How to Be Single and Happy

Do you believe being single is a bad thing? Or a problem that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible? 

I hope your reflexive answer to these questions is “absolutely not!” But, even if you’re not aware of it, you may have echoes of these cultural attitudes boomeranging around your brain, and they can make it hard for you to feel fulfilled and happy with life as a single person. 

Now, don’t get me wrong — I think loving relationships are absolutely fabulous. In fact, I’ve devoted my life to helping people create and maintain healthy relationships through services like counseling, dating coaching, and more. 

But I also know that there are many people who are searching for a partner while living with a deep anxiety about their status as a single person. Many single people tell me they’re kept up at night by worries about the possibility of never finding love. Ironically, this kind of desperation can undermine your chances of building the kind of life that would make you authentically happy — and that would invite healthy love into your life in a sustainable way. 

If you are single and worried about never finding a partner, I hope this article helps you find greater meaning and happiness. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is John Kim, a marriage and family therapist and the author of “Single on Purpose: Redefine Everything, Find Yourself First.” He’s sharing tips on enjoying your time as a single person, while also making room for real love in your life.

You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen (or continue reading the article below!). 

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How to Be Single and Happy

If you are feeling a lot of angst about being single, as so many dating coaching and therapy clients do, that’s understandable. Love is a wonderful, live-affirming thing — it is worthy of all the hype, and searching for true love is a noble quest. 

And yet, most of us have absorbed cultural messages about love and relationships that set us up for disappointment. These messages tell us that being in a loving, partnered relationship is the right way to live, and anything short of that is some kind of personal failing. They say that love will make you happy or solve your problems. If you’re single, these messages imply that you are waiting until you finally find love, and then your life can really begin. Special occasions like Valentine’s Day can make single people feel especially lonely and sad.

If you’re struggling to feel happy outside of a relationship, that can be a sign that you’ve absorbed some of these messages, even if your conscious mind rejects them. This episode of the podcast is all about how you can shift your perspective and build a meaningful, fulfilling, happy life, regardless of your relationship status.

Facing the Fear of Being Alone

One of the biggest obstacles to being single and happy is the fear of being alone. This fear is about more than the name suggests — very few of us are scared of literally being alone, like you would be if you spent an afternoon reading on the sofa. 

The fear of being alone is not about periods of “aloneness.” It’s the fear of never having a meaningful, loving connection again. It’s a feeling of hopelessness about love, and how terrible we imagine our life might be if we never find it. This fear can create a great deal of sadness about being single — but you don’t have to feel this way.

The way to deal with the fear of being alone is to face it head on. What would happen if you spent the rest of your life single? Would you die? Would your life have less value or meaning? Would it be impossible for you to be happy? Would you have no love in your life if you didn’t find a partner?

If you can face your fear of being alone, it loses some of its power. Is it technically possible that you could be single forever? Sure. While that isn’t your preferred life path, it won’t be what determines how happy you are, or whether you find ways to give and receive love, or whether you live a life full of meaning and purpose. 

You can do all of these things regardless of your relationship status, and you should. Because even if you fall in love and create a beautiful shared life with a partner, your story will not end there. Your relationship will change and it may even end. Maybe another love story will begin, or maybe it won’t. Will you have purpose, meaning, and happiness, throughout all of life’s seasons? I hope so.  

You can be in touch with your desire for a relationship, and your fear of not finding one, while also empowering yourself to lead a happy life no matter what. 

The Fear of Time Running Out

Another fear that makes it difficult to be happy and single is the fear of running out of time. This fear is especially powerful for women who want families, because there is a real limit to how old they can be if they want to have their own biological children. 

If you’re afraid that you could miss the boat on becoming a parent, you may feel a bit desperate to find a partner and get started. It can be hard to “be happy being single” when you feel the clock running out and you still haven’t found “the one” yet — you’re working on a very real deadline! This pressure also makes it difficult to let relationships unfold in a gradual, natural way, to take time to heal between relationships, or to walk away from relationships that you know aren’t quite right for you. 

Of course, you don’t want your fear of running out of time to lead you to starting a family with the wrong person. You want to take your time and choose a good life partner who you can be happy with. You also don’t want to ignore your fear entirely — it’s giving you good information about what’s important to you and what actions you need to take. Instead of letting fear take you over, let it guide you to approach your dating life with a certain level of seriousness. 

That means looking out for red flags, as well as signs of a healthy relationship. It means getting very clear about what the right person for you would be like, what you want and need in a relationship, and being direct about it with potential partners (and willing to walk away from partners who aren’t on the same page or who can’t meet your needs). It also means giving yourself the space to heal after a breakup, because that’s how you become emotionally available enough to form a new, healthy connection. 

If you do all of this, it does not guarantee that you will find the right partner in time to conceive your own biological children without any help from science. But it does give you the best opportunity to make that dream a reality. 

The Key to Being Single and Happy: Working on Yourself 

Having the right mindset is the key to happiness in every area of life, and there is no mindset you could cultivate that is more positive and empowering than a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means that you believe on a deep level that you have the power to create the outcomes that you want in life through your own efforts. The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which says that the things you succeed at (or don’t succeed at) are the result of some inherent quality within you. 

