If you’ve been solo for any length of time, you probably get this question (or some variant) often. It’s usually precluded by sweet, well-intentioned aphorisms about your many charms (which you awkwardly accept with a self-deprecating nod of the head), and then followed by “You’re such a catch!”
It’s unlikely you have a cogent response that anyone actually wants to hear, so you either go for the easy answer…
- I just haven’t met the right one yet.
- I’ve been more focused on work/parenting/projects/travel/living my life.
- I don’t know! Do you have any single friends?
Or you go for self-effacing…
- You’re not exactly unbiased about me(, Mom).
- I’m not really such a catch.
- <shoulder shrug>
Or, if the person is really looking for an authentic answer, you go a little deeper, but still keep it to a sentence or two…
- I’m sure it’s a combination of things — I think I may be too picky, but I haven’t met anyone lately who gives me that shiver and spark.
- I don’t know, maybe it’s just bad timing? It’ll happen when it happens.
- This city, man. The pool is shallow, I’m looking for a unicorn, and I’m not exactly easy to date.
And the truth is probably some amalgamation of all of those responses, wrapped up in your own doubts about your ability/desire/worthiness to recognize and hold on to your next true love.
The longer answer is multifaceted…
You’re pretty sure you’ve already met someone (maybe even several someones) who would have been perfect for you in a longterm relationship, but the timing was off. Maybe you weren’t in a place to recognize that she was everything you actually wanted in a companion, and you let her drift away, not realizing until months (or years) later that you really fucked up.
Or she was fresh from a breakup, and you were just a little too awesome, too soon. She recognized the potential in you, but wasn’t ready to start something with a future. If you’d been less articulate and sensitive, kind and charming, you would have been seen as a fun, temporary distraction, and she would have been more into going out (or staying in) with you.
Or you crossed paths with each other and both felt a stirring, deep-in-your-soul connection, but one or both of you was seeing someone else at the time, or was moving out of state, or you were both so deep in work and parenting schedules and other ambitions that you never made the time to figure out what was truly possible.
Or maybe she wants kids and you’re pretty sure that you don’t want to reset the parenting timeline.
Or maybe she lives in another country.
Or maybe you think she could be the one, but she has long since moved on.
Face it—you’ve dated several highly qualified candidates in your years of singlehood. Smart and pretty, well-traveled and fun to be around, successful, lovable, fit, and socially gifted. But you were always skilled in finding some random feature that kept you just emotionally removed enough to keep her at a distance. Maybe it was her choice of perfume, or the way she said “so.” Maybe she was an early bird and you were a night owl. Maybe she was a vegan.
Whatever it was, you made it the defining reason to not pursue things further. It’s possible other, larger issues were involved, but the smaller ones were easier for you to put a finger on, and therefore place importance behind.
But it’s also possible that you were just being an idiot.
Holding Out for That Feeling Again
In your last relationship, which only lasted months, you were smitten from the moment you met her. And as you two started spending more time together, moving toward something exclusive, you fretted and panicked, wondering if you were truly capable of being in a committed relationship again. You made little unconscious mistakes that could have sabotaged the whole story, but she was willing to talk through things with you, because she might have been doing the same thing.
Much sooner than you expected, you started to truly enjoy having her, and only her, in your life. Your heart beat faster when it was time to see her, and you deleted the dating apps off your phone. You met her parents, and she met yours. Your friends thought she was adorable, and you felt an extra surge of affection and happiness when you started attending social events as a couple. You belonged to someone, and it felt right. You told her you loved her.
You were 100% in it when things went sideways, and it took you months (years?) to get over the heartache. But the good news was that you knew what it felt like to be in a relationship again, and you fucking loved it.
Everybody said, “Well, now that you know, it’ll happen again. And soon. Now you’re primed for it.” But the years keep going by.
Nobody is perfect, and you are more aware of your own failings than anybody else.
You have a ridiculous schedule, meaning short windows of available time — these are both externally- and self-imposed. From your parenting nights and weekends, to your nonprofit work, to necessary alone time when you can wallow on the couch and watch bad TV, your free evenings are limited. Which leads to your pathological aversion to committing to plans more than a few days in the future. Your responses to putting things on the calendar range from, “Let’s figure it out next week!” to “Yep, that could work.” It’s not that you’re waiting for a better offer, though you know that’s how it comes off. You’re just over-protective of your limited free time.
You’re also a little too in love with your social presence, a little (or a lot) too connected with your mobile device. Even when it’s put away, you can feel it beckon. And of course, you’re constantly documenting your life, from Instagram meals to Snapchat summers to Twitter relationships. You’re present, but not exactly, and though you work hard to keep the phone in your pocket during dates and romantic interludes, sometimes it sneaks out for a look-see or a quick snap.
Sometimes, you’re too circumspect, and take too long to open up and come around. And other times, you’re too much to handle. Too enthusiastic, too soon.
Plus, you have all of the usual quirks and faults of a grownup — miscellaneous weird habits and predilections, particular priorities and preferences, long-ingrained ways of doing things. An assortment of random faults that someone else can latch on to as an excuse to not date you, the same way you do when you find them in others. And when you’re excited about someone new, but she never seems to go out of her way to make time for you, you wonder which quirk she picked up on.
You don’t often feel like a catch.
So…yeah…why are you still single?
The good news is that, in spite of a decade-plus of disappointment, heartbreak, mixed up priorities, and poor decisions, you’re still optimistic that your match is out there, and that she’ll recognize in you something worth connecting with, holding on to, and building together. So you keep swiping through Tinder and Bumble and Jswipe and whatever new app shows up on your radar. You smile at the stranger in the bookstore, or see what might happen with the girl at the rock show. You go on second and third dates because you know your capacity for dismissing someone of quality could hinge on your own inanity. You accept every set-up, you force yourself out into the world even when you’d rather curl up under your comforter.
You keep your heart open to possibility, because the alternative is just too damn depressing.
You watch as the trees in front of your house explode in fragrant blooms the color of sunlight, then shed their flower petals and green up in early summer, their leaves fading to lemony yellows and deep orange before falling in melancholy groups of three or four in autumn. Then their branches, stark and naked as the days dwindle into briefer and briefer windows of furtive light, become laden with snow, looking oddly similar to those springtime blooms that have become a distant memory, before melting away to reveal new buds as the cycle renews itself again.
“It’ll happen soon,” you whisper to yourself as each new season makes its hushed transition across your transom. And you still believe it every time.