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Irrational Fears of Being Single

schaurausch, linz 2007, stefan sagmeister

Long before my mother got sick and passed away, I used to worry about being without a spouse when she died. On my first night back in San Francisco after the funeral, dear friends threw me a dinner party. I felt their love as they wrapped their arms around me and fed me a delicious meal. Worrying Solves Nothing by Stefan Sagmeister

What tops your ‘fear of being single’ list?


60 comments for “Irrational Fears of Being Single”

  1. Charl says:

    My top fear is probably not finding a partner in say five years.

  2. Karen says:

    Geez, I’m sorry to be a downer, but honestly, I worry about needing medical attention, or even dying, and not being discovered or missed for quite some time. I have plenty of friends, but none with whom I have regular daily (or even weekly) contact — and am not at a point where I want or need that. I work from home, and if I missed a meeting or two, it would be unusual, but not an immediate cause for concern. Even my absence from activities I do outside my home are irregular enough to probably not raise any alarms for a week or two…or longer…

    • wendy says:

      Karen, is this something that concerns you enough that you’d consider setting up a buddy system with a friend?

    • Millie says:

      Look into death switch (deathswitch.com). It’s a service you log into at regular intervals that you set yourself. If you miss x number of sign ins then it emails your contact person with a message you’ve prewritten. The basic service is free, but there are fancier options you can pay for. When I going through a really rough couple of years I signed up and it really put my mind at ease. Eventually, I had enough other check in with people and work that I disabled my death switch account, but it’s I like knowing I can go back. I’m sure there are other services, but that name is easy to remember.

  3. Heather says:

    Like Karen I worry that I won’t have someone to look after me when I’m old. I worry I won’t have the finances in place to hire someone to do the things for me that a spouse or child would do. I worry that being alone will hold me back from going places and doing things that couples do and yes, I know I could do them alone and I do. 🙂

    I worry most that I’ll just be lonely. As a raging introvert, I have very limited friends. I worry that I’ll have to work into my elderly years and won’t get to enjoy my senior years the way I’d like to.

    …I’m sure there’s more I worry about….that was just a sampling. Good question.

    • Len says:

      Heather, everything you said applies to me too. Except about doing things alone. While I’m also a raging introvert, I’m also held back by the fact that I’m living with my mom and taking care of her 24/7. (I’m apparently the only one among my siblings willing to; the rest barely speak to her.) This also means that since I lost my job three years ago, I’m unable to look for another. Basically, I have absolutely no life of my own.

      I also share Karen’s dread of dying alone and not being found. Though I’ve pretty much accepted that will happen (I’ve given up on any woman wanting me), unless I end up in a nursing home.

      • wendy says:

        Everyone I know who is (or has been) a caretaker has expressed how incredibly stressful it it. Len, is there anything you can do to alleviate some of the stress? Exercise? Hire someone to give you a break?

    • wendy says:

      Heather, I’m in agreement that getting sick without having adequate support is one of my major concerns. So I’ve decided to do my best to stay really healthy. And I try to pay it forward (in advance) and always offer to help out whenever any of my single friends have medical procedures or are sick.

  4. Petra says:

    I fear some sort of cataclysmic event (war or nuclear disaster) and not having someone to hug or hold during those it. I don’t fear aging alone (really, most married women are going to age alone since their spouses won’t survive them). In fact, I’ve always thought the idea of living together in a house with a couple of other women would be a blast at 85, like a groovy Golden Girls house with a bunch of Dorothys (my fave of the bunch)! I do worry a bit about money, but matrimony isn’t a vaccination against dying poor.

    But that end-of-the-world thing–yeah, that one gets me.

    • wendy says:

      I was at a film festival in Canada on 9/11 and couldn’t get home for days. When I finally arrived safely back in San Francisco, I cried, and immediately went to the home of my close friends for a hug.

  5. pechke says:

    I worry about not being able to take care of myself physically. What if I break a leg? I live in a walk up. How I will get groceries and cat litter? I hate asking people for help. I rarely do it, even if it stresses me out.