What does all of this have to do with being single? Well, I’ll tell you. When you are not in a relationship, that’s a fantastic opportunity to focus on your own personal growth. Not because you need to grow or change in order to be in a relationship, but because your life is a bit of a blank canvas when you’re single, with a lot of room for experimentation. It’s a way to make the most of this incredible time.

Periods of singleness are a great time to explore your interests and do the things you like to do. Find hobbies that enrich your life, and build new connections with people who may become dear friends someday. Focus on your career and on creating the professional life you want. People can dump you and break your heart, but no one can ever take away the work you put into developing yourself. 

And when you do find a partner, it will be easier for you to love them without losing yourself in that relationship. When you embrace personal growth as a single person, it becomes easier to maintain your identity and keep growing when you’re in a committed relationship.

Building a Positive Relationship with You

When you’re single, it’s also a great time to focus on your relationship with yourself. You can do this by exploring your inner world, including the thoughts and feelings that drive you, and the self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back. 

You can focus on cultivating greater contentment in your daily life, rather than waiting for a relationship (or anything else) to come along and “make you happy.” A personal growth-focused therapist could help you on this journey, or you can do much of the work yourself through journaling and other introspective exercises, like practicing mindfulness and meditation. 

One of the most important things you can focus on in your relationship with yourself is your inner narrative. Is it helpful and loving? Or critical, unsupportive, and disempowering? When you don’t have a kind inner voice, you can rely too heavily on external validation as a source of self-esteem. This can keep you stuck in toxic relationships, or make it difficult to endure periods of singless. 

When you have a stronger relationship with yourself, you’re in a better position to build a healthy relationship with someone else. You’ll carry yourself with greater confidence (and nothing is sexier than confidence in dating), and you’ll be less likely to accept poor treatment from others. 

Feeling Judged for Being Single

Unfortunately, negative messages about being single don’t just come from inside of you. You may also be receiving negative messages from the people in your life, including from people who love you dearly and only want the best for you. 

Friends and family may ask you why you’re still single, or they may offer to set you up with someone, as if not being partnered is a problem that you must be desperate to solve. You might feel judged, criticized, or like your way of life is not good enough. This can feel incredibly hurtful, especially if you internalize these messages and begin to believe that being single reflects on you poorly somehow. 

Here’s how to deal with feeling judged: Realize that attitudes like these have everything to do with the person who’s making the judgments, and nothing to do with you. These messages are about the other person’s values, assumptions, and insecurities, and they’re simply projecting them on to you, almost certainly without even realizing it. 

And why do they do this? Probably because of negative messages that they’ve received that have complicated their own relationships with being single. Some people struggle to feel happy when they’re not in a relationship, so they assume you must feel unhappy as well. Some people are afraid of being single because they equate it with being defective, so they project that fear on to you (have some sympathy for these folks — what terrible pressure they must be living under!). Others feel challenged when they’re around people who are single and happy, in a way that raises uncomfortable questions about their own relationship choices. 

None of this is about you, and when you recognize that, it becomes easier to not take these negative messages personally, or to let them affect how you feel about yourself. 

Building a Happy, Single Life

A growing number of people come to dating coaching not only because they want to find a healthy relationship, but because they want to build a life that is rich, fulfilling, and happy, regardless of their relationship status. 

Single life and an uncertain future do not have to be scary things. They can be sources of possibility and excitement, if you have the right mindset. If you’d like some help cultivating greater happiness as a single person, and finding joy along the journey to a healthy relationship, we invite you to schedule a free consultation

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How to Be Single and Happy

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Music in this episode is by The Dollyrots with their song “Dancing with Myself.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to if further questions are prompted.

Lisa Marie Bobby: On this episode of the podcast, we’re talking about something that I know is going to be so useful for you if you are a single person, recently out of a relationship, or even someone who’s thinking about leaving a long term relationship, and that is how to be genuinely happy being single.

I work with so many people who are either not in a relationship or ambivalent about the one they’re in, and they have a lot of anxiety about the idea of their, you know, not having a partner, it keeps them up at night. When they do date or think about dating, it can create a ton of pressure and anxiety around “are you my person?” and the smallest things can become fraught because of this pressure. So as someone who is absolutely devoted to helping people create really healthy relationships with others, one of the things that I have learned over the years is that it is fundamentally important for all of your relationships to first have a really, really good relationship with yourself. That is the foundation, that is your primary relationship from which all other relationships are built. 

To talk with us today about this idea and more, I have invited John Kim to join us today. John is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a life coach, and the best selling author of the book, Being Single on Purpose, subtitled, Redefine Everything. Find Yourself First. He blogs under the pseudonym The Angry Therapist, which I love, and which we are going to be talking about at some point on today’s show. He has a new book coming out soon called It’s Not Me, It’s You — exactly what everybody wants to hear — but that book is coming out in September. It’s all about breaking the blame cycle in your relationship, and that book is going to be a game changer. So I’m gonna be asking about that as well. But John, thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your wisdom and perspective with our listeners.

