t a conspiracy. We would just have needed a lot more luck.

– The problem is sure to get worse, the more thoughtful and perceptive we are. There will simply be less people like us around. It isn’t a Romantic myth: loneliness truly is the tax we have to pay to atone for a certain complexity of mind.

– The desire to undress someone is for a long time far more urgent than the desire for good conversation – and so we end up locked in relationships with certain people we don’t have much to say to, because we were once fatefully interested in the shape of their nose and the colour of their remarkable eyes.

And yet, despite all this, we should not be frightened or discomfited by our pervasive loneliness.

At an exasperated moment, near the end of his life, the German writer Goethe, who appeared to have had a lot of friends, exploded bitterly: ‘No one has ever properly understood me, I have never fully understood anyone; and no one understands anyone else.’

It was a helpful outburst from such a great man. It isn’t our fault: a degree of distance and mutual incomprehension isn’t a sign that life has gone wrong. It’s what we should expect from the very start. And when we do, benefits may flow:

– Once we accept loneliness, we can get creative: we can start to send out messages in a bottle: we can sing, write poetry, produce books and blogs, activities stemming from the realisation that people around us won’t ever fully get us but that others – separated across time and space – might just.

– The history of art is the record of people who couldn’t find anyone in the vicinity to talk to. We can take up the coded offer of intimacy in the words of a Roman poet who died in 10BC or the lyrics of a singer who described just our blues in a recording from Nashville in 1963.

– Loneliness makes us more capable of true intimacy if ever better opportunities do come along. It heightens the conversations we have with ourselves, it gives us a character. We don’t repeat what everyone else thinks. We develop a point of view. We might be isolated for now, but we’ll be capable of far closer, more interesting bonds with anyone we do eventually locate.

– Even the people we think of as not lonely are in fact lonely. Years from now, members of that group who are presently out smiling and laughing may tell you, in a crisis, that they always felt misunderstood. The jovial camaraderie and laughter isn’t a proof that they have found an answer; it’s evidence of the desperate lengths some people go to hide the fact that we are all irremediably alone.

– Loneliness renders us elegant and strangely alluring. It suggests there’s more about us to understand than the normal patterns of social intercourse can accommodate – which is something to take pride in it. A sense of isolation truly is – as we suspect but usually prevent ourselves from feeling from fear of arrogance – a sign of depth. When we admit our loneliness, we are signing up to a club that includes the people we know from the paintings of Edward Hopper, the poems of Baudelaire and the songs of Leonard Cohen. Lonely, we enter a long and grand tradition; we find ourselves (surprisingly) in great company.

Enduring loneliness is almost invariably better than suffering the compromises of false community. Loneliness is simply a price we may have to pay for holding on to a sincere, ambitious view of what companionship must and could be.

Once a week, I grab sushi takeout: green dragon roll, spicy salmon roll, miso soup. As the waiter finishes taking my order, I brace myself for the final question of the transaction: “How many chopsticks?” Right eye slightly a-twitch, I say, “Just one.” Sometimes I contemplate lying, “Oh, two, please!” because I’m so, so over the Sad Single Person Meal trope, but I never cave. It’s always “Just one, thanks.”

Are you thinking, Listen to this sad-sack bitch. Doesn’t she have anything better to do than mope about her chopsticks? Maybe he’s just asking because it’s enough food for two people. Maybe she’s fat and weird, and that’s why she’s single? Because there’s always a reason, right? But what if there isn’t?

I’m relatively delightful: sweet, fun, smart and outgoing. I’m cute enough. I have a job that pays me to watch TV and talk about movies and interview celebrities. I have a social life packed with besties and beloved co-workers. I’m on Tinder, OkCupid and Plenty of Fish. I go on dates. I am aware that, at 32, my eggs are jettisoning out of my dusty uterus at an alarming rate.

The Perennially Single Bitch

Despite all this, I am a perennially single bitch (PSB), i.e., a non–cat lady with a full life who remains single. I have been alone for the past two years and, prior to my last boyfriend (we were together for seven months), for another three years—just like so many women in North America right now. In 1981, 26 percent of Canadians aged 25 to 29 were unmarried. In 2016 (the last year census numbers were gathered), that number skyrocketed to 57 percent. During that time, the percentage of unmarried women in their early 30s jumped from 10 to 34 percent.

As a result, recent years have seen a rise in single-lady-friendly lit, with uplifting titles affirming the pleasures of life uncoupled, including the 2011 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg and Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own (Crown, $20) by Kate Bolick, author of the 2011 viral Atlantic article “All the Single Ladies.” I read Spinster and, while Bolick is a spectacular mind and first-rate writer, it gave me zero solace. I’d hoped to find war stories from a fellow PSB struggling with the garbage part of long-term singlehood: loneliness.

