How Do I Let Men Know I’m A Catch When I’ve Never Been Married?

How can I appear to be a great catch when I haven’t had a relationship in such a long time? In my mid 20′s, I realized I was in a disruptive pattern of falling for very wrong men and wisely stopped dating and put the energy into finding myself and being a mum. Thing is that, although I’ve been on a few dates, it’s been years since I’ve had any kind of relationship!  I can’t help but wonder what to say when a guy I like asks about my past relationships.

I’m so thankful to have that time to be single as I’ve truly grown as a person, but that’s too much to say to a guy in the early stages. I want him to see what a catch I am and not “Whoh! That seems like hard work ahead… Where’s the door!” So how can I come across as a fab lady and still be honest? Many thanks x Melissa

I’m in my early 40s and lately (since I hit about 38) a common question I get from guys goes something like this, “You’re pretty, smart, etc. – why aren’t you married/ in a relationship?” One guy actually even asked me what’s wrong with me. Well, frankly, I could tell you plenty of stuff that’s wrong with me and what was wrong with him and why other relationships didn’t work out. But it seems to me that there is no good answer to that question. And saying, “I hadn’t met you yet” doesn’t go very far either. How would you suggest I deal with this question?  Joy

 

For the ten years I was single and dating online prolifically, I went on a LOT of dates. Some were uneventful. Some were uneventful but ended in hookups. Some were classically awful – great stories that I still tell to this day about psycho women who are presumably still lurking on JDate, Match and Nerve. And then there’s one category of dates that I rarely bring up – the dates where I acted like a complete ass.

And then there’s one category of dates that I rarely bring up – the dates where I acted like a complete ass.

I once wrote a newsletter about some of them. How I drunkenly threw an ice cube down some unsuspecting woman’s cleavage. How I showed up at a sushi date plastered after a full day of drinking by the beach. How I brought a second bottle of wine to her home  to ensure that I’d lose my inhibitions if she turned out to not be as attractive as her photo. (Yes, most of my stories involve booze and sex. What do you want from me? My apologies to my mother-in-law who is no doubt reading this right now. Love you, Lani!)

Wait, where was I? Right. Booze. Sex. Bad dates. Yes. The worst date I remember was one that didn’t involve anything other than what Melissa and Joy mentioned above – it was a bright woman with devilish eyes, dark hair and a wicked wit. We had a lot of banter prior to going out on our date and I was unusually nervous for a guy who dispensed dating advice for a living. So I took her to my go-to bar, The Well (leather booths, mood lighting, candles, great vodka selection, amazing jukebox, cool atmosphere, not too pretentious.)

That’s when it all fell apart.

Suddenly, she said things like, “So, why are you single?” and “Do you bring all your dates here?”…and although she was actually just teasing me, like a guy friend would, I took it very, very seriously, and tried to answer earnestly: “Actually, I’m just a regular guy who gives advice, but is really looking for love,” blahblahblah. It was the real answer, all right, but it ground our electric chemistry to an immediate halt. Soon, conversation became stilted and awkward because I felt like she was attacking me (she wasn’t; she was flirting with me), and she thought I was being way too defensive (I was; it was awful). I saw the night spiral out of control and I couldn’t turn it around. When I dropped her off, I knew there was no way I’d ever see her again, and I beat myself up for 2 or 3 days afterwards for acting like a lame ass.

Essentially, if you BELIEVE you’re a great catch, you’re a great catch.

…In the end, it’s your confidence that the guy is buying

Why do I tell you this story, apart from the simple catharsis of admitting embarrassing things in a public forum? Well, because I realized that my main problem was taking myself so goddamn seriously! Of course, it’s funny that I was a single guy giving dating advice. Of course, I bring all my dates to this bar. In retrospect, it would have been far more effective to just laugh at myself and diffuse the situation entirely.

“Yes, I take all my dates here. I’m trying to set a record for the most dates by a guy who really wants to be married. Another 86 and I’ll be there. This is Kate, my regular bartender. She’ll be serving me the usual Vox on the rocks. Check out the jukebox. Make sure you go to the last page of CDs, otherwise you’ll miss out on the White Stripes album buried at the end.”

