Robert*, 48, has been unhappily single for many years. He’s come to see me because he is tired of living with ongoing low-level depression.
“Tell me about your life,” I ask him.
“I go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep. Then I start again the next morning.”
“Do you exercise?”
“Not really. What’s the point of looking good? There’s no one to see me naked.”
“How’s your diet?”
“I usually just get some takeout. Or eat a bowl of cereal. It’s no fun to cook for one.”
“Most of my friends have been in relationships for years. I always feel like the third wheel, so I don’t get together with anyone too often.”
“Do you have a companion animal?”
“No,” Robert says, and his eyes tear up. “I always imagined how wonderful it would be to have a dog. But…” He trails off.
“But?” I press him.
“Well, I always had this vision of me being married, with a baby and a dog…out for a walk. By myself, it just seems like it would be…desolate.”
“Do you ever take a vacation?”
“No…well, sometimes I visit my parents in Akron.”
“Anywhere else you want to go?”
“For years I’ve wanted to get to Paris. But…well, it’s kinda like the dog thing. I always imagined going there with someone I was really serious about….it’s supposed to be such a romantic city…maybe proposing at the Eiffel Tower…If I were alone, it would just be…empty.”
“How’s your mood?”
“Depressed…I feel kinda..pointless… if I’m not in a relationship…if I don’t matter to someone. If no one loves me, do I really count?”
I frequently see clients like Robert, people who aren’t in a relationship, who describe having low self-esteem, ongoing depression, and a feeling that they aren’t really having a life because they aren’t with someone.
Just as people who are in a relationship often feel pressure to meet society’s unrealistic expectations of marriage, so people who are not in a relationship are subject to the drumbeat message coming from parents, family members, friends, and nearly every movie, TV show, book, song, and advertisement: “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.”
So, what can you do if you feel diminished because you aren’t in a relationship?
- Recognize that you are being brainwashed by erroneous notions that may seem romantic but are actually harmful. In fact, your worth need not depend on whether you are partnered; your life does not have to be meaningless if you are not in a relationship; and your main source of happiness does not need to be another person’s presence beside you in life. (In fact, depending on another person for your happiness may put you in a vulnerable spot.)
- Take good care of yourself. If you go without exercise or proper nutrition, your mood will sink further and you will endanger your health. Exercise reduces anxiety and decreases depression; and various nutrients play essential roles in mental health.
- Find ways to break isolation. Spend time with old friends; find ways to cultivate new friends; go to interesting meetups; volunteer for an organization you like; adopt a companion animal.
- Start living your life as richly and fully as you can. Don’t wait for a hypothetical partner to appear. Pursue your interests, go where you want, do the things you’d love to do. Remember: You may only live once.
Should you take on these challenges, you will have a more satisfying, vibrant life, whether or not you do meet a partner with whom to share this life.
And, if you are stuck and feel unable to make a move out of isolation and sadness, feel free to give me a call: I’ll be glad to help you figure out the steps you can take to move forward.
* Name and identifying details changed.