The book is, rather, Bolick’s celebration of five historical spinsters who crafted exciting lives despite their lack of husbands, as well as an exploration of Bolick’s ambivalence toward the outdated idea of mandatory marriage. I called Bolick when I finished the book. “How do you reconcile having a rich life and being lonely?” I asked. She replied: “It’s about not organizing your life around another person—when you shut all the doors and prioritize the relationship above everything else. I like to have a balance, where my friendships are as important as my romantic relationship, which is as important as my work.” But what if there is no romantic relationship? Does my yearning for a mate make me lame? Bolick urges women to “make a life of one’s own.” Done. But I also want to make a life with someone else (and maybe a kid or three).

In It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, a 2014 tome I found more comforting, author Sara Eckel points out that people are happy to write memoirs about eating disorders, crack addictions, cheating people out of their life savings, being Jenny McCarthy. But almost no tell-alls explore loneliness in depth. Even the word “lonely” feels ugly. I’ve dropped it in heart-to-hearts with everyone from my BFFs to my mother and watched their faces twist in embarrassment.

This is because loneliness reads as weakness. Melanie Notkin, author of the 2014 book Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness, believes our longing for companionship is often maligned because it doesn’t jibe with people’s ideas of boss bitchdom. “It doesn’t feel feminist, the wait for love: ‘If you really want to be a mother, go out and have a baby on your own.’ But that’s what feminism gives us, the ability to make choices that we didn’t have a generation ago, to have the love and the child with that love,” Notkin says. “The truth is that we are modern, independent women who yearn for traditional dating and romance. It’s not a non-feminist thing to say. It’s actually quite feminist to admit what you want.” Yet the persistent perception is that loneliness is something empowered women shouldn’t deign to suffer—something that can be fixed with yoga or a new dating app. Alternatively, it can appear like it’s our fault: we’re too picky, too selfish.

It also sounds straight-up sad. That’s why I initially resisted writing this piece. I cringe when I imagine it going into print—and then onto the Internet for all eternity—for my exes to see and future dates to find lurking in my Google results.

But f-ck it. We’re all humans here, so I’ll do it: I’m coming out as lonely.

Loneliness is physical

It’s a dull sort of pain, like a poke in the eye or the slow ebb of cramps. Often I don’t feel it for a while; there’s a new crush, perhaps, a big project at work, springtime. But then I’ll experience a moment, most often when I am coming home from the cozy confines of dinner or a movie night at a couple’s house, that reminds me I am alone. The pain leaps suddenly, like the horrible surge of heat when you remember you forgot to do something important. Sometimes it spills out of me in tears that trickle down from behind my sunglasses as I sit on the streetcar on my way home from work, inching home toward another solitary meal, another night alone in bed. I burst into my apartment and cry and cry and cry, standing in the middle of the living room. It’s an involuntary physical reaction to the lack: of someone beside me on the streetcar, of someone waiting for me on the couch. And I let the pain flow through me, feel it race up and down and through the conductor of my body. Then I climb into bed and try not to think, How can I last another night in this same bed in this same room in this same loveless life and wake up alone and do it again the next day and the next and the next?

Such freak-outs aren’t just painful (and mega-mortifying to admit publicly): they could be slowly killing me. In his 2009 book, Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, John T. Cacioppo, director of the Center of Cognitive & Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, reveals that feelings of isolation like mine can cause high blood pressure, increase stress hormones, impair immune function and accelerate aging, and, he says ominously, may be “hastening millions of people to an early grave.” I do have scary-high blood pressure, caused in part, I assume, by the stress of a high-intensity job—sans someone at home to provide soothing cuddles and reality-show commentary—and in part by the fact that I sometimes alleviate said stress with late-night junk-food bacchanals. While waiting for my post-bar Uber a few weeks ago, I overheard a bro refer to my 2 a.m. poutine as my “boyfriend for the night.”

