Happily married people always want to play matchmaker. This is exactly the same as how people who drive always want to convince non-drivers to get a license, and how people who watch TV meet people who don’t watch it and want to tell them about various funny commercials. I’m a contrarian about many things - I don’t drive, watch TV, or drink coffee - but I totally get it about matchmaking. The reason we do this is that companionable, long-term relationships seem so simple and straightforward to us. Our single-and-hating-it friends could be dating someone by the end of the month, we’re sure of it. It’s obvious to us that you’re as eligible as anyone else. Why don’t you see in yourself what we see in you?
A lot of my clients and students are lonely, long-term singles. In many cases, they see it as their biggest pain point. I always want to interrogate this and find out, from a married person’s perspective: Why are you single?
Disclaimer: Plenty of people prefer to be single and aren’t interested in dating. That’s awesome! I think it’s best if people who are happily alone choose to stay that way, rather than trying to force themselves into relationships. It’s more fair to the potential partners, who will instead meet people who do want to be paired up with someone.
The main practical reason my long-term singles aren’t dating is that they set themselves up that way. They only socialize with people they’ve known for a long time. If there were going to be a spark with any of the people they already know, it presumably would have sparked. Obviously, if you want to date someone you don’t know, you have to then somehow meet people you don’t know. You won’t necessarily date the person you meet, but each new friend you make will connect you to their friends, relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances. Blocking yourself from meeting new people means blocking dozens of platonically friendly faces.
The hidden, impractical reason behind this social isolation is inevitably self-loathing. My people think of themselves in the most negative light you can imagine. They think of themselves as losers, as failures, as ugly, as unlikeable. Present them with conflicting reports, such as that they have a close circle of friends, or that people have publicly said nice things about them, and they wave it off. They often think that their friends are just tolerating them or just being nice. Dude. There are over seven billion people on this planet right now. Nobody needs to pretend to like you. If someone is talking to you, it’s because they want to!
Let’s evaluate this objectively. If two people who don’t know each other say the same thing about you, accept it as true. Logically, you have to regard compliments as factual in a way that you don’t with insults. A vulgarian Rude Person will insult anyone and everyone, even yelling out a window, without knowing anything about you. A friendly person who likes you has every reason to have thought about you more than a mean person has. So, if someone says you’re good company, intelligent, talented, helpful, funny, well-read, or whatever, then it is an objective fact.
This is the thing about self-loathing. It comes from a fixed mindset. It comes from believing that certain traits are your personality, permanent, set in stone, unchangeable. That’s why something a kid might have said to you in first grade can still rankle in your mind. The thing is, romance is about behavior and communication, just like friendship is.
This is part of why self-loathing repels romance. Absolutely nobody is going to want to listen to you denigrate yourself, call yourself names, mope around feeling like the ugliest and worst person. If they’re attracted to you, they might pause to try to talk you out of what they see as a glum mood. If they see this self-pummeling as a chronic behavior, they’re out the door. At the minimum, if you hate on yourself, you can’t do it verbally. What are you trying to do, convince someone to believe that you’re awful? Be the prosecuting attorney of your own horrible personality?
What do people do in happy relationships? We talk to each other about random stuff. We laugh and develop private jokes. We ignore each other while tending to our own interests. We generally don’t do romance-novel things or rom-com movie things. My last conversation with my husband, while he was on a business trip, involved my keen interest in what he ordered for dinner and his sharing about the travails of using an obsolete GPS. Long-term love is low-maintenance! It has to be. We’re just like two sparrows hopping around a parking lot. We have wings, but we don’t use them all the time.
Who has the energy?
Look, if you’re old, there are other single people exactly your age who’d love to sit around with you doing whatever it is you do. If you have a nerdy hobby, that’s actually a major plus. If you’re fat, hey, guess what? Over 70% of Americans over age 20 are overweight now. That puts you in the majority. If you feel awkward and lonely, welcome to the real world because so do most of us.
Think of it this way. Rate your various characteristics on a scale of 1 to 10. For instance, my singing is like a 3. There are plenty of other people whose singing is also between a 2 and a 4, so I’m not ashamed. In fact, I think my terrible singing is hilarious and useful as a comedy skill. Nobody was ever going to date me for my musical abilities. Another person with a beautiful singing voice will have a lot of opportunities that I don’t have, and in fact someone may fall in love with him or her based completely on that vocal power. I’m not competing with them, though. My husband says he married me for my frugality. See how neither of those traits have to do with appearance or social skills?
I’m a nerd, if you haven’t already guessed that, and so is my husband. Nerds should date one another. A nerd/non-nerd relationship isn’t going to last long. Popular, attractive nerd traits include having a large vocabulary, being well-read, believing in empirical reality, lack of interest in bars/nightclubs/malls, and lack of emphasis on superficial appearance, among others. If you’re a smart, nerdy person, you’re automatically more interesting to a fellow intelligent person than an ordinary, physically attractive person would be. Trust me, I’m a Mensan.
Back to what I said about competition: Romance isn’t a competition. You’re going for a click with someone, and it’s either there or it isn’t. Someone out there is just going to dig you. They like how they feel when they’re with you. They like talking to you. There are things about you that they find appealing, and nobody else they know is just like you. Ducks and crows can figure this out even though they all look exactly alike! Someone out there is just going to like sitting next to you. It’s really just that simple.
The easiest way to solve the problem of self-loathing is to quit doing it. You won’t have to try to pretend you like yourself if you actually do like yourself. You belong in this world. You’re useful, I promise. Would you call 911 if you saw someone in trouble? Yes? Great, then you belong here! We need you! If you met someone and you liked each other, would you be nice to this person? Yes? Great, then you have everything it takes to be in love. Write this on your hand and get on out there.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.