John Kim: Thank you so much for having me. By the way, you are my first human interaction. This is the first human collision of the morning. So just a warning, it could be great or it could go sideways.

Lisa: That’s all good. I am all about being authentic. I’m on my second cup of tea. So we’ll see how it goes. My brain is still firing up as well. That’s right. That’s right. And also for our listeners, John and I both have some things going on. I have dump trucks all around my house right now. John has parrots flying all around his house right now, which sounds really much more exciting and exotic. I imagine you like on a mountaintop somewhere in Hawaii. Okay, first of all, why do you have parrots flying around your house?

John: No, I wish I was in Hawaii. I live in Altadena. It’s a little patch up in the hills in Los Angeles. The rumor was in the 70s, there was a pet store that caught on fire, and all the birds, you know, have fled and then they started mating. So the big parrots that you see at the, you know, the giant $400 parrots that talk, those parrots, they started meeting and so they’re everywhere here and it feels like Jurassic Park. 

When we first bought the house, it was kind of exotic and kind of cool. Feels like you’re away from the city. Since I do a lot of content and stuff and podcasting at home, now it’s become like, The Birds, the movie from Alfred Hitchcock, they just now become kind of crazy. Yeah.

Lisa: Like they follow you or you walk out of your house and they’re sitting there looking at you?

John: Yeah, they’re loud. They’re like monkeys. They’re just jolting, you know, but anyway.

Lisa: Well, that sounds really, really exciting. Well, in Colorado, the most exciting thing that happens is that raccoons get into the cat door once in a while. So you are you’re living your dream.

John: Yeah, I read that parrots and raccoons. Raccoons are nice. 

Lisa: Anyway, so what I would love to talk more about and maybe we can even start with is your your book, Single on Purpose. So I was actually turned on to this book, a colleague of mine, another couples counselor here on the team at Growing Self, we were just doing a conversation one day and he was like, “I read this really cool book, Single on Purpose.” I hadn’t heard of it before so I went and and researched it, and I just loved your ideas. So I’m wondering if if we could even start by you sharing with our listeners a little bit, not just about the punchline of this book, but where did it come from? What made you want to write a book on this topic in particular? Tell us the story.

John: Sure. 10 years of working with singles, mostly women in their 30s, who generally had a good life. They had a good job and solid friends and they weren’t unhappy, except for the part that they were single. Because they were single, they just, you know, they were grayed out, they were chasing, they were lined with desperation. I thought to myself, “Man, how can I help because I can. I’m not Cupid, I can’t find them love. But what I can do is help them reframe what singlehood means.”

As I started to think about this and really explore it, a lot of their frustrations and unhappiness came from programming, came from, you know, the one and happily ever after. And if you find someone, then from there, life is going to be good, right? It’s all false and misleading, you know. And so I said to myself, you know, instead of finding someone else, what if you found in you or at least worked on yourself while you’re looking for someone else? I thought that, especially today’s toxic swipe culture, that being single on purpose is actually interesting and is refreshing. Maybe Barbie never needed Ken, you know, she just needed a…

Lisa: She definitely needed that Corvette. But that’s such an empowering message. So you used to term a moment ago when you were talking about the people that you were working with, primarily single women in their 30s, who didn’t have a partner and really were making a lot of meaning around that, that myth of if I was with somebody, then I would be happy. That sort of false logic. But you also use this term to describe them — you said grayed out? What did you mean by that?

John: Yes, it comes from my own story. my first book was called, I Used to Be a Miserable F*ck, and it was because it is a true story. There it is, there in the corner. I was grayed out, meaning I was functioning, I was able to get up and go to work and do my things. But I wasn’t happy inside, I had a poor relationship with self. I was just kind of going through the motions of life. And I think a lot of single people, it’s not like they can’t get off the couch, but they’re just not thriving, they’re not able to produce joy. They’re not living, they’re just kind of grayed out, you know. Waiting and chasing, instead of being super present and engaging and making the best of what they have and where they’re at.

Lisa: Oh, that makes a lot of sense to me. So it sounds like, you’ve definitely been on your own journey. I think that’s where the best books come from, you know, to have that empathy of having lived through it and really understanding. It sounds like there’s kind of that common thread there. It’s like, yeah, feeling disconnected from yourself and sort of like wanting or needing something external to come in and make you feel “whole,” and just this realization that it’s not about the stuff on the outside, it’s about your relationship with yourself and focusing on that, that piece of it.

Okay, so then, maybe we could talk a little bit more about that idea. But I’d love to do it in the context of this passage, if it’s okay with with you, I’d like to read just an excerpt of your book for the benefit of our listeners. Then I’d like to talk about this and just how those ideas sort of fit. I think this passage really captures that existential dread people feel about being alone.