And if she laughed and said, “Seriously. Why are you still single?” I would probably give a politician-like non-answer, “Well, all the women that I loved broke up with me. And all the women who loved me, I broke up with. And I’ve gotta believe that if I keep getting out there, eventually I’m gonna get it right.” The end.

The real point, Joy and Melissa, is that if you don’t make this into a big deal, it’s not a big deal. If you sweat and stammer and get nervous, you’re only adding fuel to the fire.

Essentially, if you BELIEVE you’re a great catch, you’re a great catch. If you don’t believe you’re a great catch – and need validation of recent relationships to prove it – well, it’s going to be hard to convince yourself (and him) that it’s true.

In the end, it’s your confidence that the guy is buying. Nothing more. Nothing less.

But if you overreact to his innocent (or not so innocent) question, he’s going to wonder about your confidence, which is inherently going to make you less attractive to him.

What you also seem to be missing is that “Why are you still single?” is a compliment. That’s right. Here’s how I know that:

Imagine you met a fat, stupid guy with absolutely no manners. Do you think you would ever ask, “Why are you still single?”

The defense rests, your honor.

The REAL problem is not the question itself; it’s that the question is triggering GENUINE insecurities in you about being a great catch.

Someone only asks that because it seems incongruous that someone as amazing as you hasn’t yet been snapped up by somebody else. The REAL problem is not the question itself; it’s that the question is triggering GENUINE insecurities in you about being a great catch. If you believe you’re a great catch, then the question shouldn’t bother you at all.

Just take it as a compliment.

By the way, here’s how a 31-year-old Evan handled a very challenging question about his own dating credentials in early 2004.

Enjoy:

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Comments:

  1. 1
    FeistyWoman

    It’s a shame that we stigmatize women of a certain age who are single as if they’re suffering from some sort of contagious disease.
    Maybe we haven’t met the right person yet, maybe we’re holding out for something better and maybe just maybe, we’re happy with the way things are, for now.
    People should try to be more open-minded in considering peoples’ individual circumstances. Not all of us are a “one size fits all”.

  2. 2
    Karl R

    Joy said: (original post)
    “a common question I get from guys goes something like this, ‘You’re pretty, smart, etc. – why aren’t you married/in a relationship?’ One guy actually even asked me what’s wrong with me.”

    The obvious answer to that last gentleman: “What’s wrong with you? You’re not in a relationship either.”

    I’m 41, and I’ve never been married. I’ve heard that question before. I always smile and turn the question around on my date.

    I’m not embarassed or self-conscious about being single at 41. Any explanation that someone gives can be applied to my situation … even if it’s not comparable.

    Let’s say that she got married young, realized that they weren’t ready for marriage, and divorced. Fortunately, I realized that I wasn’t ready for marriage at that age, so I avoided having the same thing happen to me.

    Let’s say she was married for ten years, but she caught her husband cheating on her and they divorced. I can sympathize. I had a serious girlfiend who cheated on me. Fortunately, it happened before we got married, so the breakup was a lot less painful than a divorce.

    Let’s say she was establishing her career. I’m in the exact same position. She was just fortunate enough to get established more at a younger age than I did.

    And after you’ve had a recent relationship or two, the problem no longer exists.

  3. 3
    Denise

    Essentially, if you BELIEVE you’re a great catch, you’re a great catch. If you don’t believe you’re a great catch – and need validation of recent relationships to prove it – well, it’s going to be hard to convince yourself (and him) that it’s true.
    In the end, it’s your confidence that the guy is buying. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    This is perfectly said and so true!  We can’t convince ourselves or others, we have to BELIEVE. 

    How about a comeback like this, with a big smile of course:  “I haven’t gotten married beause I’ve been working on perfecting my sexiness, how am I doing?” ;-)  If he comes back after that, like “Seriously, why…”, one could say, “Seriously, I’ve been working on becoming the best woman and person I could be,  I feel like I’ve arrived.”  Something like that, keeps it light and fun and not so serious.

  4. 4
    Honey

    Try being a woman who’s been in an amazing committed relationship for almost 5 years…yet at least 3 times a week I get asked, “how come you two aren’t married/engaged?”

