This week a client wrote me about a disappointing evening. She met a guy she liked at a networking event and ... it didn't go the way she hoped.
Anyone who has been single for any length of time has probably had this kind of night. It can feel very significant in the moment, even though it doesn't really mean anything other than that you've had a bad night.
Unfortunately, my client went home and read a blog post that made her feel much worse.
I hesitate to link to this post--I've lived happily with my husband for ten years, and it stressed me out. I also don't mean to pick on this blogger in particular, as I've seen variations on this message in countless books, articles, posts, and television segments. But that is the point, so here goes:
The post begins with a letter from a woman named Betty, who is in her late 30s and having a hard time finding men her age to date--she noticed that the men who approached her online were usually ten to twenty years older. Naturally, she was frustrated and worried.
The blogger, identified only as Moxie, confirmed that her situation was very bad indeed, and proceeded to make some very disheartening, blanket statements about men. The guys who wanted children would surely look past her, but she would also have a tough time with men who didn't want kids:
A 40-45 year old man who's not interested in having children is going to want a woman who isn't dead set on having kids. Most will assume that a 38-year-old woman will want kids. And soon.
Moxie concurred with Betty's observation that men on dating sites were mostly only interested in women decades younger than themselves, but bars were no better:
Guys in bars are looking for the 25-32 year old gal. Or they're looking for desperate women who will be easy to get in to bed.
The only bright side to such a conclusion is that at least the reader can know it's not her fault. It's just math, and men who are too timid or shallow to date women their age.
But that's not where Moxie goes. The dating market is brutal, and Betty is screwed up:
I haven't met one person over the age of 35 who's still single who wasn't that way for a serious reason. And it's usually one of these: We want it all right now. We want to know where we stand. We want to know what's what right now. We aren't willing to sit back and allow things to unfold at a natural pace. We assume that if someone doesn't feel the same way we do when we do then they aren't right for us. We grow resentful of those people who do have an easier time meeting someone and that resentment morphs into bitterness and negativity. All of that stuff comes from a place of fear. A fear that we will never meet anyone, that we will end up alone. A fear that we will be hurt or left or abandoned or that we won't be in control of the situation. If you continue to feed in to that fear you will end up alone. Or, worse, you'll settle.
Once again, a space for compassion and sanity opens up. Wanting to help liberate Betty from that crippling fear, Moxie could have suggested she take some of the pressure off by accepting herself as she is and allowing her life to unfold at a natural pace. No one has complete control, no one is perfect, but we all deserve love. So why not relax, enjoy your life and do your best to find a man who has the good sense and maturity to appreciate a woman his age?
Moxie doesn't go there. Instead she proceeds to stoke that fear:
You're competing with women younger, possibly thinner, and probably making just as much money as you are and are equally successful. Either step up or move on to another league. And by step up I mean do the work you need to do to compete. That could be simply reorganizing priorities to dropping 10 pounds to going in to therapy to taking up yoga to learn how to relax. Is there something about you physically or personality-wise that might be turning men off? Because that might be it.
The final fix -- an attitude adjustment:
People who tell themselves that there is 'no one' out there for them or who focus on how they don't have someone will continue to have bad luck in the love department. You literally have to stop yourself from saying things like 'Every women/man' is this or that. You have to de-program yourself from thinking negatively.
In short: After overgeneralizing about men and women, Moxie tells Betty not to overgeneralize about men and women. After assaulting Betty with sweeping proclamations about her low value in the dating market and her messed-up attitude (a diagnosis that appears to be based on nothing more than a single email query), she tells her not to be negative. After pumping the reader with fear, she tells her to stop being so fearful.
Now that's Moxie.
Like I said, I'm writing about this post not because it says anything new, but it because it reiterates a message that women have heard again and again and again. And I'm really, really tired of nice, smart and utterly sane women buying into it.
The next time someone tells you to "be positive," I'd suggest asking "about what exactly?" Does being positive mean "embrace the fact that you're 38 and have the wisdom and crow's feet to show for it"? Or does it mean "capitulate to a culture that tells women over 35 they have little value"? Does being positive mean "be kind to yourself" or does it mean "mold yourself into someone else's idea of a desirable female"? Does being positive mean "stand up for yourself and don't take anyone's crap" or does it mean "bow to the status quo"? Does it mean "be happy" or does it mean "behave"?
I'm sure you know where I stand on this. Does taking my advice guarantee you'll find the partner of your dreams? No. But at least you won't have to hate yourself in the meantime.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.
This post first appeared on eHarmony.com.