So you start by saying, “Take a deep breath, and ask yourself the following question, preferably a few times: what if I never find a partner?” essentially. Then you go on to say, “Did your heart stop? Maybe it did for a second if you really embrace that idea. But despite what you may feel, you’re still very much alive. I’m not saying you’ll never find love. I’m saying this looming question you allow it to follow you around like a dark cloud, is what is stripping the vibrance out of your life. This giant ‘what if?’ you keep asking yourself is preventing you from truly living. Instead, you’re waiting around for something to happen to you and that waiting produces the feeling of loneliness, but it’s actually not loneliness you’re struggling with. At the core, it’s the deep belief that you will always be alone. It’s hopelessness. That is what’s crippling. To turn on the lights and get rid of this heavy shadow, you must face this belief head on. How? Accept it fully.”

I’m picturing in my mind right now several clients that I’ve worked with are probably just passed out and coming back into consciousness with this idea, because that’s the hardest thing, it’s really, like, even getting close to that idea of acceptance. Tell us more.

John:  Yeah. And it’s telling how terrifying it is.That’s kind of the point of that is, I think, because, you know, happy means running toward the picket fence and having the 2.2 kids and the matching Priuses, this blueprint. The idea of being alone completely shatters that. The idea of being alone goes against what we were taught. It’s terrifying, and I get it, but the thing is that if you don’t actually accept and face that, then you’re always going to be afraid. It’s going to have power over you.

The same thing about people who are afraid they’re gonna lose their houses, or people who are afraid they’re gonna, if they are in a relationship, that they’re going to lose their partner, or the partner is going to cheat on them or… Whatever fear you’re struggling with, the acceptance of it makes it a shadow cast by your own hand. You’ll see that there’s no monster under their bed. It doesn’t mean— I don’t want to minimize the fear. I think the fear is okay. But to actually confront it.

Lisa: Yeah, to open the closet door, and there actually is a monster standing there. Now we’re going to have a conversation with it, as opposed to…

John: This doesn’t mean that you are going to be alone, of course. It just means facing the idea or the possibility head on.

Lisa: Yeah. To take some of the power away.

John: Take the power away. Yeah. It’s a mindset. You’re not accepting and believing that you are going to be alone. That’s not what’s happening. There’s billions of people in this world, you will not be alone. You know, if you’ve been with someone before, if you have loved someone before, very high chance for you to love someone again.

Lisa: That’s a good reminder. It’s scary, though, in that moment. You know, what this is actually reminding me of, and I think I have been hearing more and more about this idea in recent years, which I think is really positive, but is around the health at any size movement, you know. So body acceptance and not tying your worth as a person to what shape your body is, or how much it weighs, that it’s almost an irrelevant detail, and that you can have a beautiful and happy life no matter what, and you can be very healthy no matter what size pants you wear. 

I think that that’s just such a paradigm shift, I think, especially for a lot of women who have been kind of acculturated to believe that the shape or size of a body carries a lot of meaning. I think I’m almost hearing a similarity in your perspective on your relationship status, that it is actually not necessarily relevant or of primary importance when it comes to being a happy person and having a nice life.

John: Yes, we’ve never given singlehood a cape, right? We believe that when you’re single, you’re defective. It’s the same thing with divorce. You know, even today, where divorce is like at 60%. There’s shame in it. If you say your divorced, you feel like you’re gonna stamp defective on your head, or that you fail, that your marriage… And it’s like, no, it wasn’t the right fit or things didn’t work out, or that relationship expired.

I think with with singlehood, it’s always been like, “Oh, you’re single, let me try to find you someone.” You know, you never meet someone like if your friend’s single, you never go to them say, “Oh, that’s amazing. I wish I was single, you have so much… You have so many opportunities right now to go on adventures and do what you want to do. I’m excited that you’re single.” Instead, it’s like, “Alright, who do I know that’s single and how can I hook you up? How can I solve your problem?” You know?

Lisa: Yeah, and that parallel again if somebody — and I think, again, it’s getting better — but 40, 50, 60 pounds heavier than whatever society says they should be, people feel absolutely, that it’s well within their right to talk about diet and exercise and make a big deal out of it. If somebody has lost a few pounds similarly to like if somebody has started dating somebody new, “oh, we’re going to celebrate this because this is what we think you should be doing.” This whole paradigm shift around, actually no, you don’t have to conform to whatever that standard is or that messages.

Let me ask you about this because it’s hard, I think, easy to hear and kind of intellectually understand, yes, this all makes perfect sense. There are so many advantages and positive things to being single. I can absolutely be happy intellectually. But I think it’s harder shift for people internally to change their own story and their own feelings about it, particularly if they’re  fantasizing about feeling happier if they were in a relationship, where they imagined that there would be a lot of positive things on the other side of that. Do you have any thoughts about that? I know that’s a big question. I mean, it’s hard work to do that, but…

John: I think the question isn’t “When am I going to find someone?” It’s “Who do I want to be with when I do so it’s not like the last time?” I think we put a lot of weight on the “when.” I also struggle with chasing things. In my 20s, and half of my 30s, the reason why I was so miserable was I would pause life. And then when I got these things, like at the time, I was a screenwriter. So when I sold a script, or got that three-picture deal, or got something that was in the future that I didn’t have today, then I would be happy, right? When I got this thing, whether it was a beautiful woman or something in career or whatever, money, cars, then I would press play, and life would be good. But until I got that, I would hit pause on life. 

