Dear Mariella

I’m 40 and chron­i­cally sin­gle. Is my un­happy child­hood to blame?

The Observer Magazine - - Self & Wellbeing - @mariel­laf1

The dilemma I am a 40-year-old chron­i­cally sin­gle woman. I have had a num­ber of short re­la­tion­ships, but only three last­ing more than a year and my long­est was three years. I was re­cently dumped af­ter a few months and it has greatly im­pacted my self-es­teem. One is­sue was his long stretches of non-com­mu­ni­ca­tion (four-day pe­ri­ods of non­re­sponse). Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced child­hood aban­don­ment (which I told him about), I could not ac­cept this. Do I have to be per­fect and ask for noth­ing to find a part­ner? Are my com­mu­ni­ca­tion needs re­ally too much? I don’t spend all my time search­ing for a guy or mop­ing at not hav­ing one. I am pos­i­tive and cel­e­brate oth­ers and their hap­pi­ness. But if lone­li­ness is my fate, how do I learn to be OK with it? I have be­gun plan­ning for a life alone. I’ve bought an apart­ment and con­trib­uted to a re­tire­ment plan. I have ac­cepted I will never be a mother. Yet, I am ashamed of how much the lack of a part­ner still sad­dens me. I am so scared that the last time I had sex is re­ally the last time. per­ma­nent. That said, de­flected re­spon­si­bil­ity is one of the most in­sid­i­ously harm­ful and reg­u­larly oc­cur­ring con­trib­u­tors to a re­la­tion­ship’s demise. You sound de­fen­sive about your right to a cer­tain fre­quency of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Child­hood aban­don­ment so often leads to in­se­cu­rity and it has clearly left its mark on you. I won­der if your crav­ing for sta­bil­ity is mak­ing you go about get­ting it in a way that’s least con­ducive to at­tain­ing it. Telling some­one that you are ter­ri­bly in­se­cure doesn’t make them re­spon­si­ble for re­solv­ing your emo­tional idio­syn­cra­sies. What you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced, and how you han­dle your­self as a re­sult, is def­i­nitely down to you to re­solve.

Where’s the plea­sure in hav­ing some­one call you daily if they’re only do­ing so be­cause you’ve stamped your foot? This is a stam­pede into dys­func­tion that you can eas­ily call a halt to. Try to un­der­stand how this works, ei­ther through read­ing (try Lifeshocks and How to Love Them by So­phie Sab­bage) or, bet­ter yet, con­sult a ther­a­pist about the residue of your un­happy ex­pe­ri­ence in youth.

Feel­ing se­cure about who you are and even san­guine about a fu­ture in your own com­pany are two of the health­i­est as­sets you can bring to the ta­ble. Do you re­ally want to step into a re­la­tion­ship de­fined by the past? Be­ing alone can ac­tu­ally be pretty great, but my money is on the fact that you won’t be. There’s also ev­ery chance you’ll still have chil­dren, but as time isn’t on your side the pres­sure is on to re­vise your be­hav­iour rather than de­mand­ing that oth­ers do so to ac­com­mo­date you.

You don’t seem to have trou­ble at­tract­ing lovers, just retaining them and that’s go­ing to have some­thing to do with how stren­u­ously you clasp on to them. In­stead of set­ting out rules to com­pen­sate for past ex­pe­ri­ences your lover wasn’t privy to, try en­ter­ing your next re­la­tion­ship with an open heart and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to set your gaze firmly to the fore. List­ing the qual­i­ties that might make you at­trac­tive in some­one else’s eyes is not the same thing as build­ing up a sense of con­fi­dence and self-es­teem in your own. I re­alise that’s hard when what you’re get­ting back from the world feels like re­jec­tion, rather than a cel­e­bra­tion of what you have to of­fer. It’s all the more rea­son to start ex­pand­ing your hori­zons in­stead of writ­ing your­self off. The best thing about be­ing sin­gle at 40 is that you are ma­ture enough to take risks and push your­self be­yond your com­fort zone. Fill­ing old cav­i­ties is den­tist’s work; our job as in­di­vid­u­als is to con­cen­trate on larger hori­zons. ■

‘Your past and how you han­dle your­self are yours to re­solve’

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