“A few years back, I started cleaning out a closet and found a bunch of love letters that had been sent to me over the course of my dating life. Some were loose, others were carefully wrapped with a pale lavender velvet ribbon; they were all contained in a frayed box with that old-paper smell. Looking over those letters from guys who once meant so much to me, I couldn’t help thinking about my life as a woman. I had just turned forty. I had a loving family, my own home, a successful business, and dozens of friends, but I was still single. I had no husband, no kids, and no prospect of having children in the near future. At that time I wasn’t even in a serious relationship. I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. I had no shortage of dates, but nobody seemed to be the right match. Was it the men I was meeting? Was it me? All I knew was that I didn’t want to settle.

My situation was not unusual. The same thing was true for many of my friends. So many of us were still searching for love and not finding what we wanted. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Were we representative of statistical anomalies or statistical norms?

Gather a group of single woman together, ask why they are alone, and then sit back and listen to the stories they tell about how they have survived the dating world. Their experiences typically range from the dramatically sad to the hilariously funny in the “I laughed till I cried” category. Why do so many of us look at our lives and see histories that are littered with failed attempts to find and keep love? Why have so many of us met men who proclaim love in April only to turn on a dime and run for the hills in May? Why does the search for Mr. Right so often turn into a flight from Mr. Wrong? And let’s not forget the ubiquitous question: Why have so many of us had so many weird or scary first dates? Does the process of dating and the search for love really have to be completely soul-searing, heartbreaking, and traumatic?

Like many single women, I grew accustomed to having relatives and coworkers play armchair psychologists and try to find reasons for my single status. Some regularly accused me of being “too picky.” My response: “Yeah, right. I turned down a wolf man. Something about the matted body hair and the dripping saliva dangling out of the corner of his mouth didn’t mesh with my sense of style.”

But if I were to try to give a more serious answer, I would have to say, yes, some women are too picky. I’ve known women who rejected men because they ordered the wrong wine or mispronounced a menu item. One of my friends wouldn’t date any guy who wasn’t a major stud; she insisted that each of the men in her life have buns harder than day-old Italian bread. I remember another woman telling me that she wouldn’t go out to dinner with a man who had a funny-sounding last name. “Suppose he asked me to marry him,” she said. “I couldn’t go through life being called Mrs. McGillicuddy. And how about our poor children, having to spell it every day in school! How awful would that be?” But I honestly don’t think that I personally was ever too picky. I just wanted to find someone to love for a lifetime and tried to approach the men I met with an open and accepting heart.

Several of the people I know told me that it wasn’t that I was too “picky” but that I always made the wrong “pick.” They looked at me and said, “You always choose the wrong men!” I always found this accusation particularly annoying. When you are a single woman, it’s not as though you are regularly presented with a menu of possibilities. I don’t ever remember seeing a line of single guys parading in front of me carrying signs that said, “Please Choose Me!” Single women are stuck with the choices that are available to them. Sometimes most of the pickings seem slim and problematic at best. Looking back over my dating history, I can’t find any example of a time where I rejected a great guy in favor of one who was obviously less so.

Something else people often said to me over the course of my dating life: if you really wanted to be married, you would be. The implication was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to find a husband. For the record, it wasn’t about finding a husband; it was about finding the right husband.

Growing up as the youngest girl in an Italian-American family on Long Island, I expected to be married young, teach school until my first child was born, and then be a stay-at-home mom. I envisioned a traditional marriage with kids fighting over the last meatball at Sunday dinner. That was my plan. I always had a plan for everything. But my life didn’t turn out that way. Instead of being a stay-at-home mom, I worked on my career and built a business. Instead of having a husband, I had a long succession of dates with different men as well as a number of short- and long-term relationships. I’ve had several proposals, engagements, and near engagements. I ended one engagement three weeks before the wedding. Everything had been picked out for the big day, up to and including the flavor of the buttercream icing for the cake.

I’ve tried to meet men in every way possible. I’ve met men through friends and work. I’ve made use of just about every modern technology available for Mr. and Ms. Lonelyhearts. I’ve done online dating as well as speed dating; I’ve belonged to clubs where singles are grouped together to meet other singles for dinner. I even went to a matchmaker. I’ve had short and long relationships with men who came with a dizzying array of contemporary problems.

I couldn’t believe I was still single! Through it all, like most single women today, I continued to show up at my job every day; week in and week out, I did my work and tried my best to succeed.

I’m not a famous person; I don’t have an advanced degree in psychology. I’m like a million other women. My book is not a solution, but rather an interpretation of life through the eyes of an average single woman. I like to think of it as a series of snapshots of the dating world as experienced by me and others I know. Throughout the book I have changed names and some of the details, because I’m sure the guy I met while speed dating, along with others, doesn’t want to be easily identified.

What happened during those five-minute “getting to know you” dates in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel stays in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.”

Single and Not Settling: A Journey of Surviving the Dating World is available on Amazon.

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