On love and loneliness
The truth about singlehood in your mid twenties
That one tiny four-letter word starting with L. Lost.
You thought I was going to say ‘love’, right? Unfortunately, I don’t actually know what that means or feels like. Sure, I love my family, I love travelling and I love stalking Henry Golding on Instagram, but that rush of dopamine and oxytocin that makes those fireworks go off when you fall head over heels for someone? That’s the love I think will forever remain a mystery.
When I was as young as 12, my parents would ask about my life goals. At the time, I had it all planned out — I would graduate school, work hard to save up enough money to buy a property, study Journalism at University, get a full-time job in the industry, find my Prince Charming by 26 and live, you guessed it, happily ever after. It was my fairytale dream.
But in the midst of studying, juggling multiple jobs, maintaining somewhat of a social life and trying to keep on top of my health, that last little detail involving my significant other somehow got left behind. It was that part of my linear “timeline” I thought would just come naturally. Yet, here I sit a few months away from turning 26, having never been in a relationship, nor in love.
It’s a peculiar position, really — people half my age probably have more experience in the love domain than me, and I have more friends who are in long-term relationships, engaged or welcoming babies into the world than those who are fellow singles. Label it a quarter-life crisis but it’s a daunting wake-up call knowing every day I’m a step closer to the big 3-0.
As someone who silently struggles with insecurity and adores nothing more than structure, it can be disconcerting when that missing piece of the puzzle I thought always seemed like a given, is still a looming question mark. I’d sum it up as the other L-word: loneliness.
And thanks to Covid lockdowns, this pit of confusion has only been prolonged for the inevitable future, for myself and any other singles reading this right now. Losing more time in 2021 for enjoying dates and meeting people is something people didn’t think they could spare. Literally, the most physical contact I’ve encountered over the past few months in hibernation has been with the bottle shop staff asking me for my ID. Wild.
Look, I’m definitely in no rush to have children, but I would expect this urgency and panic to be exacerbated for those who are in somewhat of a biological rush. I understand the feelings you might have being single — every morning in lockdown you drag yourself out of bed and look in the mirror only to see someone devoid of self-dignity. What’s the point in improving your looks now if you’ll probably be alone forever? You spend your days on the couch binge-watching all the cute rom-com series on Netflix in hopes it will lift your spirits and give you something to look forward to post-lockdown. However, this only triggers your emotions, so you resort to scrolling through social media and see your feed flooded with posts of your friends enjoying their time with their significant other while stuck at home. You’re happy for them but can their relationships get any more perfect?
The same questions start pouring in — Does my future only hold more loneliness? Am I too much of a lone wolf already? Maybe I’m single at heart? Is it my personality that’s holding me back? Is it my looks? Do I need to conform to TikTok beauty standards and get a nose job? Is there even such a thing as ‘The One’? Are those fireworks just a scam sold to us through Hollywood films and our obsession with The Bachelor?
For me, there’s also the question of “when and if I ever enter a relationship, will I even know how to be in one for it to last?” I’ve grown up with adults telling me things like “experience makes you a better person”, “you learn from your mistakes” and “practice makes progress”, so what’s the deal when it comes to love and relationships?
The dating app dilemma
Friends have urged me to hop on dating apps in an effort to put my introverted self out there. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from downloading, deleting and then re-downloading these apps more times than I can count, it’s that they’re great for nothing else but momentary validation of chatting to someone you’ll probably never meet — and even that conversation will be inevitably shallow.
Also, how in the world are you supposed to nail a digital date when you’re stuck in lockdown? I already dread work Zoom calls, so how could I possibly pull myself together for someone I actually need to impress? And let’s say I do decide to schedule a meet-up in person — will I even be able to maintain a conversation with that match until we’re able to come out of hibernation? There are only so many “how was your day?” texts I can send and reply to before I mentally call it quits.
“Will I even be able to maintain a conversation until we’re able to come out of hibernation? There are only so many “how was your day?” texts I can send and reply to before I mentally call it quits.”
Don’t get me wrong, despite my failed dating app attempts (mostly caused by my lack of enthusiasm after seeing one too many topless bathroom selfies and fishing photos, or receiving creepy pickup lines), I know success stories do come out of said apps. It’s just that the chances of this happening are, sadly, slim.
Even if you do muster up the courage to voluntarily meet up with a complete stranger post-lockdown (who is, fingers crossed, vaccinated) — there’s a good chance the spark isn’t there, they can’t hold an adult conversation or worse… you’re catfished. Then, it’s back to endless hours of swiping and going on more meet-ups for a couple of weeks until you actually find someone that seems relatively normal. But what are the chances this match lasts? What if they ghost you? And so, you’re back to square one and the cycle continues yet again. Before you know it, you’ve wasted valuable months (or even years) desperately trying to form connections with people who probably don’t even deserve you in the first place.
These apps make you fall into the curiosity trap of thinking maybe there’s someone better on the next swipe. And unlike The Bachelor, you don’t know who you’re competing with — for all you know, the only person you’re investing all your time and energy into could be juggling eight other matches in their DMs.
Don’t let singledom rob you of your happiness
There’s no doubt modern dating is exhausting and while it might feel like you’re failing in the love and relationship department, please let me share a little bit of optimism: the pursuit of love isn’t the necessary end-goal that will solve all your problems.
I may not know much about intimate relationships aside from what rom-coms, reality TV shows and Reddit forums have taught me, but I’m confident in telling you that you are not alone and you are far from worthless.
That anger and frustration you’re feeling? That doubt and procrastination? It’s signalling something is out of balance within. The loneliness may feel perpetual and lockdown languishing may have robbed you of all hope and motivation, but now more than ever before you should – and need to – start focusing on yourself.
If my time in lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that being loved starts with loving yourself. I know, I know, it sounds corny AF, but doing this is one of the most difficult yet fulfilling challenges you can set yourself. Forcing love isn’t the key to success; you need to become an authentic expression of who you are inside and only when you’ve completely embraced this concept, will you be fully capable of truly loving others.
We work ourselves up our entire adolescent lives to be so stressed about relationships needing to achieve certain points dotted out on this so-called “timeline” that we forget these points are actually meaningless in retrospect. Instead, learn more about yourself, re-evaluate your priorities and invent your own non-linear timeline devoid of pressure.
Because as they say, age is literally just a number.
Now closer to 30 than 20, I’ve learned that adulthood works in meandering ways and to be honest, I have a bucket list of goals I would love to achieve while I’m still single, so this is what I’m looking forward to the most after lockdown.
Nothing forced is worth having and when that missing piece of your puzzle unexpectedly waltzes into your life — whether that’s tomorrow or in 10 years’ time — those fireworks will finally explode for you.