I’m 47, single since I was 34, and beyond sick of it. My longest relationship lasted for just over a year, on and off, and the others were what you might call “friends with benefits”. I attract men, but they don’t stick around (although they never stay single for long themselves), and the constant rejection, not to mention Christmases and birthdays spent alone or with married friends and family, has worn me down...
Response from Sally Brampton:
You’ve given me very little about yourself in your letter, but there are a few clues. I wonder, for example, if those “homely types” might be a bit more laid-back and nurturing? Both the adjectives you use about yourself suggest possible defensiveness. Funny is great, as long as we’re not talking biting wit (or barriers to intimacy, which is why therapists dislike humour as a means of communication), and I’m all for being outspoken, but there’s a difference between being direct and downright tactless. It might be worth asking friends for help by listing your good qualities and those that might be off-putting. This takes enormous honesty and courage, but it’s a useful exercise in self-awareness. Do, though, focus on the good, rather than dwelling on the bad — the bad are simply pointers to behaviours we should avoid, while the good are about strengthening our connection with others.
I know you’re going to hate the word “desperate” (don’t we all?), but getting to the point where you feel actively suicidal because you’re single does sound like it. And, sad though it is (because it’s the very opposite of what we need), even a whiff of desperation drives people away. Imagine, if you like, the school playground and the kid who goes around begging everybody to be their friend: “Please, please like me.” The other kids run a mile.
Every dating expert maintains that relationship success is about slowing down and concentrating on your own happiness, rather than hunting around for somebody to provide it for you. That doesn’t mean you should stop with the meeting and greeting; just that you might try doing evening classes, holidays and clubbing because you enjoy them, rather than thinking of them as a springboard to meeting men. There’s something attractive about people independent enough to have a good time, simply for the joy of it. The more we enjoy ourselves, the more others enjoy us. The happier we are with ourselves, the happier other people are to be around us.
If you’re feeling suicidal, I think that it’s really important to get some counselling for the sake of your emotional health. Not only will it help you challenge negative beliefs (“Nobody will ever love me”, “I’m incapable of having relationships”), it will help you to understand your own needs and build your confidence. We can unwittingly sabotage our relationships in ways that are entirely unconscious. There’s also a book you might find helpful — Finding Mr Right: The Real Woman’s Guide to Landing That Man by Annie Harrison (JR Books £5.99). Despite the unfortunate title (with its slightly predatory overtones), it’s a helpful and often reassuring anthology of personal stories and professional perspectives. Most of all, try to be open to possibility. It’s what makes life worth living.
If you have a relationship question for Sally, e-mail email@example.com.