If you’re single and have been wanting to get married for a long time but it’s not happening, you just might be getting in your own way. To find out whether you have a self-defeating pattern or simply that circumstances have been holding you back, here are a few ideas:
- Ask a close friend or two who may have noticed how you function in social and dating situations if she or he sees a pattern. Also, answer these questions on your own: Have you ended relationships when you sensed the man wanted to commit? Have you stayed too long in other relationships with men who weren’t interested in marriage?
- Are you consistently avoiding opportunities for meeting and dating a potential marriage partner?
- Have you recently experienced a major life change that requires time to process or adjust to and you simply don’t have energy to reach out and be receptive to others. Examples of overwhelming changes include the passing of a family member or close friend, a divorce, job loss, or sudden financial reversal.
The stories below to illustrate the above points are of women. However, many men who’ve been wanting to marry show similar patterns or experience situations that may be causing them to stay single.
Nancy yearned to marry. She viewed finding men as “man hunting.” She met them easily and often. Nancy liked the excitement of having a new man in her life, which was fueled by her not knowing how long he’d stick around.
But once a man Nancy liked showed signs of becoming serious, his appeal vanished and she would find him dull. She pined after men who wanted only a casual relationship. She stayed involved with them way too long, fantasizing that they’d eventually come around. This was Nancy’s self-defeating pattern that was keeping her single.
After she complained about still another such man to her friend Miriam, she told Nancy, “You’re ambivalent. Part of you wants marriage and part of you doesn’t. You should get therapy,” Nancy, taken aback by her friend’s bluntness, wasn’t ready for the truth. Subconsciously, she feared being abandoned by a husband, which was happened to her mother when her father divorced her. She acted out both her wish to marry and her fear of it ending badly by continuing her dysfunctional dating pattern for several years.
Eventually, Nancy did find a good therapist who helped her get past her pattern and become happily married. Miriam was a bridesmaid at her wedding.
Avoiding Opportunities: Alice and Patti
Alice, fifty-six, says she wants marriage but takes no initiative to meet men. She’s been divorced twice and secretly believes that if she tries again it won’t work out. Both she and her friend Patti play the “Yes But” game. When friends suggest ways to meet men, they find reasons to reject them. No online dating for them; they’ve heard disappointing stories.
Patti, 46, who’s always been single, also yearns to marry. She won’t go to single’s events or use a matchmaking service because “the men all want to meet someone younger” (or thinner, richer, or prettier).
Alice and Patti have similar patterns: They complain to their women friends about how hard it is to meet a good man, keep busy enough with friends and family, and spend quiet times at home with their cat and dog, respectively.
Sometimes It’s Circumstances: Stephanie’s Syndrome
Stephanie’s mother died in a car accident six months ago, just a year after her painful divorce had become final. Grieving over both losses consumed nearly all her energy. She could barely work but was holding onto her job by a thread.
Stephanie wasn’t enmeshed in a pattern. She was responding to her life’s circumstances: one devastating loss on top of another, combined with the need to carry on and earn a living. Just before her mother’s accident, Stephanie had started thinking it was about time for her to start socializing and meeting men. Now the only new person she met was her grief counselor.
Stephanie just needs time to heal, after which she is likely to start dating.
Reversing an Unproductive Pattern
Here are ways to reverse a self-defeating pattern concerning marriage:
- Get psychotherapy to help resolve your internal conflict about marrying.
- Attend singles events with a friend with the idea that the two of you will have fun regardless of whether or not you meet someone special.
- Try online dating; learn how to do it successfully and avoid possible hazards.
- Talk informally with married friends who may serve as role models and educators about how to create a fulfilling, lasting union.
- Be open to meeting a potential marriage partner anywhere.
Exercise: Recognizing a Pattern
By answering these questions, you may be able to recognize a self-defeating pattern you possess:
- Do you get high from the excitement of meeting someone new?
- Do you experience marriage minded men (or women) as boring?
- Do you fantasize that someone who is not interested in marriage will change his or her mind?
- Do you recognize a conflict within yourself about marriage, similar to Nancy’s?
- If you are aware of such a conflict, what steps are you willing to take to help resolve it?