    Ugh.  As if I want to share the intimate details of my relationship and my finances with everyone who asks!  So yes, I’ve become the master of the creative/flip answer because it makes people less uncomfortable than,

    “We each have $100K in student loan debt (yes, EACH) and he still has $32K in credit card debt…and he’s paid back $18K already!”

    Yeah, law school and a PhD in English are not the best ways to set yourself up, financially ;-)  And of course I can tell the truth here because it’s not my real name!

  5. 5
    SS

    <i>The obvious answer to that last gentleman: “What’s wrong with you? You’re not in a relationship either.”</i>
     
    That’s a good answer. That’s the one I usually used when men asked me that question… it was an odd question considering that they were also single and potentially interested in me.
    The online version of that question was, “Why are you doing here on the Internet looking for a date?” I often said, “Same reason why you’re here, looking for a date on the Internet!”
    Honestly though, I don’t see it as a complimentary statement at all. It usually suggests limited thinking (as if one has to be validated by being married or involved) and as some men later told me, it was often a statement they would use to “fish” for information. They were waiting for me to come up with some sob story about a recent breakup or divorce and instead of letting me volunteer that naturally, they tried to use a faux compliment to get me to spill my guts so they could make a judgment about me early on.
     
    The funny thing though is that the men who turned out to be my best partners (including the one I married) NEVER asked that question. Probably because they knew better, were actually able to have a conversation without relying on cliched false compliments and themselves were single for varying reasons, so they understood why I would be as well.

  6. 6
    Diana

    I think a person’s response depends on the tone that’s used and the wording. Using the “why” word can make people feel defensive. If it’s something lighthearted like, ‘Hey beautiful! How have you managed to keep yourself single!?,’ that’s fine for responding in a fun way. But this, “What’s wrong with you,” etc. crap, not so fast. Sometimes we do take ourselves too seriously, and sometimes people are just plain rude.

  7. 7
    Rachelle

    I’m 38.  Never married (not even close) and no kids and I get asked that infamous why are you still single question on my dates.  It used to make me pretty insecure, probably because I’m wondering the same thing! LOL  My usual response is I haven’t met the right guy.  I don’t know if that’s a good response but most dates seem to take it ok.

  8. 8
    starthrower68

    I find it odd that this is even an issue.  In an age where a lot of us are career-driven, and marrying for the first time later in life, this seems silly to me.  That’s not mean to invalidate our posters’ experiences, but this is not the 1950′s.  I would say to Joy & Melissa you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

  9. 9
    Sara

    Ugh, I hate the “so, why are you still single” question, but it’s only an issue if we make it an issue. If we just shrug it off and/or make a lighthearted comment, it’s not a problem.

    By the way, I watched the clip Evan posted and I think he handled those questions really well. The interviewer was trying to be dismissive, but ended up being disarmed and amused. I guess confidence and humour really do go a long way.  

  10. 10
    Sayanta

    I’ve been asked this too- and I noticed that the askers are usually really shady guys- don’t know if there’s a connection there. ;-)

  11. 11
    Still Looking

    @Karl – Karl, I usually love reading your well reasoned responses on this site but today you left me scratching my head.  You stated:
    “I’m 41, and I’ve never been married. I’ve heard that question before. I always smile and turn the question around on my date.
    I’m not embarassed or self-conscious about being single at 41. Any explanation that someone gives can be applied to my situation … even if it’s not comparable.”
    You then list a number of scenarios comparing your situation with the woman’s situation.
    What has me perplexed is why you would smile and turn the question around.  Don’t you feel the woman wants to know why you are still single? You take the opportunity to find out why she is single but appear to keep her on uneven ground by not divulging your response.
    For those of you who might be offended by the question of why you are single, don’t you want to know your date’s relationship history?  Yes, I agree that some people might ask the question in a rude manner but assuming the question is asked properly, I feel it is important information to know.
    I’m not suggesting that one bares one’s soul during a first date but the answer provides some much needed insight into a date’s personality, stability, and goals in life, especially as we get older.
    For example, if I’m on a first date with a 40 y.o. woman who has never been married I can come up with a list of possible reasons:
    1.  She has been totally consumed by her education/career and is now looking for a LTR.  Not a problem.
    2.  She has been in one or two LTRs and never opted to get married.  Not a problem.
    3.  She has never been able to maintain a LTR in her life for more than a couple of months.  Big problem.
    4.  She was recently released from serving a 20 year prison sentence.  Big problem.
    These are just 4 possibilities.  A 2 minute response can set my mind at ease and remove a possible red flag.  I realize some might consider the question too personal or offensive but not providing an answer leaves your date wondering what you are hiding.  I don’t think I’ve been on a date yet where I haven’t been asked why I don’t drink.  A 30 second explanation that I quit 5 years ago because I thought I was drinking too much has satisfied the vast majority.  If I was evasive with my answer, what conclusion do you think the women would draw?