Welcome to the freak show

It’s easy for PSBs to feel like freaks when the coupled world constantly reminds us of our single status. Bella DePaulo, author of 2006’s Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, calls this ghettoization “singlism.” Even the shoeshine guy at the airport recently opened with, “You married?” (When he heard my answer, he stuck out his tongue and made a face.) The older I get, the more party guest lists become standardized into 40 billion couples, a handful of fun gays and a pack of dolled-up PSBs. Friends badger me to lift the No Boyfriends Allowed, Goddamnit rule at my annual cottage weekend. Weddings are the most extreme torture of all. The answer to, “Will there be any single dudes there?” always results in some variation of, “No, but please do enjoy the quarantine pen set up at the back of the banquet hall with the spotty teen cousins and wizened old aunties.” (At one wedding I attended, the MC announced, “Don’t worry about getting too drunk. Briony is single. I’m sure she’ll… take care of you.”) We’re also denied the sweet financial bounty of tax breaks; double occupancy rates at hotels; engagement party, bridal shower and wedding presents; and sharing a down payment on a house. “Everyone is so mom-, love- and couples-focused that we’re ignored,” Notkin says. “No one hears us, understands us or acknowledges us.”

Coupled BFFs just don’t understand

The isolation intensifies as friends are—bless—often useless when it comes to offering support, simply because they eschew listening in favour of cheerleading and advice. “How can you be lonely?” they cry. “You are never alone! You have such a rich life! You don’t need a man to complete you!” Or, “Stop obsessing about finding a boyfriend. Just live your life and work out/smile/go out more, and he will come to you.” One pal insisted I had been concentrating too much on my job. “Career woman” is one of the most common—and most misogynist—cop-outs. No one uses the term “career man.” And the phrase reinforces a myth that PSBs prioritize work over finding a partner. I know many accomplished PSBs who work 60-plus hours a week: none of them have eschewed dating for career and, in fact, most of them work hard to carve out time to meet men. None of us are waking up one day and saying, “LOL I TOTALLY FORGOT TO DATE FOR 10 YEARS BETTER GET GOING BEFORE I’M BARREN.” We have been dating the whole time—we just haven’t found our matches.

I’m a monster, and other conspiracy theories

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Slogging along solo for ages has made me doubt my sanity as life starts to feel like an episode of The Twilight Zone. At first, I thought, I’m bangable. Fun. I have enough dates and flings and past boyfriends to confirm that I’m not a complete monstrosity. But as the months of singledom slip into years, doubt rears. If I was a lovable human, logically, I would have love, no? I imagine a third-act twist where cleaning out my parents’ filing cabinets would unearth paperwork revealing I am actually the beneficiary of the top-secret make-work program Societal Integration for Chuds and Other Undesirables, which states that I’m allowed to have a cool job and extensive social circle, but I should under no circumstances be allowed to breed.

I’ve tumbled many times into the crevasse between self-love and self-loathing, eyeball to eyeball with my flaws and wondering which of those pernicious little bastards is driving away potential husbands. Is it my oft-messy apartment? My loud laugh? My strong opinions? If I fixed these things, would I have more luck? This obsession with dating success by way of self-improvement is a by-product of western society’s can-do ideal, according to Eckel: “Any problem you have, you can solve it. You’re the master of your own destiny. The flip side to that, however, is that if you’re going through a hard time, it’s your fault.” I tried, for a long time, to eradicate my undesirable bits. Some changes made me a better person, like going to the gym and softening my bitchy resting face. But other things I did to placate dudes—like switching out boner-killing fashion in favour of dressing down in jeans and sneaks—I eventually gave up. There’s only so much of myself I can change before there’s nothing left. “Maybe the reason these women are single isn’t that there’s something wrong with them,” says Eckel. “It’s that there’s something right with them.”

It takes strength to hold out for a person who loves you just the way you are. I’m asked on dates by so-so guys that I politely decline. I don’t frantically prolong fizzling flings. I could have married my lovely ex years ago. Not having someone is hard, but settling for just anyone is harder.

Feral Cat Syndrome

There is an upside to our noble refusal to settle; PSBs do indeed enjoy giddying freedom and wide-open swaths of time and space to pursue adventure and wonderment. But I also spend a lot of time with the same damn person: myself. Just as Bolick warned against disappearing into a relationship, you can also disappear into yourself. This is what I call Feral Cat Syndrome. I become too wild, too unused to human contact, too worn down by dating. I favour Broad City over yet another book launch or synth-pop show or house party where I hope there will be someone vaguely hittable. I let my OkCupid matches pile up, sick of composing witty openers. My body aches for snuggles. I debate sleeping with a ripped 22-year-old Tinder jock just to make sure my vagina still works. My bad habits flare up, whether it’s drunken belligerence or skipping eye makeup.

