It can be scary for me to share my own story, but it’s also tremendously liberating to try to live a life without shame. Sharing my single shame story helps me to stand up straight and I know my story can be of service to others. So with that I am happy to share with you this awesome podcast with my friends Lindsay and Lani of Fuck Dating (“actually helpful banter about dating, relationships and all the bullshit and bliss that goes with them”) and you will hear me tell the story of how I got over my single shame and speak with honesty and vulnerability about my relationship history to a man that I was dating.
Shame is all about the secret. Accepting yourself is always the key. There is no way someone else can accept and love you if you don’t share with them who you really are. Just by talking about it with others, you break the secrecy. You can do that with a friend, a therapist, or with me first through one-on-one coaching. Breaking down the single shame so you can open up for the relationships you really want has become a huge focus of my coaching practice.
Single shame held me back from loving myself and truly connecting for many years. I don’t want that to be true for you.
Listen in to this podcast (click play above) and let us know what you think in a comment!
PS We also talk about how tango is is the perfect manifestation of quirkytogether in a dance. (You’ll hear how the awareness I gained through tango helped me to heal my shame and speak it out loud to a boyfriend.) Our next Quirky Heart Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires is May 23-30, so if you want to get your quirkyalone and quirkytogether on through dance, and become more confident on and off the dance floor, then come on down and join us.
Celebrating a newfound collaboration between Shameless Heart and Quirkyalone Coaching …at tonight’s Healing Single Shame workshop. May all beings be free to love and adore themselves as they are, partnered or not— Sasha Cagen and Marina Smerling.
Today, half of U.S. residents are single, and a third of all households have one occupant. Despite this fact, many people still struggle with “single shame”—the sense that there is something wrong with them because they are single. People who have spent years single especially struggle with this shame.
We all have our “thing” when we are dating and in relationship. The “thing” we think others may find unacceptable.
Yet single shame in particular tells you that something is wrong with you because you are still single or have been single for a long time. This single shame can get in the way of connection. Say you are out on a date, and someone asks you how long it has been since your last relationship. Maybe you don’t know what to say, or you lie. When you hold back your story, you may find it hard to forge true connection. In fact, single shame tricks you into thinking you are not worthy of connection at all.
Come to this two-hour NVC (Nonviolent Communication) workshop aimed at supporting single people who want to rise above single shame to forge true connections in love, dating, relationship, and friendships. Through this workshop, we will help you to release this shame and find more confidence to share the truth of your dating history and authentically connect with others.
Sasha will share healing stories and insights about how single shame gets in the way of dating and intimacy, and creative ways she and other quirkyalones have gotten over it to connect with dates and partners.
Marina will guide us in using tools from NVC to help heal and transform single shame into awareness of our underlying needs, from which we are free to choose new strategies for showing up authentically in all of our relationships, first dates included. These skills help us build authentic, strong relationships, in which we are free to be ourselves, single or not.
This is the beta edition of our workshop, so it’s priced low as you cocreate this with us, take advantage and join us now!
Where: Bay Area Nonviolent Communication
55 Santa Clara, #203, Oakland, California 94610
When: Monday, December 15, 7-9 pm
Price: $20. No one turned away.
Note: I’ll be using strategies and insights to coach you through releasing single shame and sharing your dating history with more confidence in my upcoming online course and club Quirkyalone Society. If you do not live in the Bay Area, and want to benefit from this healing, be sure to sign up for the early notification list for Quirkyalone Society!
write a relationship resume to remind yourself what you do know–and counter your single shame
Today, half of U.S. residents are single, and a third of all households have one occupant. Despite this fact, many people still struggle with “single shame”—the sense that there is something wrong with them because they are single.
It doesn’t matter what your relationship history is, you have the power to create the relationships you want now. But first you need to release the single shame that’s blocking you–so you can share yourself more fully, set a clear intention for the life and relationships you want, and learn new skills for healthy communication.