    • wendy says:

      Being single, it’s so important to cultivate a network and get good at asking for help. A few months ago, I had a wretched cold, and a friend brought by some chicken soup. Just the gesture was really healing.

  6. Alan says:

    I have some financial worries about being single and older, but I’m pretty optimistic there are solutions out there. To be honest I’m a little surprised at how pessimistic most of the other comments are. I’m sure most if not all of the issues discussed have potential solutions

    • wendy says:

      I’m with you, Alan, about finding solutions. Sometimes it’s good to air our deep anxieties, talk it through and help each other discover solutions.

    • Sunny says:

      Just finding this thread, but it’s still relevant. I think “fear” often comes off as pessimism. Rather than call it pessimism or negativity, how about offering offering some solutions? The concerns I see are pretty real AND we also don’t know people’s situations are. If there are folks in their 50s or 60s who haven’t saved a dime for their retirement, have limited education, etc., they can always improve their situation, but the “solutions” you speak of are unlikely to provide a comfortable retirement life or fully remediate some of the other issues. I also think many of these concerns look different to most women than they do to men, and with good reason.

      • wendy says:

        I appreciate your comment, Sunny. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Today, I heard a harrowing statistic about an increase in the homeless population in Los Angeles with older women. Financial concerns are real.

  7. Allison says:

    Alan, if you know of some potential solutions, please share them.

    I actually found all of these comments heartening in a way. Why? Because these are exactly the things I worry about as well: who will support me when my parents age and die? who will take care of me when I am old? if something were to happen to me, how long would it take for anyone to notice? what will happen if I don’t have enough money to pay for my old age?

    I consider these questions more realistic than pessimistic. We live in a society where the marriage/ family unit is set up to be the answer to most of these questions. Without a spouse, our culture does not have another obvious way of meeting these needs.

    Wendy is right that worrying solves nothing. But, that doesn’t make the questions disappear.

  8. Navarre says:

    I think the getting-married-and-having-kids thing is a salve for existence. But if we don’t do this, then what? We suffer anxiety about our end, sadness about our being. The arts offer ways to express these things, to pose questions, provide answers or not. I don’t think there is any way around suffering, but camaraderie lessens its potency. Stefan Sagmeister’s piece boldly reminds us of a simple truth.

    • wendy says:

      I’d slightly revise your first sentence, Navarre, to say that getting married and having kids is “one” salve. Although for many it’s the opposite. I agree that there’s no way around suffering, but it helps to understand that it’s part of the human condition, regardless of marital status.

  9. Stacey says:

    My fears are similar to everyone here. I’ve never married and I have no children. I am also caring for an elderly parent, and every day, it crosses my mind that if and when I reach the point of where I’m unable to fully care for myself, I don’t have anyone to take on the job. And it’s a HARD job – I do stuff all the time for my mom when I have that fleeting thought that I don’t have anyone who would do the same for me when that time comes. I also know that, even though I have family members and friends that I love, I’m almost certain that none of them would be willing to take on the task. And if I ever got to the point where I had issues with dementia or other memory issues (Alzheimer’s runs in my family), the only people that I would trust to make medical decisions for me are all older than me, and are all likely to precede me in death.

    To make matters worse, I also fear outliving my financial resources. I’m sure that if I ever needed to be in a nursing facility, I wouldn’t have enough to pay for it. Medicare only covers certain things, and I don’t have the resources to purchase long-term care insurance.

    I don’t worry about losing my mom – I lost my dad almost nine years ago, and even though it was painful, I think I still handled it very well, and I’m sure I’ll be strong enough when the day comes that I’m “orphaned”. I don’t worry about major disasters or wars, because I already survived a major earthquake and found that I’m far stronger than I had realized. I don’t worry about being lonely, because I enjoy my own company quite well – most of my friends don’t share many of my interests, so I’m used to doing stuff on my own that I enjoy, and having a significant other has always been more of an exception for me rather than the rule, and I leared to accept that years ago.

