You may remember a previous episode, “How to go on a date.” This is a long overdue follow-up for non-daters: how to not go on a date. Many solos are not interested in dating – for now or forever. Peter McGraw wants to make the case for all the other amazing things you can do instead of dating and how to find your way through a world that thinks you are dating. In this episode, he speaks to Jill Cohen and Stephanie McHugh about why you should not date, what you can do instead, and how to talk to people when they inquire why you are not dating.
Listen to Episode #158 here
How To Not Go On A Date
You may remember a previous episode, How to Go on a Date. It is long overdue to do a follow-up episode for non-daters. Many solos are not interested in dating for now or forever. I want to make a case for all the other remarkable things that can be done instead of dating, and how to navigate a world that expects you to be dating.
I invite back Jill Cohen from that previous episode. A traveling ER nurse and a tele-nurse, Jill grew up in Miami, attended Emory University, received a Master’s in English from the University of Colorado, and currently resides in Boulder. Our second guest is a contributor to the Solo movement. Stephanie McHugh is a Denver-based comedian, speaker, voiceover artist, and humor coach who has performed standup at a Solo Salon. She’s also appeared on my previous podcast, I’m Not Joking.
We discuss why you should not date, what you can do instead, and how to talk to people when they’re inquiring about your dating. I intended to have bonus material for this episode on a specific topic, which is how to turn down a date. As we got talking, the three of us talked for so long that I decided to make that bonus material its own episode. Check that out. I hope you enjoy this episode. There are a lot of laughs. Let’s get started.
Thank you for having me, Peter.
Welcome back, Jill.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I want to do a follow-up to a popular episode that Jill was part of, and that was called How to Go on a Date. I’ve had people say, “I took notes on that episode,” especially people who are reentering the dating market.
I’m hoping it went well for them.
I haven’t heard otherwise.
I’m going to listen to it now and take notes. That’s good to know.
This episode is a play on words of sorts. I want to talk about how to not go on a date. Let’s examine the alternatives, which is how to not go on a specific date. More generally and more importantly, let’s talk about not dating. This is important in part because half of American adults are single and half of them are not looking for a committed relationship or casual dating at the moment, which is a shocking statistic to many people because we assume that if you’re single, you’re ready to mingle.
You do come across that.
It’s reflected in love songs, movies, television, and in the media more generally. It’s reflected in the podcasts that are available to singles, with a few notable exceptions.
This one being the top one.
In my world, it’s the top most important one. I think that’s unfair because there’s no alternative narrative for these people who, for the moment or forever, are not interested in this style of relationship.
That’s wild. You’re talking about half.
I am sensitive to it because I want a big tent. I want Solo to be welcoming to lots of different types of people. Yet I do some dating, not always, but relationship talk is fun. It’s nearly impossible to talk about being single without talking about not being single as a point of contrast. I worry when the show starts to skew too much about dating and relationships. That’s why I put up a note on the Solo community, which you can sign up for at PeterMcGraw.org/solo.
A member of the community wrote, “I’m glad to see this topic being discussed and highlighted. I was getting concerned that Solo was getting very date/dating-focused. I have zero interest in dating or meeting anyone. I haven’t actively dated for over nine years and do not miss it. I strongly feel that not dating is not giving up on life.” This person probably doesn’t need this episode.
It sounds like she knows the answer to all the questions.
She’s got it worked out, which I’m happy for her. For the person who’s leaning that way, we’re here for you. How’s that sound?
That sounds great. You mentioned that I was in the other episode, How to Go on a Date, and now I’m on this one, How Not to go on a Date. I want to say to the audience, you can trust me.
You better be able to trust her. She also was on the STI podcast.
That’s a funny one because afterward, I think I reviewed everything I said and called Peter back and said, “Can you adjust this? I want to make sure that this was clear and that this wasn’t misunderstood.” I guess I’m saying the same thing here because I’ve lived in both of these worlds. I’ve dated and I’ve not dated. As a solo person, it’s normal and pretty great to bounce back and forth between those two worlds.
You get to do whatever you want. Why are you here, Stephanie?
I am here because you asked me, and I haven’t dated for years. Now that I’m thinking about it, I didn’t make a conscious effort. I was focused on other things and then all of a sudden, you go, “It’s been a while now.”
You got your Bachelor’s degree in not dating.
I did get my Bachelor’s and I’m working on my Master’s.