Single shame has been a huge topic in the quirkyalone community this year in my conversation with Sara Eckel, author of It’s Not You, and in my coaching practice with quirkyalone women. Quirkyalones might feel they have been single so long they don’t know how to *do* a relationship, or they lack clarity about what they really want. They may fear they will lose themselves and their freedom–or that a quirky relationship is not possible.
Underneath these thought patterns, usually some kind of shame is lurking and blocking the unfolding of love within yourself–and with another. Single shame tricks you into thinking you are not worthy of connection.
Quite literally, single shame holds quirkyalones back from dating.
It is powerfully healing to work through these blocks with my clients.
I hold coaching as a creative space, and creativity comes out of the coaching process. One of my quirkyalone coaching clients Kristin came up with a fabulous idea through our sessions. She decided to write a skills-based relationship resume as a way to counter the internal critic voice telling her she didn’t have the skills or experience to date. I loved this idea so I asked Kristin if I could interview her to share this tactic with you.
She generously agreed, wanting to bolster the voices of quirkyalones everywhere and beat back the scourge of single shame!
How was single shame showing up for you in dating or not dating? What has it been like to talk about it with me and voice those feelings of single shame?
You know, I honestly don’t think I had really internalized how much my single shame was affecting me and my willingness to dive back into the dating game. I’ve never been super inclined to do things I’m not good at (which is goofy, because usually the only way to get good at something is to practice), but dating was the quintessential example of translating past “failures” into overall avoidance…which furthered perpetuated the single shame. Hearing Sasha tell me just how much *she* was hearing that as a hindrance for me was pretty powerful.
What prompted you to write a dating resume?
I got tired of assuming that I don’t know how to be in relationships because I haven’t dated that much. I have fully functional relationships with friends, family, and colleagues–so why shouldn’t that experience count?
Simultaneously, I had been thinking about how the longer you go without dating, the harder it can be to dive back in—much the way it can be to be long-term unemployed. Spurred on by a conversation with a career coach friend, it occurred to me that when you want to highlight skills rather than experience in seeking a job, you create a resume that does just that.
So I decided to reassure myself, I suppose, by creating a dating resume that focused on what I know how to do, rather than when and with whom (and for how long) I’ve learned how to do it.
What’s your favorite part?
The skills section. It was my favorite to consider, and brought me the most comfort throughout the exercise. It was also the part that has stuck with me the most, as you can imagine. I guess my favorite skill ended up being “Managing Internal and External Conflict,” as that’s the one that I’ve worked hardest at over the past few years, and is so critical for relationships.Read More
What does being gay have in common with being quirkyalone? They are both ways of being that don’t fit the social script. The still pervasive “how it’s supposed to be.”
We’ve been talking a lot about releasing the shame of long-term singlehood in order to make yourself more free and available to connect in a healthy relationship (and even to know how to talk about your history when you start dating someone).
Hot on the heels of our chat on single shame last week with Sara Eckel, I was so moved and struck when I saw this video of Ellen Page talking to Ellen DeGeneres about her coming out as gay in a powerful speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive Conference in Las Vegas. I loved how their conversation turned to the power of releasing shame, for anything we feel ashamed about. We all have our secrets.
Ellen DeGeneres: “How do you feel since you have done it (coming out)?”
Ellen Page: “I knew I would be a happier person. I knew that I was going to feel better. I did not anticipate just how happy I would feel. In every aspect of my life. Just an ease and a comfort. It’s really been quite extraordinary to feel the shift. And it was pretty much overnight too.”
Ellen DeGeneres: “It’s because you’re releasing shame. It doesn’t matter what it is, what you are carrying around as your secret, everyone has something you are carrying around that they are ashamed of. To carry around shame, first of all causes disease, it’s a horrible thing to be ashamed of yourself.”
I’ve been so inspired by the reaction to this issue of the shame of long-term singlehood that I want to incorporate this topic into a new quirkyalone/quirkytogether group coaching program. If you are hiding anything about yourself and thinking someone is going to reject you because of whatever your “thing” is, the best way address this is to practice sharing your story with others. There is nothing more healing than being witnessed.
