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Dear Minda Honey,
I’m a single lady in my late-30s. I have a nice life. I’m well-educated and have a good job, and I have a lot of really fantastic friendships that I’ve cultivated and nourished over years and decades. I have friendships from all different parts of my life, and they are deep and layered and complex, and I put a lot of time and energy into them.
My problem is this: I’ve never been with a romantic partner who loved me. No one has ever said “I love you.” I’ve had only a handful of romantic relationships. They’re usually short (think less than a year), with several years in between them. I have been in love with some of these men. But as far as I know, that love has always been unrequited.
It’s been almost 10 years since my last “real” relationship, and I’m having a lot of trouble feeling like there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with me. I feel like I’m a mentally and emotionally healthy person; I go to therapy and have worked hard to make sure I express my feelings in healthy ways. And I can’t imagine that I would be able to create and maintain all of these deep and beautiful friendships if I were treating people badly.
It’s gotten to a point where I worry I’ll never have a meaningful romantic relationship because I have trouble seeing myself as lovable or desirable as a partner; it’s hard to see myself that way when clearly others don’t see me that way.
So, what can I do? This doesn’t feel like a “put yourself out there more” kind of thing; men find me physically attractive, but it never seems to go further than that. I have trouble believing that anyone would ever choose me over anyone else. Should I just not want to be special? Is there anything I can do? I just don’t know how to fix this.
I have never written into an advice column, but I read the work of my peers regularly. And when I opened your letter, I recognized it immediately as the question I would ask if I were to ask a question. Love seems to come so easy for others, so why not me? I know this feeling, and I’ve carried your question around all week, my mind returning to it frequently. It is a question that I’m not sure I have an answer for, but I will tell you what I’ve told myself.
When a wave of emotion brings this kind of worry crashing against the shore of my happy life — because this feeling comes in waves and almost always recedes, if not entirely into the background of other feelings and emotions — I’ve found what you found, that “putting myself out there” is not the answer. Swiping through online dating apps only amps up my anxiety around being alone. Rarely does anyone seem to be a worthwhile match, often bland imitations of the same type of disappointing. The ones who strike me as a possibility don’t generally reply when we match.
So, one night, I wondered, “What if this is it?” What if all the romantic comedies and concerned friends are wrong? What if my match isn’t somewhere out there waiting to meet me? What if I truly am going to die alone, despite so desperately wanting to share my life with a partner? What if I began to live the open-ended question that is my love life as if I’d already received my response?
I have a pretty excellent life. I do what I want for a living. I love and am loved by the people in my life. I’ve invested myself deeply in becoming the best iteration of myself. I have big dreams, and I draw nearer and nearer to achieving them with each passing day. Nothing is promised, not romantic love, not even when we do all the things the gurus tell us to do. This does not make us damaged any more than any other disappointing reality of our existence: Hard work doesn’t always pay off. Dreams don’t always come true. Money doesn’t always make us happy. But we are still thankful when those things do prove true for us.
This kind of knowing does not alleviate the ache of disappointment, but it does make it manageable. I can want without waiting. I can make life decisions based on my actual reality, instead of on some future fantasy based on a person who may never come or draining decisions intended to better position me to meet that person. I’m releasing that which is not within my power. I am opening myself up to possibilities beyond my expectations, to a life greater than what I can envision. I hope this helps and, at the very least, lets you know you aren’t alone in this.