I think a lot of single people do that. It’s like they’re waiting for their person, and until that person comes, they hit pause. But what you should be doing is you should ask yourself, “What can I bring to the table? What can I do working on myself so when I do find the person that deserves me, I can create a new love experience that the relationship will have legs, and it will be different than the last time? Because if not, if I’m just waiting, and I find someone, chances are what I’m bringing to the table is the past and all my unhealthy patterns and part of why the plane went down in the last one.”

Lisa: Yeah. Oh, what fantastic advice. I get that. It’s like being so future-focused, that “I will be happy and do all these things when…” And I think what you’re saying is to really reframe that space in your life as this really incredible and important opportunity to be working on yourself in very deliberate ways so that you can be the kind of person who knows what they want and can be a great relationship partner for the right person.

John: Yes, and I also want to say, working on yourself can mean so many different things. In my book, I say I found myself through donuts, barbells, and motorcycles. Working on yourself doesn’t— which is true, after my divorce, I was broke, had no money, had no friends. And I started with that. It doesn’t have to mean exotic vacations and expensive retreats and, you know, the commercialized version of working on yourself, right?

Lisa: Well, if we could unpack that a little bit more, though, I think that working on yourself… People can pick that up, but you’re you’re making a great point that that actually looks very, very different for many people. It’s worth deconstructing. Let’s say somebody is listening to us and thinking about, “I don’t have a partner, here’s an opportunity to work on myself. I’m afraid of motorcycles and don’t really enjoy exercising,” — and what was the other one, doughnuts? — “I have a gluten allergy.” So we’re talking about specific things.

John: So that wouldn’t work for you. That program wouldn’t work for you.

Lisa: That would work well for me, well, except for the whole barbell thing. I only exercise if there’s a really good reason. When it comes to like working on yourself, what does that mean, from your perspective? Because we could have three months of singleness and do the same old thing we always do and not really grow from it. So in your work, when it comes to that key idea of working on yourself, is really working on your relationship with yourself. What have you seen clients do, or what do you encourage them to do that moves them towards growth in that area?

John: Exploring your inner journey. So everything from thoughts to what you like. When we get into a relationship, a lot of our relationship with ourselves takes a backseat. When you’re single, the soil is so rich for growth and connection to self. I spent a lot of time doing things by myself. I went to the movies by myself, went to the beach, did a lot of running. I got into CrossFit, I rode my motorcycle, hugging canyons here in Los Angeles, a lot of journaling — I use Tumblr, a blog, as a way to journal — but I did a lot of reflecting and a lot of exploring who I am, what I like, what I want, how I think, and the things that I want to change. It’s great, because it’s the only relationship that you could actually have full control over changing, as opposed to friends and other relationships you can’t really change.

Lisa: Definitely. That’s such a great point, and I think that this idea is so fundamentally important because, again, particularly for people who have a lot of anxiety about being single, it’s like something that they want to move away from and change as quickly as possible. What you’re saying is, embrace it, walk into that space, and stay there to be reflective and journal and get to know yourself more authentically. 

Okay, this may be too personal of a question, feel free if this is too much, but I… 

John: Nothing’s too personal with me. I have been transparent for the last 12 years. I’ve swam too far to turn back anyway, go ahead.

Lisa: I strive for the same. So if there’s anything you want to know about me, feel free. But during this experience, I’m just curious to know with your personal experience of being single, what were some of the things that emerged for you over that time that maybe you didn’t know before? And perhaps there are parallels to work that you’ve seen your clients do during those same segments when they really allowed themselves to go to go into it? What are some of the things that come out of these spaces in your experience?

John: Yeah, for me, it was realizing how I function in relationships, what my shortcomings were, what my unhealthy patterns are, why I do what I do. So I tend to be more of an anxious type, anxious attachment. So where that comes from, how that shows up, exploring love languages, what are going to be my new non-negotiables you know, what really matters to me in relationships as I grow. In my 20s, I was just high-strung and just wanting to have sex. Now, in my 40s, of course, I want something different.

It takes more than than a breeze, eye contact and connection, and similar passions and all that. So just kind of shaking your whole love Etch A Sketch and redefining what it is that you want today, based on who you are. Yeah, so exploring all that. 

Lisa: I love that, “shaking your love Etch A Sketch.”

John: And that’s a journey. Right? That’s not a weekend. That’s a journey. It’s a process.

Lisa: Definitely. Well, and there’s also this piece, because, you’re a therapist, I’m a therapist. And so we can, I think, know in some ways — I mean, I personally still benefit enormously from like talking to a coach — but know, in some ways what kinds of questions to ask ourselves, what sort of questions I would ask a client in this moment so I can work through some of this with solitude or with journaling. But what you’re also talking about are very real blind spots, particularly when it comes to patterns and relationships. I think that people have a tendency to be very other focused, like “I choose the wrong people” and do not have any awareness about how they are experienced by others.

Is your general advice for civilians to get in with a coach or a marriage and family therapist like yourself who can shine a light on some of those blind spots? Or have you had good experiences with people who are able to do this in a self-help format, or maybe through your book, obviously, but like, with journaling and introspection? 