Dating really is a nefarious little game, isn’t it? If you want to stop dating, you have to keep dating to find the partner who will take you out of the running. All the exhausting gym-going and smiling and battling Feral Cat Syndrome and Tindering won’t guarantee a boyfriend—whether I meet my dream piece or not comes down to chance. It’s maddening. That’s what PSBs must make peace with every day: uncertainty. Want a kid? A house? In most cases, it’s only realistic if you couple up. Until then, I’m in limbo.

PSB PSA

PSBs already know that all we can do while waiting for the right partner is to live a life of meaning, of love for family and friends, of passion and pursuit of beauty. We got it. All we need—in addition to your hot friend’s number—is a little empathy for the pain, the isolation, the frustration, the exhaustion, the helplessness, the loneliness. (And all those bloody weddings.) If a PSB tells you she is sick of singledom, if she is brave enough to tell you she is lonely, don’t rush into offering advice or compliments or strategies. Just say, “That must be hard. How are you doing?”

Share the burden and end the shame. I may be lonely, but I am not alone.

This article was originally published in May 2015.

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33 Reasons Why Being Single In Your 30s Is the Best Thing Ever

By the time you reach your 30s, many of your friends will have paired off. Some will even have children. And while family life certainly has its merits, not everyone is ready for it at the same time—if ever. Whether you’re happy to stay single at 30 or are looking forward to eventually meeting your match, here’s what’s truly amazing about being independent during this time in your life. This is how being single and 30 can be the best thing ever.

1 You Have More Time to Focus on Your Career

In your 30s, “you have a better perception of who you are than you did when you were in your 20s,” says Rori Sassoon, CEO of VIP matchmaking service Platinum Poire. That means you’re probably pretty clear on what you want career-wise, and being single ensures you have the time to put work in toward your goals. “This is a great time to build your empire without the time commitments that come with a relationship.”

2 You’re More Mature and Less Tolerant of Drama

“Men and women in their 30s have done a lot of growing up,” points out James Anderson, dating expert at Beyond Ages. “They are more mature and less tolerant of the drama that many people in their 20’s enjoy and even thrive on. This creates a dating environment that is more relaxed and enjoyable with fewer games.”

3 You Can Focus More on Your Friends and Family

“Often times, people get into relationships and start to neglect other people who play important roles in their lives,” points out Nicole Carl, a licensed professional counselor at Clarity Clinic in Chicago. When you’re single at 30, you can use your time to invest in close relationships and develop even stronger ties with them. Or, focus on broadening your horizons: “Use this time to meet new people and socialize with a variety of different individuals.”

4 Your Home Is Truly Yours

“You can take command of your own space,” says Courtney Watson, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. There’s definitely something to be said for not having to compromise on what your apartment or house looks like. “You get to keep your living space however you want. Whether it’s immaculate or a mess, it’s yours and you don’t have to think about the needs of anyone else in your safe space.” Plus, your home is a completely judgment-free zone. Want to wear sweats all day? No one will ever know.

5 Your Confidence Is at An All-Time High

“It’s common in your 20s to be a little unsure of yourself,” says Vikki Ziegler, celebrity divorce attorney, relationship expert, and author of The Pre-Marital Planner. “But when you enter your 30s, you regain momentum in your ability to exude confidence about decision-making in your life.” The self-assured attitude applies to dating, but also other crucial areas like setting boundaries with friends and family, getting what you want at work, and making lifestyle choices like where you want to live.

6 You Can Differentiate Between Sex and Love

This skill—often developed with age—saves you a lot of time and energy. “In our thirties, we are less impulsive and less driven by sex,” says Keren Eldad, relationship coach, life coach, and founder of With Enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean you’re not interested in sex, but you now have the ability to appreciate a fun, no-strings-attached relationship in a way you maybe couldn’t in your 20s.

7 You’re Less Reckless

If you got yourself into some sticky situations dating in your 20s, you’re not alone. “Being single in your 20s can be a bit dangerous, as we tend to have that ‘YOLO’ mentality,” says Stacy Karyn, an online dating consultant. “However, in your 30s you are a bit less likely to indulge in risky behavior, such as drug use and unsafe sex.”

8 There’s Time For a Life Outside Work

“Let’s face it, relationships require individuals to invest a lot of time and energy in them and make it harder engage in leisure activities,” says Carl. “When you’re single, you have more free time to put into your hobbies and self care activities. Eating healthier, working out, taking fitness classes, or even picking up an artistic activity such as painting could be done because your schedule isn’t so cramped.”

9 You Know Which Red Flags to Look For

By the time you hit 30, “your BS meter has maxed out,” says Allison Perez, a relationship expert and love coach. “You’ve identified the red flags and you see them coming from a mile away.” If you do want to date, now’s the perfect time to put all the dating lessons you learned in your 20s into practice.

