Do you often find yourself wondering why you have a huge circle of friends, yet no success in your quest to meet a partner? Maybe you’re putting so much energy into your friendships that there’s just no room left for romantic relationships.
I’ve always been ‘good’ at friendship, if such a thing is possible. I’ve always had lots of friends and am still close to people I’ve known since university and even school. I am, however, 39 and single, and save for the odd fling, have been since… well longer than I care to admit here.
‘How can this be?’ people (friends) say to me. ‘But you’re lovely!’ And I waft them away, changing the subject as quickly as possible, because as every single person knows, there is no more dreaded question than ‘How is your love life?’ It’s like constantly asking someone having IVF if they’re pregnant yet.
However, I have begun to wonder: How can that be? Since friendship and singleness have always been the two constants in my life, could it be that they are intrinsically linked? That by putting so much emotional energy into my platonic relationships, I have left no space for romantic ones to flourish?
Andrew G Marshall, marital therapist and author of The Single Trap (Bloomsbury, £7.99), seems to have no doubts. ‘You are effectively settling down, but with your friends, not a romantic partner,’ he says. He calls this ‘putting all your eggs into one emotional basket.’
Sound ridiculous? I thought so too, until on closer inspection it appears I have done exactly what he describes. Apart from when I am being a mother to my son, or ‘dating’, I hang out with friends. I even live with one: Hands up! I am officially married to my mates. My question is: why do some people do this? Why do they gravitate towards friendship for their bonding fixes, instead of romantic love?
Romance is scary (not to mention the constant depilation) so it’s not surprising that some of us opt for a surrogate: the on-off ex, the gay friend, your best mate. ‘Surrogates demand less from us,’ he says. But do they give us less too?
My surrogate was Roz*, my flatmate throughout my mid-twenties. We shared ups and downs, late-night chats, weekends away, cosy nights in. Apart from sex we were as good as a couple. But this was the problem: we weren’t a couple. We just operated like one, which scared off potential partners and gave out the message; stay away! We don’t need you! Also, ‘surrogate-seekers keep attracting surrogate-seekers,’ says Marshall, ‘so you attract the guy who’s still in love with his ex, or the intense emotional vampire of a friend… perpetuating your singleness, enabling it.’
Being too good a friend
Nobody is suggesting you ditch all your mates to find love, but is there such a thing as being too good a friend? If you’re the first person your married or paired-up friends call when they are having a relationship crisis or when they want to go out with someone other than their husband, then you won’t have any energy or time to find yours.
I’m constantly over-committing to seeing friends, which makes me a popular friend, but not available romantically. It is nice to be needed, and my friends would be there for me in a heartbeat, but we only have so much energy and if it’s all used up on friends there’s no mental space for partners.
If, like me, you frequently find your two precious nights for potential dating taken up with seeing mates, then ultimately, you only have yourself to blame.
I’ve always suspected a fear of loneliness is an underlying cause of my spinsterhood. I have a solid group of uni friends, but in my early twenties, that group was like family. We went out every Saturday night, spent Sundays watching football in the pub, went on holidays together, etc. Which was great until everyone gradually paired off, had their own families and the group finally dispersed, leaving me bereft, still single.
Hanging out with couples
It can be particularly tempting to spend all your time with coupled-up friends, doing cosy coupley things: comfy Sunday lunches, or summer barbecues with the same few couples, and all seven christenings of their brood…
It’s tempting, because it’s so easy. Your friends know you: no date small-talk (exhausting) and a guaranteed good time (no risk of getting a guy who talks to you for two hours about IT systems. And that was one of my better dates…)
‘But your friends are your comfort zone and the problem with that,’ Marshall explains, ‘is that it shrinks, until you’re seeing only one or two couples, and they can’t introduce you to anyone.’
Well, listen to that fear, because it’s telling you your life needs to change. If you are to meet anyone new, you have to go to things alone. You have to attend bike rides and book readings and yes, start new hobbies. You have to let friends know you’re serious about meeting someone.
‘And it is hard,’ agrees Marshall. ‘If you go somewhere as a pair and don’t enjoy it, you can talk to each other or leave. If you’re single, you have to make so much more effort.’
But you will reap the rewards, if you put in the work. This isn’t about ditching your friends, but making space in your life for newness.
Watch Karen Ruimy on Finding love on LifeLabs
Read Looking for love by Jackee Holder on LifeLabs