“I’m writing in hope that you can offer some clarity. I’m 32 and soon my mum (my only family) will pass away after a long illness.
This in itself is incredibly distressing, yet the reason I write is selfish and I feel ashamed to admit it.
I have never been involved in a romantic relationship. No man has ever shown any interest in me, other than one time when I had just started university, when a friend said that he liked me (I just didn’t feel the same way).
At school no boy would look at me — a trend that has continued.
Also, I live in a small town where the opportunities for meeting men are very limited.
Without wanting to sound vain, I just don’t understand it, as I’m not ugly, though not attractive. A classic ‘Plain Jane’, I suppose.
There’s just no beauty in my features, nothing to entice.
I regularly go out with my friends, some married, some single. Not once has a guy approached me on the dance floor, come up to talk to me, anything.
In fact, when a group of men join our group I’m usually totally ignored. I try to break into the conversation but it soon ends once the time for polite response has passed and the gentlemen can resume chasing my friends.
I’m so scared of being alone for the rest of my life. I’ve tried dating sites but no one ever seems to write except men who are much older.
My GP put me in counselling but while that helped how I felt about myself, there has been no change in getting people to notice me.
I don’t have a lot of friends as I recently stopped spending time and energy on people who didn’t offer their time to me unless they needed something.
As a result I have only a couple left (though I know they’re true friends and I’m very grateful).
This only serves to increase my sadness at the prospect of loneliness once my lovely mum passes.
The thing that’s most difficult to bear is that now people have no expectation that I might have someone in my life. I seem to have entered the realm of an 18th-century spinster, doomed to be alone with cats and knitting needles.
I understand that there must be a fault in how I behave — something I emit that says ‘go away’.
If so, I don’t know how to correct it. My friends say I’m smiley and friendly. Is there any advice you can give me?”
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.
You start this letter talking about your dying mum and she is, of course, in the background of what you write. You say she is your only family and you sound immediately very lonely. You are ashamed to admit your loneliness or the fact that you have needs, and you immediately write yourself off as selfish in wanting to end what has been, by the sounds of it a lifetime of isolation.
It’s instantly striking that responsibility for approach is given over entirely to the men who don’t approach. The one person who ever did (reportedly) like you wasn’t interesting, but you don’t say who you do like. You make it sound as though you are sitting around waiting to see who wants you but you yourself don’t like many people. You’re baffled by the lack of approaches but don’t give the impression that you’ve made approaches that have been rebuffed. You wonder what you’re doing wrong (already a good start since you’re aware that you are somehow repelling people) but it sounds relatively simple. You’re not interested in them.
Your ‘Plain Jane’ statement, ‘lack of anything beautiful or enticing’ in your features is desperately sad. You seem to feel very blank about yourself and about others. Very empty of interest.
In the same way as you rejected the university man who was interested in you, you reject the older men who come forward on the dating site. Nothing wrong with that if you are looking in a particular age range, I suppose, but are you? Do you start conversations with men your age? Do you chat with the older men to see if anyone agreeable is out there? ‘…the gentleman can resume chasing my friends’ sounds very angry and contemptuous indeed. You feel rejected, but you’ve rejected them (and yourself) before you even start.
You worry that you might sound vain for declaring that you are ‘not ugly’. You could hardly sound less vain, but you do sound cross and bitter. You seem to be asking why people uglier than you have more luck finding partners. You have hit upon something, of course – perhaps it’s not all about what people look like. And this is difficult, because the more important areas of you actually seem to feel very empty and dead.
The bitter feeling continues with the statement that your GP ‘put you in counselling’ as though this was something done to you while you were entirely passive. You seem to feel you have no choices really, no autonomy. I wonder why the GP recommended counselling, and imagine it was because she or he noticed that you are depressed. You mention ‘getting people to notice’ you, but I wonder to what extent you notice them. You have rejected your needy friends and you seem to despise the need in yourself, perhaps not approaching people you find attractive or not feeling able to find anyone attractive because that makes you vulnerable and needy yourself. You are asking them to do all the work and wondering why they don’t.
You’re worried about being a spinster with all the negative connotations that carries – condemning yourself in the harshest possible way, with no sense of real compassion for yourself.
Of course, this is guess work now, but your attachment to your mum and your fear of her death is consuming you at the moment. It sounds as though you were very close and some important part of you feels very morbidly linked to her death, making your current state feel final, making you feel far older than you are, preparing yourself for the grave. This is an identification with her as, perhaps, is this anger at the men who don’t notice you and the friends who demand things from you. You don’t mention your father, but you do say you have no other family, so perhaps men have been categorised as deserters and abandoners for a long time already. Certainly you don’t sound as though you like them or expect anything from them, and you obviously don’t feel able to demand anything of them – their attention, love, interest.
You say you are perceived as smiley and friendly but you don’t sound very friendly in this letter. It sounds as though your life has always been very bound up in your mother’s life and as though it has been very hard to develop separately from her and develop a life of your own. Perhaps she was very demanding and controlling or very needy, or perhaps you felt an enormous guilt towards her and feel that if you were happy and in a relationship apart from her, having children and doing well, you would destroy her?
I don’t know, of course, but it seems to me that you expect men to objectify you and judge you entirely on your looks and, at the same time, you do the same with them, ruling out the older men and apparently not expecting to make friends or find things in common before attraction kicks in, or doesn’t. It feels as though your chronic loneliness is deepseated and has perhaps been with you since childhood. It is very telling that your letter is as much about rejecting others as it is about feeling rejected.
You are very confused and angry and obviously going through a period of terrible grief. In essence though, it sounds as though you really aren’t interested in anyone else (feeling so depressed) and you project that lack of interest into others and then wonder what’s going on. There’s a lot of work to do before you feel happy enough about yourself to have the confidence to want and need someone else enough to make approaches and really try your luck at happiness. At the moment you really aren’t available, and others can sense that.
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