Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today, we’re hoping to help someone who feels singled out by their friend group due to their relationship status.
I’m 29 and lucky enough to have various groups of friends I trust. There’s a “but”, though: Everyone’s in a relationship right now, while I’ve been single for almost five years. Most of the time I’m surrounded by couples or people talking about their partners. Sometimes, I get very uncomfortable – I often feel terribly bored.
I’m especially sick of people talking about their partners and then telling me they envy me. They say I’m so interesting: The girl who goes on dates with different people and even ends up in bed with them sometimes; the girl whose partners’ personalities deserve to be dissected when they get too attached or end up circling in infinite orbits of non-commitment around her.
I’ll admit that I do quite like telling them about my life, but then people say stuff like, “You’ll see, you’ll find the right person, too” and I like it a lot less. They say this with good intentions, they think it’s the right thing to do – or maybe they don’t actually know what to say.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes miss having someone by my side, having the kind of sex that’s only possible with intimacy, someone to share and save money with. At times, it makes me pretty sad, but that’s not the main issue here. It’s the pressure I feel when people wonder why a “girl like me is still single”. It’s the pity in people’s eyes when they’re looking at me. Everyone around me seems to be following a ready-made script.
Despite being surrounded by people who love me, why do I feel more and more lonely? How do I stop wanting to hurl my phone against the wall when my best friend sweetly asks me to go to the movies with her and her boyfriend? How do I not feel lonely when they don’t invite me and I have nothing else to do? And what if I were to still be single for a while, either by choice or by chance?
Thank you, P.
More people than ever are happily choosing to be single, according to Israeli sociologist Elyakim Kislev, author of Happy Singlehood: The Rising Acceptance and Celebration of Solo Living. Precise data about singlehood is surprisingly hard to find – most governments only track people who live alone, or who’ve never been married, and don’t necessarily measure who isn’t in a relationship.
But according to Kislev’s research, singles are the fastest-growing demographic in the world. This is due to a variety of reasons – women no longer need a man to provide for them, for instance, and value independence more. As a society, we’re also more individualistic, career-oriented and have more opportunities to migrate.
But people still hold negative views of single people, a phenomenon known as singlism, the stereotyping and discrimination of people who aren’t in a romantic relationship. These stereotypes include thinking that there must be something going on if a good person doesn’t have a partner.
Although outdated, these notions can be convincing. They can make you feel like you’re to blame in some way for being single – even when you’re mostly satisfied with your relationships. “Our thinking didn’t change at the same pace as reality,” Kislev says in a previous interview with VICE. “We still think singles can’t be trusted.”
Federica Micale and Giulia Amicone, relationship psychologists and co-founders of the mental health platform Apsicologa, say people often think being single means being alone. But people can be lonely when they’re “single, in a relationship, physically alone or out in a large group,” they write in an email.
When your friends talk to you about it, though, you perceive some pity in their words. Whether they’re well-meaning or not, it’s normal that you’d feel an emotional response towards them, which manifests in expressions of frustrations such as wanting to throw your phone at a wall.
You’re correctly identifying that you’re not inferior in any way for not having a partner. So, when someone asks why “a girl like you” is “still single,” remember that these judgements say a lot more about them, and the biases they hold, than you. “Before being single, you are P., with your body, your personality, your interests, your story, your daily life,” the experts continue. In other words, being single or in a couple doesn’t define you as a person and is likely to change many times throughout your life.
These comments might be particularly hurtful because you’re likely comparing your life to friends’, or milestones society says you’re supposed to have achieved at different ages of your life. That is perfectly normal, it’s part of human nature – but it can also weigh you down. “That’s why it’s so important to truly understand what we really value most when we feel unsatisfied,” continue Micale and Amicone.
Beyond what your friends and social environment says, you seem to want a relationship. But also, you’re OK with waiting for the right person to come along. In fact, it doesn’t seem like you’re putting any pressures on yourself at all.
When someone says, “You’ll see, you’ll find someone too,” even with good intentions, it gets a rise out of you because it puts you in a position of powerlessness. “The verb ‘finding’ is an oversimplification, and is very passive, while ‘choosing’ is proactive,” Micale and Amicone explain. “Think about how different it’d be to hear, ‘You’ll choose someone, too.’” The process of choosing a long-term partner just takes time, and can be different based on luck, priorities, maturity, and all kinds of factors.
Besides, “every condition carries with it both satisfactions and dissatisfactions, and that’s healthy and normal,” Micale and Amicone write. As long as it doesn’t become a prison or a comfort zone, it’s always an opportunity to get to know yourself, experiment and do new things.
This also applies to your friends – if being single doesn’t mean missing out on life, being in a relationship doesn’t translate to having everything you want and need. In a way, your friends being overly eager to discuss what happens with your romantic relationships may be a response to the loss of the sense of adventure that sometimes comes with being in a relationship.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se, and you enjoy sharing, too. But sometimes, it seems like it also makes you feel different, alienated, judged on some level. If that’s the case, talk to your friends and explain your point of view, or maybe establish some boundaries – things you won’t talk about with friend A. or B. because of the reaction you expect from them.
You also write that you’re sometimes lonely in your free time, particularly when your friends are out without you or when everyone resorts to couple talk. One solution could be to “ask your friends to meet with you separately,” Micale and Amicone suggest. “Even people in couples like to have moments to themselves.”
But you should also consider expanding your friendship circle to people who correspond to you more right now. “That is always stimulating and useful,” the psychologists continue. “Not because you want to, or should, abandon good old friends, but for the simple fact that we don’t always have the same interests or can share the same things with them throughout each phase of life.”
Besides, hanging out with couples only can also be limiting in terms of meeting romantic partners. “There can be friends we can get on very well with and like to go out for dinner with or to an exhibition, or trekking,” Micale and Amicone write, “and others who we prefer to go out dancing and meeting people with.”
This doesn’t mean you don’t love your friends or appreciate them deeply. But whether single or not, we change throughout life – as do our needs and expectations. Distinguishing what’s good for us, from what we’ve been taught to believe, is a big task – but you’re well on your way to accomplishing it.
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