'I've been single for 29 years. When I asked a relationship expert why, the truth hurt.'

'I've been single for 29 years. When I asked a relationship expert why, the truth hurt.' 'I've been single for 29 years. When I asked a relationship expert why, the truth hurt.'

It was a few weeks ago when, in a fleeting moment of feeling extroverted, I agreed to go on a first date with a guy I had matched with on a dating app.

The conversation was flowing, he was kind and intelligent, there was non-stop laughter — for a brief moment, I wasn't regretting trading in a night of hibernation for a pleasant chat with a stranger.

But, as I said, it was brief.

"When was your last relationship?" my date asked me, as he went to sip his drink.

"I've never been in one," I confidently replied.

He slowly placed his drink back down on the table. "Well," he paused, "That's a red flag."

This guy had found… an ick.

It was the same ick that I let define myself for the majority of my 20s. I had spent my life stressing about being forever lonely and fearing I would carry the reputation of being the 'chronically single girl' to my grave.

On the one hand, I was proud of prioritising other important things in life — my career, quality time with family and friends, travel.

Yet, on the other hand, being the source of fun dating stories for everyone in my life was a role I was desperately willing to retire from. As a hopeless romantic, I yearned for my very own love story.

Come the beginning of 2024, I thought I had finally reached a level of maturity that allowed me to feel unbothered — almost heartless — when it came to dating. I thought I was finally at peace with myself, but that most recent first date confirmed I had unfinished business I needed to attend to.

Post red-flag-date, I felt a sudden urge to get down to the nitty gritty: What's wrong with me? Why was finding love proving to be so unattainable? Is being alone really a red flag? Does the social mortification attached to being single only grow stronger with age?

Desperate to find answers for myself and every other single person on this planet, I sought help from Bumble's relationship expert Chantelle Otten. I'm not going to lie — I had all the intention of having a light-hearted conversation with Otten. Dating is entertainment, right?

But no longer than five minutes into chatting with her did I realise I would be in for one of the most difficult, maybe even excruciatingly challenging, conversations of my professional career.

It was real. It was raw (yes, tears were shed).

It was the exact wake-up call I needed. I walked away with a fresh outlook on love and invaluable life advice I truly believe will help anyone else who may be doubting their dating life right now — regardless if they've been single a few weeks, months or years.

Here's what I learned...

Having high expectations isn't the issue.

For too long, I convinced myself that my expectations were just set too high, which is why it was practically impossible to find anyone who could match what I was looking for. But have I been looking for a guy in finance, trust fund, 6'5", blue eyes? Absolutely not. Far from it, in fact.

And according to Otten, convincing myself I have high standards was just another excuse I was making.

"I don't actually know if your expectations are that high," Otten pointed out. "I think that it's just you blocking everything that is going to potentially hurt you so that when someone does hurt you, you tell yourself, 'I knew that was going to happen and they weren't going to live up to my standards.'"

She told me that fixing this starts with working on my self-compassion, which was starting to look like the underlying theme of our entire conversation.

You need to use affirming language.

For my entire life, I've felt as though I've needed to make excuses for being single: I'm too busy, I'm focusing on work, I pick the wrong people, dating apps don't work, I'm just incredibly picky…

However, Otten quickly picked up on the negative language I was using throughout our conversation and advised me to flip the script.

"Stop all of that nonsense," she warned me. "You need to start by using affirming language."

This means saying statements like, "'I'm here to find a relationship', 'I'm looking to create connections', 'I am creating new connections with people', 'I'm doing a great job of dating', 'I'm a great date', 'I'm so fun to be around.'"

Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

While I'm still yet to experience what falling in love feels like, there's no doubt I've caught feelings in situationships — that only led to getting hurt. As a result, I subconsciously avoid letting people in.

"It sounds like you have a lot of fear around dating and you have a lot of fear around letting someone into your life," Otten highlighted.

"This is your mechanism where you're trying to protect yourself from getting hurt in any way and that also means you're protecting yourself from being vulnerable and for even trying to take a chance of getting to know someone."

Simply put, relationships can't happen if you're not vulnerable — an act I have feared opening the doors to because, to me, it's a word that carries negative connotations, like disappointment, rejection and abandonment.

Try therapy and mindfulness.

I didn't think I had signed up for a therapy session when I scheduled a chat with Otten, but that's exactly what it felt like — and boy, did chatting everything out feel like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Otten picked up on this behaviour and recommended implementing regular therapy into my life, whether that be chatting to a professional or via mindfulness techniques.

"Practising mindfulness is a really great way of allowing yourself to feel because you don't allow yourself to feel that much," she said. "It helps you to recognise where you feel emotions in your body and you learn to just breathe into it."

In other words, you learn to be present and aware of your emotions without feeling overwhelmed.

Otten recommended downloading the Bloom app — an interactive self-guided app that allows you to do therapy yourself.

Seek safe places.

As someone who very rarely shares how they’re truly feeling — apart from the standard 'I'm good' or 'I'm fine' response, I understand the mere thought of opening up to someone is incredibly daunting. That's why Otten stressed the importance of identifying the people in your life who can just sit and listen to you, without judgement.

"Identify the people in your life who you feel the most safe with and are not going to be judgmental," she noted.

She recommended starting the conversation with the following prompt: "I don't want advice, I want to actually just work through this on my own. But I really want to share it with you and be open with you."

And if a conversation becomes too overwhelming with anyone, it's A-OK to take a step back and take a break.

Dating is empowering.

Dating can feel like a chore, especially when you've been single for so long. Trust me, I know! But what I've come to realise over the past few years is that from every date I've been on, I have learned something new about myself. And every date is one step closer to understanding what I can bring to the table, when — and if — I find myself in a romantic relationship.

"It's all about your journey of self-discovery," Otten said. "Dating isn't just about finding a partner; it's about learning about yourself and growing from each interaction."

"Just be genuine and honest about who you are and what you're looking for and this will lead to more fulfilling connections."

Only weeks after chatting with Otten has my mindset on dating completely evolved. What I know now is that there's a plethora of positives to being single that all of us need to start celebrating.

I am certain that if I hadn't been single for the 29 amazing years of my existence, I wouldn't be the person I am today — and for that, I am extremely grateful for all the situationships, crushes and dates I've encountered, good and bad. Red-flag-guy included.

Have you been struggling with dating? Tell us in the comments section below.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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