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Q. I have read your letters for a long time but have never considered sending one in myself, despite being perpetually single (only one brief and not serious relationship). But I’d like to get your take on something.
At 30, men my age seem to fall into one of three categories. The first group just got married to partners they’ve been dating for a long time. It will be at least a few years (I assume) before any marriages that weren’t on steady ground move into separations and divorces. I’m not rooting for it; I’m just estimating.
The second group is the people who did not end up taking the next step and recently broke up with their long-term partners. Because they’re so recently out of a serious relationship, they are not interested in anything serious.
And then there is a third group of men who are single but appear to be unable to consider pursuing professional accomplishments and a relationship at the same time. I enjoy my career and there are many more milestones ahead of me. But I’m open to the idea that I could reach them as a single person or as a partner – and in fact, some of those goals may be easier to accomplish with a partner, where you have additional support (emotional/physical/financial/etc.).
Basically, these men seem to have a list of things they want to do or achieve before they are “ready” for a relationship. I have always kept a very open mind to dating around age, race/ethnicity, professional background, geographic distance, etc., but I sense that I might just be better off taking a break from dating for a few years and picking up again in my mid-30s. By then, some men from group #1 may be available again, men from group #2 may be less skittish about a serious relationship, and men from group #3 may have achieved whatever they needed in order to be ready. For context, I have my graduate degree, am happy and successful at my corporate job, have a home, and am a responsible pet owner. I am doing better than ever emotionally and mentally after doing regular self-reflection in therapy for the past six years. I have a very full life with wonderful friends and family, so at this point a relationship is not a necessity but it would be nice to have a partner to share, build, and celebrate life together.
Is this a pattern you have seen or heard of as well? Am I missing something?
A. I don’t think you can file all 30-year-old single men into three categories. Really, I think it’s more nuanced than that.
That said, 30 is a complicated age. Some people want to be married by 30. Others think of it as a starting point for more adult decisions. I won’t pretend age is irrelevant to the dating experience.
I’m a woman who fell into your third category of singleness when I was that age. I was building my life, but I didn’t want to do that with a romantic partner. Also, I was caretaking for a sick parent at the time. I didn’t have the bandwidth for more than work, friends, and family. My point is, it’s not just about age (or gender); it’s also about a bunch of other stuff you might not even think of.
But let’s say you’re right, I’m wrong, and the categories are very real. Why not date people who aren’t your age? You say you’re flexible about who you meet, so why not date the 35-year-olds? Or the 26-year-olds who want to marry their longtime partners at 30? That seems worth trying.
I think you also might have more luck if you go into dates with no expectations. You’ve done the kind of work that will make you a great partner, but the first few dates might not be about that kind of assessment. Sometimes people walk into a date thinking they’re not ready for much, but then, after a bunch of fun outings, they start considering more. You can know you’re ready to celebrate life with someone without bringing that energy and hope to every encounter. Accept that some introductions will feel casual until the connection grows.
In the beginning, enjoy a night out and consider whether there should be a second date. One thing at a time.
This letter is the ultimate in rationalizing singledom. C’mon, LW. The world of dating is broader, deeper and longer than anything that can be pigeonholed into three silly categories. Figure out the REAL reasons you are so determined to avoid dating. BLISTERED-TOE
I was in a long term relationship that ended at 31, then dated for 1.5 years and started another relationship from 33-34, then was single again and met my now husband at 35. Every time I was single in my 30s I felt this dread like I’d never meet anyone because I was too old. But I kept meeting great people and the BEST person I met was at 35. There is not rhyme or reason to it. You just need to put yourself out there! I went on what seemed like a million dates over those years. And I think going into dates just to see if you have fun is a great mindset. If you like them enough to go out again — do it. If you overthink it you take the fun out of everything and you won’t connect with anyone. APRILSHOWERS
Lighten up on the analysis and start making connections with people. Nobody wants to hear that they fall into a “category”. TERMNATER5
I think you’re over thinking this and I don’t think the categories are as neat as you think (except for the already married group which you should not even be thinking about). Instead of filing men into categories, stop making assumptions, get out there and start dating. It’s a numbers game and you have to kiss a lot of frogs. ASH
Send your own relationship and dating questions to email@example.com. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.