Romance Deprived

11 Aug

Dear LetterBalm: My parents were in their mid-40s when I was born. I’m an only child who has always lived at home. I took care of them after they got old and became ill. My father, my last surviving parent, died six months ago, and I’m on my own at the age of 46. I’m preparing our family home to sell so I can buy an apartment for myself – it will be the first home I’ve owned. All this is making me anxious. I work part-time and have old school friendships, but I’ve dated only a few times and have never been romantically involved. I’m shy, which makes me a little socially awkward. What do I say to prospective dates about why I’ve never been on my own, and how do I safely start a dating life?

–Social Neophyte 

Condolences on your loss. It’s certainly difficult to be on your own for the first time, even at 46, but it also is exhilarating. Ms. L.B. advocates a many-pronged approach, but you must take the first steps. As you put your home up for sale (and the attendant emotions it inspires), consider volunteer work at organizations you like and lectures/courses to stretch your mind. You’ll feel good about yourself and meet people casually who share your interests, which takes you out of your social anxiety. When you feel strong enough, invite an interesting person for coffee and conversation afterwards. Talk with a friend whose style you admire. Ask her to help you make some changes to your appearance. Tell her you want to take it slow – a new haircut, maybe, or new makeup application, some new clothes, a manicure and pedicure. You’ll feel pampered and confident. Ask friends to include you in group activities where you can meet people, no specific dating in mind. For the time being, don’t try online dating because it is too fraught for you. Talk with a trusted friend who knows you well. She may know of one or two single men who will appreciate you and enjoy spending time with you, no pressure. You also might consider a therapist who deals in social anxiety to give you coping tools. Remember, when you meet people, concentrate on them, ask questions, be upbeat and smile. People love to talk about themselves, and you might be surprised what you’ll find. Don’t forget to throw a bang-up housewarming party when your new flat is ready for prime time; ask friends to bring new people. Here’s how you might handle the question of living on your own after so long:

Since I was the only child of parents who had me in their mid-40s, I ended up living at home and caring for them in their final illnesses. I’m glad I did this because my mother and father were good people. Now, I’m making my own choices and living my own life without any guilt or regret.

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