  12. 12
    ss

    @11
    I’m not suggesting that one bares one’s soul during a first date but the answer provides some much needed insight into a date’s personality, stability, and goals in life, especially as we get older.

     
    Not Karl, but I’ll say that there’s plenty of time to find out all of this information and more. It’s way too premature to do this on a first date. It’s a first date, not a background check.

  13. 13
    Still Looking

    @12 – I forgot to mention that the topic of dating/past relationships usually is covered to some degree before the first date.  Sometimes the woman brings up the subject and sometimes I toss it on the table.  I certainly don’t consider it a taboo subject that needs to be avoided.  It can be as simple as:
    Q – so how’s Match working out for you.
    A – Oh it really sucks, I’ve gone out with over 100 guys but have never accepted an offer for a second date, even if they beg me.  At least I get a nice meal out of it LOL.
    Of course I prefer a response like:
    A – Well, I wasn’t ready to date for a year after my divorce but then last June I decided I was ready and put my profile on Match.  Since then I’ve met some great guys and have made some good friends but just haven’t found the right one yet, but I’m feeling pretty optimistic ;-)

  14. 14
    ss

    @Still Looking…
     
    Gotcha. Most times when I heard it, it was on the very first date and the topic had never come up before (brief chats took place by e-mail/chat before the actual in-person meeting).
     
    When I was dating, I would often talk about the dating/singles landscape in our respective cities, but always on a general level. I never volunteered information about past relationships to a man whom I didn’t know would even call me for a second date (which is his right — as it was mine not to be forthcoming about my life to people who were still strangers) and I certainly didn’t appreciate much questioning about it.
    Any discussion or questioning about past relationships initiated by my date pretty much ruled out any interest in a second date with him.
    Interesting though… my good guy friend was exactly right (as I mentioned in No. 5) that such a statement/question is often used as a fishing tool… which continues to blow holes in the idea that a man/woman is just trying to pay his or her date a compliment.

  15. 15
    Steve

    I tell the truth.
    15 years as a deep undercover agent protecting the free world makes it very hard to date and form long term relationships.

  16. 16
    starthrower68

    Ah, the fishing expedition that doesn’t sound like a fishing expedition. 

  17. 17
    Marriage Agency

    It’s a matter of self preservation. Don’t try to please every guys that you want to meet because we can’t please everybody. As long you have the positive outlook with your life and for your self and think that you are a catch then you can be what you are thinking.

  18. 18
    Denise

    #13 Still Looking

    I like to ask about the on line horror dates they’ve been on :).  No matter how they answer, it tells me alot about them.  We get a good laugh out of it, and that usually leads into more discussions about dating, etc. 

  19. 19
    Karl R

    Still Looking said: (#11)
    “You take the opportunity to find out why she is single but appear to keep her on uneven ground by not divulging your response.”

    Look at the three examples I gave (#2). Everything after the first sentence of each paragraph is a paraphrase of my response in that situation. My response is generally comparable in length and detail to hers.

    But I won’t share significantly more information with the woman than she shared with me.

    Still Looking said: (#11)
    “A 2 minute response can set my mind at ease and remove a possible red flag.  I realize some might consider the question too personal or offensive but not providing an answer leaves your date wondering what you are hiding.”

    So you’re taking a long, complex and personal topic (someone’s dating history), and trying to get a two minute answer which will ease your mind without including any information which you would interpret as a red flag. If someone doesn’t answer your question, that’s a red flag.

    That’s almost guaranteed to put your date on the spot and make her feel uncomfortable. So for the rest of the date, you have to counteract that on-the-spot uncomfortable feeling she got from you, just so you can get a second date.

    I’m not seeing that as a winning strategy.

