Seven years ago I gave a ring back to a boy. We both knew something was missing. I temporarily left my mending heart in San Francisco, but the rest of me was headed for the mecca of fresh starts and endless possibilities: New York City.
I didn’t expect to be engaged again in a New York minute, but I certainly never imagined I’d be single for nearly the length of a two-term presidency. In your twenties, this sort of scenario sounds scary but highly implausible. Before you know it, you’re almost 35 and a walking cautionary tale.
When you haven’t used the word ‘boyfriend’ in years (except paired with ‘jeans’), your family and friends start to sound like those talking toys where you pull the string and they predictably say one of three things:
· Maybe you’re too picky?
· Have you tried online dating?
· Want me to set you up with [the only other single person I know, despite the fact that he lives in Canada?]
Your answers will predictably be: I’m really not; Of course I have; The only Canadian I’m attracted to is taken (and running the country).
Stay on the open market long enough, and you will inevitably start to doubt your own general degree of awesomeness. Is there something wrong with me? You can’t help but wonder. (Unless you are male, in which case such doubts will likely not penetrate your healthy ego until your late forties, if ever.)
In an effort to answer this question for my own sanity, satisfy the curiosity of others, and perhaps ease the anxiety of fellow singles, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I’ve been primarily solo since The Walking Dead premiered seven long seasons ago.
Feel free to agree, disagree, or conclude that I must just be ugly.
1. The Swipe-ocalypse
When I moved to NYC in the fall of 2010, there were no mobile dating apps. Some people were on Match and OkCupid, but these old school dating sites were largely regarded as backfill for the hotties you hoped to meet in person.
I got asked out in real life—sometimes even in broad (sober!) daylight—about once a fortnight. Often I’d say yes, and we’d have a fun date or three. But this analog courting ritual was about to go extinct.
A few years later, Tinder took over the city, and people stopped making eye contact on the street and in bars. Why risk rejection in person when your phone has dozens of prospects lined up — ones that have already swiped right?
The pitfalls of binge matching have been covered in detail, so to sum up how Tinder and its ilk have made dating harder: We’ve traded in quality for quantity, for the safety and convenience of hiding behind our thumbs. To wade through hundreds of ‘hot or not’ photos for the validation of our own looks by a stranger’s half-hearted swipe. Most of these strangers will remain just that, because no one cares enough about anyone when they have easy access to everyone.
If you somehow graduate from the idle chit-chat phase to meet-up logistics, not caring enough becomes comically obvious. “Sorry, I get a nosebleed if I go above 42nd St.” “Wait, you live in Brooklyn? This’ll never work.”
App dating felt like going through the motions, ultimately going nowhere. Then I realized that my age is auto-filtered out of many Tinderfellas’ match picks, anyway, because…
In Hollywood it’s no secret that women go from being leading lady material to playing her frumpy aunt in about the same time it takes an avocado to go from dragon egg hardness to overripe mush. In other words, overnight.
I didn’t know how closely art was imitating life. My last serious relationship ended at 28, still in my dating prime by city standards. I was the easy, breezy, super-chill gal who didn’t crave commitment or procreation. Then I turned 30.
Friends started getting married like it was last call, and my once breezy ovaries were suddenly preheating. I didn’t want kids yet, but I started growing instinctively impatient with the glacial pace of casual dating, and with men who were clearly light years away from settling down.
With the constant influx of new breezy girls in their twenties, I could sense my pool of available men shrinking like the polar ice caps, and it wasn’t just my imagination, because…
3. There is Literally a Shortage of Men
In Date-onomics, Jon Birger writes about the significant, quantifiable shortage of college-educated men in America. For the last decade, there have been four females graduating for every three males. For the twenty years before that, it was 5:4. This has caught up to us nationwide. In NYC, there are 100,000 more college-educated women under 35 than men. I’m no mathematician, but that’s quite a lot of extra yoga pants.
With such a palpable gender imbalance, the economic laws of scarcity and game theory help explain why men and women start behaving differently, often without consciously realizing it. Men naturally play the field more and delay commitment, while women are forced to compete with each other for fewer desirable partners, which increases promiscuity and fixation on looking hot.
Realizing that the odds were never in my favor, I felt equal parts vindicated and demoralized, and considered moving to one of the few male-surplus areas, like Denver (Menver). But by then I’d been stuck in the dating loop so long that I had a serious case of…
4. Dating Burnout
If you’re still single past your early thirties, congratulations, you have now been dating for half of your entire life. You’ve devoted untold time and energy to searching for, getting to know, and getting over potential mates.
Human evolution hasn’t prepared us for the massive social and technological shifts of the last few decades. On paper the prospect of doing your dating homework and seeing who else is out there sounds smart. But in practice it’s confusing and exhausting.
Even if you genuinely enjoy going on alcohol-infused interviews, you can only do it for so many decades before it feels like Groundhog Day. “So, cats or dogs?” “The beach or the mountains?” “Favorite hobby?” Oy.
Compounding this perfect shitstorm of swiping, aging, man-shortage and burnout…
5. Being Alone > Mr. Wrong
Some people would rather pass the time with a partner they don’t really see a future with, than be alone. Personally, I much prefer to be alone than in a half-assed relationship.
Over the years I’ve parted ways with some truly wonderful guys because I knew I couldn’t match their level of interest in me. Call it refusing to settle or being the proverbial ‘picky’, but I just can’t do it.
Of course, these seven years have taught me plenty about myself and what kind of person I should be on the lookout for. On some level, I know I needed to be single for an absurdly long time to learn hard lessons about life that could not be learned any other way.
I also know this: It feels a thousand times lonelier to lie next to someone you don’t truly love, than to lie alone.
So what I’m left with is faith in the universe and its timing, even if it, like me, can be unfashionably late.