John: I think therapy is amazing. It’s so hard the process by yourself, right? So having that other party, neutral party to hold up a mirror. I think a lot of people mistake therapy as when you have an issue or problem, right? To use therapy as maintenance, to use therapy as a lifestyle, you know, like us going to gym or doing yoga or eating better — people don’t do that. And I get that it be can be expensive and all that.

So whatever you can afford, whether it’s coaching therapy,stuff done through an app or whatever. There’s so much available these days. I think it’s prescribed, I think it’s part of this whole thing. I don’t think it’s something that you just do by yourself with, you know, alone.

Lisa: Yeah, I just wanted to check in about that, because I think it can be really hard. So I’m glad you’re talking about like finding a partner to do that work.

So you’ve been talking a lot about the importance of having that time alone to understand yourself, uncover your own patterns. One of the big premise of your book is the idea of building a relationship with yourself in a different way. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen that look like? So I think you were talking about how partially, that in the space of being single, is a real opportunity to gain self-awareness. But when it comes to the day-to-day experience of having a different kind of relationship with oneself. I’m curious to know what‌ that actually looks like in practice.

John: I think what comes up for me is learning to like yourself. It’s harder to like yourself; it’s harder to do that than to love someone. I think love is a choice. And, you know, we have family members that we don’t really like but we choose to love, right? Your relationship with yourself is about exploration so you could actually like yourself. I think many of us don’t like who we are, you know, and we push that aside, and we don’t work on it. So exploring, like any relationship, to learn what you like about yourself, and then feeding it, growing it, nurturing it, and all of that.

Usually, many of us, we lose ourselves in relationships. That’s why we seek relationships, because we can hide. So when we’re single, there’s a lot of exposure. And that exposure, although uncomfortable, is good. Many of us, when we’re single, we run, meaning we numb, meaning we just go chase dopamine and escape, instead of sitting still and getting comfortable with who you are, liking, learning to like ourselves.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. In my experience, I think the most awful thing for many people is this presence of this inner critic that lives within that is just so vicious and malevolent. “Let me tell you all the reasons why you suck and everything that’s wrong with you and why other people are better than you are.” Just all this. So I think what I’m hearing in there is learning how to manage that, and really, almost like protect yourself from that. I think I’ve seen that too with people who feel like they need to be in a relationship. And this is a working hypothesis — entirely unscientific — but it’s like, I think when they’re with someone, they almost feel protected from that, that critic, inner abusive… Yeah.

John: If you don’t heal from, if you don’t resolve, if you don’t work on that, it’s going to ripple into your relationships. All that comes from our stories and whatever childhood… All of our experiences, right, because we’re all born just a fresh canvas. Then from there, things are written on it. So investigating that, exploring it, following this string down, seeing why we are like that, and then you know, building a new relationship with yourself.

Lisa: This is a lot of deep work, and can be very vulnerable work. So now I’m imagining somebody who’s embraced this idea, “Yes, I’m going to take this opportunity of being single to do some of this important work on myself,” and may still get comments or pressure or, you know, “let me set you up with someone” comments from others, or even internally experiencing judgment from family and friends, like that cultural message, there’s something wrong with you, that your single or that your relationships don’t work out.

How would you advise people to be able to tune out those external pressures to give themselves permission to have that space? Because it’s not just coming from inside them. It really is coming from what your sister says, or your coworkers.

John: I like that saying that “what people think about us has more to do with their story than yours.” I think it’s a practice, but getting to a place where a lot of judgment from friends and family probably have more to do with them, their insecurity, their blueprints. It’s not something for you to carry anymore.

Lisa: Their values too, you know, and that’s actually a really good idea. If they’ve organized their lives around relationships or a primary relationship, they could almost even feel uncomfortable or even threatened to be around single people who are having a fantastic time unapologetically.

John: People with kids, you know, I have a daughter now; she’s two. After knowing how difficult it is — of course, it’s rewarding as well — but then seeing your friends who don’t have children and almost being jealous of their freedom. Projection stuff. 

Lisa: Totally. 

John: So then you say, “When are you gonna have kids? Why don’t you… because, you know, that’s where happy is and you should have kids. You’re getting older.” The truth is, you’re actually jealous that they have the freedom.

Lisa: I know. “I am going to Paris for two weeks. Bye!” And you’re sitting there in the playground.

Okay, so now, there’s another thing that I do want to check in with you about, and I think that this can be particularly true for women, sometimes for men, though. When it comes to that biological clock experience. This is also very real for people. So somebody listening to this saying, “Okay, yes, noted. I need to take time between relationships to work on myself and be patient and accepting of the process. And I am 34 and ¾, and I really know that I would like to have a family,” and just feeling a lot of that timeline biological clock pressure. What about somebody who feels like they’re running out of time and does not have time to spend three months journaling?

John: Yes, the feeling is real. But here’s the thing, if you get into a relationship because you feel like there’s a ticking clock, or you’re running out of time, you’re gonna compromise, you know? If you play that out, and let’s say you do have a child, do you want to have a child with someone that you picked because time was running out? Or do you want to have a child with someone, you may be older, but with someone that you could build something with. I get, of course, by law, biologically, women, there’s a ticking clock. So that’s, again, something to accept and wrestle with, and sit with.

