I'm in my early 30s now, and my perspective has completely changed. I love nice people. I would be thrilled if someone were to describe me as "just a really, really good person." I can't think of any personality trait that I find more attractive than kindness, except perhaps a sense of humor that is similar to mine.
Sara Eckel's book, It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single, is a kind book. It is a longer version of her excellent, very popular Modern Love essay in the New York Times. It's about being kind to yourself, which can often be very difficult, especially if you are a single woman in your 30s or 40s. Inevitably, people think there is something wrong with you. Eckel does not. She says that if you're single, it's not because something's wrong with you. It's because finding someone is hard. It takes a lot of luck. It's about timing. And if it happens, that's great. But if it doesn't, it's not your fault. You are no less worthy of love than other people are.
So many things that Eckel brings up here as the reasons why women are single (you're too picky, you're too intimidating, you're too available, you need more practice, you aren't playing the game, etc.) are things that have been said to me by well-meaning friends and pretty much complete strangers. Eckel takes 27 of the most common reasons self-help books and well-meaning friends tell you that you're single and refutes them. She tells you why vulnerability is a good thing, why you should stand up for yourself. She is just that really wonderful girlfriend who listens to you and doesn't judge you but instead gives you support and a really excellent hug.
I've been single for pretty much my entire life. I have done so many of the things Eckel mentions here. She talks about all the projects and tasks single women take up, trying to make themselves more well-rounded, better, worthier people for relationships. They exercise, they learn to cook, they host dinner parties, they volunteer in their communities, they travel alone, they work really hard to make new friends and keep long-established friendships alive.
And it's true. I am in the best shape of my life right now, I have more friends than I've ever had before, I make sure that I have a full calendar (though I will never use the word "busy" to describe myself as I hate that word), and I put myself out there far more often, and in ways that make me quite a bit more uncomfortable, than I ever would have thought possible even 5 years ago. Being single has made me into a better person, even if being single can be really hard sometimes. But has it made me more "worthy" of finding someone? No.
Eckel talks a lot about self-compassion and Buddhist teachings (though she does not consider herself a Buddhist). This is an idea I have been thinking about quite a bit over the past several months, mostly because I think so many people are kind to others but are not kind to themselves. We do not trust ourselves, we do not give ourselves credit for going out there and giving it the ole college try, we assume there must be something wrong with us. Eckel references a TED Talk by Brene Brown that I looked up after finishing the book. It's about the power of vulnerability, and it is excellent. Brown says, yes, it's hard to make yourself vulnerable. It makes you feel weak, it makes you feel exposed, and it can be horrible when it doesn't go well. But... making yourself vulnerable also opens you up to richer, more wonderful relationships with people. It gives people the opportunity to be vulnerable with you, too. You learn more about someone. Your friendship deepens. You are kinder, gentler, more forgiving. They are, too. And it's worth it. "The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging. That's it."
Eckel also talks about the whole "ice queen" idea - that if a woman really wants to get a man's attention, she should basically ignore him and pretend she doesn't care about him, because if he realizes she cares, then he'll leave. Of every piece of dating advice out there, this one always comes up. Don't show too much interest. Play the game. Don't respond to his text for like, 8 hours, even though everyone knows you saw the text as soon as it was sent because what are the chances you don't have your phone with you?
I would say this is always the one I struggle with the most because I think it's really bad form and quite rude not to respond to someone who contacts you. I also have very little patience in spending time with people I don't like when I could spend time with people I do like. If I like you, I will make time for you. If I don't, I won't. The idea of not making time for someone that I like is just ridiculous to me. The idea of treating someone I really like unkindly is also very hard to take. As Eckel says,
Think about the most self-assured people you know. Are they inconsiderate, selfish, or withholding? Do they try to make you feel small and powerless? Or are they the ones who offer to take your coat and give you their full attention when you tell them about the book you're reading? Are they the ones who notice when you've done something well and tell you so?Like I said, I want to be the nice person. I don't want to be the cause of angst or anxiety in someone else's life, I want to be a source of support.
And that's why I think this book was so great. It was not at all self-help-y, it was not about finding ways to find guys, it was not about anything except feeling good about yourself. And that means a lot.
One of Eckel's single friends, when asked what she wanted in a man (because some people thought she was too picky, and other people thought she just didn't know a good thing when she had it), said something that I think is pretty much perfect, and will be my criteria going forward:
I want to find a guy who delights and surprises me as much as my friends do, but I also want to make out with.Word.