10 You’re More Skilled in Bed

You’re more skilled in bed, and you know how to spot better partners. “You’re not settling for subpar non-reciprocal sex,” Watson says. “You know what you like and you’re not willing to settle for less.”

11 You Date Smarter

You don’t have time for people you’re not all that into, and it’s better that way. “Since the time to begin raising a family is approaching for many, it’s less likely that you will waste your time on people who are just not right for you,” Karyn says. The bottom line: Dating in your 30s is a smarter and less stressful practice.

12 Alone Time Isn’t Scary Anymore

Some people love alone time no matter their age, but many don’t learn to appreciate it until their 30s. When you’re single, you have the freedom to get more of it. “You thrive on self-care and time to get to know yourself better,” Ziegler says. FOMO is a thing of the past: “You can sit home with a book and a glass of wine on a Friday night and be 100 percent comfortable with that decision.”

13 You’re Free to Meet New People

Of course, you can meet new people while in a relationship, but it can be easier to get out and about when you’re flying solo. “You make the most amazing friendships in your 30s,” says Faith Dulin, LMFTA, a relationship counselor. “You find your tribe, your people. Those that get you and you relate to, outside the context of a romantic relationship or ‘couple identity.'”

14 You Can Travel Anywhere, Anytime

While your friends might be spending all of their time raising their young children, you can do literally whatever you want in your off-time. “No longer a broke 20-something, you can go to Dubai or Accra or Seoul and have the time of your life,” Watson says. And when you’re single at 30, you can pick any destination you want without consulting anyone else first.

15 Dates Don’t Have to Be Cheap

Speaking of money…Gone are the days of trying to figure out the cheapest possible date ideas. “You can date at your leisure and get to go to places that are way more interesting because you and the people you are dating have the money to do it,” Watson notes. Chances are, you can splurge on a nice dinner, amazing cocktails, or theater tickets if you decide you really want to impress someone. And since you only have to spend money on yourself, you’re probably better off financially than those who have a spouse and children to support.

16 You’re More Likely to Make Choices That Actually Make Sense for You

“You don’t have any obligations and restrictions when having to consider a partner’s desire,” Carl points out. “Having the liberty to make decisions without having interference from a partner can lead you to making self-defining and spontaneous choices.” Think: moving to another country for work, buying a house because you love it, or ditching a friend group that’s no longer working for you—these are all of the things that you can do while 30 and single.

17 You’re Not Going to Encounter Ghosting Like You Used To

“By the time you hit 30, you will have most likely experienced heartbreak and pain a few times,” Karyn points out. “And, because of this recently-collected wisdom, you will be able to enter the dating scene with sensitivity and class.” If you’re dating people the same age, you’ll likely find they’re also kinder than than the people you dated in your 20s.

18 You Care Less About What Other People Think

Sure, it’s still annoying when your parents nag you about why you’re not married yet, but you’re less likely to take it to heart now. “Being single in your 30s is often seen as a consolation prize instead of the amazing experience that it can truly be,” says Stephanie Lee, a relationship expert and coach. But those who experience it learn that it’s actually pretty fun—and that what other people think about your relationship status doesn’t matter. “Gone are the days when the judgements of your peers sway your days and pull you into a tailspin.”

19 You Understand Your Own Sexuality

Whether you’re straight, gay, or somewhere in between, you probably have a handle on it by now. By your 30s, “you have recognized many of the negative messages you received about your sexuality and you’ve either shaken then or are working on shaking them,” Watson says. “You re-grounding in who you are sexually and enjoying yourself more.”

20 You’ve Had The Opportunity to Learn From Others’ Mistakes

Everyone has that friend who got married in their 20s and then got divorced a year or two later. Yes, that could happen to anyone, but now that you’ve seen some of the things that can go wrong in a relationship and how that impacts a person, it’s less likely to happen to you.

21 You Can Spend Time Getting to Know Yourself

This is something many people who couple up in their 20s never get the chance to do, and it often comes back to bite them later. “If you do not learn to really love you (first, and above anyone else), you will never truly be able to unconditionally love another, needing from them absolutely nothing in return,” Eldad explains. “Our 30s are a beautiful time to practice this. As your career and social circles expand, so will your sense of self and your chance to really explore your most significant relationship: the one you have with YOU. Get coaching, read books, and spend time cultivating you.” Plus, if and when the right person for you comes along, you’ll know exactly how to spot them—yet another reason why dating in your 30s is more ideal.