I have this taxonomy of singles. I have the Someday Singles, the ones who want to get partnered up. “You complete me.” The rest are solos or the Just Me’s, the people who are looking to couple up. It’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t happen. The New Ways. We have a lot of new-ways talk on the show in part because the New Way group is a very sexy group. They’re breaking the rules. They’re bending them. They’re breaking them
They’re forging new territory.
They’re doing fun stuff.
They’re bringing the coconut oil.
There are the No Ways. They are an enormous group. I don’t want to overlook them. We’re going to try to convert some folks to No Ways even if it’s for a weekend, 4 years, 9 years, or for the rest of your life.
Whatever you want, as you said.
You could do whatever you want. Keep in mind the play on words, why not to go on a date, as in why not be dating now or why not take it all off for a while? Why should people consider this option?
Why not to date? I would say time is the thing. I always say I should be better at managing my time. I am divorced. I’ve been divorced for about fifteen years. I am good friends with my ex. I call him sugar nuts in my act.
It’s amazing that he’s an ex with a nickname like that.
It sounds great to me.
We have two daughters who are now in their twenties. Grandkids are coming in another year or two. It doesn’t feel like anything is missing. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I would say if I were to go back into it, I would be in the group of new ways. It would look different.
You’re not moving in with anyone.
I don’t think I’m going to move in with anybody.
I knew it. You totally have that vibe.
Here’s an odd thing. My parents were married for 59 years. My dad just passed away. They were happily married and they did not live together for 19 years. I had parents who took marriage in new ways.
That’s so early to be doing that.
My dad had a job in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska. It’s a very small agricultural town. He was an administrator of the hospital. It was almost weirder that they were married and that they loved each other. Every weekend was date weekend. My mom loves to drive and it was a two-hour drive. They hung out in the hot tub and caught up on the week. My dad likes to work late. He doesn’t like to talk a lot. He didn’t have to during the week. Let’s not imagine my parents together.
I have a hot tub scene in my head right now.
When I was going through the trouble of my marriage, she was like, “Maybe you should think about a hot tub.” I’m like, “Mom, stop it right now. I cannot hear this from you.” I have parents who are very much making it work however you want. Before I was married, I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends either. I’m one of those people that needs a lot of alone time.
You do creative work. I know you’ve done some comedy about your parents.
Yes, I do. I’m doing something right now.
Let’s not force it. I’ve studied comedians enough to know that that’s the worst thing you can tell them to be funny now. You were saying it gives you time. Time to do what?
To perform comedy at night. I remember one time saying, “Do you want to go out for lunch on Wednesday?” He is like, “A day date?” I was dissing him. I’m like, “That’s prime time. The kids are at school. I am focused 100% on you.” He didn’t take it that way. A lot of times, I’m like, “I don’t want to.” While I was prepping for the show, I was watching Friends and it was the episode where Monica’s credit card got stolen, and that woman did everything on her credit card. I feel like if you don’t date, it’s like you stole someone’s credit card every day. You can go do whatever you want. There are no consequences.
I want to add to this. A member of the Solo community chimed in and said almost exactly the same thing that you said. She said, “I love this topic. The fundamental reason that I go through no dating periods is that my time and patience are limited. I have other priorities in my free time like reading, playing golf, going to hear live jazz, lectures on current events, and seeing close friends. None of which are conducive to dates, especially jazz since I’d rather listen than chat over it.”
One of my favorite things about being on this show with another guest is to hear the different ways that we approach the questions when we come into the studio. Listening to how you took this question, I’m thinking, “It’s so interesting because I took a completely different attack on this topic.” It feels like you went more with a pragmatic approach to it. I went with more of an emotional approach to it.
The things that I thought of were how you are feeling about dating. Do you have good feelings about dating right now? What does the thought of dating do to you? Does it make you feel drained? Do you dread it? Does it make you feel unhappy? Can you muster up the energy for it? Does it feel like a chore or is it something you’re looking forward to? Does it feel like something you should do or something you want to do?
I’m a nurse and so we have a term in nursing called compassion fatigue. When you feel compassion fatigue, it’s an indication that maybe you need to get a different job. You could still be a nurse, but maybe a job that doesn’t drain your compassion as much as the one you’re in right now. It’s important to observe yourself and how you’re feeling. I feel the same way about dating. Do you have dating fatigue? Try to observe yourself in the situation of dating or look back on some dating situations you’ve been in. What do you think of yourself, of what you said, and how you felt and your reactions to people? Would you want to date yourself? If the answer is, “No, I don’t have good feelings around this,” then maybe dating isn’t something you should be doing.