In this new group coaching program, I want to share with you everything I have learned about quirkyalone and quirkytogether over the last ten years since publishing Quirkyalone, with the intention of helping you create more ease and comfort in your life–especially in the areas of dating and relationship.
If you have been held back by any feelings of shame about your story around being single, this is going to be an amazing chance to work through that sticky stuff with my support and the support of others going through the same thing. If you are interested in being part of this, be sure to sign up here to get on the priority list.
Our quirky chat about single shame last week was so amazing and deep I needed to let it settle into my body and soul to write up this post for you. I feel so blessed that we were able to have this healing conversation. I chose the topic because I have noticed the question as a theme in my private coaching and in the questions that I get from readers:
“I haven’t had a boyfriend or girlfriend in five (or ten) years (or ever). what does that say about me? When I start dating someone, how do I talk about my relationship history (or lack thereof)?”
I invited the genius Sara Eckel to join me because she’s written so beautifully about this dilemma in her Modern Love essay and her book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. When she was first dating her now-husband Mark, Sara agonized about when to tell him “the truth.” (She hadn’t been in a relationship for nine years.) In the end, he didn’t care. He was happy he hadn’t had a boyfriend because she was available for him.
Watch the video and you’ll see her read from the beginning of her original Modern Love essay where she reads about always hating that question, “How long has it been since your last relationship?”
She writes about the feeling of being grilled with such beautiful precision: “It seemed so brazenly evaluative—an employment counselor inquiring about a gap in your résumé, a dental hygienist asking how often you flossed.” I shared my own story of trying to spit out the truth to a boyfriend that my longest relationship had been nine months, and it took me a full half hour to get those words out of my mouth. When I did, he was shocked that was the thing I had been trying to tell him.
Our discussion was beautiful and we had great questions from quirkyalones around the globe. I knew this chat would strike a nerve and be healing and it was. I want to share with you my biggest takeaways from this deep chat and I hope what you will take from it. My intention here is that all of us quirkyalones shed the shame and own our stories.
We are the harshest judges of ourselves.
Shame is so heavy for us.
When you tell someone your shameful “thing,” there’s a good chance that person will likely shrug their shoulders and say, that’s it? (Or maybe they won’t. They judge you. So that’s not the person for you.)
Sara’s advice, “Whatever you are feeling ashamed about, sharing it with someone really helps.”
We also need to realize how we are buying into a societal idea that something is wrong with us if our lives don’t follow the prescribed path, and it’s our responsibility to evaluate that idea and discard it if it actually doesn’t serve us.
Ultimately what we are talking about is owning your story. Brene Brown teaches us about the courage that is required to be vulnerable (and live a joyful life). She writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Don’t be like the writer who believes only the one bad review.
If a clueless stranger or friend makes a hurtful comment like, “How is it possible that you’ve never lived with a man?” or “I don’t get it, you’re great, how come you’ve never had a long-term relationship?” Don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks that way—or that no one will want you. Sara and I are both writers. We know that tendency to believe the one bad review. Don’t generalize and read into people’s minds thinking you won’t be wanted.
Women and men both feel this pain, but more women feel it.
One great question that came in during the chat was from Andreas in Germany. He asked if single shame affects women more deeply. I wrote in my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics there are more positive archetypes for male aloneness like James Dean and Odysseus.
Women tend to be more deeply worried that lack of relationship experience. However, both Sara and I get emails from men, and I have male coaching clients. We know men feel this pain of being judged too. The Internet is full of posts with headlines like: “Red flag, is it a bad sign if someone was never married by middle age?” “Is there something wrong with a man over 40 who has never married?” But it’s also true that for men singleness may be viewed more simply as a choice. Men simply don’t have the same level of sexist junk aimed at them, whether that’s the “old maid” stereotype or the virgin-whore dichotomy that leaves a sexually expressed woman worried if she’s a “slut.”
