I’m 26 and Have Never Been in Love: Is Something Wrong with Me?

I’m 26 and Have Never Been in Love: Is Something Wrong with Me?
Getty

Up until the age of 23, I would often say I was the real-life Josie Geller from Never Been Kissed. Yes, well into my twenties, I had never been kissed, let alone gone on a first date.

Now, nearly three years later I sit here with my crow’s feet developing, exposing my darkest secrets about my awkward and nonexistent love life to the deep, dark internet — still single, still never having been in a relationship and still not knowing what true love feels like.

I blame my situation on myself, really. I spent my school years focused on studying and working, always declining invitations to house parties and school dances. After graduating, my days were either spent at the library completing university assignments or juggling three jobs, so when I had a few hours to spare, the last thing my introverted self wanted to do was socialise.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had plenty of crushes throughout my life. Growing up I would fantasise about being whisked away by Zac Efron after watching High School Musical on repeat, or being Justin Bieber’s ‘One Less Lonely Girl’.

Who was I kidding, though? I was a scrawny Asian teenager with braces, a side fringe and acne.

The problem is I’ve always wanted it all — the career, the intimate relationship, the quality family time, the social life, not to mention the ability to stay on top of my health, hit that daily step count and somehow fit in a few hours of sleep.

But I’m a hopeless romantic at heart (my Netflix algorithm consists of one too many predictable rom-coms) – I live for the thrill of other people’s blossoming relationships and the cute love stories. It’s a means of filling that empty void inside and providing my brain with a dash of faith that maybe, just maybe, genuine people and true love actually exist.

My friends love tagging me in antisocial memes and we joke about signing me up to The Bachelor (even Married at First Sight, when desperation really kicks in). My family laughs about how I’ll be living under their roof and eating free food from their fridge until I’m old and grey.

Of course, I play along, but underneath that tough exterior and high-pitched laughter is a scared and lonely girl hoping she’ll one day be loved by a male other than her dog.

Truthfully, the loneliness is incredibly daunting.

And unfortunately, it’s a feeling that will probably be sticking around for longer now Covid has completely changed the dating game. Just when I thought mingling was hard enough in the best of times, it now almost seems impossible and makes me regret all the chances I should’ve taken advantage of in a pre-pandemic world.

The complex nature of finding love right now

How am I supposed to take a chance on a stranger when I can’t even see my friends or family? Is there a tutorial on how to properly approach a FaceTime date? And in the case that I do decide to meet up with a stranger, is it OK to ask them for proof of a recent swab or jab?

During lockdowns, I’ve resorted back to the dating apps I once heavily criticised because it’s true — they really are the only way to meet people these days. But even after spending hours swiping left and right, it can take weeks or months to take a potential romance offline and even then, there’s more chance of relationships failing because people aren’t emotionally at their best during this taxing time.

single
Here we go with the swiping, again. Image: Getty

Most importantly, if my previous experience with these apps has taught me anything, it’s that being ghosted, zombied, orbited or haunted isn’t a great feeling and definitely not something I want to experience again.

You’d think after all this rejection and disappointment you’d build a strong exterior, but no – I began to question my self-worth.

What’s wrong with me? Why hasn’t it happened for me yet? Am I too picky? Am I not attractive enough? Not successful enough? Lacking experience? Will I forever be a serial third wheeler? Am I just destined to be single?

I became flooded with doubt; stressing over whether all my days of singlehood have made me too comfortable to put myself out there.

What the experts have to say to singles longing for love

But speaking to one of Australia’s top international dating and relationship experts, Tania Moran, I came to realise that if you’re single or have never felt love before — regardless if you’re 26 or 46 — there is nothing wrong with you. Say it with me again: there is nothing wrong with you.

“Love comes along in its own time and now simply isn’t your time,” Moran told me.

“We all have a purpose to fulfil in this short time we have on planet earth and for some reason, finding love or entering a relationship by 26 (or whatever age you are) isn’t part of the great plan for you.”

So, that timeline you (or society) set yourself? Throw it away.

“Remember, finding true love only happens to someone once or maybe twice in a lifetime,” Moran continues.

“It’s rare and we simply have no other choice than to stay positive and faithful that it can happen to us, too. In fact, the odds are that it will happen pretty soon for you, but only when the time is right. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing just when exactly it’s going to be.”

