Image thanks to hillary
I'm stuck in a rut - I've just moved into a flat, second year at University. I've been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and have to take medication to handle this (trust me, I tried and tried other ways before doing this) I'm flatting with 5 other girls - all very nice, but all have different social groups and are far more outgoing than me.
And I may as well say the main thing I just can't seem to budge at the moment is that I've never had a boyfriend. Yup I’m nearly 20 and I feel like a failure. I know people go ohhh he'll come along when the time's right etc but how do I know when all my friends have boyfriends and I just get overlooked? I have bad skin, and I know I lack confidence talking to guys, but I don't know how to build this up when I've tried before and just been rejected. I feel like I’m never going to be skinny/pretty enough or be able to handle my anxiety to actually get to know a lot of people.
I know I sound very negative and a big whinge but sometimes I just can't stay positive. My best friend who is amazing to me has boys falling all over her left right and centre and I can see why. I try to be confident and happy but I just end up in tears after a night out because I feel I’ll be alone forever.
I'm taking life one day at a time but sometimes I just feel so alone and can't get the motivation to get back up.
First off, lovely girl, you are by no means alone in feeling this way.
I got to 18 having never had a real boyfriend, spending my school years overlooked by the boys in favour of my best friend, thinking I was fat (I was so far from fat, you wouldn’t believe) developing bad skin, falling out with said best friend just months before school ended (you should know she was pretty much my only friend) and going on to sixth form college with my self-confidence at rock bottom. I found it difficult to make many new friends, felt awkward, and spent many a lunch time alone in the library trying to convince myself I didn’t care...
At 23 I’ve experienced the wonders and woes of a four-year relationship which ended sadly but neatly, have an amazing circle of international friends, love my body, accept myself even though I still suffer with bad skin, get to go on big adventures, revel in my single life and, somehow, have boys vying for my attention left right and centre. To look at my life, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have a clue that I spent my teen years in lonely turmoil convinced nobody would ever love me.
I’ve been loved, I’ve been told I’m no longer loved, and I have developed a rather marvellous love affair with myself.
But this doesn’t help you. The old chestnut of ‘hang in there!’ is, evidently, one you’ve already heard, and my waxing lyrical about the eventual overcoming of the obstacles may well fill you with frustration rather than hope (!) I was never diagnosed with depression, you have been, and that’s an important place where my story and your own differ.
I guess all I can do is share a few of the things I've found to be true, that I hope help.
1. Lover or no lover, problems abound.
You have to know – because it is a statistical certainty – that somewhere in the world there is a boy waiting for you. There is a boy who, too, has reached his twentieth year frustrated and unfulfilled – a boy that, if he saw you chatting to your friend at the next table in Starbucks would burn inside for the chance to talk to you; know you; maybe, just maybe, be allowed to love you. But culture and a lack of self-confidence as potent as your own commits him to sit there and say nothing, get up and leave, and have to forget you as easily as he found you.
That boy exists. But, get this: he isn’t going to solve you, or save you, just as you won’t him. That boy exists but I wager that finding him, or not finding him, isn’t going to help you feel better about yourself or your life.
Whilst I will admit that there is a tremendous amount of validation that comes with a fulfilling intimate relationship – there is also a whole cartload of opportunity for more insecurity and more body issues – add to that jealousy, difficulty to compromise, conflicts of interest in practically every arena (the bedroom, the dinner table, the family) plus a whole plethora of other relationship frustrations – and suddenly being ‘with’ someone doesn’t necessarily look much better than the single life.
There are times when I positively swell with gratitude at being free from the constraints of a relationship. Naturally, though, there are times when I feel anxious and unloved. Either way – the problems are mine.
No partner will bring a gift-wrapped solution. No boy will be a happy ending.
I’m my only hope for a happy ending – if such a phenomenon even exists. You, too, are your only hope.
In short: we humans have a real knack for focussing on the negatives of any situation, rather than revelling in the positives. Until we fix the broken record telling us everything’s hopeless, we don’t stand much of a chance of being happy: partnered or alone.
2. Your beliefs define the life you live.
Here are some of the beliefs evident in your message. Some I’ve taken word-for-word, others are read from between the lines:
“My flatmates are more outgoing than me.”“Never having had a boyfriend makes me a failure.”“Past rejection is a valid reason that I lack confidence with guys.”“I’m never going to be skinny/pretty enough.”
