“I’m gonna die alone,” she said. Or I said. Or about every girl I’ve met has said at least once in her life. We were sitting at a coffeehouse, walking in the grocery store, driving in a car, and we saw a couple holding hands, a man holding flowers, or we were watching “Love Actually” for the hundredth time when that phrase fell from our thoughts through our mouths. Now that the holiday season has fully descended upon us, I’m seeing this phrase subtly slip into conversations more frequently. “Yeah,” a friend will say, “I went to the grocery store today and I made a joke about avocados to the cashier. That’s why I’m gonna die alone. Merry Christmas to me.” or “I went and bought my Christmas gift for my nana today because it’s not like a have a boyfriend to buy a gift for. #ForeverAlone.”
This quip is almost always made in jest, of course. Most of my female peers do not truly believe that they will never find someone to love, but it is frustrating to face your first or perhaps several consecutive (whatever, Mom) holiday season(s) solo. It’s hard not to make Grumpy Cat faces at commercials of couples kissing under the mistletoe, snuggling by the fire, or going skiing in matching snowsuits (Is that one just me? Ok, fine). For many of my 20-something peers, the problem no longer seems to be a general disillusionment with the Happily Ever Afters we’ve been told to forget about because they’re “just not realistic,” but rather a general assumption that “Other People” will find love while “I” will forever be denied this luxury. Hence the “I’m gonna die alone” quip. Hence the continued belief that Love is for Other People, not for Me.
There are a lot of reasons for this quip and each time that I’ve said it or someone I love has said it, there have been prompt retaliations. When I say it, for example, I usually receive a prompt not-so-gentle punch to the arm. “Shut up, Maureen,” Friend X says. “You’re obviously not going to die alone. You’re perfect and wonderful and smart. You’re a catch.” I try to return the punch, although it’s significantly less forceful than theirs. “No, you shut up,” I retort. “You’re far more stunning than I am. I have to beat the boys off with a stick because they’re constantly lining up at the door for you!” Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But the sentiment is true nevertheless. These sorts of conversations usually prompt the age-old saying that, “Before anyone else can love you, you have to love yourself.” Okay. I’ve heard that one before. But what about when you already love yourself? At the risk of sounding like a vapid narcissist, I think I’m a pretty fantastic young woman. In fact, I’ll see my “Fantastic” and raise it to “Extraordinary.” I think I am Extraordinary. And yet I am one such woman who, upon seeing the well-dressed smiling couple on the street, utters the phrase “I’m gonna die alone.” That sentiment interrupts my thoughts, slips from my lips, pervades into conversations that could otherwise be empowering and, quite honestly, it’s driving me insane.
So what the hell was my problem then? I really didn’t think that the issue at hand was that I, or any my peers for that matter, didn’t love ourselves enough. While self-esteem is certainly a significant contributor to finding and maintaining relationships, when I looked around all I saw were strong, independent, successful women who wanted to be in relationships but were not. Was the issue the male populace and their lack of initiation? Perhaps. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize what was actually bothering me: Waiting. I was waiting for someone to love me similarly to the way Rapunzel waits for her Prince: Passively and inconsiderately. I thought I was Extraordinary, yes, but I also thought my confidence would act like honey to flies; that somehow my new-found and solidified self-esteem would ensure that the male populace would flock to me. I was confident, but content with waiting for that perfect guy to come up to me at a party, in the grocery store, on the street and he’d smile and we’d laugh and then ba-da-bing-ba-da-boom sparks would be flying out the wazoo. Love, I figured, was something that you wait for. Like a bus. In case it’s not evident by now, Darling, love is not a bus. It’s a runaway train that you’re going to miss unless you chase after it.
The phrase “I’m going to die alone,” then, is not a statement of fact, but a way to remain passive. We are so hesitant, so worried that we’ll say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing, that we become paralyzed by the possibility of failure. Of not being loved back. Of continuously seeking love and then being consistently rejected. Everyone’s had their heart broken and it sucks and it’s scary and I get it. I know that being told “No, thanks” or “I don’t feel the same way” or “It’s just not the right timing” is a huge ego buster and could potentially put you back on the bench for a bit. But the beauty of love is that you can try again. Waiting for love is not going to make it happen, but trying your damn hardest will certainly yield more productive results.
So with this in mind I tried a new approach. I—wait for it—asked for what I wanted. Pure and simple. No beating around the bush. No coy text messages or winky emojis. I have taken the approach of being direct and blunt and forward. Not to the point of ridiculousness, of course. That is to say that if my affections are clearly not reciprocated, I back off. And asking for what you want is, indeed, a tough exercise considering we are trained to be coy and mysterious. But if you are tired of waiting, why not just go for it? I realized that in life and in love, people cannot read your mind. This may seem disgustingly obvious to you, reader, but the thought revolutionized me. Of course Man A didn’t know that I liked him, that I wanted to date him, that I wanted to kiss him because I never said or did anything. Men, like women, are not relationship geniuses; you cannot blame that guy who works at the bookstore for not loving you when you’ve never said a word to him. And so I’ve started talking to everyone. I get to know people: I ask about their days, how they’re doing, what they’re passionate about. There are so many people in this world and the chance that you, of all people, will die alone is highly unlikely, if not completely impossible. The trick is finding him or her. The trick is asking for what you want. Easier said than done, I know, but trust me, it’s oh-so-worth it. Regardless of what you want—a simple date or falling over your face because you’re so in love—you have to be willing to chase it, not idly sit around while it tries to find you. As with many things in life, you cannot be afraid to fail. Stop waiting for love to find you. After all, it’s much more fun finding it yourself.
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