    But the whole thing about not being able to take care of myself in my twilight years or being able to pay for someone who will…that’s the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

    • Stacey says:

      P.S. Sorry that was so long…

    • wendy says:

      I know those feelings all too well, Stacey. And that’s why starting every Friday night for 24 hours, I begin my “worry-free” zone, where I try to put my anxieties on the back burner for a day. It’s one way that I celebrate the Sabbath. I really recommend it. I’m about to start in a few minutes. Yay!

  10. Kathy says:

    Last year or so I heard this wonderful radio show talk about the “Baba Yagas” in France. Maybe something like this setup is part of the solution.

    I think it could be quite lovely if it works.

    I wonder whether a return to communal living might also happen. It would be an adjustment for an introvert, but if some good ground rules are established, maybe it could work.

  11. Latarsha says:

    A few days ago I was at a restaurant and struck up a conversation with the man sitting next me (I was sitting at the counter). He told me he did IT work for a conglomerate of adult living and assisted living facilities. He said he travels a lot for his job but mostly he travels on the East Coast. I asked him what was the latest and greatest in the senior living industry and he said two things: this company is using technology for residents that live in the Alzheimer/dementia wing of their facilities that monitors their nighttime movements. The most common form of death is by falling and not receiving adequate treatment fast enough. He said now if someone falls, they can see it on their monitors and assist the person more quickly than if say, the nighttime nurse did room checks every so many hours. He said this was a form of technology that’s only used with those patients because of their mental state. He also said the technology doesn’t see your actual image so it’s not like a webcam but rather like a device that monitors movement.

    Second, he said the senior care industry is preparing for people to move into their facilities that do not have spouses, children or other loved ones to help care for them. He said builders are actually making the rooms bigger to accommodate a “roommate” style living environment in which people will live together that aren’t related to each or have some other connection.

    I’m not certain if that makes me happy or sad but what would make me sadder is getting married because I’m afraid no one will be around to pick me up off the floor if I fall now or 20 years from now.

    • wendy says:

      I wasn’t sure where you were going with this story Latarsha, but I LOVED where it ended up. And I completely agree.

  12. Stacey says:

    Well, I know that this is completely maudlin and morbid, but I came across this in my cousin’s newsfeed on Facebook today:


  13. Gayle says:

    That when I get sick there will be no one there to help me and talk to me.

  14. Dana says:

    I am waaaay late, but I wanted to address the fear of being sick or dying work no help. I am a forever single and work as a physical therapist in a hospital. When a married individual becomes very ill no matter how old, good help is not available to them most of the time. Not all spouses handle the “for worse” part. Stress consumes many healthy spouses and lives are sometimes changed forever when a husband or wife becomes severely debilitated. As far as having help when we get old, the playing field gets leveled in a way (and I’m not trying to sound mean or heartless but factual from first hand involvement). Even a healthy 85 year old is of little help to a very sick 85 year old spouse. Physically, it’s too much to bear. Many married old couples end up down together with both needing lots of help.
    As far as kids helping out, most kids by far do not. It is rare for me to be able to instruct adult children in the care of their sick parents. For the rest, couples do not want their kids to know how sick they are and it often comes at a huge price.
    Seeing and knowing all of this makes me less fearful because it would already be bad to be sick but to have to end up worrying or inadvertently impacting others dear to me, or expecting to rely on them and they can’t or won’t come through for me seems very very difficult to imagine.
    I can and will likely trust my life alert, which has indeed saved many of my sweet old ladies that live alone, widowed or otherwise.

  15. Neeka says:

    I think I struggle with my singleness more than the average person. I have fears but in my mind they are not irrational: like living alone for the rest of my life, never getting married, and never having a life partner. To me, those are rational.

    • wendy says:

      Neeka, I’m sure you have much more company with your struggle than you know. And my contention is that so much of it is cultural pressure. So many of the messages we get is that having a life partner will make us whole. First Person Singular is about delineating another path to fulfillment.

