To the Serial Dater: Are You Afraid to Be Single and Alone?
Dear Serial Daters,
It’s time we had the talk. I used to be one of you… in fact, once a serial dater (see Definition #2), always a serial dater. So… I guess I am a serial dater in recovery. I used to get VERY angry about this term. How DARE someone label me based solely on the length of time between my romantic relationships?
And then I went a few months without a boyfriend… a year… two years… FOUR YEARS. Somewhere in there, I started to get it.
If you find yourself in the middle of a long series of major relationships, and you’re not quite sure how you got there, or if you look back on your adult life and you can’t clearly identify a time when you’ve been really, truly single you might want to hear me out.
Finding Your Person
From the beginning of time, humans have sought out relationships because, quite frankly, we need help with stuff. From the Adam and Eve days to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve clung to our significant others as a source of stability, prosperity, safety, and so much more. Of course, we’ve also found great love, joy, and companionship within these relationships! Being with someone you know, love and respect can be an incredible thing indeed. But as a society, we’ve kind of built up marriage, or at least committed relationships, as the be-all-end-all life goal. Some of us start dreaming of finding “our person” as soon as we’re old enough to dream! Matchmaking and online dating apps are making a killing off of this idea, and we invest a lot of money in an effort to not “end up alone.” Whether you’re going to bars or swiping on Bumble, Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid, it’s considered completely normal to use a significant amount of your free time on the hunt for “love.” Who taught us that way of thinking? And why? Is having a significant other really better than being single?
Actually, there are studies on this… while it used to be true that married folks had a higher life expectancy than singles, those numbers are starting to even out. Of course, having someone to help you put food on the table and take care of you when you’re sick improved your life expectancy back in the day, but as access to healthcare and destigmatization of gender roles (ever so slowly) catch up with the times, a single person’s life expectancy is just about the same as a married person’s. Unfortunately, there are still stigmas about being single, and there are often significant legal and financial advantages to being married, depending on what state or country you live in.
By no means am I saying you shouldn’t want to get married. Heck, more than a few platonic marriages occurred during the pandemic just because friends were desperate to help and support each other financially. Marriage can be a HUGE advantage. But it’s not everything… There is absolutely nothing wrong with being single, enjoying being single, and wanting to stay single.
The Way We Spend Our Time Shapes Us
They say the best writers are obsessive readers—they spend time engrossed in the written word. The best athletes and musicians have practiced their skills for an insane number of hours. Doctors, lawyers, and teachers have gone to school for years to master their crafts. The time we spend on any one person or practice shapes who we are, and if you’re spending all your time obsessing over finding someone to be with, are you really focused on that person, or are you focused on the hunt? If that’s what you dedicate your waking hours to, what other parts of your life are you neglecting? If the past several years of your life have been devoted to a string of boyfriends or girlfriends, you’re an expert on the subject of dating, of getting into and out of relationships, and you could probably write your own news column a la Carrie Bradshaw. But if you’re in relationship after relationship, it’s important to ask whether you actually love these individuals you’re dating or if you’re, wait for it, addicted to love.
How’s Your Current Relationship Going?
There are some tell-tale signs that your current relationship might be more based on love addiction or the fear of being single than on an actual, meaningful regard for the person you’re with. And before you freak out, it’s quite possible to have BOTH valid feelings for someone and be in a relationship that’s partly driven by love addiction. Realizing that you are grappling with the fear of being alone doesn’t mean you necessarily have to break up with whoever you’re seeing. It just means there’s some work to be done, which is what relationships are all about.
Do some honest reflection. Here are a few signals that love addiction may be part of the equation in your relationships:
- It was love at first sight. There were intense feelings that swept you away almost immediately, and you haven’t looked back since.
- You feel anxious without your person, and you hate spending time apart from them.
- You made commitments and long-term plans together very early on in the relationship.
- You get upset when your partner doesn’t behave the way you thought they would, and you have a list in your mind of things you wish could change.
- When you talk about your partner or your future together, it’s perfect and idealized.
- You resent when something doesn’t go according to plan.
- When the relationship ends, you’re hugely disappointed that they weren’t who you thought they were.
- This has happened with more than one person.
Again, you can be realizing that you’re driven by the fear of being single at the same time as you’re in a valid, loving relationship. It’s best for both you and your partner, though, to go ahead and talk about the ways in which the two of you can grow together. If you’re not in a relationship right now, it’s also worth taking a look at your patterns. In the end, that work will only sweeten the relationships you engage in from now on.
How’s Your Relationship With Yourself?
The common factor in all these relationships has been you. You are the person you have wanted all these people to love. So who are you? Who is this person you’re so afraid of leaving alone? Do you even know? I didn’t. I was so busy practicing being a girlfriend for years that I had a pretty stunted relationship with myself. I had a life, I was a stellar student, and I had tons of friends. But outside of school and relationships, I didn’t know a whole lot about me. I knew I liked pizza. I knew I liked ice cream. I knew I liked sleeping in on the weekends. Practically everything else I liked or disliked was an inherited trait from one of many relationships. My music tastes were someone else’s. My food tastes were someone else’s. My political opinions were someone else’s. My spirituality was someone else’s. Does that invalidate everything I did during those years or the love I felt for those partners? No! I wasn’t necessarily living a lie because to an extent I did love The Decemberists and gyros at the time. But I’ve had to do a lot of work since then to discover that, actually, gyros are something I love, but The Decemberists would never be on my Spotify history if it weren’t for that particular ex, and I don’t have to listen to them ever again!
Do you know whether the things you claim to love, like, or dislike are really things you love, like, or dislike? Or are you as skilled as I was at becoming the “perfect” partner to someone that your identity has changed with each relationship? Lots of things I learned and loved during a string of relationships were absolutely true to who I am today and still am. But lots of things weren’t, and I had to learn the difference. Remember my little rant about where you spend your time a minute ago? I hadn’t spent a lot of time getting to know myself, so I was no expert on the subject. I had to practice.
A manifesto on how to spend quality time with yourself is another post, but I highly recommend starting with therapy and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. If you don’t love reading, then just steal her idea of going on “dates” with yourself. You’re obviously great at dating! So take some time, whether you’re single or not, and take yourself on a date. Regularly. Make it a habit. I truly believe that you are a masterful work of art, worthy of deep, abiding love and abundant life because you are a reflection of the Creator God. Doesn’t that sound like something worthy of your time? If you don’t see yourself as worthy of that kind of time, please reach out to TheHopeLine today. We’d love to talk to you about learning to enjoy who you are.
For more on understanding love addiction and how it relates to serial dating read, Trading Love Addiction For Meaningful Relationships.