I had my daughter at 47. I’m 49 now. I’m going to be the dad that picks her up from school, high school, and all the kids can say, “Hey, your Grandpa’s here.” Although I’ll be on a Harley, probably wearing vans. But I’ve except accepted that, and I know that I’m a better dad now than if I had a child, say, in my 30s, where I was very disconnected in and miserable.

Lisa: Yeah, now that’s great advice is to just slow down and understand the importance of it, that, particularly, to have a relationship that is going to be producing children, that is very difficult. It has to be very strong, and so slow down, build it to last by working on yourself and not buying into that mythology about what people should be doing at which stage in their lives, because there are actually all‌ kinds of options. Yeah. 

Then lastly, and I also want to talk about your new book that you have coming out to, but just the last thing on this topic. So the other takeaway that I’ve had from our conversation is that many people just feel driven by this anxiety when they’re single. They feel like they’re incomplete. They can’t feel like they’re happy until they are in a relationship. It really kind of drives them into the seeking, seeking, seeking, as opposed to this stillness that is actually paradoxically the answer to creating the kind of relationship that you want.

Do you think that people need to feel entirely whole when they’re single? Or do you think that this idea of you have to feel whole and happy and love your life exactly as it is — is that just another trap for people to fall into?

John: Yeah, I don’t like this idea that you have to be at a certain place to start dating. For example, if you’re an addict, I think not using and working on your stuff like that, of course, but I think you work on yourself forever. I think it’s a lifestyle, right? As you’re doing that, when you find someone that you want to invest in, then you don’t lose that opportunity with wherever you’re at. I don’t think you’re like, “Okay, I gotta check all the boxes. Is my body a certain shape? Have I read enough self-help books?”

Lisa: “Am I completely debt-free?”

John: “Can I buy a house now?” I think it is like having children in that no one’s ever ready, but I think it’s important that we start swimming there, instead of just waiting. But there is no there. I think there, because when you get into a relationship, then there’s more work because now you’re talking about another person and what they bring to the table and all the contrast, all of that, which is actually what my new book is about. It’s lnce you do find a partner, then what?

Lisa: Oh, that’s awesome. Well, and thank you, though, just for saying that out loud. Because I think that that can also mess people up and feel like this other pressure, it’s like, “I have to have myself completely figured out, I need to be this perfectly perfect human that loves myself unconditionally and feels entirely whole before I can do XYZ.” All just these impossible standards.

I love what you said, is that just swimming in the general direction of growth and health is good enough. We don’t want to be stagnant and stuck. We don’t want to wait. But to let go of this idea of perfection and just thank you for saying that. Okay, and I really want to hear more about your new book, and also the story of where this one is coming from. What’s the motivation for this one?

John: It’s funny. So I feel like there’s like a trilogy or a bigger story here. I used to be a miserable f*ck, and then I was single on purpose. Now, you know, being in a relationship with a child, what that’s like. So it definitely tracks my story. I’ve always wanted to write a relationship book, of course, as a therapist and relationship dating coach. I thought, “Should I write it alone? Or should I actually write it with my partner, who’s also a therapist, and then we could pull the curtain back and show the world that therapists also struggle in their own relationships?”

This idea of humanizing the therapist was really interesting to me, a flag I’ve been waving for years. So I wrote it with my partner. It’s basically called It’s Not Me, It’s You. It’s kind of the joke, but it’s breaking the blame cycle and is taking ownership. We explore our own stories or client stories. And basically, how do you build a sustainable relationship now that you’re not single? Which is, actually, I think it’s harder to be in a relationship than to be single to be honest with you.

Lisa: Oh, yeah. Because when you’re single, there’s this idea that if you find the right person, you’re just gonna fall in love, and it’ll be easy. Then you get there, and you’re like, “Oh, crap.” So take us into this idea. So you say that the blame cycle, what are you and your partner writing about there?

John: We go through so many concepts, like how to fight without fighting, which is a whole… I could talk about that for hours.

Lisa:  Are we talking about the silent treatment? Because I’m, like, really good at that.

John: Yeah. Well, that’s what we’re talking about. I think most people think fighting is bad. Fighting isn’t bad as long as you fight in a healthy way. If you don’t know how to fight in a healthy way, it’s only a matter of time before the plane comes down. So, learning how to fight without fighting. That’s a big piece, I think, in building a healthy relationship. Finding beauty in the contrast, you know, I think we’re used to, at least for me, it was always about lightning in the bottle, and then realizing later that that lightning can actually be dysfunction, right?

Lisa: Wait, lightning in a bottle? What are we talking about right now?

John: Connection chemistry. Meeting someone…

Lisa: Oh, yes.

John: …that’s what a lot of people are looking for, and that’s great. But it could also be unhealthy. The lightning can also be dysfunction. In my 20s, I thought, “Oh, if I don’t feel that lightning, if we don’t lock eyes across the room, and no, then it’s not love and that’s not true.” So the relationship I’m in now, we’ve been together going on five years and it was rocky at the beginning. There wasn’t lightning in the bottle. It was a slow burn. It was peeling an onion instead of biting into an apple.