  16. Ann says:

    I have recurrent feelings of nihilism / existentialism, and something like depression. Without a partner around, I can feel like I am missing out on a large part of expressing my love of people. I would miss having someone to care for and to be inspired (or, yes, infuriated!) by. I worry about not finding a partner, and not having children, because I think that by myself, I might well end up feeling bored, alone, aimless. What would be my purpose? Who will I love? What’s the point of it all?

    • wendy says:

      I really appreciate your honesty, Ann. And I’ve had those feelings myself. There are two main things that’ve helped me shift. One was practicing gratitude for the minutiae of my life. (And surprisingly they add up.) The other was broadening my definition of love. This usually involves daily reminders. But it has made a huge difference.

    • Mark says:

      Ann, I started to have those same existential question about 6 months ago. Prior to that, I don’t think I often had thoughts like that because (1) I worked a lot and felt that it was getting me to somewhere and (2) I felt a sense of hope that eventually I would find love.

      Work doesn’t do it for me now. In fact, I sort of resent that I spent so much time on it and was so emotionally wrapped up in it. As for finding love, if history is a guide, it doesn’t seem likely.

      So that big question of “What’s my purpose?” surfaced in a huge way. I haven’t been able to answer that question yet. I am not sure I will.

      Wendy’s practice of gratitude and expanding the definition of love seem like good ideas.

  17. Lacey says:

    I fear being alone if not forever, for a very long time. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for four years, and when I finally broke free I patched myself up and I longed for finding someone who deserved my love. Now I fear I might’ve missed the one person who will share a connection.

    I think about my parents and other family members when it comes to relationships. Although they had their rough times, I still see something so beautiful with being able to share your love and life experiences with someone else. And kids! I want that experience, but in the back of my mind I know it may never happen. I’m forcing myself to the reality I could be single for the rest of my life. Some nights I cry myself to sleep and walk into work the next day with swollen eyes like someone punched me. I’m trying… Just this past weekend I treated myself out to dinner, and I HATED it! Having dinner by myself was boring! I didn’t want my best friend or the “occasional friend”, I wanted someone worthwhile. What I’m saying probably sounds so cliche, but I’m going through the motions right now. I’m quite sure I’ll eventually get used to being single, but I desire to enjoy my time alone like all of you. I don’t aspire to be numb; I genuinely want to be happy. I admire you all for this and thank you for this blog.

    • wendy says:

      I’m so sorry that you’re hurting, Lacey, but I’m glad that you’re expressing your pain. And I feel privileged that you’re expressing it here. If there’s any way that you can stay in the moment, and not project into a loveless future, I’d really suggest that. It doesn’t sound like being alone is therapeutic right now, so try and surround yourself as much as you can with loving friends or family. Though I’ve gotten comfortable being single, I’m not a huge fan of dining out alone, unless I’m traveling and then I try to eat at the bar, so I can talk to the bartender. When I’m suffering, I find that exercise helps. Hang in there. Keep sharing.

  18. Alissa says:

    My primary fear of being single is…What if I get really sick? Who will take care of me? What will I do? Where will I go?

    • wendy says:

      That’s one of my great fears too Alissa. To counter that, I continue to nurture my networks of support. I try to be there for friends in times of sickness and health, and hope they’ll pay it forward. I’ve also made sure to connect with my friends’ children, who are a generation younger.

  19. Nadia says:

    Hi Wendy! I never had worried about my singleness (I never dated in my whole life). I don’t have self-esteem issues, I love myself, I know my worth, I have a career, and a lot of hobbies (play piano, photography, travel), I have wonderful parents and friends, and I have enjoyed my single life, but I hit my 34yo in this month, and I don’t know what happened, It was like a boogie-man that appeared suddenly in my mind: The fear of being single forever. I can’t sleep with those ruminating thoughts!! I never worried before, maybe is the media, the facebook, the other people blaming me because I’m single, the society pressure? The worst thought is about “forever alone” and I’m terrified, why?

