You can meet a partner at any stage of life, says Mariella Frostrup. But to hold onto someone, you need to deal with your insecurities first
The dilemma I am a 40-year-old chronically single woman. I have had a number of short relationships, but only three lasting more than a year and my longest was three years. I was recently dumped after a few months and it has greatly impacted my self-esteem. One issue was his long stretches of non-communication (four-day periods of non-response). Having experienced childhood abandonment (which I told him about), I could not accept this. Do I have to be perfect and ask for nothing to find a partner? Are my communication needs really too much? I don’t spend all my time searching for a guy or moping at not having one. I am positive and celebrate others and their happiness. But if loneliness is my fate, how do I learn to be OK with it? I have begun planning for a life alone. I’ve bought an apartment and contributed to a retirement plan. I have accepted I will never be a mother. Yet, I am ashamed of how much the lack of a partner still saddens me. I am so scared that the last time I had sex is really the last time.
Mariella replies At last a subject I’m qualified in. First, be careful what you wish for. I know plenty of women in the opposite situation who’d be delighted to find themselves unfettered again. I was just a year younger than you when, at 39, after a similar dating history, I met my now husband and went on to have two children in my early 40s. It’s information I offer you to assuage the cloud of impending doom that you’re currently engulfed by.
Meeting a partner with whom your future collides, can and does happen at any age. While it’s worth making contingency plans for what might be irrevocably lost in the interim (fertility being an example), don’t throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. You are “chronically” single only in so far as you are recurrently so. You’re definitely a catastrophist, though! Buying your own apartment and investing in your retirement shouldn’t be deemed acts of desperation, but sensible investments towards your own security and comfort. Hooking up with a fellow human doesn’t normally have an impact on securing your finances, unless you marry a millionaire (and I don’t think digging for dollars is your hobby).
It’s generally not until we are fully fledged adults, content in our own company, that we make the best choices about who to share our lives with. If you look around for examples of enduring, happy unions, more often than not maturity of judgement will be a feature.
I don’t think your current status is anything you are particularly responsible for and neither do I think it’s permanent. That said, deflected responsibility is one of the most insidiously harmful and regularly occurring contributors to a relationship’s demise. You sound defensive about your right to a certain frequency of communication. Childhood abandonment so often leads to insecurity and it has clearly left its mark on you. I wonder if your craving for stability is making you go about getting it in a way that’s least conducive to attaining it. Telling someone that you are terribly insecure doesn’t make them responsible for resolving your emotional idiosyncrasies. What you’ve experienced, and how you handle yourself as a result, is definitely down to you to resolve.
Where’s the pleasure in having someone call you daily if they’re only doing so because you’ve stamped your foot? This is a stampede into dysfunction that you can easily call a halt to. Try to understand how this works, either through reading (try Lifeshocks and How to Love Them by Sophie Sabbage) or, better yet, consult a therapist about the residue of your unhappy experience in youth.
Feeling secure about who you are and even sanguine about a future in your own company are two of the healthiest assets you can bring to the table. Do you really want to step into a relationship defined by the past? Being alone can actually be pretty great, but my money is on the fact that you won’t be. There’s also every chance you’ll still have children, but as time isn’t on your side the pressure is on to revise your behaviour rather than demanding that others do so to accommodate you.
You don’t seem to have trouble attracting lovers, just retaining them and that’s going to have something to do with how strenuously you clasp on to them. Instead of setting out rules to compensate for past experiences your lover wasn’t privy to, try entering your next relationship with an open heart and a determination to set your gaze firmly to the fore. Listing the qualities that might make you attractive in someone else’s eyes is not the same thing as building up a sense of confidence and self-esteem in your own. I realise that’s hard when what you’re getting back from the world feels like rejection, rather than a celebration of what you have to offer. It’s all the more reason to start expanding your horizons instead of writing yourself off. The best thing about being single at 40 is that you are mature enough to take risks and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Filling old cavities is dentist’s work; our job as individuals is to concentrate on larger horizons.