Valentine’s Day is approaching and I’m already miserable. This happens every year. The cards, candy, flowers and restaurant specials all make me feel like a loser because I’m not in a relationship (and have not been for a long time, despite trying hard to meet someone special). I’m lonely and sick of spending time with coupled friends who constantly talk about “we.” It’s like the whole world is saying that there’s something wrong with me because I’m not partnered. My friends tell me that it’s actually really hard to be in a relationship, and that they envy my freedom. Please. They get to go home at night to someone who loves them and take vacations/have sex/dine/watch movies with someone they love. I’m depressed and feel like I am being cheated out of a good life. The most exciting thing I go home with regularly is a pint of ice cream. Any advice for how to keep going or why?
I’m sorry you are having such a rough time. Know that you are not alone. All of us are told that we have to be in a relationship to have a worthwhile life. This is the subliminal message of nearly every movie, TV show and song, reinforced by family, friends and society at large. We all hear it and most of us believe it.
Here’s what you can do to stop feeling like a loser.
For starters, please recognize that you are being brainwashed by a seemingly romantic belief (“you’re nobody till somebody loves you”) that is actually toxic.
Your value as a human being is unrelated to whether you are partnered and your life does not have to be meaningless because you are not in a relationship. In fact, it’s your belief that you are being cheated that is actually ruining your life, because it is keeping you miserable.
It isn’t easy to change long-standing beliefs, but with effort, it is very doable: Start to monitor your thoughts. Whenever you find yourself thinking that you’re pathetic because you’re single, talk back to that belief, just as you would talk back to a part of yourself that believed you were worthless because you’re gay.
Keep in mind that a new way of thinking actually generates new connections in your brain that make it easier, over time, to keep thinking in that new groove. So, you must relentlessly challenge your self criticism, until over time it recedes.
To give yourself some ammunition against the idea that you are worthless without a mate, you need to take steps right now to make your life one that is really worth living, rather than keeping your life on pause until a partner appears. Here is the question to ask yourself: What can I do that will give my life meaning?
If your present interests don’t go further than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, push yourself to develop some that are more fulfilling and give you a feeling of accomplishment. Remember: You may only live once, so start doing what you would really love to do, even if you do it on your own. The enjoyment and gratification you get may well outweigh your feelings of loneliness.
Find ways to break your isolation. You might adopt a pet, make new friends if you pursue a new interest or even spend time with your current friends. If you’re making the most of your own life, the coupled status of others is likely to bother you less. Yes, those things will at times feel like poor substitutes for a mate, but that doesn’t mean they won’t bring you their own kind of joy as well. They’ll also make you less inclined to look at what’s missing.
Are you taking care of yourself? Keep in mind that without exercise or proper nutrition, your spirits will sink further and you will endanger your health. Please start getting some aerobic exercise to improve your mood (walking is excellent and will get you out of the house), and add omega-3 and vitamin D to your diet (both may play a role in decreasing depression).
Should you take on these challenges, you will have a more satisfying, vibrant life, whether or not you meet a partner with whom to share it. And I hope you do find that person.
One more point: if you are having trouble getting out of your hopelessness and loneliness on your own, please consider working with a skilled therapist.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information in the questions has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.