You’ve probably heard it. You’ve maybe even said it. It’s one of our favorite things to tell single people, especially people in their mid-twenties who have never been in a romantic relationship or have been single for an extended period of time.
Here it is, one of the worst possible things you can tell your single friends:
No one can love you until you can learn to love yourself.
So your friend is single. Maybe they are sad. Maybe they are trying to express how hard it is to be single for years and years while other people are in longterm relationships and slowly have less and less time and energy for their lonely, single friend.You’re looking for something to say to cheer them up so you fall back on your go-to, “No one can love you until–”
Hold on. Did you just tell your single friend no one can love them? Let’s unpack this for a moment. At the very beginning of what is said to try to encourage and motivate a single person are the words “no one can love you.” That is certainly a warm and friendly thing to tell someone. It’s like taking all of things you say to yourself when you are sad-drunk at 1am and condensing it down into five simple words. No one can love you. The way you are is entirely unlovable. Of course you’re single. No one can love you.
Now for a moment let’s talk about the kernel of actual good in this otherwise condescending and overused piece of advice. It is important to try to learn to love yourself. I believe that working on accepting who you are and appreciating who you are is a very important goal in life, but it certainly isn’t easy, and it definitely isn’t a goal with a finish line.
Learning to love yourself is a never-ending process. It’s not like anyone just wakes up one day and thinks “I am perfect, my mental health is perfect, I accept and love everything about myself and am finally ready to attract a mate!” That just simply isn’t how life works. I also have yet to meet anyone who has such perfect mental health that they love themselves all of the time. In fact, I think that would be the opposite of good mental health because maybe they have some things that they aren’t dealing with.
This is what I find so annoyingly condescending about this particular piece of advice for the perpetually single among us: when someone in a relationship says that no one will love you until you learn to love yourself, they are saying that only they among us have achieved this state of enlightenment in which they are worthy of being in a romantic relationship, and we all know that is simply not true.
What it also ignores is the fact that it is so much easier to love yourself when you are surrounded by people who also love you. It is easier to make it through rough times and find happiness when you have a partner there to support you.
Here’s an example: You come home from work. It’s been a really rough day and you are just feeling kind of frustrated, sad, and most of all like you aren’t good at your job. Now if you’re in a healthy relationship, there is a person there who can tell you that you are awesome, good at your job, and that your coworkers suck. If you are alone, you have to give yourself all of the necessary pep talks, and after a while they just aren’t effective anymore. Then you might blame yourself for not being able to cheer yourself up on your own and then you think to yourself “The reason I am doing this by myself is that I don’t love myself enough because clearly that is the only reason I could be single.” That’s what you’ve heard, after all.
When you are perpetually single, life in a relationship just seems so much easier. Not easy, but easier. I live alone, and if I were to choke on a bite of food and die in my apartment probably no one would worry about my absence for at least a few days. I don’t even have a cat to eat my body. If I didn’t live alone, perhaps I wouldn’t have even choked to death, let alone have to worry about how long my body would be sitting in my apartment without even a cat to eat it.
That’s a pretty extreme example, but keep in mind that on weekdays I am lucky if I have an actual conversation with another human twice a day. I spend so much time by myself I can easily go entire days without speaking to another person. Sometimes I think about what would happen if I choked and died, and it doesn’t seem like that unreasonable of thing to worry about.
But let’s go back to the problem at hand.
We say so many things to single people that are just cruel, even when they are said with all of the best intentions.
“It will happen when the time is right.”
- Hmm… strange… the time seems to always be right for some people, and never for others. This seems like saying “The thing you lost will be in the last place you look” about a person.
“You just need to wait for college/for your new city/new country/new job and then you will find someone.”
- Again “The relationship you are looking for will be in the last place you look.”
“You are just too focused on other things right now.”
- This is my least favorite after “No one can love you until…” because what are we supposed to do? Sit around and wait? Not focus on school or work or hobbies and just wait for things to magically change? My life is happening and I’m not going to live less of it just in the hopes of meeting someone. And besides, the kind of people I would meet while doing nothing are probably not the kind of people who I can have a functional relationship with.
I am sure that for some people this things give them hope. It gives them a reason to keep going and keep trying even after years and years. But I think no one ever wants to talk about the people who just…don’t. The people who are single well into their 20s or 30s or beyond. The people who simply don’t know how to live a life with a romantic relationship. When you have missed out on all of the relationship “training” of adolescence, it just seems like something impossible to overcome for many people. First you start to wonder if maybe there is something wrong with you, and then people start to ask you “Is there something wrong with you?” and then you think it all comes down to maybe in life there are people who are not meant to be with other people. And then you fall into a cynical malaise and write lengthy blog posts about it.
I don’t dislike my life. I enjoy my freedom. I enjoy being able to travel and learn and follow whatever opportunities come my way that I want to follow. I don’t regret the choices I have made in my life to get me to this point, but sometimes life is just damn lonely and there is no avoiding it. And sometimes when people are trying to make you feel better, they say things that actually make you feel worse. I just have a lot to say about how we treat people who are never in relationships. It is something that is ignored or handled poorly in most of the media, and honestly I could probably write for pages and pages and still have more to say.
But alas, this post is already longer than most. So to all of you who have read this far, thank you. To all of you who are in relationships, please don’t say these things to your single friends. And to all of you who are perpetually single, I understand.