What If I Never Meet the One?
The question, "how do I know if he's the one?" strikes a particular chord. This query prompted several people to write to me recently saying things to the effect of:
"Never mind asking the question if he's The One – lately I'm struggling to meet ANY one. So right now what I'm really wondering is: what if I never meet The One (or anyone for that matter)? What do I do then?"
This one's a doozy of a question. (I wouldn't be surprised if maybe you even cringed reading the headline of this post?) Asking "What if I never meet The One?" is a potentially scary, vulnerable, and often triggering question to contemplate. Imagining ourselves without The One – a romantic partner, a great love, a lifetime spouse – flies in the face of many people's dreams and hopes for their future and it's a possibility that, in my experience, most of us consciously and unconsciously avoid looking at and sitting with.
Let's be honest: It's a muddy, hard question. But what if there was gold in the mud? What if by looking at and sitting with this question there could actually be valuable to us and to the way we live our lives whether we're partnered or not?
So in today's blog, I want to get in the mud with you, share my perspective as a psychotherapist, and help you explore what this question might mean for you and the way you live your life now and moving forward.
Keep reading if you, like so many others, have ever found yourself wondering, "What if I never meet The One? (or anyone for that matter.)"
Meeting and marrying The One: Totally unrealistic?
First of all, the belief that we will grow up, meet and marry The One is, in my opinion, one of the biggest cultural introjects of them all. What's an introject? According to Webster's dictionary, an introject means "to incorporate (attitudes or ideas) into one's personality unconsciously." In other words, it's basically a belief that we psychologically "swallow whole" and that then informs our worldview. In this case, what I'm trying to say is that the idea that we will all grow up, meet and marry The One – our perfect person, a romantic partner to spend the rest of our lives with, a lid to our pot, or, for fellow Friend's fans out there, our "Lobster " – well, it's basically a belief that society writ large has spoon-fed us since birth and, moreover, has been reified by reasons as diverse as millennia of biology to Millenials raised on Disney.
For example, since time immemorial, there were very real biological drives to partner that helped ensure the survival of our species (think safety in numbers, progeny and procreation, economic insurance through combining households, etc). Couple these deeply-rooted biological drives and survival behaviors with the relatively modern notion of romantic love as enforced by virtually every single Disney plot line and most songs and RomComs ever, and you've got a potent cultural introject that assumes and prompts most of us to seek The One (or someone) to spend the rest of our lives with.
So bottom line: if you believe that you should grow up and partner with The One, you come by the belief honestly. The messages that reinforce this belief are virtually all around us.
But what if this isn't happening for you? What if you're struggling to meet someone, anyone, to partner with? And what if you really DO want to meet and marry someone? Or what if you met someone you thought was The One, but ultimately you broke up, divorced, or parted ways? Or what if The One died and left you alone and in deep grief and fear that you may not meet someone else? Or what if you're with someone you don't truly want to be with but you're afraid to leave them for fear that you'll never meet someone else? What if you're starting to wonder if you'll ever meet anyone (let alone The One) and frankly it's beginning to terrify you? What then?
Acknowledge this question *IS* wicked scary
Deeply believing the introject that you "should" meet The One (or anyone) and moreover wanting this to happen and yet not having it come together can be deeply frustrating, painful, and scary because, at the essence of this question, we're talking about longing and loneliness.
Longing for something (or someone) and not being able to have it can be intensely painful. Feeling lonely can be incredibly painful. Longing for a partner, experiencing the frustrations of online dating, Saturday nights alone, marking the passage of time on Facebook with pictures of engagement rings, wedding photos, and baby announcements in your newsfeed, watching friends around you partner up and feeling left out can feel very, very hard.
Because the feelings of longing and loneliness can be so hard, it makes sense that many folks spend tons of energy (and money) looking for solutions to "fix it": from having profiles on multiple sites, online courses to prepare yourself for love, dating coaches on retainer, whole shelves of advice in bookstores, there's a mega-market out there that we can partake of in our efforts to "solve the problem of being alone" and to help us meet and marry The One. But what if, despite all of your efforts, there was no fixing this? (or at least not right now.) What if right now there was no way of knowing, despite all your best efforts to find someone, if you would ever find a partner to spend the rest of your life with? What if right now you knew you were going to be single for a long time or maybe even for the rest of your life? Look, I know this can be a really painful thing to contemplate, but I genuinely think facing the question squarely in the eye can be a potentially transformative and helpful thing to do. In the same way that consciously considering our own mortality can be profoundly uncomfortable yet can help us uncover really rich, meaningful information about how we want to best craft and shape our lives, so too can ask this very scary question: what if you never meet The One?
First, I want to acknowledge that contemplating never meeting The One (or anyone) and being unpartnered can bring up lots of grief.