22 Dating Gets Honest

“Men and women in their 30s have a lot more going on in their lives and are much less inclined to waste your or their time,” Anderson says. “As a result, dating is a lot more direct. Your partners will be more upfront with what they are looking for in a relationship, casual or serious, and that alleviates a lot of the stress of dating.”

23 You’ve Probably Worked Out Issues Holding You Back

Or you’re in the process of doing so. “We all have scars from childhood—it’s a fact—but most don’t conquer them,” Ziegler says. “In your 30s, you might be in therapy or know that you need to be single and work on your past to make your future life bright. It’s truly empowering and invigorating to conquer your childhood fears and stand tall and proud of where you come from and who you are becoming without a partner attached to you. That is the true sign of growth and empowerment.”

24 Your Time is Truly Yours

“Wanna do yoga after work? Wanna come home at 3am? Wanna be in bed by 6pm? You can do whatever you want with your time and not have to consult or consider anyone else,” Watson says.

25 You Don’t Have to Split Up Holidays

Assuming you enjoy spending time with your family, being single at 30 means you get to spend every holiday with them without ever having to compromise. Ask any married person—this is a big deal.

26 You’re Just Starting The Happiest Years of Your Life

Research shows that for most people, real happiness begins around age 33. If you’re 30 and single, that means you can do anything you want—including finding someone to share it with, or not.

27 Kids Are Still an Option

“If you are dating still in your 30s, the possibility of having kids is still on the table,” says Michela Hattabaugh, a matchmaker with Three Day Rule in Chicago. “While some people never feel a strong desire to do this, that can potentially change once you find a partner who you want to spend the rest of your life with, so it is nice to still have that option. While having kids in your early 40s can still be possible, it’s nice to be in your 30s and not feel the impending pressure of racing against the clock.”

28 You Know How to Say “No”

Never underestimate the power of ‘no.’ “By your thirties, you have amassed a body of life experience, including a heartbreak or two,” Eldad says. “All this living has gotten you real clear about what you don’t want.” When you’re totally clear on things you don’t want to do, it makes saying ‘no’ to people, favors, and experiences you’re not interested in a whole lot easier. “And you know what’s awesome about knowing what you don’t want? It clarifies for you what you DO want.”

29 You Can Easily Get What You Want

Whether it’s your food choice for dinner, watching your favorite TV show, choosing what music to listen to, or deciding which car you’re going to buy, you can pretty much always get what you want when it comes to deciding how to spend your time and money.

30 You Sleep Better

Research shows that single people sleep more than those who are coupled up. Getting a good night’s sleep means you go into each and every day with a leg up on those who have another person’s sleep schedule and habits to deal with. That’s what we’d call a win.

31 You’ve Got More Solid Friendships

In your teens and 20s, getting into a relationship often meant prioritizing your new paramour over friends—and, in some cases, losing some of those not-so-strong relationships along the way. However, if you’re single at 30, you’ve had plenty of time to strengthen the bonds with your friends, likely counseling them through their own dating rough patches along the way. And while this means you’ve probably got plenty of people to keep you company when you’re not in a relationship, it also means those pals are unlikely to write you off if you go temporarily MIA when you do meet someone new.

32 You Have a Roadmap for Life

If you get married, have kids, or make the decision to remain childless before your 30s, you might be the first member of your inner circle to do so. That means you’re a pioneer of sorts—you’re bravely venturing where no one you’re close to has gone before, meaning you don’t necessarily have a clear understanding of what those decisions might make your life look like. When you’re in your 30s, however, you likely have friends living a thousand different lifestyles, making it easier to make an educated choice about what your own life could look like a few years down the line, depending on which path you decide to take.

33 Your Choices Aren’t Met With Endless Questioning

Announce that you never plan to get married when you’re 22 or decide to quit your job and move somewhere you’ve never been 28 and you’re bound to get a fair amount of pushback—especially if you’re in a relationship. However, by the time you’re in your 30s, your friends and family members probably realize you have enough life experience to make the right decisions for yourself—and if you’re single, it means you don’t have to explain those choices to anyone.

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8 Reasons You Might Still Be Single

Clearly, some people are single because they choose to be. They are simply not interested in being in a serious relationship at this time in their life. Others are single due to the circumstances of their lives. They may have just gotten out of a meaningful relationship or have dated relentlessly and just haven’t found someone with whom they’re truly compatible.

The point of this article isn’t to stereotype all single women or men or to put anyone in a box. However, for people, particularly those over 30, who are looking for answers to the puzzling question “Why am I still single?” here are some unconventional answers that lie within.

