If you read this blog regularly (which I admit is difficult since I don’t update it regularly), you’ve probably figured out that I haven’t had a boyfriend since I started it. If you know me personally, you probably know that I’ve never actually had a boyfriend. At least, not a serious one. I’m certainly an expert at first and second dates and I’ve had a few guys for whom I’ve had feelings of a relatively serious nature and sometimes those feelings have even been mutual! But I’ve never referred to a guy as my boyfriend and while I refer to several people in my past as “guys I’ve dated,” I don’t have any exes.
For the most part, I’m ok with this. At 16, when I hadn’t so much as kissed a boy, I thought something was wrong with me. At 21, when I’d nearly completed college entirely single and had yet to have sex for the first time, I questioned myself. For the first few years after college, I wondered why no one wanted to date me. I wondered what was still wrong with me that I hadn’t had a boyfriend yet.
Now, at 26, I’m ready for a relationship and I’m having some issues finding one. But I’ve come a long way in the last 10 years and I’ve finally realized that not having had a serious relationship – yet – doesn’t mean anything. It’s been a while since I’ve had any pangs of that gut-wrenching insecurity that makes me question myself – that makes me wonder, What’s wrong with me?
Yesterday, I read this post about how only you can make yourself happy. How a relationship – romantic or any other – doesn’t have the power to give you the security and the happiness that you want and deserve. As I read it, I felt like I was reading my own thoughts on the same topic – minus the painful breakup. I considered myself lucky to have learned that lesson without having to go through heartache.
Then, after dinner with my mom last night, we were standing in Union Square, not yet done chatting for the night. My mom was telling me about her close friend, Patti, who’s “not in a good place.” At 45, Patti is a bit younger than my mom, divorced and single, and really frustrated with it. Patti has a lot of hangups and unreasonable standards; she also doesn’t want to date any widowers, though she’s ok with divorced men. I made a comment to my mom that it sounded like Patti would prefer the unrealistic ideal of, at 45, finding a man who had never been married, employed people to do things he could do himself, and didn’t own a pair of flip-flops. I laughed about it with my mom until she said:
“If I met a man who’d never been married by 45, that would be a huge red flag. Clearly something is wrong with him.”
Suddenly, the tone shifted. Why, I asked, was this a red flag? What exactly does it say about a man if he has not yet made a lifetime commitment to a woman? Wouldn’t it be worse if he’d taken the vows and then broken them?
“Well, ok,” my mom backtracked a bit. “As long as he’s had long-term, serious relationships, then that’s fine. I guess he wouldn’t have to have been married.”
But I pushed further.
“What if,” I asked, “the man in question kept meeting women with the intent of forming a serious relationship and, after several months, realized it was not going where he wanted? Should he stay in the relationship for a year and a half for the sake of being able to say he’s had a long-term, serious relationship?”
My mom looked taken aback. I’d brought up a point she’d clearly never considered; I even surprised myself as I continued:
“At what age does it become a red flag, anyway? By 30? 45? Does never having had a serious relationship make a man – or anyone – less worthy of having one at all?”
A look came over my mom’s face that appeared to be a mix of confusion and also sudden understanding. She’d walked into a minefield: Her 26-year-old daughter has never had a serious relationship and she’s just been declaring that a red flag for men (and people) over a certain age. Well, shit.
I was getting a little worked up and we were on the corner of 14th street, so it wasn’t the place to continue the discussion. But last night, for the first time in a very long time, I was riddled with insecurity and doubt. I found myself lying in bed questioning what could possibly be wrong with me that I am well on my way to embodying this Giant Red Flag called Never Been in a Serious Relationship. It occurred to me the way I figured out that I have to make myself happy before I can let someone else into my life – without actually letting someone into my life – was wrong.
The no-boyfriend-insecurity is something I’ve worked really hard on overcoming, but it’s a fragile triumph (clearly). I wonder – if everyone has to start somewhere, at what point is it considered too late to start? And what then? I’ll be 27 in a little over two months and even if at that point I’ve met a great guy I really like, it won’t be serious at that point. Is my Red Flag growing bigger, then? Am I less worthy of a committed, serious relationship – something I very much want eventually – because I’ve never had one?
I guess my real question is: Since when did long-term relationships become pre-requisites for long-term relationships?