Hey man, being single tends to feel one of two ways. You’re either the bachelor, strutting around watching people watch how wonderfully single you are, revelling in freedom and hobbies, avoiding commitments and compromises. Or you’re just single. As in, not with someone. Lonely, maybe. Watching people on the street, looking for someone to catch your eye. Conversations begin with a single-minded goal. Swiping is either essential or numb. Life feels unsettled.
Right now, it sounds like you’re closer to the second set of circumstances, which isn’t nice – I’m sorry to hear it. It also sounds like you’re not exactly keen to be in a relationship either, right? You’re caught between the two: all the freedom and seemingly unable to enjoy it; a cruel state of affairs.
You probably know this, but feeling dissatisfied with being single while also falling for and backing away from potential partners, suggests “you’re unable to enjoy being single on your own terms,” says Match dating expert Hayley Quinn. It’s a difficult pill to swallow: knowing that you’re just not quite at ease with yourself and are looking for external validation.
“One of the hardest parts of the [dating] process is admitting that you aren't enjoying being single and that you are relying on others as a source of happiness,” adds Jessica Alderson, the co-founder and relationship expert of dating app So Syncd. You’ve said it yourself too, you want to “just enjoy being single”. Let’s get into how you might be able to do that.
”It's a naff word but a journey of self-discovery is a great and powerful opportunity,” says life coach Katie Scrafton. That’s likely the main step to feeling better in this instance: Self-discovery. Remembering who you are, and getting back into loving yourself, independent of other people.
Learning to enjoy single life isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Not to be too deep, but we can’t predict what’ll happen around us – people come and go, relationships and friendships fizzle out, sometimes people come back around, other times they don’t. We can’t really control it. What’s guaranteed is, you’re stuck with silly old fucking you, so you might as well do your best to enjoy your own company.
Scrafton says to make a list “of things that you really love to do, or haven't done but feel you might enjoy”. She’ll often use “the marker of: when do I not check my phone?” The idea is you’ll end up with a list of things to experience that’ll reconnect you to yourself. Include “guilty pleasures” or those activities you’ve always pondered but perhaps been a little too nervous to actually try. Anyway, if it feels proper cringe to mention your hobby to anyone, you can always keep it to yourself initially.
If you’re able to imagine a weekend on your own and it sounds fulfilling, motivating and fun, then you’re set, right? Perhaps that weekend is a nice walk, some potato smilies for lunch, some flower arranging, solo dinner and then checking out some obscure gig that nobody you know really wants to be at as much as you do. Nice, right? That’s your life. It sounds good. (And if that sounds fucking horrible, make your own adventure!)
Implement Scrafton’s advice by doing your own thing and embracing alone time. It doesn’t mean we have to become creatures of complete solitude – life’s rough, we need company, friends and/or family, so yes, text mates often, arrange a coffee here and a beer there. It’s more that we shouldn’t be relying on company to make ourselves feel good or to reassure us.
We should know ourselves, have a sense of how we can get through the day on our own, and go to friends where insight is needed. Honestly, from experience and from looking at many of my mates, being self-aware tends to allow people to be more comfortable with who they are – and consequently less vulnerable when approaching and reaching out to mates.
“The thing to remember is, if someone's been in your life long enough and cares about you, they will listen to you and not take the piss,” says Michelle Elman, life coach and author of the Joy of Being Selfish. Even if there’s a bit of banter beforehand, they’ll be there when it’s serious.
The other issue here, as you’ve mentioned, is that you’re chasing people and feeling unhappy each time. It’s probably related to the stuff we’ve just talked about. "If you're waiting for someone to fulfil all your requirements and dissatisfactions, actually you're asking for something that you're not willing to give yourself," adds Elman.
Working on your personal happiness is, in some way, a bit of a cure-all here. That being said, there’s other aspects to chasing and being dissatisfied. “When we want things to work out, we often romanticise and embellish how we feel and how time spent with them was,” Elman says. We’re also likely to underestimate aspects of the other person that we’re less into, or find less in keeping with what we want from a relationship. Some might call them red flags, trivial ones or otherwise, but by overplaying some traits and minimising others, we can create a false sense of chemistry that only depletes over time.
Quinn suggests that because you can’t connect with every person you meet, “you shouldn’t try to. Instead, it’s good to define some basic standards for what you want from a future partner”. Enjoying being single doesn’t mean never dating and living a life of celibacy. It’s more about replacing the mindset of needing to get with someone to feeling at ease on your own, and keen to explore romantic opportunities that genuinely feel good, if and when they arise.
You might feel the intrusion of social pressure – mates all coupled up, parents on your case, whatever it might be – but remember that their lives are not yours. Provided you’re healthy and happy, people aren’t going to be on your back if they truly care about you. Ultimately, you can’t force happiness.
Elman says that a good way to keep a level head when seeing people is, “before telling any of your friends about a date you’ve been on, write down the things you notice: both the positive and the negative – this isn't to judge or shame anyone. This is simply so you can keep an accurate reflection of the date".
So if you’re struggling to enjoy being single, and know trying to get with people isn’t hitting the stop, well, perhaps try your best to give it a miss for a little. Life’s too short for suppressed feelings and insincerity. Fobbing people off constantly is exhausting for everyone involved.
If you find it rough, you can make other friends at a similar point of life by following your hobbies. Say you go to a different pub than usual before the football, or you check out an event at a bookstore; while there, say hello to people, ask if they’re going to a future event and follow each other on social. Lo: A friendship quickly begins.
I hope this begins to answer the questions. Really, a lot of it comes down to dedicating time to yourself. Walking about, looking at the things you love, remembering who you are as an entire person, not half of something else. Remember you’ve got your mates and family, but more than that – you’ve got your own back. From there, many problems will likely fade, and for the long-term. It’s never easy, but it is worth every effort. Good luck, man.