You might not have an open mind and an open heart in order to do it.
It will hugely decrease your enjoyment of dating. That was one of the things that I thought of.
I had a friend’s girlfriend that was describing a couple of bad experiences. Life comes at you in streaks sometimes. When it’s going well, it’s easy to feel excited, be open, enjoy it, be playful, and all the things that go into being successful in terms of attracting someone and being attractive.
Sometimes, it’s not the case. You’ve had bad experiences. You’re getting ghosted and you get stood up. People are flaky. They’re mean, whatever it might be. She was a matter of fact about it. She was in a relationship, which she could never turn off. She’s like, “Turn it off.” I had this dating faucet, which is like, when you feel like it, you turn the faucet on. You drink the water and when you had enough, you just turn it off.
When you start rolling your eyes at the faucet.
When you no longer want to touch the faucet. There was someone who mentioned this along the lines, and this idea as she was saying, live jazz, lectures on current events, playing golf, seeing close friends, all of those things are good. They very rarely are bad. They’re never really bad.
It depends on who’s noodling the jazz.
I will say that’s a joke. I was waiting for you to do it.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
Dating is high variance, unlike other activities. A member of the community wrote, “It is awkward, disappointing, or even torturous just as often as it’s fun.” When you compare those odds to the odds that I enjoy like a book, a movie in my queue, or a dinner with friends on every given night, the odds are much higher than the latter. It’s a good reason. It’s why I stopped watching sports. Part of the reason I stopped watching sports was if I read a book, I’m almost always going to enjoy it. If I go out with friends, I’m almost always going to enjoy it. When I watch a sports game, half the time, the team that I want to win doesn’t win. I have zero control over it.
What’s the point of our experiences if we don’t learn from them? You hedge your next activity choices based on your experience. It doesn’t mean it can’t change, but if you want to go with the odds and you know that this is a sure bet and this one is 50/50, then that’s fair to go with the sure bet.
This just happened, ironically. Right before the holidays, I was at a holiday bazaar at the hotel where my daughter worked because my friends were there too. They had a place at the bazaar. I’m eating tacos standing there by myself. I felt like a dog that did three twirls before it lay down. I’m like, “I’m just going to have to look out and be okay standing here.” This guy came up to me and started talking to me.
He had a Spanish accent. I’m learning how to speak Spanish, but I was also thinking, “That’s pretty good.” He said, “You’re eating tacos.” I’m like, “That’s a basic but good opening line to talk to a stranger.” I have learned, “Estoy aprendiendo hablar Español y hacerte una pregunta, por favor,” which is, “I am learning Spanish and I would like to ask you a question.” I have not learned a question yet to ask him, but I asked him if I could ask him a question.
I left my daughter and my friends. We met two of his friends and then we went up to the terrace on top. I was nervous because I thought, “Is this a date or is this going into a date?” I decided at the moment. I’m like, “It’s not. I’m just going to be in the moment and be with him and have fun, but not put that pressure on myself of having it be a date because I’m not in that spot right now.” We had to leave late. He said, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women are merely players. They all have their exits and their entrances,” by William Shakespeare. That felt good to meet someone. We had our moment and then we went on.
I want to use that on a few people.
I’m not Mr. Right. I’m Mr. Right now.
He had something there. That’s lovely.
It felt authentic and in the moment. I suppose I could text him again but I’m not in that place right now. I can do whatever I want, so I did.
Was that all in Spanish? I was going to say it’s coming along well.
Thank you. Those two sentences that I said?
The Shakespeare, did he say that to you in Spanish?
No, he didn’t. We spoke primarily in English. You can make the decision even right at that moment. That’s what I’m trying to do with life. It’s not because I will worry or feel guilty, which is being either in the past or in the future. I’m trying to be in the moment and how I feel right now.
The tip I would give people if you’re in one of those situations is it’s okay to ask. I’ve had this happen where I meet someone through friends and we’re out at lunch. I was like, “Is this just friends, or is it more than that?” You get clarity at that moment. Can I tell you a quick funny story about this? I met this woman. This was when I was living in Los Angeles. We’re in Santa Monica and we went to this nice restaurant for lunch. We’re out on the patio. It’s a gorgeous day. I couldn’t exactly pick up the vibe. I said to her, “Is this a date?” She goes, “I don’t know.” I go, “I guess we’ll find out when the check comes.” She just blushed.
The new ways, who knows?
It wasn’t a date and I still got the check. Nonetheless, at that moment, I knew it wasn’t a date.