Hey, girl: ain’t one of those statements true outside of the spectrum in which you have made them true. Really.
It’s perfectly okay to have weaknesses – to allow ourselves those weaknesses, as a fundamental human right. Human weakness is beautiful – it’s what keeps us complexly Herculean rather than arrogant, faultless 100% GODS. We all have comfort zones and the poignant sense of our incapacity to move beyond them. But moulds can be broken and beliefs can be changed. You don’t have to trust that – you might not feel able to trust that – but you might find it helpful to try.
“Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”
Let me presume to challenge each of those beliefs.
“My flatmates are more outgoing than me.”
I’m willing to bet that each one of your flatmates has cried, quietly, alone in her room, in the dark, because she fears she will never be good enough. Don’t assume inferiority based on the external view. I can go to a party – and have done – speak to 90% of the people in the room, laugh loudly, joke freely, smile, flirt, yet still go home alone, feeling like s**t because I didn’t speak to the one guy I really wanted to. Someone watching me might think: oh, she’s so outgoing! Inside I feel like a fraud and a failure. It’s all relative. It’s all subjective.
Comparison isn’t a fair game; there is only one winner and it isn’t ever going to be you. The odds are always stacked in favour of the other party – whose intricate psyche will forever be masked by the very-human desire to masquerade that everything’s great. House always wins, so stop playing, sister.
“Never having had a boyfriend makes me a failure.”
A Hollywood rom-com failure? A mass media failure? A vogue magazine failure? Maybe. Tough-break: that 10-storey billboard of an amorous, suggestively coital embrace by two Burberry models tells you you’ve lost the game that you’re not sure you ever agreed to play. Our society begs of you to find a partner. But not entirely bygone cultures may beg you to find your place in a harem; Roman Catholic culture might beg you to take orders and vow celibacy. Here’s the real scoop: what your culture begs of you doesn’t have to define what you are.
What if you woke up one morning and society was demanding eternal singledom? Suddenly, you’d be winning.
We walk on the shaky tectonic plates of prescribed ideals – ideals that are liable to crumble beneath our feet at any moment – and yet, when we don’t manage to fulfil them, inevitably we feel like failures.
But what if you got to choose how you summarised your relationship history? What if you could breathe a sigh of relief that you didn’t waste years with someone who never deserved you? What if you could feel elated by the idea that the boy who eventually comes along and loves you will be the first? What if you could revel in all the potential you have for great love affairs; defined on your own terms and not by a marketer at a boardroom table or a Hollywood producer who wants nothing more than a big opening weekend?
“Past rejection is a valid reason that I lack confidence with guys.”
Simply: no. Rejection sucks, nobody’s denying that. I’ve had it in droves – from big-love breakdowns to barroom bypasses. And both are awful. But, you know, rejection can actually be massively liberating, just as long as you give up on the idea that one person not being interested in you impacts anyone being interested in you. I know, truly, that it feels that way, and that self-preservation seems they only armour against inevitable heartbreak. But I champion a new mode of self-preservation – one where you change your own mindset and allow yourself the conviction that you will not be compatible with everyone. And that is fine. And right. And that the whole point is that we are not compatible with everyone; so that the ones with whom we are land in our lives like fallen angels, causing our hearts to overflow with gratitude that YES! FINALLY, SOMEONE GETS IT!
“I’m never going to be skinny/pretty enough.”
Enough for what, I ask? Throw ‘enough’ out of the window. Please. Because nothing is never enough. Dyed hair, surgery, and several painful episodes of cosmetic dentistry ,you could still just as easily look in the mirror and hate yourself – more easily, probably. What constitutes pretty is subjective. ‘Skinny’ is a part of our cultural context. Both are set as impossible standards that, if we belittle ourselves enough to adhere to, condemn us to a life of misery because we will always fall short.
Girls in their teens and twenties are incredibly adept at blaming not feeling great on not looking great – when, actually, the two don’t have anything to do with one another. You are enough. Please immediately add that to your vocabulary. In fact, you are more than enough. What you are expands beyond the constraints of the measly word ‘enough’. You are immeasurable.
As I have stressed: context doesn’t have to dictate what you are. What you feel inside, how you treat yourself, how you approach life – that is what defines you, and you are able to influence all of these directly.
In short: one of the most powerful tools in self-development is to ask ourselves the question: “how can I view this in another light?” Realise that you may have subconsciously made up your mind about matters in a way that is debilitating you – completely unnecessarily. It is up to you to find new ways to define your life, beyond these limiting beliefs.
