It can be hard to be single at times – especially when the holidays roll around. When the universe seems determined to rub your face in not being in a relationship, it can be difficult not to be jealous of all those happy couples out there. You end up feeling like the last guy picked for kickball, the only dude not to get the invite to the party. When even dudes who don’t seem to have half of what you have to offer are coupling up, it’s understandable to wonder if you’re under an ancient curse.
It’s entirely understandable that you’re going to feel as though you’re missing out. Paradoxically though, trying to couple up isn’t the answer. In fact, focusing on trying to find a girlfriend will actually make things worse. Like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill, you’re going to find yourself miserable and further from your goals than before. And even if you do find a partner, you’ll discover that your loneliness doesn’t magically disappear.
So instead of beating yourself up about your being the Last (Single) Man On Earth, you want to focus on what will make your life infinitely better: you want to learn how to be happy being single.
Memento Mori (So Live Every Day Like It’s Shark Week)
Let’s start with asking a counterintuitive question. What will you do, how will you live your life, if you knew – with 100% certainty – that you would never have a girlfriend? And let’s dispense with the knee-jerk response of “eat a bullet because what’s the point?” This is isn’t an idle question, and I’m not asking to be cruel or to reinforce the idea that you’re going to be Forever Alone. I’m asking you to contemplate this because of the way that many, many people treat relationships.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when they focus like a laser on getting a girlfriend is that they treat a relationship as though it’s magic. When they finally fill that hole marked “girlfriend”, everything they’ve longed for will finally be available to them. The skies will open and the beaming face of God will finally shine down on them and all of their wishes will come true. They will have finally found validation and the world will respect them the way they they deserve.
Yeah, there’s that part where life doesn’t work like that. A relationship can be amazing, but it’s not the ultimate answer to your happiness or contentment. In fact, there’s very little that a relationship is going to do for you that you can’t do for yourself. And that, right there, is the problem.
One of the things that I see over and over in dudes who are so focused on finding A Girlfriend is that they have a list of things that having a girlfriend will do for them, or that they’ll do when they have one. They have fantasies of the trips they’ll take and the activities they’ll try and the adventures they’ll have. They see having a girlfriend as being an event as something that will make them into different people. And while that’s a great fantasy, that’s never going to actually happen.
Relationships don’t upgrade your personality’s OS. They aren’t magical phrases that turn you from Billy Batson into Shazam1. You will be exactly the same person you were before you coupled up, with the same hobbies, habits and insecurities. The biggest difference that being in a relationship makes is going to be how you spend your free time and some of your priorities.
Marcus Aurelius famously said: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do, say, and think.” What this means, practically speaking, is that life is fleeting and waiting to do something – anything – runs the risk of never achieving it.
So again, I ask: What will you do, how will you live your life, if you knew that you would never have a girlfriend? Will you start doing those things you’ve been waiting for a relationship to start doing? What will you do with your life to bring you joy and satisfaction? What are the steps you’re taking to live a more amazing life?
Why aren’t you doing those things now?
This is important, because making that change, giving yourself permission to live the life you want without waiting for a triggering event, gives you power. It means you aren’t reliant on an external source of happiness and validation. You’ve restored your ability to build a life that’s worth living in and of itself, not because you’re dating someone. You live for your passions, for the things that speak to your soul. You do the things that give your life meaning.
So if you want to be happy, despite not having a girlfriend, start here. What will you do to live your best, happiest and most satisfactory life and how will you get started?
While you’re at it:
Focus on Your Other Relationships
We as a culture have a tendency to prioritize romantic or sexual relationships above all others. In the relationship hierarchy chart, romance reigns supreme… which is a problem. Men in particular have a tendency to expect their girlfriends – actual or theoretical – to be all things to them, lover, friend, source of support, validation, motivation and sloppy blowjobs. And in fairness: those are all things we should want and have in a relationship. But the problem is when we make them the sole source of our emotional support and intimacy. Not only does that put absurd levels of stress on the relationship, but it also means that you disconnect from the people around you.