What’s funny too is I heard a commercial on the radio on my way up here from the It’s Just Lunch dating organization or whatever their service. I think it’s hilarious that the whole name of their thing is It’s Just Lunch. What are they trying to cover up? It’s not just lunch. It’s a date. They’re setting up people on dates but calling it It’s Just Lunch.
To lower expectations.
It’s a day date.
Also, deluding people.
I’m glad they’re still in business.
I have another thing. This is another thing you could do. It’s very random. I was watching that episode of Friends where Ross had a monkey, Marcel, and it was starting to mature. It was starting to throw shit and get violent.
Terrible pet idea.
If you want to get something, the monkey is a euphemism for whatever weird random thing you want that would maybe make it hard to find a partner who also likes it. You can have your own monkey.
One of my best friends from college, we always talk about our hilarious dating stories with each other. He went on a date and wound up going back to a girl’s apartment. I can’t even say it without laughing. She had a pet, a flying squirrel.
Was it flying around the apartment and stuff?
It was in a cage. It was over at that point for him because he doesn’t like squirrels.
Let’s not venture into how to stop people from wanting to date you, and get into why you don’t want to go out with them.
Let’s not talk about accidental rejections.
Let’s not talk about shields. Can I throw a little data at you two?
I love the Pew Center. I had one of their research scientists on here talk about data like this. As part of the study they did that revealed that half of the single adults are not interested in dating or a relationship at the moment, they asked them why. You can imagine that there could be a lot of negativity around this. It wasn’t as negative as you would think. The number one reason was, “I have more important priorities right now.” Like the point we were talking about, it takes time and energy, and people are dedicating that to building a business, relocating, their career, becoming proficient in standup comedy, etc.
Number two, “Simply, I just like being single. I like the state of my world and I’m not looking to change it.” That’s counterintuitive for a lot of people out there who are on the relationship escalator or want to ride it. You like your life. You don’t want to make it better. You’re like, “I don’t think it can be better. If anything, it might be worse.”
The third reason is, “I’m too busy. I already have a full life and fitting this in is not a priority there.” After that, it starts to fall off. There are some negative things like, “I’ve had bad luck in the past. I feel like no one would be interested. I feel like I’m too old. I have health problems.” Those are very small percentages. Less than 20% of respondents say those negative things. The first two were over 40%.
I can totally see that. Before that, people were married. You had to be married and you had to have ten kids to work the farm or something. Now you don’t need ten kids. You don’t even need to be married. I feel like my brother and sister-in-law have a wonderful marriage. My parents had a wonderful marriage. When I say wonderful, meaning all the ups and downs that come with it, but they both have chemistry. That’s maybe hard to find and other people don’t or they don’t need it.
I want to say something to those twenty percenters out there. Another thing that this brings up is how you feel about yourself can often inform how you feel about dating. There’s also this narrative in our world that you have to love yourself before you can love somebody else. You have to be okay with who you are before you can contribute to being a good partner in a relationship. There’s some merit to those things but I also think that taken to an extreme, it can enhance people who are already struggling. It can enhance their negative feelings about themselves.
I want to say that none of us are all grown up. None of us are fully formed, enlightened, and done with growth, development, progress, and becoming the best version of ourselves. That’s a constant process. Whether you’re dating or not, I would hate for people to feel bad about themselves because of this narrative that we have in our world. By the same token, if you are having a particularly rough time or if you’re feeling unhealthy, unstable, depressed, or anxious to an extreme, if these have you off kilter, it might not be a good time to date not because there’s something wrong with you.
I want to make that super clear. It’s not because there’s something wrong with you but because it changes your perception of your situation, of who you are, and of yourself. Sometimes you can’t rely on those moments when you’re having a particularly hard time. You can’t rely on that to guide you in a way that’s consistent with reality and truth. People say, “I can’t do it. I’m such a mess right now.” Maybe you’re having a rough time, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s not why you can’t date. It’s because, with the way you’re thinking right now in your internal world, that might lead you astray.
I want to ask a question though. There are lots of struggling people in the world, single and not. People get laid off. They get health problems. They have familial relationship problems, etc. They’re in a bad place. To me though, it does seem you’re channeling that time and energy oftentimes. This is something that I noticed and is a big part of the media narrative around the escalator. It’s, “This person will help fix me.” Let’s be honest. The original marriages were pragmatic. It was like two people were better for surviving than one, in a sense.
The division of labor was very clear.
