Here I am, 29 years old and still single as fuck.
On Easter Sunday, I was ghosted by a man I’d been dating for two months. How the fuck am I still being ghosted? By men over the age of 25 with like, real jobs and shit?
I started wondering why this keeps happening to me, and that sent me into a crisis. Though I didn't feel like I'd done anything wrong, I began asking myself whether it was possible that, in some way, I might be the problem? Is it possible that my perception of myself and my actions has been completely off, and I’ve been doing something to drive people away all along? I feel like I present myself as a stable and emotionally available woman, but am I actually just coming off as a scary hot mess?
I decided to put my thick skin to the test. I surveyed friends, men I’ve had sex with, even my mom, and asked them to be brutally honest in answering this very simple question: What the fuck is wrong with me?
Here’s what some of them had to say:
Jordan [Friend of a year who I briefly hooked up with, but is now back to just being a friend]: “To me it’s kind of like a standoffish judgy vibe… you just read as like, ‘I hate everything’ and ‘why am I here’ at all times, and sometimes you can be not fun. I haven’t seen you ever enjoy anything or be happy.”
Jules [Close friend since high school]: “You're simultaneously self-deprecating and also self-assured, but maybe both of those stem from insecurity. [You’re] determined, but fearful and sometimes dismissive, but of your own personal responsibility, not of other people.”
Katherine [Close friend of 8 years]: “I think your in-person vibe is very different from the vibe you give off on the internet […] in person your vibe is still ‘take no shit,’ but you're more sensitive and warm. If I were a dude who matched with you on an app and then went looking for your work, I can see being overwhelmed by the number of jokes about how bad men are.”
Max [Met on Tinder and dated for around two months]: “Been thinking about this… you’re too committed to your brand? Because of the fact that you make (certain aspects of) your dating life so public, there were moments when I wondered if you were partly with me for the story/for material.”
Matt [Went on a few dates back in 2015, then he ghosted me. Reconnected as friends like a year later]: “You come off pretty ‘normal’ until you feel wronged and then you can be kinda scary.”
Alexandra [Close friend of 3 years and co-host of my podcast]: “You tend to bend over backward for dudes who don't deserve it. Try to get to know someone and slow it down instead of idealizing them in your head. Don't dive in head first, and really think about if this person is going to be a good partner and a good fit for you.”
Anita [my mom]: “You need to dress better. I hate everything you wear. You can be so stubborn, like you always know what’s best for yourself. You don’t always know that.”
So does the stuff these people said about me ring true? Honestly, no.
However, as Mark Leary, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, explained, we tend to be biased in our perception of ourselves.
“We have stake in what we are like,” he told me. “We’d rather see ourselves as competent and moral rather than incompetent and immoral, so we interpret our actions in self-serving ways.”
“If you look at things as honestly and non defensively as possible, and then conclude that others have an inaccurate view of you, that seems fine,” he added. “But too often, we automatically dismiss others’ views of us just because we don’t like the implications.”
Alright, fine. Looking at my criticisms as non-defensively as possible, I guess I can own up to a few of the flaws listed.
Maybe I do have a tendency to be overly judgmental, and I suppose I can tone down how scary I get when I’m not texted back in a timely manner. I probably am a bit too career focused, or as Max put it, too committed to my brand. I suppose I do tend to catch feelings a little too fast, and my soft side isn’t really the part of me I openly display online. Fine, you all can have that.
However, there are still some things in there that I refuse to believe are true. Like Jordan saying I never have fun, I strongly disagree. I just wasn’t having fun at the stupid events he was inviting me to, where the majority of people in attendance were under the age of 23 (wait, is this being judgy?).
This actually brings up another thing about perception. We also have biased views of others, meaning nobody can ever actually know anything about anyone or themselves.
As Leary noted, “Other people’s impressions of us are filtered through their own personalities and views of the world. Each person we interact with can influence us to act in slightly different ways as we respond to what they are like and the kind of relationship we have with them.”
So, to Jordan, I’m boring and a downer because he never saw me in environments I was happy to be in. My mom thinks my sense of fashion is awful, but that’s because every time I visit her I am wearing my IDGAF clothes, because who am I trying to impress at my mom’s house?
So, what did I learn from this? I guess that we're all flawed, emotionally stunted idiots in our own fun little ways, and we can never be fully aware of how, because we all perceive things differently. And that's OK. I was actually happy to read some of these negative comments about me, because oddly enough, it just more deeply solidified who I am. I think my biggest problem is turning to self-blame—something I think every perpetually single person does at least once, or twice, or 80 times in their life. My biggest hurdle is to stop feeling like I’m some sort of freak or outlier just because I don’t have a stable romantic partner.
After this, there are a few things I feel compelled to improve on, but I am also not going to obsess over it. It seems to me that the healthiest outlook of yourself is one that knows exactly what you’re doing right but also exactly what you’re doing wrong, and loving yourself anyway.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.