‘I’m a 46-year-old woman and I’ve never been in love – is it time to give up?’

The thought of giving up makes me sad, says our reader - R.Fresson / A Human Agency
The thought of giving up makes me sad, says our reader - R.Fresson / A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

I’m a 46-year-old straight woman, and I’ve never been in love. I’ve had a few relationships and I turned down a proposal in my early 30s because I knew it wasn’t right; but love seems to have eluded me. I used to worry that there was something wrong with me, but now I find myself at a point where I am just going to give up on the idea – maybe love is not for me. Except that thought makes me sad. Can you help?

- Loveless

Dear Loveless,

We’ve all been brainwashed by the happily-ever-after. We’ve tumbled head over heels for the idea that we have to wait until we are “chosen” before our existence actually matters. This isn’t just the romance novels and fairy tales exerting the pressure, it’s the crushing weight of past law, of societal expectation.

It’s less than 50 years since the Equal Credit Opportunity Act meant that it was no longer legal for banks to refuse loans and credit to unmarried women (or require a husband’s permission for married applicants). Before that: no man; no agency.

It’s been ingrained in us to follow this narrative – to believe that “love” will set us free or fulfil us in a transcendent way, whether we are a Charlotte Lucas accepting Mr Collins and all his idiocies in order to be able to run her own house, or a Juliet deciding that without Romeo her life was over.

So it’s no surprise that you find yourself daunted by the absence of “Love”, that big scary word. If you believe the hype, without “Love” you are not really real. Just a ghost of a thing wafting gossamer-thin through life.

Well (ahem), maybe this needs a reframe. One can get very hung up on the fact of being “single”, and single never seems to be a compliment, so why not reconfigure it. “Hello, I’m independent,” you could say to yourself in the mirror – a new mantra for a new woman.

Love is grand, but there are all sorts of things you cannot do when you are in love. From the micro (it is oddly aggravating being prevented from leaving a party when you want or not being able to paint your front door the colour you want) to the macro (not being able to move to a small island and open a squirrel sanctuary when the urge takes you), love comes with negotiations – with compromise. It comes with mothers-in-law, toenail clippings and sides-of-the-bed. It comes with expectations and other people’s families and Google calendars – and, sometimes, with heartbreak.

We know there are drawbacks to being independent. At weekends couples pull up the drawbridge so you can find yourself loitering outside the fairy-tale castle. Holidays, once all your friends have coupled up, can be tricky unless you are wildly popular or adventurous.

Winter nights are long. Life can be lonely. We all want to be seen and known. But love also takes energy that you could, right now, put into yourself. So, Loveless, take this opportunity to try and pause the search for “the one”. Maybe you are the one you have been looking for. Love will pitch up or it won’t. For now, choose life.

We’re not going to patronise you – we’re not going to tell you to get a hobby or a pet – although Emilie is a terrible dog bore and will tell you that there is nothing more unconditional than the love of a dog, and on top of that, walking the dog is a gateway to conversation and connection.

You know all the stuff about dating apps; about asking friends to keep you front-and-mind for any single situation; and you’ve presumably gone to all sorts of things that you normally wouldn’t. You’ve dragged yourself to the book launch/local rambler’s association/wine tasting at the pub, propelled by those three narcotic words “You never know”.

You can continue to do all that. You could also seek self-discovery with the help of a good therapist, which will do you no harm. You could go fully woo-woo in order to manifest a partner, channel the angels and hope that the universe sends you your prince. But you could also live. By making a mystery man the centre of your universe, you are feeling his loss, even though you’ve never met him. Which is an act of self-harm – and we don’t want this to be your story.

So, Loveless, this is our plea to you. Live with an open heart and let all the sunshine and fresh air blow through your life. Don’t give up on love in a hard-shell-disappointed sort of way but in a relaxed, ready-for-anything way. Be out in the world as much as you can bear to (“With your dog”, whispers Emilie): give the universe the best possible chance.

You never know. It will happen or it won’t. But whatever you do, don’t blame yourself. It’s not you. It’s bad luck, bad timing, the planets not aligning. We have been blasted with the dream of romance for most of our lives. But there are other dreams. Dream big, Loveless.

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