Learning a lot about love and that healthy isn’t just someone who knocks your knee-high socks off. I think love starts when things get hard. Not when there’s dopamine and the person can’t do anything wrong because it’s new and you guys are exploring each other. That’s exciting, you know.

Lisa: Oh, absolutely. Say more about that though — love starts when things get hard. I fully agree with this, but I’m curious to hear your…

John: Because things are gonna get hard. You know, once you move in, and you start to see things, you start to realize the person isn’t perfect; the person realizes you’re not perfect. And then there’s a lot of differences, there’s a lot contrast, right. Then there’s a lot of things that that annoy you, like the dirty socks on the floor, or the way that he loads the dishwasher or whatever. There could be anger and resentment that starts to build up.

So all of these things that we have to work on and take ownership, that’s work, that’s hard, that’s something that has to be done for the relationship to have legs. If you’re not willing to do it, or you’re not able to do it, because you haven’t done it in the past it’s gonna go down. Relationships, they hold up a mirror, and you decide if you want to look at self, or blame the other person, and if you’re used to just blaming, you’re going to be single on purpose again.

Lisa: No, definitely. Well, that really, I think, ties in to your work with being single and dating, too, because just to follow that trajectory, somebody who is single, feeling a lot of pressure about being in a relationship. I completely agree with you. I think people in that place often find a partner or make a lot of meaning from that lightning in a bottle experience, that chemistry, that excitement, which has nothing to do with whether or not that person will necessarily be a good life partner for you.

Say that you’ve had somebody go into what is now a relationship from that place of maybe feeling incomplete, insecure, anxious, wanting to be someone, and now they have a partner, they have moved in, and the thrill is gone. Now they’re with a person who is a mere mortal and they’re just as much of a mixed bag as the rest of us. That can be very jarring for people. I think, if you look at it from a dating mentality that the logic is, “Well, I am with the wrong person. I chose the wrong person.”

John: Yeah, and then people jump ship, and then that pattern keeps them not swimming past the breakers and actually being able to build something sustainable. That pattern keeps them in a in a cycle of the same type of relationship. And the only thing that changes is faces, right? So that’s why people say, “Oh, I always date the same person. Well, because you’re being the same person.”

Lisa: Yeah. Completely. So what do you think is the big piece of growth for somebody who wants to stop that cycle and has met someone who is probably just as good and nice as anybody else and is now faced with building a relationship that’s based on that real love as opposed to the feelings? And what have you seen being like the biggest — or because it’s not one thing, so this isn’t a fair question — but the things, maybe, that they need to work on in themselves, work on accepting, embracing, getting comfortable with that may be different than what they expected when they were single?

Yes, I think the biggest piece is, and the hardest piece is looking inward. This whole book is about stop blaming your partner. And I know our partners have things that is their fault, or that things that they need to be responsible for. But I think, in general, we struggle with looking inward and taking ownership. And usually when you do that, and I know that’s hard, that dynamic changes, right? Because if two people are blaming, the magnet flips. So to build trust, again, to create rich soil to build something healthy, both people have to be looking inward because that produces evolution and relationship glue and legs.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Okay, great advice. And then lastly, I know we’re coming to the end of our time, but I cannot let this conversation end without finding out why you write under the name The Angry Therapist. What’s the story there?

John: When I was going through a divorce about, I don’t know, 12, 13 years ago, I started a blog on Tumblr, back in the day when people were on dial up. I kind of did it for therapy. I didn’t think anyone would read it. It was kind of like a digital journal for myself, start to document my story. I just thought it was funny that a therapist was angry. But in looking back, I think it was my way of saying that I’m human. So that started the first domino in messaging, which is, therapists are human too. They can be angry. They have feelings. They’re not perfect in relationships and all that. So, yeah. I’m not angry anymore.

Lisa: But it would be okay if you were. But no, I get that, and thank you for saying that too. Because I think that, yeah, this idea that we have things completely figured out is so not true. Like, we’re all fellow travelers on this journey of growth, and that it looks different for everybody. But I think also, that probably adds so much to your work with your clients, just the empathy that you have for the lived experience, and that they know that you understand what it feels like? Because not just that you’ve been there, but you’ve also communicated it so beautifully, kind of helping them put feelings and words to their own experiences. It’s great.

So John, is there anything else that you feel like would have been helpful or important for us to talk about today for the benefit of our listeners that maybe I haven’t thought to ask you about?

John: You know, there’s so many things in the book to cover. But I think the message that we’re leaving with this idea of looking inward, and then love starts when it gets hard. I think that’s enough. I don’t think we… We just keep putting because those are really big idea. Yeah. So yeah, maybe just up adding punctuation to the end of that, you know, putting a period there.

Lisa: Okay, wonderful. Well, this is fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today. And if people wanted to learn more about you and your work and check out your books, where should they go?

John: Just @theangrytherapist on social and then you know, the bio link will send them to all the places.

Lisa: Wonderful. Okay.

John: All right. Thank you for having me.

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