People often assume the fulfillment of a woman’s true identity comes through relationship (marriage and motherhood) whereas for a man his first fulfillment comes through purpose (work). So if you’re a woman and you haven’t had much long-term relationship experience so far, it’s easy to feel you have failed at being a “woman.” Women also tend to be more self-critical (women are almost twice as likely as men to develop depression) and women internalize societal messages more deeply. So our job as women is to question those societal ideals and not let them affect the way we view ourselves. We need to investigate the ways in which we are buying into messages that are just going to make us feel bad—and choose new mantras and messages for ourselves.
Open yourself to believing the opposite can be true.
One of the most powerful tools I use in my coaching practice is derived from the work of Byron Katie.
Byron Katie encourages us to always ask whether the opposite could be true of the things we are deeply invested in believing. In this case, I encourage you to question your belief that being single for a long time makes you unattractive.
Perhaps there are many Marks out there who would be happy you are available.
A male quirkyalone friend delighted me with his perspective (so different from what many quirkyalone women assume): “While it’s a generalization, and everyone’s different, I really don’t think any men I know would care that a woman hasn’t lived with a man or had a long-term serious relationship with someone before, and it would actually be a turn-on that they haven’t. No one likes to picture past significant others of a person they’re dating, plus if it works out you get to experience something for the first time with someone. I can’t speak for the women’s point of view re: a man’s history of singledom, but I’ve never had a conversation with a male friend where we were at all concerned about a *lack* of significant history of someone we’re dating.”
Remember everyone has their “thing.”
I always remember an episode of Ally McBeal where Ally and Robert Downey Jr.’s character are falling in love. She feels the need to spill all her flaws in a waterfall of self-criticism. “You know I’m vain, and self-absorbed, and difficult,” etc. etc. etc. Somehow we feel the need to confess this stuff about yourselves. You better know my flaws!
Daniel Jones, the editor of the Modern Love column, and author of the new book Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) has read a mountain of personal stories about dating and love. One common theme: people worry that something about them is deeply unacceptable. Sara met a woman on book tour who thought that “thing” was being vegan. For me a long time the “thing” jumped from my long-term singlehood to the fact that I like to travel. Or that it was that I let dishes pile up in the sink.
Funny how creative the mind can be with coming up with an unacceptable “thing” about ourselves!
We are “thing” machines. What’s yours? Name it and set yourself free. If you confess your “thing” to someone else, they might laugh at you thinking it’s unacceptable. [You could even post it as a comment here.]
Sara’s advice: “Remember your date probably has a ‘thing’ too that they are worried about.”
You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
You don’t have to explain yourself. When random people ask you why are you single you can say “I don’t know.” Part of self-respect and owning the worthiness of your own story means practicing a kind of containment where you share what you want to share.
You have nothing to confess to a new date either. When you start dating someone new, you don’t have to “hide” your relationship resume (or lack thereof), but you also don’t have to confess it in the first, third, fifth, or seventh date. Confessing implies there is something wrong with you. It’s natural that someone wants to know about your story, but their interest doesn’t mean they are prodding for your “fatal flaw.” Online dating may encourage a consumer mentality, but that’s not the way it works when you are getting to know someone who is really interested in you IRL (in real life). You can let your history come out and unfold as you get to know each other as the facts and intimate stories of your life emerge.
You could even be proud. Or at least view your history neutrally.
Long-term singlehood is a relatively rare phenomenon in part because few people still make the choice to say no to a mediocre or not so amazing relationship at 29 or 31 or 36 and hold on for what they really want. It’s easy for most people to call this “picky”—maybe it means intuitive. Maybe it means high standards. Maybe it means you’ve been busy. Or maybe you have no idea why. Being quirkyalone isn’t a higher calling than being a serial monogamist or a committed single, all paths are equally valid, but you have permission and encouragement to see your choices as courageous.