Also, necessary. Now we live in a world of dishwashers and Uber Eats and so on. Especially, if you’re low income, it’s hard to go it on your own. The idea of doing it with a romantic partner versus a platonic partner, versus a brother or a sister, versus a mother or a father can be appealing because you also get some sex along the way. That’s nice too.
The challenge is that looking for someone else to solve your problems is a risky endeavor. There’s no guarantee they’re going to stick around, when you’re having health problems, for example. I would argue it’s important to double down on the time, effort, and energy to try to heal yourself rather than getting on Tinder.
There’s a certain baseline level of functionality. I say it with this caveat. This is all Jill. I’m not a professional therapist. This is my observation and what I’ve learned along the way. That threshold is going to be a little bit different for everyone. I do think there’s a baseline level of functionality that’s important for entering into relationships so that your perceptions are accurate, and that you do have something to bring to the table. You are meeting someone in a place of strength, but it’s not like you can or can’t date because you’re not perfect or because you’re not all done.
I like to say that overwhelmingly, most women do not want to go out with me.
Are you saying that right now?
Absolutely. It’s true. I have the data, but that’s bright. That’s normal. They only need to be 1 or 2 to be successful in this world. It’s to understand that it’s hard to find a good match.
You don’t want to pick up all the lunch checks, either. Financially, you got to think about it too.
It’s difficult to do. It’s hard to find that person if you do want to turn your attention to it.
My mom had a plaque up by the sink that said, “You’re not perfect. You’re perfect for me.” It’s a good point. You don’t have to be perfect or fix everything.
Maybe I should clarify. We’re talking about the reasons not to go on a date. What I’m saying is it’s not because you’re having issues or problems or because you’re not perfect or fully developed or all grown up. The reason not to go on a date in that situation is because if you are having particular troubles and they’re severe, it’s going to impact your perceptions and how you step into that situation.
You might not make the best decisions. You might not have the most accurate view of the situation, and it might set you up for disappointment, heartbreak, dysfunctionality, and being hurt in some way. You want to be able to trust yourself when you go into dating. The reason not to is if you’re not in a position where you can trust yourself.
That’s well said. The research on loneliness is fascinating. I wrote an op-ed in response to a bunch of articles lamenting the rise of people living alone and doing things alone. I titled it A Case for Solitude. One of the things that I address in there is that loneliness has less to do with your relationship status, and more with your desires for relationship status. That is being alone and loneliness are not equal.
To be lonely is to want something and be unable to have it, which means that you can be in a relationship and lonely. For example, for Stephanie, in the case of your parents, they were not lonely individuals, but if one of them wanted to spend 7 nights together and the other wanted to spend 2 nights together, one would be happy with that arrangement and the other would be lonely in that arrangement.
The desire and being unable to fulfill it or find it fit to fulfill it is what creates that loneliness. It probably helps to understand that we were not built for a lot of solitude from an evolutionary standpoint. There was a time in human history that if you went alone, if you got left behind, or if you were like, “I’m out of here, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to do it alone,” you got eaten by a sabretooth tiger. There was no surviving on your own in hunter-gatherer times.
That’s not like there are billions of people on the planet so we can all go it alone.
There were no apartment buildings and those kinds of things. Now what has happened is you have a choice in the matter. It’s not a matter of survival. It’s a matter of fit. Loneliness is like this prehistoric wiring that makes us very vigilant about getting left behind. It gets activated when we don’t want to get left behind.
It’s wild to think that cavemen had FOMO.
Even hunter-gatherers had some solitude. If you were out gathering berries, nuts, crickets, and so on, or you were out hunting, you often did it in pairs, but you had moments and time away that were relatively safe. You had to be vigilant but relatively safe. There was no, “I’m taking the weekend off. I’m going to turn my phone off and work on this book.”
The research is there and there’s a lot of science to support that mammals, particularly, are communal creatures. We have parts of our brain that they’ve shown light up on MRIs when we relate, when we hug, and when we have resonance in a conversation.
My brain is so lit up right now.
The cool thing about the modern day is as long as we have some kind of relationship, they don’t have to be any specific kind of relationship. That’s the wonderful thing. It doesn’t have to be a romantic pair. It’s as long as you do have some people to talk to, relate to, and bounce ideas off of. It sounds sappy, but physical touch also or someone to hug. We need it. It’s funny because we were talking about Marcel the monkey earlier.
That’s why dogs are incredibly popular. They serve some of those purposes.
What does social media do to that though? You can be alone but also feel like you have a community there. I can relate to getting those random comments. You could be ostracized on social media.
