In her upcoming book, It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single, Sara Eckel debunks the conventional wisdom as to why women of a certain age are still single. Along the way she shares her own story, giving women still looking for their special loved one a hopefully outlook.
What inspired to you write the book?
I was single for most of my adult life. I met my husband when I was 39 and during those preceding 20 years, I’d had one boyfriend for about three years, so most of the time I was unattached. And I spent a lot of time wondering why that was. At the same time, I was writing a lot of magazine articles on relationships and personal growth. I really got into this idea that I was this project and I could somehow fix myself and figure out what was wrong with me. I thought there was a reason I didn’t have a relationship so by putting myself through self-improvement I would find someone. And then I met my husband, and I still had all the same problems—I was still kind of anxious, I was an insomniac, but he loved me anyway. So when I started sharing that and started writing about that, I noticed the world has really opened up.
I wrote a piece [that was a forerunner for the book] for the New York Times Modern Love column in September of 2011. I’d been a freelance writer for about 15 years at that point, and nothing I’d ever written about had gotten that kind of response, so it was something that I wanted to explore more deeply. It may be strange for a married person to write a book about being single, but I remember that feeling of being single and looking at all these married couples and thinking they had some secret quality. When I met and married Mark, I realized I was exactly the same person I was before then.
Too many women buy into these seeming truisms, such as being more positive or loving yourself more—how would you suggest women react to that? It’s a hard state of mind to shake.
What was really transformational for me personally was realizing that I was buying into it. I was always trying to get people to say to me, “Sara, you’re fine. You just haven’t met the right person. Don’t worry.” At a certain point, no one was—I was the one who needed to realize that this was the case, that it didn’t matter what others were saying. I think that for the most part, friends are just trying to help. Most people aren’t trying to be mean. They’re into this idea of “Let’s solve the problem of you.” You have to realize that you don’t have to be perfect to find somebody. You just have to find the right fit.
How do you feel about self-help books and dating services?
I’m not against self-improvement or self-help or any of that. It’s just this idea of needing to fix yourself to be ready for a relationship that I have a problem with. Getting out there can be a drag but I think it becomes a lot easier if you don’t make it personal, don’t think every time you go out, “Once again, I didn’t meet somebody” as opposed to “Well, I gave it a shot.” It’s a subtle difference, but I think that’s important. There’s only so much control we have over making that the magical meeting of this person who you can share a life with happen. But I do think if you can remove all of that self-blame and self-criticism and the idea “I’m not okay, I’m not good enough”—and say “Well, let’s try this” and just go on the date or do the speed dating event or whatever it is without this sense of “Oh God, this better work because if it doesn’t I’ll feel bad about myself.” I’m hoping people will be able to shed all of the self-judgment and self-blame that goes on top of trying to meet people.
Is it harder to meet people you want to date in big cities like New York and San Francisco, as many believe?
I think there are demographic realities to cities, and some places there are a lot more single women than single men. The most helpful thing I found about being a single woman in a New York was looking at my friends and seeing all of these really lovely women who were having the same problems I was. Even if I couldn’t think for myself that I was okay, I could look at them and say, “Well, they’re all right. Anybody would be lucky to be with them.” I also think, if you really feel a city is not providing the opportunities, there isn’t any shame in moving. You’d move to another place for a job—why not a relationship?
What’s the most important lesson you hope women will learn from your book?
I hope to help women and men tap into their own instincts and trust themselves to realize who’s a good fit for them and to realize that the fact they’re single doesn’t necessarily mean that they have some big problem. Instead of approaching your life the way that I had done for so many years—which was “what’s wrong with me?”—I want them to approach it from the standpoint of “I’m not a perfect human being, but I think I’m worthy of love and I hope I find it. But in the meantime, I’m all right. I don’t have to be this perfectly self-actualized person to be worthy of love. Until that time, I can relax into the way my life is now.” I think most people have many more things that are right about them than wrong about them. It’s really just a matter of finding that connection with the person that enjoys you despite the fact that you’re disorganized or don’t like to go to parties or whatever your thing is.
How did you meet your husband?
I met him at work. I’d been freelancing for about 15 years and I got a phone call from my old job at a newswire service and they needed someone to fill in for a bit. And there he was. We flirted for about a month and we started going to lunch and then we started dating.