Many of us have been witness to the confusing phenomenon, which I will call the Accidental-Man-of-My-Dreams Syndrome, or AMMDS for short. It goes like this: Your best friend (or colleague or younger sister, or other single lady), declares she isn’t all that interested in settling down. She is happy focusing on the job that she loves, cultivating friendships and staying healthy. She randomly dates when the spirit moves her and has fun reporting the quirky details of her latest fling. She is carefree and having a blast!
Then, suddenly, she falls deeply in love with Mr. Right! He is kind, handsome and well established—his right canine actually sparkles when he smiles. It becomes clear that your “bestie” has developed AMMDS. By the end of year 1.5, she is married, pregnant and content. “I’m surprised at how delighted this all makes me,” she casually declares, blissfully patting her expanding middle.
All this would fill you with joy, of course… if you weren’t enveloped by murderous envy.
As it happens, your third date of the week was just as miserable as the first two. Despite investing in every dating program out there, you find yourself as single as ever. You’ve joined every site and muttered “Calm down. It’s just lunch,” as you sacrifice another peaceful work break to meet up with a possible partner-to-be. No dating book has gone un-read. No blind date has passed you by. Yet, here you are, not getting any younger, offering congratulations to another close friend who somehow spontaneously fell into the life you desperately want.
AMMDS would be lovely, if it impacted all women equally. Unfortunately, many women, especially in a hip Never-Never Land like San Francisco, are baffled, frustrated and deeply pained by the feeling that they’ll never find a decent partner. It can so often feel like your desire to meet a good guy and fall in love is the very thing that is getting in your way, leaving you feeling deeply stuck.
Like many of us, you have done your research and considered a myriad of theories about why you haven’t found your mate. It seems so easy for others! Chances are, you can hardly toss a rock without hitting another person who is all too willing to wax philosophical about all the reasons you’re 35 and single.
There’s the “Your Successful Career is Intimidating” theory, in which experts encourage you to cool it with all of your feminist empowerment and, instead reveal your gentler, effeminate side. Read: Be more like a 1950’s housewife. The men will flock.
There’s also the, “No Man, You’re to Blame” school of thought, which posits that if you’re still struggling to find a dude, you’re a mess and you’d better change pronto if you want to find a husband and birth the requisite 1.5 kiddos.
Oh, and the “Men Just Don’t Want to Settle Down” argument. Research, again, however, demonstrates that this theory doesn’t hold up. Studies show that men are just as interested in commitment as women, as the infuriating repetition of the AMMD illustrates. Thus the myth of the lifetime bachelor is out, no matter how we hope this phenomenon is a reason for our singlehood.
The more you seek to understand the “why” of your being single, the more despondent you may become. It feels like the problem must lie either with you or with all of mankind. Neither of which is a hopeful thing to contemplate.
Though it feels okay to seek a therapist to help with problems like anxiety or depression, many of us balk at the idea of seeing a therapist to help us cope with the travails of a desolate dating life.
It can feel like seeking a therapist is admitting that we’re the problem and this thought is painful. In seeking out a therapist, it feels like we’re taking the blame for our inability to find a compatible mate, surfacing feelings of regret (“Why didn’t I find a therapist sooner? Now it’s too late for me.”), shame (“I really have been ‘the problem’ all along”) and weakness (“I should be able to figure this out on my own”).
No matter how much you try to “fix the problem” on your own, the reality is you have an unconscious mind, which keeps influential thoughts, behaviors and feelings out of your awareness. This leaves you blind to hidden parts of your experience that may be interfering with your efforts to find romantic intimacy.
Take Lilly, a mid-30’s career woman who sought therapy after a string of dead-end relationships. Though she declared that she’d successfully “put her past behind her,” through therapy she discovered that she unconsciously linked marriage with servitude, setting aside her own wishes to support those of her mate – just as her own mom had done. This hidden belief had been leading her to seek commitment-phobic men. If a guy did desire to go further, she ended up sabotaging any possibility for romance without even knowing it! All of this was happening despite her conscious belief that she was totally committed to finding a partner.
Therapy isn’t about determining what you’re doing “wrong” or “right.” Rather, it’s about exploring what is happening, in a thoughtful, open and curious manner.
All too often, we spiral into patterns of self-loathing and anxiety that stem from our earliest relational experiences of rejection, especially when putting ourselves out there to find love. Your therapist will join with you to examine the difficulties that arise when what you want is very different than what you’re getting, especially when it comes to intimate relationships.
In taking the time to invest in your own psychic process and emotional life, you will inevitably find that it is easier to enter into relationships with ease, confidence and desire.
Who knows, you may suddenly find yourself struck with a case of AMMD!