I think it is amplifying it. The problem is the negative aspects of social media hit us a lot harder than the positive ones. You get ten, “You’re hilarious. I love you. That was so funny. Thank you.” There’s that one person in the audience with their arms crossed.
“Don’t you love me? This is my best stuff.”
The whole room is roaring with laughter and there’s that one person with a sour look on their face. We’re tuned into the negative. I think the social media stuff can amplify the positives if it’s the right playground for you. The Solo community is a perfect example. I like to say that Solo is successful because it validates the decisions that people have already made.
There are people tuning into this right now. They already know they’re not interested in dating and they’re like, “Right on. Amen. Hallelujah.” The second one is you realize, “There are other people like me and I can interact with them. I can hear from them because, in my little town, I’m the freak show. I’m the one who’s weird. In my family, they don’t understand me.”
The Aunt Barbs are trying to set you up with someone, “If you just found the right person.”
“You’re so great, Stephanie. Why are you single?” The third reason is it gives people a mental model by which to understand the world. It gives them language. It peels back a lot of the myths. You get to feel like, “I get this world,” in a way that before you didn’t. Even within this community, you’re seeing the good side of it all. You’re not dating. What do you do instead? Let’s talk about the possibilities. A lot of the reasons that came up were, “It takes time, energy, attention, money, etc. to do this stuff.” What do you do instead of dating?
I can feel this one because I just came back from being away for two months. Travel is the umbrella term for this. You may have heard of travel. It’s this thing. I was working as a medic on this bike tour through Southeast Asia for two months. It’s less important what it is exactly that you do because that thing that I did is not going to be the right thing for a lot of people to do.
I would not want to be on your bike tour. As much as I adore you, Jill, I do not want to spend my day on a bike.
Sounds like a lot of hills.
There were a lot of hills. You have to be riding your bicycle a lot to go for two months and ride your bike every day. It’s not for everybody. I’m not saying, “One thing everybody should do if they’re not dating is go on a bike tour for two months.” Absolutely not. The way I got this job was in 2018, one of my coworkers in the emergency department said to me, “Jill, have you ever heard of this company called Tour d’Afrique? Here, let me show you their website.”
He showed me their website, I looked at it and said, “This looks cool. Are you going to work for them?” He said, “I don’t know. Maybe.” I said, “Do you mind if I apply? I don’t want to compete against you if you’re looking to get a job with them.” He said, “No, go for it if you want. I don’t know if I’m ever going to do it.” Four years later, I’ve worked on three tours with this company. He hasn’t done it yet.
Is he a partner? Did I miss this?
He was at the time. He isn’t anymore.
You could easily imagine this scenario. “Jill, you’re going to do what?”
That’s how it happened. It plopped into my lap literally. Someone said to me, “Have you ever heard of this?” I said, “No.” I took a look at it and I said, “I’m going to apply because this looks cool.” The main point is whatever it is, don’t ignore those opportunities that plop themselves into your lap if you’re looking for something to do besides dating. If your eyes are open to it, they’ll be everywhere. The point is not to discount or dismiss them. It’s to go, “That looks like it could be interesting. I think I’m going to follow it to wherever this road goes.” It’s not to say, “I couldn’t do that. I don’t have the time, money, energy, situation,” or whatever if it looks interesting to you and you want to pursue it.
We all have different degrees of financial responsibilities and that kind of thing. I guess my point is don’t discount the things that plop themselves into your lap or that you fall into ass-backward because they might turn out to be incredible experiences that you get to string together over a long period of time. This is arguably looking at that and saying, “That looks cool.” It has arguably changed my life for the past four years in a good and positive way.
I had a friend who when he turned 40, wanted to do stand-up comedy. He wanted to do a bodybuilding competition. He spent the whole year getting ready for both of those. That’s something I feel that took a lot of deep dive into something, and he had the time. He’s single too.
Either of those on their own is incredibly challenging.
I feel like he could blend them together somehow.
You know what’s funny is he said to me, “I get so nervous.” He was a stripper when he was younger. He’s like, “What if when I’m on stage doing comedy, I take all my clothes off?” I had to think about it. I’m like, “I get it, but I don’t think you could go to an open mic and take your clothes off. That’s not stand-up. It leaves too much of a hole for the next comedian to have three minutes to get out of to talk about.”
I was thinking of the logistics of it and whatnot. I was so proud of him. He did it. He was such a planner and I’m not, so I loved seeing that. The first time he went on stage, he went on stage to practice going on stage this first time. He went on stage at one open mic to go do it for another. That is hardcore planning like a project manager. He did great in the bodybuilding competition too.