    Still Looking asked: (#11)
    “For those of you who might be offended by the question of why you are single, don’t you want to know your date’s relationship history?”

    Guess what my dates learn by asking that question on the first (or second) date. They learn that I’m very good at giving short, satisfactory answers to uncomfortable questions.

    While that’s a useful skill, it’s not a dealbreaker if the woman’s response to awkward questions is … well … awkward. Nor is her ability to gloss over red flags a winning trait.

    Every woman that I’ve dated for a month has volunteered significant portions of her dating history. I didn’t have to fish.

    I can get the information I want by being patient. I can’t necessarily get the information I want by asking uncomfortable questions. Which strategy do you think I use with my dates?

    Still Looking said: (#11)
    “She has never been able to maintain a LTR in her life for more than a couple of months.  Big problem.”

    If I remember correctly, Evan only has one relationship that lasted past four months … the relationship with his wife. He habitually ended his relationships at the three month mark if he couldn’t see the woman as being his future wife.

    Your prying questions won’t determine whether the woman is able to maintain a relationship for more than a couple months. At best, you’ll determine whether she has maintained a relationship for longer than that. And if she has a dating strategy similar to Evan’s, you’re inclined to interpret that as a big problem.

    If I’m patient, I can learn the same information with a lot more context and make a better decision whether I’m dealing with a red flag.

  20. 20
    Ruby

    Isn’t there actually more of a stigma against never-married men (especially over 40) than there is for women? 
     
    I’ve never understood why being divorced is like a badge of honor for some people. If they were really all that committed to their marriages, then why are they divorced?
     
     

  21. 21
    Goldie

    Alright, I confess, I’ve asked the darn question – but that was when I’d first started dating, right after my divorce, and what I was really trying to ask was, I guess, “so what’s it like out there? how did it work out for you? what should I prepare myself for as I start doing this?” Needless to say, this question did not get me a second date, but I probably wasn’t ready for one anyway ;)
    @Still Looking #11 – you bet I want to know whether the guy has a criminal record, addictions, bad habits, personal issues etc. But coming straight out and asking him about it on our first date won’t get me anywhere. Also, odds are a real con man/sociopath would come up with a quick answer that will convince me. A regular guy on the other hand, would probably just end the date and never call back.
     
    I’ve got a question to all that is somewhat related to the topic at hand – what’s a “serial dater” and how do we avoid projecting ourselves like one? Reason I ask is, back when I started dating, a lot of advice I got from friends was about avoiding these serial daters and ways to filter them out early on. But then in the same breath, people would tell me that a good way to find that out is to ask a guy, “So how do you like dating so far?” – if he says he does like it, then he’s a serial dater and I should run. This boggles my mind as I am a positive person. I try to enjoy everything I do. I don’t complain, especially on my first date to someone I just met in person. Will I really come across as a serial dater if I say “I like it”? Am I actually supposed to tell the person how I suffer through my dating process? This kind of goes against my nature.
     

  22. 22
    KellyAnn

    @Ruby “Isn’t there actually more of a stigma against never-married men (especially over 40) than there is for women? 

    I’ve never understood why being divorced is like a badge of honor for some people. If they were really all that committed to their marriages, then why are they divorced?”
     
    I’d rather find someone who has never been married than someone who has already broken their wedding vows at least once.

  23. 23
    Diana

    To Karl R #19, your post basically sums up what I was thinking, in that  you can find out why a person’s still single organically and in a more comfortable way than directly asking, especially early on. These types of questions feel a little imposing to me and risk making the other person feel uncomfortable which is not something I want to do with someone I am interested in.
     
    It’s interesting how people think. Sometimes we are thinking what we’ve been taught to think, instead of thinking for ourselves. One of the questions I am asked is, “Why are you divorced?” Given that an affair was the basis for my divorce, some people automatically assume that something must be wrong with me. Why else would he have an affair? But the truth is they would hear something far different, if they were to ask my former husband. I just try to respond as gracefully as I can (without giving them a three-hour speech [LOL]), and then move on.