On the other hand maybe you have been single for a long time and it’s not completely by choice, it’s because you walled yourself off or didn’t have the courage to put yourself out there. Maybe there’s something very deep from your childhood that you didn’t quite figure out yet or you never saw intimacy modeled in your family life, so you have no idea how to create an intimate long-term relationship. That’s challenging, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. We all have issues to work through. Learning how to be intimate and to be in a healthy relationships is the work of a lifetime. No matter where you are, you’re on a journey.
You can see your history neutrally as what has happened, nothing more nothing less. Mindful meditation can help you with this process, as Sara mentions in the chat. If it’s your desire to date, you can make the choice to learn how to date and be in a healthy relationship and practice relationship skills. I emphasize this with my clients in my my private coaching that you can develop these skills no matter where you are in life and use them to improve all your relationships, most fundamentally your relationship with yourself.
This chat was cathartic!
Here’s an email I got after the chat. I’m sharing this with Susan’s permission because she wants to own her story and so you can get the vibe of how emotional this topic is for her and many people.
Just want to say thank you so much for the Single Shame chat. I will admit the tears were flowing at times, but in a cathartic way. I wrote that first question (Sue C.), and the answer was healing—to realize that I am the one heaping the shame and feelings of inadequacy onto myself. I think it’s time for me to stop doing that.
I found it funny how when Sara was answering my question, she referred to mindful meditation. I just starting taking a meditation class last month (and am about to leave for class in a few minutes). If feels like I am starting a new personal journey, and I love it when the different threads come together.
By the way, my name is Susan, not Sue – again, that’s me trying to hide lest I be exposed as that perpetually single person. But as you said, I have to own my story. So Susan it is.
Another women left this message:
Hi Sasha! I just watched the Spreecast chat. Wow. So real. So honest. Thank you. I felt like I was having a deep conversation with good friends.
In the first part of the video I felt like saying: “But there IS something wrong with me.” Because I feel I know why I am single, it has a lot to do with how I was brought up. There is a lack of trust and fear of risking my heart only to be hurt, and shame for being imperfect. So I just haven’t bothered. But maybe it’s not that simple, maybe the story I have been telling myself is quite heavy-handed on the self blame, a bad habit. The facts are that I have been single for 7 years. Be it circumstantial or my own doing.
As the conversation went on, the perception of my situation morphed a little in my brain. “Maybe it’s just something that happened” doesn’t sound so implausible anymore. This new outlook is one of the roots to the self-acceptance you mentioned in the video. It makes everything (my damn story) so much more palatable.
I LOVE the idea of the group coaching! I am signed up to your list already so I will hear about it 🙂
Now, as a leadup to this most juicy quirky chat on single shame, I want to share my amazing experience at a drag show this Monday night (it’s relevant) and some thought-provoking questions on single shame that have come in in advance of the chat.
Monday I planned to meet up with my friend Jenny for a drink in downtown Oakland. We wandered over to Café Van Kleef, a whimsical, kitschy, zany, dare I say *quirky* dive bar famous for its grapefruit-vodka cocktails. As we started on second drinks the emcee announced the drag show would begin. We had no idea it was drag night. We had not noticed that many of the couples around us were pairs of men. Boy were we lucky on a Monday night!
The performers were out of this world. One of them made me feel like I was back in Rio for Carnaval, she undulated so pansexually with the crowd in her pasties. I adored the way they lip-synched and danced to the pop songs with such passion, such emotional catharis. One drag queen slithered on the floor lip-synching to Pink, what more do you want? I felt validated that strong emotions exist.
In between the shows, the bar broadcast RuPaul’s reality show Drag Race on a big screen. Think America’s Top Model but for drag queens. The standout moment for me (there were many great moments) was when one of the contestants shared an epiphany. I will paraphrase. He said, “It was that moment when I realized that there was actually nothing wrong with me, and the only thing that was wrong with me was the fact that I thought there was something wrong with me. Nothing changed, but everything shifted.”
