Dear Thelma: I am feeling lonely and left on the shelf

By Thelma

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Dear Thelma,

I'm a 27-year-old woman, unmarried and single. I've been single my entire life, and part of it, I feel, is my fault. Sometimes I question myself whether I should have put in some effort to find someone when I was much younger so that at this point in life we would have grown together and be more settled.

But when I was younger, I didn't feel the need to get someone.

Looking at my peers getting married and settling down makes me want to have someone now but I can't seem to get "the one" as most are hooked.

I've even tried online dating but it doesn't work for me. I met a guy and we were compatible but it didn't work for him because of the nature of my work. Now I hesitate to even open up to other guys. I'm back onto my shelf.

I keep telling myself that "everything will happen at the right time" but the right time doesn't seem to be anytime near.

What should I do? This gives me anxiety, and I fear I wouldn't be able to find "the one" and that I will grow old alone.


Dear Teh,

In the past you did not want a partner and that's fine. You want a partner now, and that's also fine. What I am concerned about is your self-blame and the assumption that it is difficult for you to find a partner.

For some people, finding a partner is their primary need. Others have different priorities: education, work, travel, and self-exploration are just some of the common ones. For most of us, our primary needs change as we age. There is no right or wrong. We make different choices and that's wonderful.

As for your new need, a partner, age does not equal impossible. Yes, dating is a numbers game, and yes, there are more people single in their late teens and early twenties as a percentage of the population. But there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of single people in your age group and you are looking for one partner.

In fact, you were successful at finding a good match by online dating. But because it didn't end in marriage, you deem online dating a failure and are going to ditch it. Furthermore, you are thinking that you may as well give up on men entirely.

Let me ask you this: if you were baking cookies and they were delicious but they didn't land you first prize at a competition, would you ditch baking and consider never entering a kitchen again? I suspect you're smiling at the thought. So the question is, how come you have the same attitude to dating?

I think the underlying issue here is anxiety. This is not the nervousness that comes before a job interview or exams, but a continuous state of fear and stress that affects how we think and that interferes with our daily lives.

Anxiety twists perceptions, underlines and promotes inner fears, and promotes nit-picking and beating yourself up. It can also make you blind to the positives in your life.

That catastrophising you show,"My one excellent match didn't lead to marriage so I had better give up" is very common for people who have anxiety.

We think it comes from a fear of being hurt. This fear makes us build walls of false beliefs and rituals that we think will protect us, but actually, they only stop us from leading our lives. Anxiety is paralysing.

I suspect you have an inner fear that you are unlovable, or at least hard to love. And when you are stressed, that fear pops up to the surface and you mistake it as a fact.

The actual truth is that you are perfectly loveable and rather good at finding a match. It is your anxiety that is twisting your perceptions.

If this is an Aha! moment for you, then have a go at journalling it out. Write down what you are thinking, what you worry about, and focus on spotting when stress leads to promoting your secret fears. If you find that hard, invest a few sessions with a mental health professional, one who specialises in anxiety.

As for the difficult job, I am totally intrigued and my imagination is running riot. Whatever it is that you do, it may be part of your false beliefs. But if you think it's truly an issue, put that information out there before you invest in meeting new people so you can weed out the no-gos before you start.

Once you stop your inner fears sabotaging you, go and date again. As you are clearly excellent at knowing your needs and finding compatible partners, I have no doubt that you will find lots of suitable prospects. Put yourself out there, meet lots of people, and have fun.

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