  24. 24
    Goldie

    Wow, all the stereotypes out there are making my head spin. So, if I’m divorced and I’m the one that left, then I betrayed my wedding vows. If I’m divorced and he’s the one that left, then I must’ve done something to have lost his love. If I was never married then I guess I must be a crazy cat lady (if I’m a woman) or a fast-food employee living in my mother’s basement (if I’m a man). And of course, either way I’m a commitmentphobe. Sounds like there’s a label for any single person over 25. Nice :D Not that I’ve never been guilty of applying those to other people myself… will definitely refrain from doing it now. Like Karl said, if I wait a while, I’ll get the whole story in context, and won’t have to jump to conclusions.

  25. 25
    Karl R

    Ruby asked: (#20)
    “Isn’t there actually more of a stigma against never-married men (especially over 40) than there is for women?”

    This topic has been addressed before. See responses 18, 27 and 83 for examples of that stigma.

    starthrower68 said: (#16)
    “Ah, the fishing expedition that doesn’t sound like a fishing expedition.”

    I know what you mean.

    After a dozen different dates asked me several dozen questions which were fishing expeditions carefully phrased to not sound like fishing expeditions … that’s exactly what they sounded like.

    Goldie asked: (#21)
    “what’s a ‘serial dater’?”

    Here’s an article that gives a reasonable (and broad) definition of the term. Of course, it is partly contradicted by this other article.

    Goldie asked: (#21)
    “how do we avoid projecting ourselves like one?”

    Very carefully … especially if you’re a serious dater who is simultaneously dating multiple people in order to improve your odds of finding a long-term relationship.

    When someone asked one of those fishing expedition questions, I would let her know that I was interested in ending up in a serious, long-term relationship, but I was more interested in waiting for someone who was a good match instead of jumping into the first possible relationship.

    It’s not something that’s easy to preemptively volunteer. You have to wait for the fishing expedition … the one that doesn’t sound like a fishing expedition.

  26. 26
    SS

    @20
    I’ve never understood why being divorced is like a badge of honor for some people. If they were really all that committed to their marriages, then why are they divorced?

     
    I agree. I never understood this either. I have even found that a number of dating coaches/matchmakers say that divorced men in their late 30s and over (don’t know about women) are better catches than never-married men, because at least you know that they are willing to make a commitment because they did in the past.
     
    I never totally bought that. I don’t negatively judge anyone who has been divorced (because I don’t know the story behind the divorce), but I also never saw it as a feather in their caps that they were once married. I’d rather meet a late 30-something guy who has never married but is VERY committed to finding a wife than a divorced late 30-something guy who might need a while to recommit to the idea of marriage and makes me wait longer for commitment than a never-married guy might have because his divorce makes him more squeamish about marriage now.
     
    As with anything though, you have to judge the person, not the situation. But I don’t find that being once married makes anyone a better catch than never being married… I know for me, it was the opposite (of course, I’m barely in my 30s, so I figured I was still in the age group where there were a reasonable number of never-married men out there).

  27. 27
    Luxe

    @15 Steve – I’m going to use this next time.

    I get along better when I get to know the person naturally and with time versus asking some type of fishing question. Since I don’t really like the “why are you single?” question at all, I could just come up with some simple short answer that doesn’t give the person anymore information then they had from the beginning. So what’s the point?

  28. 28
    Selena

    It’s ironic that the people who are most likely to ask this question are themselves divorced. As a veteran of a few long, serious relationships where marriage was considered (and later rejected – by me), I usually end up saying I lived with someone long enough to realize we wouldn’t be able to keep the “till death do we part vow”. Then I smile and say I have been lucky, the money I’ve saved on divorce attorneys. Compared to the person asking the question, I have been. And it diffuses that uncomfortable line of inquiry.

    A first date should be fun! Getting into discussions about previous relationships is NOT fun. All of that will be disclosed as you get to know and feel more comfortable with each other.

  29. 29
    Ruby

    SS #26

    I don’t assume that someone who is divorced is any more or less flawed than one who is never-married. In fact, I do think there is some truth to what those dating advisors say, especially when you’re talking about the over-40 crowd. But again, it all depends on the individual. 

    Karl R #25
    The article came up “not found.”

  30. 30
    Selena

    Thing is, all single people are single for essentially the same reason: they’ve yet to have the relationship that lasts a lifetime.

    Applies equally to the divorced AND the never married. And makes the question “Why are you still single?” irrelevant.

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