I know you’re supposed to be dating in your twenties, but what if I just want to hang out with my friends?

Photography by Trudi Treble
Words by Maeve Kerr-Crowley

Friendship love is the only kind of love I care about right now.

Sometimes, being in your twenties feels like one long conversation about relationships. Whether the people around you are all happily partnered off, slogging through the dating game or a whiplash-inducing combination of the two, talking at length about your loved ones’ love lives is practically an occupational hazard.

This has definitely only increased in the last year or so, with the pandemic and its various side effects having a lasting impact on how we view relationships. According to a survey recently conducted by Pandora, 73 per cent of Australians think relationships are more important than ever post-2020, with 67 per cent inspired to put in more effort with the people they love.

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It feels like everyone around me has gone a little romance-crazy. Some spent the lonely days of lockdown realising the importance of human connection, some regretted not having someone by their side while stuck at home, and others are just intent on making up for lost time. Now that I can actually hang out with my friends again, romance-centric conversations have been kicked into high gear.

A lot of the time this is incredibly fun. After all, it’s not like there’s been much worth gossiping about for the last year, and I get a kick out of scrolling through my friends’ new Hinge or Bumble matches and dissecting the latest dates they’ve been on. Friends who have been single for as long as I’ve known them have recently snagged themselves a paramour, and it warms my heart to see them adjusting to romantic bliss.

So, if any of them read this: I love you, I’m happy for you, and I would never say this to your face, but god I get so bored sometimes. I’m sure I’d be keen to talk romance ’til the cows came home if I had anything to contribute besides brutally honest character assessments of my friends’ suitors. But I don’t, so I’m always the first one to tap out.

I haven’t been in a relationship since high school. I’ve also only been on one proper date since then, which was admittedly a bit of fun but didn’t exactly leave me hankering to give it another go. I mean, it started with him announcing that he didn’t know how to pronounce my name the second he opened the door, and ended with me wearing turtlenecks for a week to cover a hickey so big my friends asked if I’d hooked up with a vacuum cleaner.

But I left with my hickey and a big ego boost and thought, “Well, that’ll tide me over for at least a few months.” And it did. I haven’t had a date or a fling or even ‘talked’ to someone since and, short of a miracle, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Even now, this seems like a shameful thing to admit. A little voice in my brain is screaming that I’m outing myself as a big, inexperienced loser and that people will laugh at me for not being able to get a date. Luckily there’s a louder, pettier voice in my head flipping that other voice off and yelling, “Who cares?” at the top of her lungs.

Of course, I am a mere human being living in a society that just froths at the mouth over the idea of dating, so this verbal smackdown in my brain is pretty much constant and unrelenting. I know I don’t have any interest in dating right now, but the world still assumes that wanting to be in a relationship is the norm, and that everyone on the planet is willing to fight tooth and nail not to be single.

So I worry all the time about what it means that I don’t.

I worry that I’m not actually single by choice as I’ve led myself to believe, and maybe I’m just an unappealing person nobody likes. I want people to want to date me after all, and there’s a grossly insidious belief we all have to unlearn that tells us our worth as a person is inherently linked to how attractive and desirable we are.

I worry that I’m ‘falling behind’ and will regret not making use of these years down the track. That, if and when I do decide to pursue a relationship, my inexperience will be a turn-off.

I worry, and perhaps this is a slightly more niche concern, that as a bisexual, I’m betraying my sexuality or something equally ridiculous by not putting myself out there and exploring my options. I’ve never dated anyone that wasn’t a guy, for instance, so what if down the line I fall head over heels for a woman and I don’t know what to do. Surely I’ll kick myself for not doing more when I was younger and it was still socially acceptable to be inexperienced.

With my little mental naysayer whispering all these what-ifs in my ear, it’s not the easiest conviction to keep a hold on. But for the sake of my own happiness and sanity, I’ve gotten pretty good at talking myself out of these spirals.

