Why You're Still Single: It's Not Why You Think
If you’re a single woman over the age of 30, chances are you’ve been asked this annoying question: Why are you still single? What’s wrong with you? Or you’ve been told that you’re too picky, too career-oriented, too desperate, too this, or too that.
But author Sara Eckel bucks this negative way of thinking and perceiving ourselves with an insightful, funny, and practical book called It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single.
In it, she goes through myriad of reasons we’ve either told ourselves or had someone else tell us why we haven’t found Mr. Right. Invariably, it always seems to be the woman’s fault in the dating game, but not so, Sara says.
WorldLifestyle: Why did you decide to write this book?
Sara Eckel: I spent my 20s and 30s unsuccessfully searching for love and wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn"t find a partner. When I was in my mid-30s, I had a lot of friends who were struggling with the same thing and we would all get together and try to figure out what we were doing wrong.
But then in our late 30s and early 40s, a bunch of us started getting married. And I realized we were all basically the same people that we were when we were single — the only difference was we"d had the good luck to find the right person.
So I realized that we wasted a lot of time trying to figure out if we were too intimidating or too afraid of commitment when we were just fine. So I wrote the book in the hopes that it would help other singles not get caught in that awful energy suck.
WL: What kind of response have you had from it?
SE: It has been great! The two events I"ve had so far sold out books and were packed with really lovely people asking very smart, thoughtful questions. So the Q&As have been really lively and fun, and then I"m also getting really wonderful letters from women (a few men, but mostly women) saying that they tortured themselves with this same stuff and that reading my story and the stories of other women in the book has given them a tremendous sense of relief. Which is so gratifying because that"s exactly why I wrote the book.
WL: What do you want women to get from this book?
SE: I"d like women to explore the idea that maybe there is nothing wrong with them — that they don"t need to fix themselves to find love. They just need a little luck. Rather than asking, "What"s wrong with me?" I"d like women to start appreciating what is right with them. For example, saying no to the wrong relationship can take a lot of courage, but no one ever gets credit for that. I would like women to start giving themselves that credit.
WL: Why do you think the blame is typically put on the woman as to why she’s single?
SE: A lot of reasons. I think we still live in a culture that assumes that men are single by choice and women are single because no one wants them. We all know that"s not true, but I recently spoke with a man who was in his 40s and single and he said that no one ever really questions why he"s single. They just figure that"s how he wants to live.
"I think we still live in a culture that assumes that men are single by choice and women are single because no one wants them."
But the other thing is that we women take a lot of blame on ourselves. Someone at a reading asked me, "Why are these books always written to women?" and I said "Because women buy them." And my editor was there and backed me up on that point. If men bought books that told them they are single because something is wrong with them, they would be published.
WL: What practical things can women do to improve their self-esteem?
SE: I actually am not a big believer in self-esteem. Self-esteem is thinking highly of yourself, and there is new research that finds that thinking highly of yourself doesn"t necessarily make you happy or even make others like you more. I think what"s more doable and more useful is to cultivate self-compassion — in other words, be kind to yourself.
So for example, if you"re feeling the sting of rejection, you don"t need to buck yourself up with affirmations about how great you are. Instead, just talk to yourself the way you would your best friend — honor the fact that you"re going through something difficult, but [that] it actually doesn"t say anything so bad about you. We all get rejected sometimes, so if you can just look at it that way and then take yourself out for a nice dinner or a yoga class, I think that"s a better strategy. Just take care of yourself.
WL: What’s the best piece of dating advice someone has ever given you?
SE: I think the only conventional dating wisdom that I SHOULD have listened to was, "He"s just not that into you." I wasted a lot of time thinking about and making excuses for men who were actually not scared or whatever — they just didn"t want to be my boyfriend. I wish I had been quicker to say, "Okay, that"s how it is. Let"s move on."
WL: What is the best advice you can give to a single woman navigating dating life who does want to settle down and get married?
SE: Well, it boils down to figuring out your priorities. If you want to get married and have biological children with the person you"re married to, then there are some biological realities to deal with. So you have some difficult choices to make. Do you want to be a single mom if the right guy hasn"t come in time? What are your feelings on adoption? Egg-freezing?
The main thing is to get clear on what your options are and then decide from there what"s right for you. I spoke with one woman who did actually settle so that she could marry in time to have a baby. For me, the relationship came first, so I found my true love but don"t have kids. It stinks that we have to confront this choice, but rather than let a lot of external voices freak you out, just figure out what is best for you.
Also, read Sarah Elizabeth"s book, Motherhood, Rescheduled, which gives a lot of great data about the science of egg-freezing. If I were in my 30s and single, I would do it. I think it"s a really empowering option for women.
WL: Your book has lots of chapters pertaining to different reasons some women are still single — what were the ones you used to beat yourself up about and how did you overcome it?
SE: I used to worry that I wasn"t confident enough. And I even took acting lessons to develop my confidence. The acting lessons were fun, and I DID develop confidence. But I actually don"t think that was my issue. I think I am about average on the confidence scale, as opposed to being painfully shy or full of self-loathing. I had about average level self-esteem, which made me about the same as most married people, so I don"t really think I had to become MORE confident to find someone.
WL: I always get the question: why are you still single? What is a good retort to my annoying aunties?
SE: "I don"t know." Just say it neutrally — not good, not bad, just you don"t know. I find that the starkness of the answer shuts people up. And if they try to get you to elaborate on what your particular pathology might be, don"t play ball. Just smile and shrug yours shoulders. It"s not your job to explain yourself, and if it makes them uncomfortable, fine.
WL: Where did you meet your husband?
SE: At work. I"m a freelance writer and at the time, I was broke. I was asked to fill in for a bit at my old job, and frankly wasn"t happy about having to go back. But I did and there he was!
WL: What was the biggest adjustment going from single life to a committed relationship?
SE: I can"t be as quite spontaneous as I used to be. If I want to invite someone over, well, there is another person involved, so I need to check with my husband and make sure he doesn"t mind. He never does, but it"s just a little adjustment. But it really hasn"t been very hard to adjust to being in a relationship. Mark and I are very compatible, so if we annoy each other sometimes it"s more than worth the 98 percent of the time when we get along.
WL: Knowing what you know now — what would you tell your single 35-year-old self?
SE: You"re fine! You have successfully avoided being in the wrong relationship and therefore will be free to be in the right one. And that one will be great!
Of course, that"s me looking into the crystal ball. The other thing is that all the work I did trying to "improve" myself — yoga, meditation, etc. — was actually very worthwhile. The problem was I had a condition behind it; I"m doing this so that I can find a relationship. And when that didn"t happen, it felt like I had failed. But of course that"s not true: all the stuff I did made me happier and healthier, so I wish I could have appreciated that stuff for what it was.
"You"re fine! You have successfully avoided being in the wrong relationship and therefore will be free to be in the right one. And that one will be great!"
Sara Eckel’s book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, is out now.