Even when you have a partner, having close friends is important. Despite the proliferation of social media, people are lonelier than ever before. Men in particular lack close friends – not just the people we see every day, but the people we can open up to. People who we can let our guard down around. People who we can confide in, who have our back when things get bad. And we need them. Humans are social creatures. We’re pack animals, and not having our crew literally hurts us. When we treat friends and family as being somehow secondary to the people we theoretically can swap spit with, we isolate ourselves even further than we do already.
But when you’re single, having that support group, that Team You is even more important. Having a place where you belong and where you fit in is vital to being happy, healthy and fulfilled.
This is why you want to make your platonic relationships a priority. One of the reasons why guys have fewer and fewer close friends as we get older is because building and maintaining friendships takes effort – effort that we often throw into our romantic relationships instead. Spending some time cultivating a little bromance in your life helps ensure your happiness and health, even when there’s no romance.
Just remember: friends aren’t the secondary prize to having a girlfriend. In many ways, they’re even more important. Girlfriends come and go, but brothers are for life.
Be Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
One of the most the most important parts of being happy, especially when you’re single, is to be part of something that’s more than just you. Just as prioritizing your friendships and family is important to your personal contentment, you want to find a way to connect with that sense of being more than just an individual. We may all be rugged individualists, but we also have that need to belong. We are socially oriented, and we look for our society when we don’t have one. This is one of the reasons why Reddit forums, Discord servers and gaming clans are all so popular; when we don’t have a community in person, we’ll find them where we can.
One of the benefits of finding your community is that in doing so, you find purpose and something to commit to. After all, most communities come together based around a shared belief or focus. Churches, mosques and synagogues gather people who share the same faith. Internet communities tend to form around a shared interest, whether it be comics, politics, cooking or other passions.
Finding others who love many of the things that you do, or who have had similar experiences, helps give that sense of belonging and a direction to your life. If you join a particular faith community, you may find yourself called to do good works. If you find fellow HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) enthusiasts, you may find purpose in preserving and studying classical forms of combat. Baking and cooking fans might spur a pursuit of new and different styles of cuisine. Political engagement may lead you to volunteering with your city, state or even national campaigns.
Finding a community and a cause helps bring a sense of security and belonging that we crave, as well as providing a way to connect to our passions. That sense of doing something meaningful – even if it’s just meaningful in your small corner of fellow devotees – is incredibly satisfying. Because you have purpose and drive and a sense that what you’re doing has worth, it brings a sense of fulfilment that few other things will. Because you’re doing it for yourself, instead of the approval of others, you’ll find that the contentment fills you and validates you. It helps close that hole that so many try to fill with the approval of others.
However, finding the right community and purpose is critical. It’s incredibly easy to end up joining a community that is based far more about hate and anger. After all, negativity can be seductive; having others tell you that you’re right to be angry, that you’re right to be bitter or resentful is intoxicating. But in fostering and amplifying that hate, you make things worse – both for yourself and for others.
Hate can be like a furnace, that requires constant fuel, and people who trade on hate and bitterness won’t hesitate to supply it. When you’re finding your cause, your purpose or your community, consider what they are pitching to you. Do they emphasize your ability to improve and do better and give you reason to be proud that isn’t at the expense of others? Or do they tell you that others are the cause of your misery? Do they focus on the joy of loving something, or getting angry at people who don’t love it, or who don’t love it the right way?
While we’re talking about negativity…
Let’s get back to that first question I asked you: what would you do if you knew that you wouldn’t ever have a girlfriend? As I alluded to earlier, one of the common responses is “kill myself”. And while not everybody who makes that comment is serious, it does betray a certain attitude… and an ongoing reason why you’re not happy. And – importantly – it exemplifies why you won’t be happy, even if you did find a relationship. Positive and negative attitudes have distinct and measurable effects on your life. The more negative your overall outlook, the worse you do in general. A negative, pessimistic attitude is a solid predictor of failure. Not, mind you, because you actually suck, but because it destroys your emotional resilience.