I know I’m not ugly or any more flawed than most people, and I decided a couple of years ago that hating myself was a waste of time. I’ll admit I sometimes flirt with strangers at parties just to make sure I’ve still got it (and because it’s fun) and to reassure myself that if I wanted to find someone special, there’s no reason I couldn’t.

And, while time anxiety is almost as common a topic of conversation among my friends as their love lives, it’s fortunately never been high on my list of worries. I used to think it was just a concern for my pals pushing 30, but friends as young as 21 have described to me, at length, their fears that they haven’t achieved enough yet – like they’re running out of time and everyone’s pulling ahead.

Sometimes I feel bad admitting that I just don’t get it, but I can’t help thinking, ‘We’re so young, though.’ Chances are we won’t die for a good while yet, so there’s plenty of time to fall in love or start a business or travel the world or whatever we’ve internalised a desperate need to do right this very second. I can barely meet a work deadline without having at least one breakdown. Convincing myself that within five years I’ll have completely run out of time and potential and already wasted my life sounds like pressure I simply don’t need.

At the end of the day, these worries all have the exact same root. It all comes down to what other people think of me and how I measure up to a set of rules and expectations that I have no say in whatsoever. If these unspoken rules are to be believed, I have to be pretty, easy-going, eager and experienced (but not too experienced, god forbid) to be worthy of love and respect.

Which is obviously bullshit. Plenty of people love me, and after they get over their mild surprise – which we won’t hold against them, since we’re all shaking off the brainwashing together – they couldn’t care less how many dates I’ve been on or how little I care about romance.

I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I have people to speak to when I’m having a hard time or need help. I have older friends to give me advice and younger friends who look up to me and appreciate how committed I am to doing my own thing.

I convince anyone who’ll bite to take me to the same trendy bars they go to with dates they want to impress. My friends aren’t shy about telling me that I’m hot and fun and have great boobs, either, which is hardly less validating than a compliment from a stranger on a dating app.

And with a little self-reliance, going without regular sex certainly isn’t the end of the world.

These relationships have been just as changed by the past year as any other. When Australians told Pandora their views on love had evolved, they weren’t just talking about romance. People have found themselves putting more effort into all their relationships – friends, family, their communities – and I think it’s so, so cool.

Lockdown was undeniably one of the loneliest experiences many people have faced in their lives, and I’ve definitely revelled in finally being able to reach out and make dinner plans or invite my friends over for a drink. But it’s not like those relationships just went away for a few months then came back without a stutter. It felt like work to keep them strong and healthy at times, but it was rewarding work.

I spoke to my mum on the phone at least twice a week during lockdown. I reconnected with friends I hadn’t spoken to in years via Instagram Story replies. I messaged fellow freelancers for hours at a time, alternately brainstorming and bemoaning how we’d land on our feet when this was all over. On my birthday last year, my friends hopped on a zoom call and played Dungeons and Dragons for seven hours just to make me happy.

Besides the odd moment where I’ll find myself fantasising about falling in love with a beautiful and mysterious stranger and embracing domestic bliss – usually when someone’s taking too long to reply to my texts – I don’t feel like I’m robbing myself of anything or wasting my precious youth.

Right now, I just don’t want to date. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think I’d enjoy it, and I wasn’t built to be a martyr.

I’m self-aware enough to acknowledge that I’m picky about who I spend my time with, and I don’t like pretending to find things interesting when they’re not, and there’s a whole host of other personal insights that convince me playing the dating game at this point in time would be akin to torture for all parties involved. Besides, going out with someone just to score an ego boost and reassure myself that I’m pretty and desirable probably isn’t the kindest thing to do.

I’m not committing to spinsterdom just yet, and am well and truly open to my desires changing in the future, but that’s the fun of personal development. I get to keep working on myself and evolving and seeing where it takes me, and aiming for a day when I’ll be so comfortable with myself that it won’t even cross my mind what other people think of my choices. Then those little voices in my head might finally shut up and get along.

Are you ready to flip the script and shower friends with gifts this February 14? Pandora has released a new capsule of jewellery for Valentine’s Day, perfect for all your loved ones. You can browse it here

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