I'm 23 but I don't have everything I want yet

If I'm so driven and successful, why haven't I found love?

Published June 2, 2006 9:30AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I think I've done a pretty good job at figuring out what makes me tick except for this one little thing: men. Men are from Mars yada yada, I get that. But my life is feeling increasingly meaningless without someone to share it with.

I've worked all of my admittedly short life (23 years) to succeed in sports, school, work, etc., all to prove that I can get along just dandy without a man. But now that I've got most of that down pat, it only accentuates the gaping hole in my life: a meaningful and long-term connection with someone. I don't have anyone to share all my "stuff" with. I want to come back from a day of corporate marauding and eat goldfish crackers with someone.

And then here's the ancillary problem: I can't get past the seventh date. First dates I'm a pro at; second, third, I'm great. But recently, I've gone through a depressing series of five, six or seven dates, usually within a two-week span, where it's not just looking like a couple of good dates but a really great connection. And then -- Bam! -- the guy suddenly goes cold. I can't even blame it on "giving it up too soon," since none of these series of dates have involved any lewd behavior unless you count lingering hugs. I don't think I'm trying to give off "Hands off!" vibes, but I also don't want to appear easy.

You can probably tell I'm grasping for straws here, but until I can figure out how to fill this hole in my life, succeeding in the other facets seems less and less relevant. In fact, it only serves to accentuate the void.

Future Cat Lady

Dear Future Cat Lady,

You are 23. Patience is what you need.

Being 23, you may think that time itself has been so quickened by digital media that patience and waiting are things of the past.

Digital media are merely the arrowheads and urns of our age. They change how we do things, but they do not change how we live bounded by time, how our desires still trudge through time like thirsty travelers crossing the desert. They do not change our restlessness and impatience. Can I make you a PDF of love and e-mail it to you ASAP? I don't think so. You're going to have to wait. You're going to have to have patience.

What is patience?

Patience is active waiting.

How do you learn patience when you are too young to have had enough practice? After all, you have never waited 20 years for a knotted obsession to slowly unravel, for someone's heart to unbend, for a nation to come to its senses and then lose them again. That's not your fault. You cannot have waited long enough to learn what it's like to wait longer than you think you should, longer than you thought possible.

If the old were the only ones who could learn patience, however, the young would have no hope of serenity. Luckily, time is not the only thing that can teach patience. It can also spring forth as a revelation. It can come to you in an instant; you can learn it over and over again in the moment as you need it. Patience in the moment is simply the decision to stop expecting.

Impatience is expecting and not getting. What are you expecting and not getting? Stop it. Stop expecting it until it arrives. Are you chronically impatient? List all the things you are expecting and stop expecting them until they arrive. Conversely, list the things that arrive unexpectedly and use them as a bulwark against empty expectation. Close the expectation gap. Get more and expect less. Want what you have, as they say.

As long as there are things we can expect and not get we will have to wait, and we will occasionally become impatient. We must learn to adopt a graceful posture of active waiting.

You are 23. Patience is what you need. Patience is active waiting. So wait. Wait with grace and dignity. Plenty of stuff, including love, will come your way in due time.

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