Asking this question might bring up grief for what you envisioned for your life's path, grief for the plans you have previously made, grief for the dreams your sixteen year old self felt sure were going to come true, and so much more. All of this may come to the surface when you start to consider never meeting someone to spend the rest of your life with and (please hear me on this) all of this is normal and natural.
Please allow yourself to grieve, please give yourself the space to feel sad, and please be gentle with yourself and your tender heart. This isn't an easy question to face and to feel your way through. Allow your feelings to come up and to be valid – all of them. The sadness, the anger, the anxiety ... whatever surfaces for you as you begin to contemplate this question.
All of these feelings are normal and natural in the process of grieving someone, something, or some idea or dream we once held but that we're now letting go of. You get to feel all your feelings about what it might mean for you if you never met The One. After allowing whatever grief may be present for you, I next want to invite you to consider what it might mean for the weft and weave of the major areas of your life if, in fact, you might never meet The One (or anyone for that matter).
Next, Deeply Inquire
Taking inspiration from this post a good girlfriend of mine shared on Facebook recently, I've expanded on it and developed a list of inquiries to help you get clearer on what impact (if at all) it might have on your life if partnership simply doesn't happen.
I invite you to open up a Google Doc or crack open your journal and literally write down your answers to these inquiries and/or explore them with your therapist because the insights these questions can yield can be your veritable gold in the mud – insights, and clues about how, if at all, you might shift or change or add to or alter your life in the absence of a partner.
Home // Place // Roots:
- If you knew for a fact that you were not going to meet and marry someone, would you want to stay in the town/state/country that you're currently living in?
- Would you move back to your home state? Live closer to family?
- Would you consider living in and/or creating alternative housing communities like joining a co-op, a monastery, crafting a friendship retirement community of tiny homes?
- If the choice was full, 100% yours, where would you like to plant roots as a single person? What sort of place and structure might feel best to you then?
Community // Friends // Family-of-Choice:
- What physical, emotional, and logistical needs would be in a romantic relationship fill for you? Sex, companionship, a roommate? How else and from who else can you get these needs and wants met?
- In the absence of having a long-term significant other, who will you spend your precious life energy on? Who will become your primary supports and most intimate relationship?
- Do you need or want to make new friends, reconnect with distant family, or develop new supports who can be your chosen people, your in-case-of-emergency call, or loved ones you can spend holidays with?
- Have you put off having/adopting/fostering children because you've been waiting for a partner? What choices would you make if you knew this wasn't going to happen? Would you consider solo parenting by choice? Would you save up for adoption fees? Look into sperm banks? Has your fertility been tested? Consider alternative parenting paths? Or give up and possibly grieve the idea of becoming a parent in this lifetime?
Finances // Career:
- Are there financial needs or messes you've avoided dealing with in the hopes that a partner might "rescue" or help you "solve" them? How might you become your own financial knight in shining armor to deal with this?
- What different choices – if any – might you make with your money if you knew there would only be a single income to count on as you age?
- Is there a job you've put on hold, a professional placement, or a career advancement opportunity you've not yet explored because of what this might have meant for a possible partnership?
- Does not being in a relationship bring you any freedoms in your career?
Other Dreams Deferred:
- What and who will give your life richness and color and connection? What hobbies, rituals, planned adventures might you want to consider adding or eliminating from your yearly calendar?
- Where have you been spending lots of energy in the pursuit of finding The One that you might now be able to spend in different ways?
- Are there plans and dreams you've delayed or put to the side because you prioritized trying to meet someone? Do you want to revisit any of those old dreams?
Self-Worth // Self-Love // You:
- Do you believe your life will have value if you're not partnered/married/coupled? Do you, in your heart of hearts, believe you can live a worthy life if you never partner?
- How is not having a partner currently affecting your sense of self?
- What does it bring up for you when you imagine not having a partner?
- What – if any – is the pursuit of a partner causing you to avoid looking at yourself? (This can be so valuable to explore with expert help)
Of course, no one knows what the future holds for any of us, and, as the ever-wise Dumbledore said, "it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." And I think this particular reminder applies both to imagining life with a partner, and to imagining life without a partner.
The reality is, without access to a crystal ball, we simply don't know what's going to happen in your future. You may meet someone (or several someones) and spend the rest of your life with them. Or you may not. Either way, my hope is that by gently and tenderly facing and sitting with the question of "What if I never meet The One?" and exploring the inquiries I provided above, you can actually discover valuable insights about how you might want to best live your life regardless of knowing what's going to happen.
Without a doubt, this question of "What if I never meet The One?" is intensely vulnerable but also, I believe, potentially deeply transformative if, like with most things in life, we're willing to be with it.