I’m 28 and I’ve never been in a serious relationship

WORDS BY Sienna Barton

“I find myself wondering if there is something fundamentally unlovable about me, something rotten inside that men can smell the way they detect pheromones.”

It was my third date with Max* when I found myself in bed with him. It might have been a bit too soon, but I honestly just needed to have sex after a year-and-a-half pandemic-induced dry spell. Our previous dates had indicated that we were fundamentally incompatible, and he’d repeatedly told me that he wasn’t looking for anything serious.

He talked about a potential romantic relationship as if it were something he could accidentally stumble into, like a fly getting caught in a spider’s web. We cuddled under the doona, facing each other with our legs intertwined – mine short and thick, his long and spindly.

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Taking a breath, I rolled onto my back and he said, “Are you sure you don’t want a relationship?”. I told him that I didn’t, which was probably a lie, but I didn’t want to be one in with him so I replied with a simple “Yes”. He said he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want a relationship, adding “I think you’re lying. We all just want to be loved”. He wasn’t wrong.

The first break-up that hurt me to my core was when I was seventeen years old. I’d been dating Flynn* for a couple of months when we decided to walk the streets of Fitzroy. At some point, as we waded our way through people, he told me that things weren’t working. I can’t recall the details of why it wasn’t working, but I do remember that I started to cry.

It was a sunny day, and as we walked back to my house, I had to take breaks where I’d let out a sob and he’d anxiously shift from side to side. When we got to my front door, he asked if he could come inside and hug me. We laid on top of the covers of my canopy bed, fully clothed, and he spooned me while I sniffed away the last of my tears.

I’d forgotten to tie up the sheer white canopy fabric before leaving that morning, and alongside the crispness of my white sheets, it felt like we were suspended in a pool of white. It reminded me of that scene in Romeo + Juliet, except we were both miserable instead of in love. There have been many heartaches since then, as time and again, romantic partners have told me that things weren’t working out.

There was Dan*, who broke up with me because I hadn’t had sex and he didn’t want the responsibility of being the first person I slept with. I couldn’t argue with him; it is a well-known fact that when your hymen breaks, you’re guaranteed to fall in love with whoever broke it* (even if that person ends up being a bicycle or a tampon).

Later, there was Jerome*, who broke it off via text message and cited “family issues” as his reason for ending things. His anxiety was compounded by having to factor me into his life, which was completely understandable, and I empathised with him. He said he’d call me the next day to talk about things properly, but he never did.

More recently (and by ‘more recently’ I mean in 2020) there was Kieran*, who broke up with me in front of the Botanical Gardens. I had seen it coming. He’d been evasive about what we were doing that night and when we greeted each other, he kissed me on the cheek instead of on the lips. He reasoned that we just didn’t have the right chemistry, and said that he’d like to be friends.

We had met online solely for the purpose of dating, so I told him that we probably wouldn’t end up becoming friends. I cried at the time, but I know in hindsight, he was right: we didn’t have the right chemistry and dating any longer would have been a mistake.

I used to think fearing getting older was about fearing death, but I’m realising it’s about mourning the life you thought you would have had. I watch friends of mine pair off with their significant others, former classmates and colleagues having children with their high school sweethearts, and I can’t help feeling left out. I’m not wedded to having kids (frankly, I’m not wedded to anything) but I’m getting to an age where if I wanted to have kids, then I would need to meet the potential father of my children soon – and I just don’t see that happening.

I’m completely exhausted by the online dating game, with its clueless pickup lines and tedious small talk, and living through Melbourne’s many lockdowns has significantly shrunken my social circle. On my good days, I don’t mind: I have great friends, heaps of hobbies, and I love my own company. On bad days, I feel worthless.

On those days, I find myself wondering if there is something fundamentally unlovable about me, something rotten inside that men can smell the way they detect pheromones – but instead of attracting a partner, my scent says “stay away, she’s damaged goods”. I worry that I’m destined to never have a long-term relationship and that I’ll never know what it feels like to be loved reciprocally. Maybe I’m being melodramatic, maybe I’m not, but this is how it feels for me to be a perpetually single 28-year-old in 2022.

*Obviously the concept of “losing one’s virginity” is archaic and only acknowledges heteronormative sex. No one ‘loses’ anything during sex, penetrative or otherwise. I have only included this language to bolster a joke and to relay the specifics of why I got dumped for being a nineteen-year-old virgin. Also, the state of a woman’s hymen does not indicate whether or not she has had sex – that is bullshit – but it mirrors the absurdity of thinking that leads a young man to think someone will fall in love with him after the simple act of having sex.

*Names have been changed.

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