Trust me, I get it — remaining optimistic about finding “The One” is easier said than done, and there are times when you just don’t have the time or energy to download a dating app for the hundredth time. But the key is to learn how to disassociate your mindset with your relationship status, as Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno explained to me.

“Unfortunately, when you associate your self-worth with your relationship status, you’re essentially seeking external validation.”

No, this doesn’t make you needy or desperate; seeking acceptance and validation from others is quite normal because after all, we all want to be desired, loved and cared for.

“However, problems start to arise when we aren’t receiving that validation from external sources and particularly if we’re not giving ourselves validation and self-love,” Sokarno added.

“If we’re not getting the approval or recognition, we might start seeking it in other places or be left with a diminished self-esteem if our relationship falls apart.”

Does anyone else feel seen?

That four-letter word is a two-way street — you have to show love to receive it, so as cliché as it sounds, love starts with loving yourself. I know, I know, it’s soppy but it’s quality advice straight from a relationship expert and psychologist.

How to improve your self-esteem to relieve lonely feelings

Love is a human necessity and loneliness doesn’t discriminate against age, sex, gender or income — even the most independent individuals are plagued with feelings of emptiness at some point in their lives. However, the problem is that only a handful of us are willing to admit to ourselves that we’re experiencing it.

If you’re single and catch yourself questioning your self-worth, here are six things you can do to relieve those negative thoughts and pick yourself up from the pit of loneliness.

Go easier on yourself

It’s another cliché, but no one is perfect. In fact, even all those seemingly “perfect” relationships you see on social media are far from being faultless.

“Remembering this can be a great lesson in being OK with ourselves when we make mistakes and reminding ourselves that perfection is an unrealistic goal,” Sokarno said.

“Try to go easier on yourself and don’t beat yourself up if things aren’t seemingly perfect.”

Talk to yourself

As Moran points out, constantly worrying about “being too old” isn’t going to change things.

“When we let our thoughts and emotions get carried away, it’s easy to think that they’re speaking the truth when they’re really not,” she said.

“It’s essential to catch yourself in those negative thought cycles and have an internal, truthful conversation.

“All of the people you know who are in relationships — are they a better person than you? Have they done something in their life to deserve it more than you do? Of course not. Love happens to all kinds of people and it’s so wonderful to recognise that there truly is someone out there for you.”

Practice some self-love

Daily self-love practices should be just as important as brushing your teeth or eating dinner.

“Run yourself a bath, do a soothing yoga session or put on a face mask,” Sokarno advised.

“These practices can remind you that you’re worth it and that it’s OK to treat yourself each day.”

Celebrate the small wins

As much as Covid lockdowns have robbed singles of their dating life, you should try and treat this period as a blessing in disguise. For example, I’ve personally taken this time to re-evaluate what I want in life, pick up new skills and take a step back from being on social media 24/7 — all of which have been extremely fulfilling.

“Right now, we’re experiencing unprecedented times so it’s easy to feel down about life and about ourselves,” Sokanro noted.

“Try celebrating the small wins like getting up to exercise or any small victory that can make you feel good about yourself. Also, adopting a new skill can be a great way to increase your efficacy and affirm any positive feelings about yourself.”

Do something for someone else

From your family to friends, there are so many people (and pets) in your life that love you, so why not do something for them?

“This takes the focus off of you and onto how you can be a blessing in another person’s life,” Moran explained.

“Seeing the joy you can bring to others when you’re not feeling great about your own situation is deeply healing.”

Enjoy being single! 

Sokarno made an excellent point: “When you’re tied to a relationship in the future, you won’t have so much time to do things for yourself.” Singlehood is incredibly liberating so embrace it, flaunt it and applaud it because your future self will be thanking you.

Would I be brokenhearted to go through life never experiencing a relationship or not knowing what true, unequivocal love feels like? Look, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’d die of a broken heart, but I think there would always be a part of me wondering what my alternate life would look like.

In saying that, it’s not worth dwelling on the “what ifs” and uncontrollable external circumstances. As of my mid-twenties, my focus is now on creating a life that’s abundant with joy and meaning and appreciating the love that already surrounds me.

Hand me a few glasses (maybe bottles) of wine and I might apply to The Bachelor but for now, I’ll be celebrating singlehood and manifesting Moran’s advice: “Your attitude is what’s going to help you rise and allow the seemingly impossible to happen. Tell yourself the truth — you’re a beautiful, amazing person and anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Log in to comment on this story!