When you have a negative attitude, you aren’t able to bounce back from setbacks because you don’t believe that recovery is possible. You try less because you believe that you don’t see the point in doing more. You put less effort into your pursuits because you already believe that you can’t succeed. And because confirmation bias is a motherfucker, those failures just serve as proof that you’re a garbage person who deserves what they get.
And just as importantly, a negative attitude pushes people away. Being around relentlessly negative people is tiring. It saps people’s energy as they work to overcome the negative attitude. And past a certain point, people get sick of throwing their time and energy down a bottomless pit. So if your kneejerk impulse is to talk about going all Old Yeller if you never find a girlfriend, you can’t really be surprised that women aren’t exactly going to line up to throw themselves in the way of the shotgun.
But importantly, negativity is a habit, and one that you can overcome with time and effort. It’s difficult, no question. But it can be done. Part of it is in choosing how you see the world. Optimists, for example, see their setbacks as temporary. It may suck now… but it won’t forever. They can wait it out, they can grind it out and they can overcome it eventually. That means they’re more likely to keep trying – and to put more effort in to the attempt because this may be the time it finally works. Optimists don’t see things as universal; this individual woman may not like them, but that doesn’t mean every woman hates him. They depersonalize; their failure isn’t a referendum on how much they suck as a person. It’s bad luck, it’s poor preparation, it’s something… but that means it’s something they can fix.
And if it really is just bad luck, then it may go their way next time.
Now I’m not going to lie: it can be difficult to overcome the habit of being negative. Our brains have a built in negativity bias, that means that negative thoughts or experiences affect us five times more than positive ones. Embracing positivity takes concerted effort. You have to consciously choose to look at the world differently until it becomes ingrained in your muscle memory. And when you already have a shitty outlook, that feels unnatural. You’ll find yourself resisting it and coming up with excuses. Why should you feel good about anything when evidence is so clearly lined up against you?
Changing that outlook means being willing to admit that hey… maybe you’re wrong. Maybe your jerk-ass brain is lying to you. You lose nothing from challenging those beliefs, and you have everything to gain.
And this brings us to the paradox of being happy about being single…
The Less You Need A Relationship, The More Likely You Are To Find One
Last week, I talked a little about what I call the Somebody, Anybody, Everybody problem – the belief that you’d take anybody, as long as you could fill that Girlfriend-shaped hole. This is a supremely unappealing attitude in men; after all, no woman is turned on by the belief of “enh, you’ll do.” The idea that you’re somebody’s fourth, fifth or thirteenth choice ain’t exactly a panty dropper.
However, the other side of this is that the attitude of “I’ll take anyone” is unappealing because of what it says about you as a person. It subcommunciates to others that you have nothing going for you. A life with you will be one of boredom and dissatisfaction; a continual conversation of “I dunno, what do you want to do?” It tells your potential partners that you’re going to be a needy bag of slop who will require continual reassurance. You will be jealous and clingy, demanding and wheedling in turns
That’s not going to appeal to anyone.
On the other hand, someone who’s happy being single is showing they have value. They have drive and passion and contentment. Their lives are full and amazing – the exact kind of life people would love to be part of. A man who’s happy being single isn’t going to be intimidated by someone awesome and amazing because he doesn’t need her approval to feel good about himself. He can come to her as an equal instead of an unattractive supplicant – or worse, someone masking insecurity as bluster and arrogance. In doing so, he’s able to actually connect with her instead of trying to impress or wow her. There doesn’t have to be an agenda other than simply getting to know somebody.
Just as importantly, a man who’s happy being single is more likely to have strong boundaries and not bend with the slightest bit of pressure. He’s someone with confidence, who knows what he wants and has standards to match. He’s someone who has the confidence and assurance to walk away from a bad situation instead of pandering to get someone’s attention.
And if that woman isn’t right for him, or things don’t work out? Then that’s just fine. He doesn’t need a girlfriend to be happy. It’d be great to find someone sure. But it’s not what his life revolves around.
After all, his life is already pretty damn great.
- Yeah yeah I know his name is Captain Marvel, don’t @ me [↩]