Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s Power editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.
I feel silly even writing to you because my life is basically good. After a few years of struggling in my 20s, I finally feel like I’ve found my groove. I have a career I don’t hate, I make enough money to get by, I live in a city I like, and I have a group of supportive friends. But despite all of the things I have, I’m still hung up on the one thing I don’t: I haven’t been in a serious relationship since college.
I’ve dated a few people since then and fallen for a couple of people I probably shouldn’t have, but as I hit my 30s it’s seeming more and more like I’m just destined to be a single woman. A single woman who, like I said, has good friends and a good job and a nice life. When I say that to myself it feels like that should be enough, but some retro part of me still feels very sad about not having this one thing. So I guess my question is: How do I learn to love my objectively good life? How can I accept that this is enough?
American culture has always been allergic to need. We despise it in ourselves and recoil from it in others. So, it’s not particularly surprising that your question is not “how do I find this vital thing my life is currently lacking” but “how do I learn to stop needing it?”
In truth I’m glad you didn’t ask the former, because it’s something I ask myself every day. If I’m being honest, I identify with your letter more than I feel comfortable admitting. My life is basically the best it’s ever been in every way, but I have not loved someone who loved me back in a number of years now, and the longer this persists the more sorrowful it makes me.
I recently watched an episode of the delightful British murder show Inspector Lewis. The episode’s victim was a feminist professor who had joined a dating site and made a video about how much she wanted to share her life with someone; the video was leaked online and the horrible people of Oxford reveled in mocking her for it. This left me utterly inconsolable, which is a humiliating indictment of my current emotional state. It is humiliating to admit how much I yearn to be in love, which is sort of funny considering admitting humiliating things about ourselves has become a kind of social currency, and one in which I’ve done a brisk trade. But this confession is not wry or self-deprecating; it is corny and it leads me to think and say corny things that I am now worried my next Tinder date will discover if they Google me.
The fact is that at a certain age it becomes downright repulsive to admit you are lonely without romantic love. This has to do with our tendency to confuse the adolescent nature of desire (wanting tends to be rebellious, insatiable, and difficult to discipline) with human immaturity. To pine for love feels like a holdover from college, like binge drinking, or thinking too seriously about how we are seeing the light from long-dead stars.
But there is also something we cannot bear to witness about loneliness. In men, it is met with suspicion, because that thwarted desire is often expressed in spectacular and violent ways. In women, it is met merely with a kind of pity. For most of modern history the ideal of romantic love has been used to coerce and compel — and in plenty of places it still is — so the older, single woman is a pathetic subject who failed to do what society asks of her. In social circles like mine, where women have been liberated into wholly new and exciting ways to feel bad about ourselves, pining is foremost a sign that you have failed to self-actualize, or embrace more worthy personal ambitions.
The problem, Single, is that try as I might, I have never been fulfilled by something like “throwing myself into my work,” for the simple reason that I am naturally indolent and also not a mark. Nor do I find platonic love, as meaningful and beautiful as it can be, a satisfying substitution for someone I can feel that same deep affection for while also wanting to do frankly shameful things to their bodies. Worst is the suggestion that I should spend my time learning to love myself. The appeal of romantic love is precisely that it can free me from having to regard myself for too long, which is as boring a concept as it is horrifying. Besides, a desire that can meet itself is no desire at all.
This is probably an unsatisfying answer, and a self-indulgent one at that because, again, the lack of love in my life leads me to too much contemplation of myself, which isn’t great for anyone, really. I’m sorry about that, just as I am sorry that you do not have love in your life either. What I can tell you is that you should not try to stop wanting it.
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