I’m not sure how long is too long to be single, but I suspect I surpassed the time limit somewhere around the three-year mark. Whenever the question comes up on dates, I answer honestly, and dudes look at me like someone has died. I feel less like a single person and more like a haunted Craigslist apartment.
The question originates from a constructive place; it’s an extension of the timeline for how long it should take to get over a failed relationship. “There is a lot of validity to the timeline of getting over a breakup in half the length of the relationship,” Elisabeth Goldberg, a marriage and family therapist, explains. “If anything, it’s a goal to work toward when someone feels they’ll never get over it.” But once they’ve hit that threshold, they can experience pressure to prove they’re really over it by moving on with someone else. And when they don’t, and stay single, they’re often hounded to explain why.
All of this really depends on how you define dating versus being single — a distinction that’s become increasingly muddied among millennials; many of us admit to never being in a formal relationship, instead opting for multiple casual flings. Erica Spera, a comedian and host of the dating podcast Shooters Gotta Shoot, refers to these semi-relationships as “sneak peaks.” And if she doesn’t count them, the 29-year-old has technically been single since high school.
Spera suspects that if we grew up in our parents’ generation, these relationships would not only count, they’d likely last longer. “There wasn’t this ‘are we exclusive’ bullshit; it was like, ‘When you’re dating someone, they’re your girlfriend,’” she says. Back then, if you were single for 14 years, that would imply you didn’t even go on a few dates with anyone at all during that time. Now that the criteria has shifted to having an established commitment, larger breaks between relationships should be more socially acceptable than they are. “If you go by the official title, it’s very normal to go a long time being single, because we’re not counting these mini relationships in between,” Spera argues.
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