When it comes to dating and relationships, it’s hard not to feel that you are a victim. After all, others can be cruel; you will get hurt, and no, it isn’t always your fault. But the reality is that we hold more power over our romantic destiny than we often think. To a great degree, we create the world we live in, although we are rarely conscious of this process.

We can, in fact, make a choice whether to see our fate through a victimized lens or choose to be goal-directed and take power over our lives. We benefit from focusing on what we can control and not what we can’t. We can become aware of the ways we influence the reactions we get from others, even the negative reactions. So, the question for the single person looking for love is: What are the internal challenges I need to face?

1) Defenses

Most people have been hurt in interpersonal relationships. With time and painful experiences, we all risk building up varying degrees of bitterness and become defensive. This process begins long before we start dating, in our childhoods when hurtful interactions and dynamics lead us to put up walls or perceive the world through a filter that can negatively impact us as adults. These adaptations can cause us to become increasingly self-protective and closed off. In our adult relationships, we may resist being too vulnerable or write people off too easily.

If, for example, you were raised by parents or caretakers who were negligent or cold, you may grow up feeling distrusting of affection. You may feel suspicious of people who show “too much” interest in you and instead seek out relationships that recreate dynamics from your past. You may then choose a partner who is aloof or distant. It isn’t always easy to see when we have our defenses up. As a result, we tend to blame our singleness on external forces and fail to recognize that we aren’t as open as we think.

2) Unhealthy Attractions

When we act on our defenses, we tend to choose less-than-ideal relationship partners. We may establish an unsatisfying relationship by selecting a person who isn’t emotionally available. Because this process is largely unconscious, we often blame our partner for the relationship’s failed outcome. We tend to feel devastated or hurt by the repeated rejections without recognizing that we are actually seeking out this pattern.

Why do we do this? The reasons are complex and often based on our own embedded fears of intimacy. Many people have an unconscious motivation to seek out relationships that reinforce critical thoughts they have long had toward themselves and replay negative aspects of their childhoods. These may be unpleasant, but breaking with old patterns can cause us a great deal of anxiety and discomfort, and make us feel strangely alien and alone in a more loving environment.

Our fears of parting with the image we developed of ourselves early on and starting to see ourselves in a more positive light paradoxically make us feel uneasy and may trigger self-attacking thoughts like, “Who do you think you are? You’re not that great.” These fears may cause us to hold on to relationships without potential or to feel attracted to people who aren’t really available, because they reinforce our negative image of ourselves, which feels more comfortable and familiar, albeit painful.

3) Fear of Intimacy

As my father, psychologist and author Robert Firestone, wrote in his article “You Don’t Want What You Say You Want,” “Most of us profess that we want to find a loving partner, but the experience of real love disrupts fantasies of love that have served as a survival mechanism since early childhood… Pushing away and punishing the beloved acts to preserve one’s negative self-image and reduces anxiety.”

Our fears surrounding intimacy may manifest as concerns over someone “liking us too much,” an understandably irrational reason not to date a person. Or we may punish the other person by being critical or even engaging in nasty behavior, essentially making sure we don’t get the loving responses we say we want. The reality is most people can only tolerate a certain amount of closeness. We are defensive about letting someone else in. In effect, on a deeper level, we don’t necessarily want the love we say we want.

4) Pickiness

Our own defenses often leave us feeling pickier and more judgmental. This is particularly true after we’ve had bad experiences, where we were deceived or rejected by a person we had strong feelings for. Many women start to have thoughts like, “There are no decent men out there” or “All the good ones are taken.” Men may have thoughts like, “You can’t trust a women” or “Women are all out to take advantage of you.” We may have unrealistic expectations for a partner or pinpoint weaknesses from the moment we meet someone. When viewing the world from critical or distrusting eyes, we tend to write off a range of potential partners before even giving them a chance. We think of dating certain people as “settling” without ever seeing how that person could make us happy in the long-term.

A friend of mine felt closed off to a man who pursued her for more than a year. Although she saw him as kind, funny, and smart, she convinced herself that he was “too into her.” She said he was too needy and was sure he would wind up getting hurt by her. She often stated that she just wasn’t attracted to him. The men she was drawn to instead tended to be unreliable and emotionally distant. At her friends’ insistence, she finally agreed to go on a date with the man who’d been pursuing her. What she found, to her surprise, was a high-level relationship choice, a partner with whom she shared a great deal of mutual interest, and, ultimately, genuine love.

