The first time Lauren Jarvis-Gibson started to freak out over being alone was when she was in her mid-20s. While all her friends were getting serious with partners, she’d hit her third consecutive year of being single.
“At some point, you think to yourself that it’s your fault, especially if you’re a woman,” she said. “Society tells women that we can’t be complete without a partner, which is so, so wrong and sexist.”
Still, even recognizing the social pressure at play, the thought weighed on her: Will I never find someone right for me?
“I ended up spending so much of my 20s fretting that I would never find the perfect partner,” Jarvis-Gibson told HuffPost.
She’s not isolated in this experience. We hear a lot about millennials who are relationship-wary ― they’re waiting later and later to get married and only passingly interested in sex― but that’s only half of the story: Many are eager for committed, fulfilling long-term partnerships, but struggle to find the right person.
In therapy, that worry plays out in late 20-somethings and 30-somethings, often with them wondering if there’s something inherently wrong with them, said Deborah Duley, a psychotherapist and founder of Empowered Connections in Maryland.
“There is a deep-rooted belief in our culture that being single is the result of something negative the person is doing that reflects their value and worth,” Duley said. “I hear so many self-deprecating statements like, ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not girlfriend material.’”
Duley cautioned against falling into that self-loathing trap.
“The reality is, being single should be celebrated and praised, as it’s during our aloneness that we oftentimes find ourselves, our purpose and our passions,” she said. “And that’s what raises our attractiveness to others and fills our own self-love tank.”
How do you convince yourself of that when your anxiety around being single is at its peak? Below, Duley and other therapists share advice they give singles who worry they’ll never find someone.
Invest in your friendships.
We’re hard-wired for connection. If you crave companionship, ask yourself: Are there other ways to meet my social needs? For instance, if you’re sick of having nothing to do on a Friday night, ask your sister to get dinner with you bi-monthly. If you miss physical touch, a hug from a good friend does wonders.
“Not to take away from the desire to be in a romantic or committed relationship, but remember that there are many ways to have healthy and fulfilling relationships,” said Liz Higgins, a therapist in Dallas. “Nurture those friendships.”
Of course, this won’t lessen your want of a partner, Higgins noted. But “it certainly helps you stay actively connected to people in other ways.”
Stay clear of reading your future.
At the height of your worry, it’s easy to take a long view and imagine yourself still single at 35 or 40 ― whatever the particular age benchmark you fear is. Stay focused in the present, said Rachel Kazez, a Chicago-based therapist and founder ofAll Along, a program that helps people understand mental health and find therapy.
“Take it one day at a time. There’s no way to know what the future holds,” Kazez said. “You can feel how you feel now, but don’t add distress about an expectation that’s 20 years from now.”
Don’t stop dating.
If you’re completely over dating at this point, this might be the hardest advice to swallow. But don’t stop going on those first dates with promising people, said Kristin Zeising, a psychologist who works in Hong Kong. (No, it doesn’t count if you’re swiping on dozens of people on Bumble with no intention of actually meeting them.)
“You have to continue to put yourself out there, even if it feels uncomfortable,” Zeising said. “Go out with people, even those who seem like they are not the perfect fit. Be open to the experience; refining what you like and what you don’t will help you decide who is a good fit when you meet them.”
Join social groups specific to your interests.
Outside of dating, cast a wider net by joining a group or taking a class that interests you. You might not meet your future S.O. there, but who knows? Someone you befriend might know someone who’s just your type.
“There are myriad ways you can increase the odds of finding someone,” said Duley. “I always suggest clients look on Meetup for events and groups of people that share their interest.”
Don’t buy into cultural expectations that you have to be in a relationship.
If you’re a woman, your sense of urgency is very likely linked to the cultural expectation that you should be coupled up by now. Society encourages women to build goals ― even futures ― around the prospect of marriage.
Don’t fall prey to that backward thinking. Instead, focus on all you can do on your own, said Duley.
“So many women I work with achieve so much personal growth in the years on their own,” she said. “As a result, their confidence soars. Their appreciation for who they are expands, and their awareness of what they want and deserve in a partner increases.”
Funnily enough, it’s often when dating isn’t your life’s focus that you meet someone worthwhile.
“It’s when you’re comfortable in your own skin and don’t feel a panicked need to pair up that you often find love,” Duley said. “I see it happen time and time again in my practice.”