3. Get out of your own way.
There is clearly a divide between the life you are living and the life you feel you should be living. Almost everyone experiences this sensation. But it is sometimes important for us to move out of our own way and let the life that is trying to happen to us, happen.
The more we try to impose a lifestyle on ourselves, the more we fall short of those ridiculous standards; and the more we fall short, the more miserable we feel, and the more we delude ourselves that it’s because we’re missing that thing: the boy, the perfectly decorated home, the job title... It is up to you to stop this cycle; stop setting standards.
Imagine if, one day, someone came along and whispered the script of your life in your ear. Imagine they revealed that in exactly two years you would meet an incredible man and spend the rest of your life with him. What would do with those interim two years? Sit around begrudgingly dragging your singleton status around like an anvil? Probably not. You’d probably just decide to have the most amazing two years you could; appreciating every single day of being alone, safe in the knowledge that the magic of a relationship was on its way, and that you were only blessed with a few more short months of un-tethered independence. If you trust that what’s for you won’t pass you by, your whole life can be lived this way.
Some practical steps you can take:
1. Remember: you choose your choice.
You are living the life you design for yourself. If finding a boy really is your top priority (and I’d hazard a guess that you have many other worthy pursuits beyond this, being that it isn’t 1952!) then go ahead and make it a priority. Tell friends you’re looking for love. Go on a few blind dates. Join a dating website. Get a dating coach (yes! They exist!) or just a life coach with whom you can discuss your confidence issues, and set actionable goals to overcome them. Join a society at uni that will have a good mix of new ladies and lads to meet – and rope a friend in if you feel nervous going alone...
If none of these interest you, and you feel that your energy is better spent elsewhere, then celebrate the fact that you are CHOOSING to be alone right now – choosing to invest all your energy into a rip-roaringly selfish academic, sociable, starry-eyed university experience, rather than being wrapped in the comforting, but sometimes smothering, cocoon of a relationship.
2. You knew I was going to say it, but...
...to build your confidence, grow your social circle, and increase your chances of meeting a stand-up fella - you’ve got to meet people. Lots of them. There’s no getting around this, I’m afraid. It’s scary and it’s difficult and you’ll feel awkward – guaranteed – but if you throw yourself in the deep end you’ll learn what it feels like to swim (and why swimming is infinitely better than splashing aimlessly in the shallows). You don’t have to be the picture of the ‘outgoing girl’ that it seems you’ve illustrated in your imagination. You are just as valuable as the sweet, timid girl, great for a good one on one. Again, it’s all about how you define yourself – and how you are able to put these definitions aside and simply let people get to know you. If you experience rejection – honestly? – that’s their problem.
“How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.”
Zora Neale Hurston
Living with five different girls, all with different social circles, as you say, is an amazing opportunity to build your own social circle. Suggest that you collectively host a dinner at your flat and each invite a couple of friends, then you’ll all be meeting someone new. Announce when you don’t have any plans one evening or weekend and see if this nets you an invite along to anyone else’s jaunts. It’s such a cliché, but put yourself out there – and see where it gets you.
3. Go easy on yourself
Conversely to the above, you must appreciate and accept those times when you just don’t feel like being sociable. If I get an invite somewhere and yet would rather spend a night in alone in my pyjamas, I am a terror for beating myself up about it. But this is counter-productive. Learn to decipher when you really will revel in some quiet time, and when you could give yourself a little nudge out the door.
Of course, anxiety is a very real hindrance and one it seems you’ve already addressed – if you genuinely feel that this is crippling you in speaking with new people, talk this over with your GP. I often recommend CBT as I’ve heard marvellous things about it.
The fact that you’ve actively tried to build your confidence, got your depression under control, and written to me, gives me every confidence in you. You’re helping yourself. You’re being your own personal warrior for wellbeing. And if you can stick on that track – if you can stay on your own side – you’re set for a long and happy life, be that single, co-habiting, married, separated etc. because wherever you go, there you are. Whoever you’re with – or aren’t with – there you are. And you are wonderful.
Do you have any advice for our sweet Anon? (As if my response wasn't long-winded enough!) Have you ever felt the same way? How did you overcome it?
Want some Megan-shaped advice yourself? Drop me a line to email@example.com and I’ll do my best for you!