  20. Robyn says:

    Just discovered your blog via the 2012 Washington Post article (which I found by googling “I’m never going to find someone to love”, OF COURSE). My top fear is that I’ll always be tortured by this, that I’ll never be able to accept it and live a full life, that it will always pull me down, down, down. I have a very loving family and a few very close friends, I love my work, and last year I had a baby on my own using donor sperm. So it’s not like my life is empty… but this chronic singleness is so devastating that I start wishing that no one loved me and I didn’t have a baby so that I could kill myself to escape the pain. I can’t do that, of course, and I make ample use of my job’s generous mental health care coverage, BUT STILL. It’s there. It’s always there. And other people seem to find partners so easily, which makes me think the only logical explanation is that there is something wrong with me. I’m missing a protein or something. Hopeless.

    • wendy says:

      Robyn, thanks so much for reaching out. I hear your pain, and understand it. (I’m imagining that a lot of us here have experienced it.) For years, I felt that being single was a bad reflection on me. (Why was I the only “misfit” in my family or among my friends.) Part of starting this blog was to sort through those feelings. And though I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when it changed, somewhere along the way, it did.

      How amazing that you decided to become a Mom and made it happen.

      Please keep connecting here. We’d love to know more about your experiences.

  21. renae says:

    Hi Wendy. I just found your website and I am relieved to see that I am not the only person in the world that is afraid of growing older and being alone. I can relate to each and every blog that I just read. I am 51, never been married, no children, barely dated, and I live with my elderly mother. She is the only reason that I am hanging on. She has no one else to take care of her but me. My family used to be very close, but over the years we have had deaths, and feuds that were not able to be reconciled. It is just me and mom. I have a few friends, but they have full lives. Sadly, I know I could not and would not expect them to care for me if anything happened. I have no one to back me up and no one once my mom is gone. I sit and think about how I’m going to leave this world once she is gone. I was up crying and decided to google articles about single women over 50 and that is how I found your blog. It is a breath of fresh air. My fears may never go away, but it is nice to have a place to share with others that have the same fears. Thank you.

    • wendy says:

      Welcome Renae. I’m so glad you found us. Please keep sharing your experiences with the group. I’m sending you a virtual hug.

    • Jenny says:

      I know exactly how you feel and I’ve often felt like there was no one else out there. I’ve been alone my whole life. I’ve had friends but most don’t stay close. I have only a couple family members left and they live far away. I have work “friends” but they never seem to want to become real friends, they all have their own lives, families, friends. I’m always trying to figure out what is wrong with me, why have I not been able to find anyone? I’m glad to know that maybe it isn’t me, that sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I do get angry sometimes I have to admit. It isn’t easy being single in a world that seems to be made for couples. I often feel ignored, I don’t get invited, etc. I’m trying to find a way to be okay with being alone forever!

      • wendy says:

        Even though I’m single, I still want to feel connected. So it has motivated me to find community outside of a traditional nuclear family. Jenny, what types of activities do you enjoy outside of work?

  22. Michael says:

    Not ever knowing someone intimately. Never holding hands. Never knowing a kiss. Never making a meal for someone special. Always walking the trail alone (I do a lot of hiking). (I can always find guys to hang out with, but it’s not the same because certain sweet and thrilling feelings don’t come out.) Never feeling that alive, magical feeling you get when you’re with someone you love. Never getting to share moments like sipping a cup of hot cocoa by a fire; watching sunsets; sharing dreams in the dark; giving and receiving massages; sex; cooking meals together; going on romantic road trips; et fucking cetera.

    I haven’t tasted love in 19 years. Memories of it have started to atrophy out of disuse. I feel like I’m shutting down. That really worries me. A lot. And I feel like an entire side of life, one that almost everyone else is living, is unavailable to me, as unavailable as flying an airplane is to a blind man. So I feel like an outcast, a cripple. It’s one thing to have an allergy to nuts or wheat; it’s entirely another thing to not have access to that special kind of kinship that makes life sparkle and sing.

