Overcoming Ambivalence to Make Room for the Love You Want

Does anyone else struggle with what to say when people ask the dumb, “Why is a pretty girl like you still single?” question?

I usually have an arsenal of flippant answers ready to fire off, depending on how feisty I feel in that moment:

“I’ve been kind of busy traveling the world. It’s hard to settle down when you’re always on the move.” (Tame answer, but true.)

“Probably because I’ve turned down every guy who’s asked me to marry him.” (Random drunk guys on the street count, right?)

“I haven’t met a man I can’t live without and I’m not attracted to women.” (Love the startled looks this one brings.)

While I was flipping through a book called If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single? by Susan Page, a very real response I’d never thought about jumped out at me.

I’m ambivalent.

It all started with this little nugget that caught my eye:

The most important prerequisite for finding a satisfying relationship is wanting one. Wholeheartedly, genuinely, earnestly, single-heartedly, and without reservation. (17)

I’ll admit that, while I think it would be awesome to find someone to share my life with, there are a whole bunch of other things upon which I place a higher value. Finding gainful employment in an area I’m passionate about. Getting my spiritual life back in order. Avoiding drama and having people in my life who upset my sensitive BS meter. (What? I like my life drama-free.) Finding ways to travel. Building community through solid friendships. Enjoying life in what I consider one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. because, well, life is short and I might not make it past tomorrow.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that finding a mate is nowhere near my top five. All of the photos I see of swirling couples look amazing but I just don’t have the time or emotional energy to put behind trying to make that a reality right now. I’ve got stuff to do. (It probably doesn’t help that I can’t multitask to save my life.)

Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t get out there and meet men or get my flirt on every once in a while. It doesn’t mean I don’t go on dates or try to get to know guys I’m interested in a bit better. I’m an outgoing introvert who loves people. (Weird, I know.)

It does mean that I’m quick to evaluate whether I want to jump into the possibility of a love connection with both feet. Most of the time, the answer is no. For me, the perceived benefit never really outweighs the cost. Plus, I’ve got stuff to do!

Merriam-Webster defines ambivalence as:

  • simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action
  1. a) continual fluctuation (as between one thing and its opposite)

  2. b) uncertainty as to which approach to follow

If you identify at all with this, it’s important to note that ambivalence towards romantic relationships is normal, especially in this day and age. There are all kinds of things competing for the top spots on our priorities list – careers, travel, hobbies, homes, children. Recovering from past relationship trauma, or avoiding heartbreak or rejection can even rank at the top of your list.

Ambivalence (in any area of life, but especially in regards to finding a mate) can hold you back when you’re not aware of its power and influence. Page writes:

If you are not wholeheartedly committed to love, and if you do not hold finding love as a top priority, you may be talking and behaving as though you want love but holding back on your follow-through. (20)

I liken it to wanting to leave your dead-end job and abusive boss to find something you love doing, but you won’t put your resume out there or go on interviews. Another example – you want to lose those last 15 pounds but won’t change your eating habits or exercise because you shouldn’t have to alter the way you live. The pounds will just melt away if you talk about how awesome it would be to lose them.

thinking girl

Ambivalence is safe. You don’t have to change anything. You don’t have to decide anything. You don’t have to give up anything. But, you can dream and say that you’re excited about the possibility. It’s the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t yield results.

A few months ago, I was sitting in my counselor’s office when she asked me, “How much do you want to get married?” We’d been talking about how to navigate a confusing relationship I was walking through with one of my guy friends, so it caught me a little off guard. I’m pretty sure my response to her included a deer-in-the-headlights look accompanied my “What do you mean?” response.

“What percentage of you wants to get married?” she asked.

“Um …” (I’m stalling, while thinking about what sounds like a good, high number, because telling the truth – that I’m at around 15 percent – just won’t do.) “Thirty percent?”

“Yeah, until that number is over fifty, there will always be something that’s more important,” she says. “It’s not a priority, which means that you’re not going to do anything about it.”

Dang. Tough love much?

I’m not saying that this is an awesome place to be. To my friends who view finding a mate, settling down and having kids as their number one dream and goal, I sometimes look like a flaky so-and-so. They don’t get why I’m not as amped up about finding someone as they are. I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this incredibly confusing headspace, though.

Here’s the thing: the antidote to ambivalence isn’t trying harder. “As long as ambivalence remains unconscious it remains in control,” Page writes (28). You have to acknowledge that you’re ambivalent and identify the things that are competing with your desire for a love connection. Then, you can take action to overcome them.

Only you can decide if the reward of finding love outweighs the risk of pushing another competing priority down the list. Knowing what you want – and how bad you want it – is half the battle. We put action behind the things that are most important to us.

For some of us, the decision to put love on top will have to be an intentional one.


So, how about you? What are the things competing for the top spots on your priorities list? Where does finding love rank?

Do share!

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