Photo: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

1. "Don't worry. He's out there."

Here's the thing about being a single woman. Pretty much nobody will ever believe that you're okay with being female and unattached, let alone believe that you might be happy about it. I have lots of conversations in which I'm asked if I'm dating anyone, and I say, "No, not for a while." Then I add that it's cool, because I've been working a lot and I like not being beholden to anyone else's schedule. I also like having experiences, especially when I travel, that aren’t filtered through anyone else's moods or needs. In response, I am assured that I shouldn’t worry because he’s out there.

Well, of course he is. There are more than six billion people on this planet. Even adjusting for age, and the ability to speak English and whatever other criteria strike your fancy, there are probably, I don't know, a hundred thousand men I could spend my life with in reasonable contentment. It's not that I don't want the comfort and solidarity (not to mention joy) of having a partner. But, if it's not in the cards for a theoretical He to emerge from Out There at a realistically workable moment for both of us, do I want to set myself up to think that my life—my one, precious chance at existence—is somehow incomplete? A failure? Unless I’m talking to some bona fide clairvoyants, when people jump to tell me not to worry about being alone forever, what they're really saying is that they expect me to be worried. And that makes me feel kind of bad. And kind of worried.

2. "Have you ever thought about dating online?"

I promise, all single women in America have thought about dating online. Most of us (along with single men) have friends who met their boyfriends or girlfriends or spouses online and so we know the whole enterprise can work out really well. But you have to be ready for the dating equivalent of a rummage sale. You have to be feeling brave and game and energetic enough that a series of disappointing encounters won't sap you of your optimism.

I tried online dating for about two weeks when I was 23 and living in Iowa and had just gone through a bad breakup. I met a divorced geologist who had a 6-year-old son named Thor or Odin or something, and for our second date, I agreed to go on a night hike. I repeat: a night hike. I might as well have said that my hobbies included being murdered. We drove for half an hour out of Iowa City, and then marched off into the wilderness along with a flashlight, my dog and a few cans of PBR. Pretty soon a man wearing a headlamp and carrying a rifle came walking out of the night. "What're you out for?" the geologist asked. "Coon," replied the man before disappearing again.

I wasn't murdered, and I didn't fall for the geologist. When he dropped me off after our hike, I was worried he would try to kiss me, and so I hugged him goodbye with an empty can of PBR in one hand and a full bag of dog poop in the other. Not long afterward, I decided I was too raw from my breakup to be online, and right as I went to deactivate my account, I got a message from a cop in Cedar Rapids. He was, to be blunt, crazy hot, but he mixed up "your" and "you're." I debated for a few minutes while studying a hunky photo of him wakeboarding, and then wrote back, telling him I'd decided it wasn't a good time for me to be dating.

I still regret that one. Apostrophes are overrated.

3. "Just play the field! It's so exciting!"

The problem with playing the field is that, in practice, it usually means spending time with people you don't like very much and probably having some not-great sex with them. Then, if you meet someone you like and with whom you have good sex and he likes you too, you usually lose interest in the rest. There's this idea floating around that playing the field means twirling like Marilyn Monroe from the arms of one handsome tuxedoed man to the next, winking and vamping. But, in practice, you end up in bars very late at night, your standards dropping by the minute, looking around and wondering if you should just bite the bullet and go home with that creepy guy who's licking the rim of his martini glass at you because, after all, you're supposed to be playing the field and it's supposed to be exciting.

Next: 4 more things you should never say to a single woman


Next Story