It sounds like I should have him on the show.
You should if you want.
He seems like a remarkable single to me.
By the way, if he had a relationship at the beginning of that year, he would not have one at the end of that year unless his partner was a solo.
Is that because all those things would take him away from the relationship for extended periods of time?
With regard to the norms around attention, presence, energy, etc., that kind of thing, it would take an exceptional partner probably.
A new way kind of partner.
I would say a solo in the sense of someone who’s autonomous, who would be supportive of this, and would recognize that, “I won’t have this person in my life that much for 365 days.” When you’re not dating, you don’t have to have that discussion.
I was going to say it’s another thing that you don’t have to manage.
My response to what to do instead is you can do anything you want, but I’m going to throw one out there. I’m going to get spicy right out of the gate.
It’s like you have Monica’s credit card and you’re not Monica.
I’m going to put one out there. Masturbate. Sex with yourself is a sure thing. You’re never like, “Am I going to get laid?” You never have to worry. You never have to leave the house. You never have to go on a date.
Am I going to get lucky tonight? Yes, 100% of the time.
What I would say is make this a friendly thing. If you’re going to do that whenever you want, make it an event. Make it like a date. Light a candle.
Why not? Right?
It’s like in the 40-Year-Old Virgin when he was getting ready. Light all the candles.
I’m being a little cheeky with that one but I mean it. Just because you’re not dating doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to. You can still enjoy yourself. You can still have pleasure, fun, and excitement in your life. Just because you’re not dating doesn’t mean those things need to be diminished. They are going to find a different place.
I will say that going on a bike tour for two months is not the greatest place to seduce yourself and masturbate. I’m catching up now that it’s over.
Did you store it up before you left? You can’t do it. That’s the problem.
That’s the thing. I had a roommate and it’s busy.
I was thinking of chafing too. I did the MS150, but you’re probably better.
She’s got all the gear.
I got good chamois and chamois cream.
We were having fun. What else to do instead?
Do we want to go back to Marcel the monkey? For me, doing whatever you want and not defining that for anyone. I would be interested. I feel like our Solo audience would have some incredible things that they’re doing with their time.
I’m always so pleased to hear what choices people are making in terms of things like travel, building businesses, getting an education, caring for a parent, or volunteering in the community. The data on this is super clear. Singles give a lot in the world. They do not, in any way, meet that stereotype of being selfish individuals.
If we’re looking at it from a broad point of view, I feel like society needs that a little bit. I only had two kids, but it felt overwhelming. If there are things like you’ve said to give back to the community, I didn’t have the bandwidth to do it if something sounded amazing and rewarding to do. If you’re solo, you can do that and help out others.
I think there’s an endless list of things that you could do as a solo with your time. The community is so varied. I don’t know if the things that I would do would work for everybody. I guess I was focused more on this question of how you figure it out. One thing I would add to that too, besides falling into something, is as you mentioned with your bodybuilder/comedian friend that he was a big planner. Maybe something to do would be to put some intentional time into it to say, “I’m going to sit down and I’m going to research what I can do. I’m going to write a list of things that I can do. I’m going to set some goals and do and do it that way.”
You said to yourself, “I am not a goal-setter at all.” Either way, figure out what it is for you. Whether you are a goal setter or making the list and doing the research, it will light that fire under you to go do something. If you need to fall into it, either way, it can happen. The point is to start something. I’m not a planner at all. I’m more like you are. It’s whatever happens. I had a bossy gay friend of mine. Every single woman has a bossy gay friend archetype. We were on a run one day and he said to me, “You need to get a hobby.”
This was early in my days of being solo. I was like, “Excuse me? Is it because I like to sit around and do nothing all day?” I already felt like I had a pretty full life and did a lot of stuff. He explained it and he said, “No, not like that. I mean that something that you don’t know about that now you’re going to learn about or something that enriches your life. Something that you wouldn’t normally do, but you’re going to do because it might help you to grow or help you to meet interesting people. It might start you on a new path that you never knew existed. Do something for the sake of doing it.”
When I thought about it that way, I thought, “He’s right.” That’s a great bit of advice from my bossy gay friend. The next day, I was walking right by my apartment and there was a dance studio right next to my apartment and there was a partner dance lesson going on. I looked in the window and I was like, “I’ve always wanted to learn how to partner dance. Maybe this can be my new hobby.”
