We’ve all been there, right? Sitting alone at some family function or neighborhood gathering, only to be cornered by someone who hasn’t seen you in years. They grill you: “Are you dating anyone?” “When is YOUR wedding?” “How come you’re still single?”
Yeah, those questions are nosy and annoying. Wanna know what’s even worse? When people STOP asking you those questions.
I am what’s called a “relationship virgin,” a new-ish term that got picked up and made the rounds—it simply means that I’ve never had a real relationship. No boyfriends, ever. Not even the lame playground ones as a kid. I’ve never said “I love you” to a person outside of my family and friends. This is not a conscious choice I’ve made, either; it’s just how things have turned out so far.
Just to be clear, I know that the key to happiness isn’t always inside a relationship. I strongly believe in independence, in feeling like I’m enough. It’s not that I don’t feel adequate on my own. It’s taken me years of practicing self-love and acceptance to get here. But sometimes the loneliness knocks me over like a giant wave when I least expect it.
I hate that I’m highly sensitive to this issue. Most of my good friends are in long-term relationships, but we hardly talk about them for my sake. It’s not that I’m not happy for them, it’s just too painful to engage sometimes. I want to share in their experiences so badly, but you can only have so many lopsided conversations before you start to feel uncomfortable, like you’re sitting on a see-saw by yourself.
I’ve often asked myself how this came to be. I am, by most accounts, a “normal” girl. My background is identical to countless others out there. I grew up in the suburbs of a major city. I went to big schools. My social (and sexual) life is considerably active. So why has my life been, for almost three decades, completely devoid of any true romance? It may not bug everyone who finds themselves in this situation, but it sure does bug me.
After years of self-reflection and therapy, I’ve identified the how and why, both which can be traced back (like most things), to my childhood. My parents split up when I was four, which sent my short life into a tailspin. Even still, I knew what love was: the love of friends, of family, of life in general. I had just never seen it in a marriage. My only memories of my parents together involve screaming and crying. Sure, there were lots of other adult couples around in my upbringing, but it’s hard to get a realistic grasp on a relationship when you’re only witnessing it a few hours at a time. The truth is, I had no idea what a healthy, functional relationship really looked like.
By the time I entered kindergarten, I was both emotionally and physically abandoned by the most important men in my life. First, my dad was gone. Then my brother, who was supposed to be my ally during this confusing and destabilizing time, started taking out his own trauma on me. It went beyond typical brother-sister teasing. I felt tortured and unworthy of respect, and it carried on like this until he left for college. Only recently have I acknowledged just how much that shaped my childhood—it genuinely scarred me. Fortunately, our relationship is much better now.
Beyond those factors, there are my own traits and personal choices that I take responsibility for. For starters, I’m picky as hell. I can be quick to dismiss others, albeit unintentionally. I have a hard time trusting new people, which makes it challenging for me to open up. On top of that, I chose to move to a new city without knowing anyone, to follow my dream of working in entertainment, which attracts a notoriously challenging and career-driven lifestyle. While this doesn’t necessarily count as an excuse for constant singleness, it does say a lot about my priorities in life.
Some days, it’s hard to get out of bed and put a smile on my face. Weddings can be tough, for obvious reasons. Going home to visit old friends, who seem to be settling down at an increasingly rapid rate, also makes me question my own life choices. Birthdays, I’ve found, are the hardest of all.
In fact as I sit here, I am on the precipice of turning another year older. In two days, I’ll officially be in my late twenties. I brace for impact as the sadness, the worry, the fears of feeling like a fraud of a human being seep into my skin. “You’re going to die alone,” I hear myself think. It’s a dangerous black hole, and I’m constantly on the edge of being sucked in.
Over the years I’ve developed a few strategies for when this happens. A mental survival pack, if you will.
Step One: I remember that just because I have chosen a life path that is different from many of my friends, it doesn’t mean it’s an inferior one. The sacrifices I’ve made to chase a nearly impossible dream are what drive me to make it all worth it.
Step Two: I remind myself that being selective isn’t easy, but it means that I know what I want, and am not willing to settle in the process. That’s gotta count for something, right?
Step Three: I repeat the words I’ve heard countless times by family and friends: my time will come. This is something I truly believe.
Step Four: I remember that I’m not alone. I have an expansive network of tight-knit family and friends who love and support me endlessly.
Most importantly, I acknowledge the enormous benefit of spending so much time working on a different kind of relationship: one with myself. That kind of investment will only help me face hardships in years to come. In fact, it’s already paid off: I’m tough. It takes a lot to shake me, and I love that about myself. When all else fails, I can always return to myself: a place of forgiveness, self-love, and gratitude for all that I have. Regardless of what happens in the coming year, taking the time to honor these qualities is the greatest birthday gift of all.