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How I Feel About Dating When All My Friends Have Partners

Relationships

January 22, 2024

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Photography by Keri Oberly/Getty Images

Photography by Keri Oberly/Getty Images

by Anne-Marie Varga

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Medically Reviewed by:

Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST

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•••••

by Anne-Marie Varga

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST

•••••

•••••

I’m at a point in my life where I don’t want to date, but I do want a companion. This is how I’m navigating my conflicting feelings about being single.

I’m historically bad at breakups. When I care deeply about someone, and it doesn’t work out, I tend to fall apart. To me, the thought of getting emotionally close to someone — sharing my most intimate thoughts and feelings — only for them to travel down a completely different path that will most likely never again cross mine is devastating.

A breakup, to me, can sometimes feel like a death. The big difference is that the latter is not something you tend to choose.

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Feeling like the only single friend

I’m in my late 20s, the age when my friends are naturally starting to pair off. Some are enjoying the dating scene, and some are loathing it. Others are content in their long-term relationships, and a few are even married.

My former roommate and I decided not to renew our lease because she was ready to move in with her girlfriend. My high school best friend has been with her partner for 6 years. They have a home and pets and are as good as married.

I attended my best friend’s wedding this fall. It was gorgeous, and I cried during the ceremony — both because I was happy that she had found her happily ever after and because I realized I was deeply lonely.

Watching my friends settle into relationships has, naturally, changed our friendship dynamics. Plans with my friends are navigated around their plans with their partners. Boyfriends and girlfriends are now invited to game nights. Wives and husbands are now included in the group chats.

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Being comfortable alone but craving companionship

I’ve had friends in the past who bounce from relationship to relationship, never really seeming to find time to be alone and get to know themselves. I worry that I have the opposite problem. I’m so comfortable being alone that I’m not sure I know how to be in a relationship.

At times, I find myself thankful for my independence. I find beauty in navigating my life plans solely around my wants and needs. I have the freedom to move anywhere, do anything, and take advantage of opportunities without having to align those needs and wants with a partner’s. This past fall, I was able to pick up and move to London without worrying about how it would affect someone else.

That said, I do crave companionship. Dating with depression — especially when so many of my friends are coupled up — is difficult.

It’s easy to feel left behind. It’s easy to feel that there is something wrong with me. It’s easy to feel jealous — not of their partners but of the fact that they’ve seemingly figured it out, that romance has worked out for them, and that I can’t figure out how to make it work for me. I envy their security. They face life’s uncertainty with the certainty that their person is beside them.

How breakups have impacted my mental health

In the past, my breakups have been a catalyst for my depression. My last breakup was deeply painful for me. It was compounded by various life events — lack of friend support, feeling as though I was failing in my writing career, and deep unhappiness in my job — and led to a severe depressive episode.

I was losing myself at a time when I needed my partner most and consequently came to the painful realization that he did not need me at all.

A severe depressive episode is no joke. Most of my memory from that time is cloudy. I can’t remember the bleakest days at all. For better or worse, that time has irrevocably changed me. It has made me a much more empathetic person, but it has also embittered me.

I’m more distrustful, I’m more pessimistic, and I’m more protective of my peace. Some might say I’m still healing, but it’s already been 2 years, and I’m not sure if you can ever really truly heal from the pain of wanting to erase yourself from this earth. (If you’re experiencing a severe depressive episode or mental health crisis, here are some resources that you might find helpful.)

I’m apt to say I find dating triggering. That bad breakup is wrapped up in such pain (though not all caused by my ex) that it has clouded my judgment on romance and relationships. I equate dating with a breakup and breakup with depression.

My brain has had enough of it. It’s a protection mechanism, a mentality “to leave before you get left.” Or, in this case, not start something that could potentially cause me emotional distress.

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Navigating conflicting feelings

They say, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” I personally am not at the point in my life when I believe that. By not opening myself up to a partner, I’ve had way fewer tears and way fewer bouts of anxiety.

The problem with this plan, however, is that in choosing not to date, I am choosing to be alone. I, of course, have my family and a wonderful community of friends. I am not always lonely. But I do want a partner — I would like to love and feel loved, find a guaranteed shoulder to cry on, and someday have a family.

I see what my friends have — I’m witness to the happiness that they’ve found and know that I’m deserving and capable of finding it, too, if I’d simply open myself up to the possibility of getting hurt. But honestly, getting a Pap smear sounds more fun.

I recently stopped going to therapy. During that last session, my therapist and I discussed my growth. We had worked through so much together — family frustrations, work turmoil, self-confidence, friend issues, awkward confrontations, and anxiety about the future.

Dating, she said, we hadn’t quite “cracked.” I’m still trying to figure out how to crack it on my own. I want to crack it, I hope to crack it, but I simply can’t figure out how to crack it right now. I know I’m in my own way. I suppose I’m just not sure how to get out of it. (I will say that writing this article is proving to be quite cathartic).

The takeaway

My therapist told me during that session that what makes dating so difficult is that it’s “wrong until it’s right.” Unfortunately, dating can be a journey of experiencing wrong relationships until you find the right one that works. It’s a shot in the dark, hoping that one will stick.

I’ve said before that I would go through that severe depressive episode again. It ultimately led me to such a beautiful understanding of myself and of the world.

I hope, in time, I’ll have enough energy to brave all of the potential pain and hurt that comes with dating. And maybe, on the other side of it all, I’ll find some perspective that all of those painful dating experiences that felt so horribly wrong were actually right for me the entire time.

Medically reviewed on January 22, 2024


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About the author

Anne-Marie Varga

Anne-Marie Varga has a dual degree in English Literature and French from the University of Michigan and a Master’s in Digital Media from New York University. She’s an aspiring novelist based in Brooklyn, New York, and is currently working in children’s book publishing. When she’s not writing, she’s most likely watching the Great British Bakeoff or doing her part to dismantle the patriarchy. You can check her out on Instagram, Twitter, or at her website.

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