Memo to Single Women: Stop Asking, “What’s Wrong with Me?”

I had the oddest revelation the other morning, while doing laundry.  As I threw my fiancé’s and my dark clothes into the washer, a mundane task that three years ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be doing for someone else, let alone a future husband, I realized that all along, I was good enough for a relationship.

Now, I know what you are saying. That is a weird revelation to come from doing laundry, and that’s true. I have no idea why the very ordinary task of washing clothes caused this thought, or caused me to suddenly see just how wrong I was to have believed, even for one second, that something was ‘wrong with me’ all those years that I was single, but it did. And now, here I am today, writing about this experience because for me, it was profound.

As a single woman until I was 41, I spent more nights than I care to admit, crying over martinis and crostini, in dimly lit Dupont Circle bars with my close friends K and M, dissecting what was happening (or not) in my love life, and why. And although I didn’t always share this with my friends…the sponsoring thought (for me) pretty much always returned to, “What is wrong with me?”

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Many people, not just women, feel this way when relationships don’t work out.  Practically, the question isn’t unwarranted: wondering what went wrong when something fails is normal. What makes this particular instance so dangerous is that for single women, too often I think the question isn’t asked with consideration, but with condemnation.

“What’s wrong with me?” always had an answer in my head. Because you’re too old, too fat, too needy, too bossy, too shy, too fearful, too uptight, too critical.  Even when it was obvious that something wasn’t wrong with me, and I was just as content for the relationship to have ended, or for no follow-up phone call or date to have occurred, my deconstruction of the situation always circled back around to the question, ‘What’s wrong with me?’, and the answers were very nearly always because of perceived flaws within myself.

In a serious relationship for two years now, and getting married later this year, my days of wondering why a relationship didn’t work are behind me. But that doesn’t change the fact that for a long time, I played that question game with myself, and that even now – I find I’ve replaced the ‘what’s wrong with me?’ question with many others. Only now, I feel like I finally know the answer. That particular put-down of me only ever had one answer, and that answer was – and still is – not a single thing.

Does that mean that, were I still dating now, I’d be a perfect match to every man I met? Obviously no…but it does mean that I can see now how perniciously negative it was for me to default to thinking that something was wrong with me when no match was made. I don’t know if it’s time…maturity…the love and support I have in my relationship now…or simply my own observations of life, but I can finally see that relationships not working out has nothing to do with wrong or right.

My fiancé and I have had some doozey fights; the kind of fights that when I was single, I didn’t think couples could recover from.  And I admit, I take these fights to heart more than I think my fiancé does. Not in the sense of, he dismisses me or doesn’t think communicating or working through our fights is important, but in the sense of: we have the fight, we talk through it…he leaves it behind, while I sometimes fret and stew, worrying that somehow…the fight is an indication of something ‘wrong’.

There’s nothing wrong with my fiancé, or with me, or with our relationship. What’s wrong…what has always been wrong, is my perception that bumps in the road automatically equal something is wrong…with me.

Even after seeing me at my lowest, ugliest, worst point – when snot is streaming out of my nose, my cheeks are flushed with anger and my eyes red and puffy from crying – he still loves me. He loves the real me – the angry me, the out-of-line me, the rude me, the scared me, the vulnerable me…all the me’s that I was pretty sure, before I met my fiancé, would run a man off right quick.

All the me’s that I thought weren’t good enough, or that something was wrong with – he loves, he cherishes, and he makes a priority, every day. I feel blessed in so many ways to have met my fiancé, but a part of me is wistful that I had to endure a decade (at least!) of self-criticism before I did so. And I wonder why dating has to be like that, at all.  I realize that we can’t all ‘be’ for every single person we meet, but even if we do meet a lot of people that aren’t a match for us, can’t we all still be positive, whole, single people who are out in the crowd, looking to find the glance that captures, and keeps their own, and then grows into something even more? That doesn’t require put downs, silent or otherwise, or questions or bad feelings – it just requires faith that damnit, nothing is wrong with me. And soon, I’ll meet someone who has nothing wrong with them, either.

I’m no dating coach, but I am here to tell single ladies one and all – stop asking yourself that question. There is nothing wrong with you.  And there never was.