Why this topic? Shame about singlehood and not knowing what to tell a new partner about why you have been single for years has been one of the consistent things I have heard from my quirkyalone coaching clients. It’s a real problem. How do we share our lives and our histories with a date or a partner when they have not conformed to the “norm”? IF we anticipate being judged, we’re already judging ourselves as “wrong.” We can all draw inspiration from that drag queen’s epiphany and stop making ourselves wrong at the get-go.
Here’s one of the great questions that has come in in advance of the chat:
“Hi, I’m a QA who has just recently started dating someone (who has A LOT of dating experience) after being single for 11 years. I feel embarrassed and like I need to come up with a great explanation on why I’ve been single most of my life. This topic seems to come up more and more in our discussions. How do let go of my feelings of inadequacy? Thanks, Sue C.”
Another quirkyalone Tracy Maxwell, who’s writing a book, Single, With Cancer, wrote in to say,
“I was marveling to a friend recently that with more than half of us living alone now in this country, it was astonishing to me there wasn’t a magazine or other publications focusing on the single crowd, and then it hit me. Shame! That’s why. Few people want a magazine touting their shameful status landing in their mailbox monthly. Wow!”
Robin wrote in with another view:
“What about those of us who have chosen to be single? For me, it’s not like being unemployed. I’m not ashamed that I am single. I do not bemoan the fact that I am single. I strongly believe that I will be single for the rest of my life, and that it is not a bad thing. I am not against being in a relationship, it just isn’t a goal of mine. Much like traveling to Azerbaijan is not the goal of most travelers. If, however, someone comes along that makes traveling to Azerbaijan sound like a remarkable thing to do, I might be convinced to take the trip. It’d have to be a pretty good pitch though, since time and money are limited commodities. If I take a trip towards a relationship, I might have to forgo some other experience that I was already looking forward to.”
First, it’s great that you don’t feel shame. Shame is a war on the self, and so it’s best to not feel shame. However, the first step to clear shame is to acknowledge it, and many single people do feel shame about their status or relationship history, whether or not they are dating someone.
Quirkyalone is about freedom to do it your way, but specifically, quirkyalone has always been about people who are both comfortable being single and do want a relationship. I recommend those who really want to stick with being single check out the work of sociologist and writer Bella de Paulo for more support and research about the people she calls “single at heart.”
When we talk about single shame, I’ve noticed that what happens for quirkyalone types often is that we spend a long time single and then we don’t know how to talk about this with someone new when we start dating. That fact of having been single so long in itself becomes a barrier for connection.
You don’t want anyone to know the truth about you.
So you hide it.
You don’t want anyone to know about your lack of long-term relationship experience. Or that you have been single x years. Or your whole life. So you keep this to yourself and build up a wall between you and the people you date. Or you don’t date at all. As one quirkyalone woman I spoke with recently put it, the shame about long-term singlehood can be like shame about long-term unemployment. This shame can keep you out of the game of connecting.
This is the shame of long-term singlehood. Or put more succinctly, this is single shame.
Here’s the surprise—what I have discovered as a quirkyalone and as a coach. It’s not actually being single or not having had a long-term relationship that is the problem, it’s the sense that there is something deeply, unnameably wrong with you because you have not had that long-term relationship experience that makes you think you can’t have one.
Whatever was dividing you, causing the distance, was not the thing itself but the shame around that thing. And as soon as the shame is spoken, it starts to dissolve.
For the second monthly quirky chat, we’ll be diving directly into the topic of single shame and how to let go of this toxic sludge emotion so you can connect with a date–and yourself. I chose this topic of single shame because in my quirkyalone coaching practice, I see it as the number one thing that holds people back from dating and feeling confident and at peace.
If feeling bad about being single is holding you back in any way in life, you need to join us for this chat!
Join us for this very open, honest conversation that in and of itself will be healing.
Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. In her well-loved newsletter, Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women get clear on what they want and go for it. Sasha also uses tango as a tool in her coaching practice to help women reconnect with their sensuality and confidence.
A memoirist and a tanguera, she's passionate about using writing, storytelling and tango in her transformative work with women.