What hers and so many similar stories show us is that when we think we are “settling” for someone, we may not be settling at all. We may actually find ourselves in a relationship that is so much more rewarding than those we have experienced. Ironically, we tend not to initially trust the people who really like us, but when we give them a chance, we find that we’ve chosen someone who values us for who we really are, someone who can really make us happy.

5) Low Self-Esteem

So many people I’ve spoken to have expressed the same sentiment. They believe they want a fulfilling relationship more than anything, but they believe even more firmly that no one worthwhile would be interested in them. We all possess “critical inner voices” that tell us we are too fat, too ugly, too old, or too different. When we listen to these “voices,” we engage in behaviors that push people away.

When we remain single, it is not for the reasons that we’re telling ourselves. Our lack of confidence leaves us giving off signals of not being open, creating a catch 22 in the realm of dating. Many people even have trouble leaving the house when they’re really down on themselves, let alone pursuing situations where they are likely to meet potential partners. Some struggle to make eye contact or are reluctant to scan the room for who they might be attracted to. When they are drawn to someone, they may fail to pursue their strongest attractions for lack of self-esteem.

6) Fear of Competition

A lack of self-esteem often leads to fears of competing. It’s easy to put ourselves down in relation to others, especially when it comes to dating. When we meet someone we like, it’s all too easy to think, “He/she could do better.” When we see that someone else is interested in the person we like, we may be quick to back away. We may feel unwilling to compete, particularly as we get older, and we start to have self-attacks like, “Your time has passed, you’re too old for this.”

Our fears of competition can lead us to avoid putting ourselves out there. We may be afraid of looking like a fool or of not being chosen. We may even have fears about winning the competition, thinking we will “hurt the other person’s feelings” or that our success will result in aggression from the loser. The simple truth is: Dating is competitive. It is scary to take a chance and go for what we want and compete, but when we do, we most often find it is well worth it to face our fears. We end up with a stronger sense of self, and we increase our chances of creating a relationship with the partner we really desire.

7) Isolation and Routine

With age, people tend to retreat further and further into their comfort zones. Modern women are more and more successful, accomplished, and self-sufficient, which are all extremely positive developments. Yet as both men and women get more comfortable, be it financially or practically, it is also easier for them to form a bubble from which it is difficult to emerge. It can feel harder to take risks or put themselves out there. After a long day’s work, many of us may feel more like putting on pajamas and crawling into bed than going out into the uncertain and anxiety-provoking world of meeting people.

The encouragement we feel to stay home or stay safe often comes from our critical inner voice. This inner coach offers self-soothing words, “Just stay in tonight and relax. You’re fine on your own. Have a glass of wine. Watch that show you like.” The problem with this voice is that it later turns on you with thoughts like, “What a loser you are, home alone again. You’ll be lonely for the rest of your life. You’re not getting any younger! No one will be attracted to you.”

Many of the activities we use to “comfort” ourselves actually make us feel bad in the end, as they result in us avoiding pursuing what we really want in life. It’s important to resist falling into a comfort zone and to repeatedly challenge the influence of our critical inner voice. We should take action and make an effort to get out into the world, smile, make eye contact and let friends know we are looking for someone. We should try new activities and try dating diverse people as a means to discover new parts of ourselves and what makes us happy.

8) Rule-making

As the years pass, we often develop rulebooks for ourselves regarding dating. In effect, we put what we have learned “down on paper,” but what looks good on paper doesn’t always work in real life. When we act on rules based on our past, we can create a perpetual cycle of disappointing relationships. A woman I know once dated someone with whom she had amazing chemistry. When it didn’t work out, she decided to stop looking for a guy she felt a strong connection with or attraction to. Instead, she made “reasonable” choices, and as a result, she found far less satisfying relationships. It’s important not to make fixed rules or to buy into other people’s rules when it comes to dating.

Staying open is one of the most important things we can do when looking for a loving partner. Yes, we might get hurt but when we stop taking risks, we reduce our chances of meeting someone we could really have a future with. Relationship rules tend to go hand-in-hand with game-playing. They can lead us to act with less sincerity and authenticity, to close ourselves off from how we feel. On the other hand, staying open and honest will lead us to find a much more authentic and substantial relationship.

Seeking love isn’t an easy quest, but it’s always best to take this journey on our own side. It’s important to fight the patterns inside us that hold us back from getting what we want. We can’t shield ourselves from the world or keep ourselves from getting hurt. We all carry flaws, and these vulnerabilities are especially apparent when getting close to one another. Thus, achieving intimacy is a brave battle, but it is one well-worth fighting for, each and every day, both within ourselves and, ultimately, within our relationships.

Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org

30 single and lonely

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