    On top of my waning memories, I’ve found myself positively mired in bitterness and even resentment at times.

    My music collection since the mid-90s, and especially since the early 2000s, is mostly of romance-love-relationship music. I’ve done so much fantasizing and pining. It never came. It’s like a trick was played on me.

    I’m growing bored with life. I don’t have many friends, and I don’t feel very close to anyone. I’ve never had successes in life. I’ve not come close to living out my dreams, the ones I used to snuggle so close to my heart decades ago.

    It’s my intention to take my life if, by the age of 55, I haven’t been graced. Therefore I don’t need to worry about money for retirement or who will help take care of me. I’ve been sad and frustrated most of my life, and I don’t mind ending it by any means.

    See you.

  23. Aisha says:

    I guess I have never said this out loud to anyone. I fear never being close or intimate with anyone. I was in a love less marriage for almost 15 years. I have one daughter. After she is grown up and gone to college I sometimes think I will be lonely without her. I have always longed to love someone like crazy and actually have those feelings reciprocated.At this point in my life, my daughter is everything. I am also in school and trying to better my life. But at some point, I do want someone special in my life.Then again, if it’s meant to be it will be, if not, I will not go crazy about it.

    • wendy says:

      Aisha, thanks for saying this out loud to us. When you say, you fear never being close or intimate with anyone, do you mean romantically? Because it sounds like you already have a close and intimate relationship with your daughter.

  24. Mark says:

    As you might have noticed, Wendy, I’m going through all of your “Greatest Hits.” This one really struck a chord for me as it seems like it has for others.

    When I woke up 6 months ago to how my life seems to have turned out, so many things began to rush through my head. Among them was what many people here have expressed: What will I do if I get really sick? What will I do if I get a chronic illness in which I need help to care for myself?

    I have already run into an aspect of this. Last year, I needed outpatient shoulder surgery. I scheduled it, then was told that I needed a friend or family member to pick me up. They were clear – NO TAXIS, NO UBER. Well, my siblings are on the other coast. I have spent my career traveling so much that I don’t have the types of friends in my home city that I would feel comfortable asking to pick me up from a surgery. I found a work-around by asking the man that has been driving me to the airport for years if he would do it. He is a kind Russian man. He knew I would pay him well. It was a weird experience because I asked him to tell the nurses that he was my friend – he is sort of, but I was paying him. I was paying for someone to present themselves as the sort of friend that I don’t have.

    I now have the same issue coming up with getting a colonoscopy. Colon cancer runs in my family, so I am supposed to get that dreaded procedure every 5 years. For a colonoscopy, a friend or family member needs to arrive WITH you, wait, and take you home. I’m putting it off because I don’t have a solution.

    These were/are one-time procedures. Dealing with them is complicated enough. What happens if I am told that I have some form of dementia? Or Parkinson’s?

    Of course, related to that is the fear of dying alone. My hope is that when the time comes, I am in a public place and I just drop. That would be fine. What I fear is a protracted death process in which I have time to think about my alone-ness. I think about the movie Wit, starring Emma Thompson. That movie sent chills up my spine at the time and that was years ago when I still believed I would find a life partner.

    On a daily basis, since I became painfully aware of being single, there are a hundred small things that remind me. I see them and start to feel that I am defective in some way. Families, couples, the millions of things that are designed with families or couples in mind.

    I have spent a lot of time in other countries. In all of them, family is the highest priority. I saw that, but somehow I did not absorb it. I have been asked many times if I have my own family. More than once, after answering “no,” the response I got was, “Who will take care of you when you are old?”

    Sorry about my long essay.

  25. Cat says:

    I know I’m late to the party but I couldn’t leave without saying something.

    Yes, to all of the fears above. I have them all. I think about some of them daily, if not hourly. It is frequently overwhelming and all consuming.

    Thank you all, for posting what you have here, for being brave enough to name those fears. I read every single response and am warmed to know that I am not alone in my fears. And that is something huge for someone who is always alone.

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