I happened to walk by it. It was right next to my apartment building. The next thing you know, I was taking these dance lessons. That was probably fifteen years ago and I still do this dance. I’ve traveled all over the world doing this dance. I do Lindy Hop. It’s a vintage-era swing dance. I’m going to dance at a venue in Denver. I started dancing on a team. I started teaching classes. I started performing. I met all kinds of people. I went to all kinds of places. It has been a huge part of my life.
Once again, you either look for these things and plan them out or they come to you. The point is to take the next step whatever it is. Not everybody is going to want to partner dance. That’s totally fine. What is it that you think you could see yourself doing and that you could see yourself diving into? I did. My bossy gay friend wound up saying to me a few years later, “I never see you anymore. You’re always out dancing.”
Be careful what you wish for.
I think you bring up a good point because I find I can be busy and then all of a sudden go like, “I didn’t do anything.” Set an intention to find out what you want to do with that.
I hear you saying, “Try something new.” You get to take a chance. Maybe Lindy Hop doesn’t work for you and then you try something else. I think that’s wonderful. I have one from the community. One of my favorite episodes is Dating Friends and Sleeping With Strangers. It’s a very early episode. I spoke to this guy and I want to lop off the Sleeping With Strangers because this is not about dating, but I want to talk about dating your friends.
Josh, my guest on that, hosts a lot of events. He has Dim Sum Sundays and Beers with the Bros Tuesdays that he’s hosting and so on. This idea that you may not be dating doesn’t mean you’re asocial. In many ways, it opens up a lot of other possibilities. In part, it’s because a lot of dates are rinse and repeat. You meet for coffee. You meet for a drink. You’re doing the same thing over and over again, especially on the first and second dates.
A member of the community in the thread wrote, “One thing I love about not dating is I get to choose the right person for each activity. Sometimes that’s just me and my dog, rather than having to do so much with the same person. Sometimes I find partnered folks, past-self included, feel obligated to do things with their partner that one person doesn’t enjoy so much. Each gets a chance to do the thing they love. As a solo, I’m able to invite a friend who loves hiking to go with me rather than dragging along someone who is lukewarm.” I’m guessing you have certain friends for certain activities,
This came up in a previous episode I talked about. When I go to the desert, I go with this friend. When I go to a city, I go with that friend. If I had a partner and the partner is not into 1 of those 2 places, I’m either dragging her along or I’m going and perhaps feeling guilty, or worse, I’m not going because you’re not supposed to do that. I love this idea of you getting to date your friends. You get to pick your museum friend, your rave friend, your workout friend, and so on.
When you have a party and nobody gets along, then you have a problem. I can’t get this image out of my head when you were talking about trying new things. I thought of pottery like in the movie Ghost. You could try pottery but you wouldn’t have Patrick Swayze behind you. You could do pottery by yourself and then masturbate afterward.
Probably wash your hands first.
Wash your hand and shower. There are still problems, but make it work for you.
We can workshop this.
Let’s finish by talking about how to talk to friends, families, and acquaintances about your decision to not date. What do you say? Remember, we’re living in a world where lots of people have little interest in doing this. Yet the world and everyone else expect them to be doing it. This is a non-trivial amount of social pressure that exists.
This is pretty funny. My mom has softened on this because, at this point in my life, I’ve worn her down. Poor thing. I remember when I was in college and I was young, and the possibilities were endless. She had her image and her idea of what she wanted for me, and she had big dreams for this. She stopped asking largely because I think she’s learned over time that chances are there’s not going to be a whole lot in that department for us to talk about. Her expectations have diminished.
When you were younger and you were going solo, what was that like? How did you manage those conversations?
It was harder back then. It was you like said, 50% of people choosing a different path. I think that there is growing stuff in the media about it. People are better informed about it in general. When I looked at this question, I thought, “I haven’t had to field this question in a long time.” A lot of people have come around to it. They’re like, “That’s the thing that a lot of people are doing.”
I will say this, if you start a podcast and you called it Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life, no one will ever ask you anymore.
Are we recommending people do that? All you have to do is get three microphones, start a podcast and you’re good. You’re in the clear.
You can tell T-shirts and then people can wear the T-shirt to the family reunion.
I want to do a T-shirt that’s Single AF. I think people would buy that T-shirt with the Solo like an S logo. Let’s get rich.
I did put down as one of my answers to that question ahead of time was to refer people to this show. It’s one thing you could do. I literally wrote something to the effect of, “I couldn’t say it any better than my friend Peter who does this show on Solo. Here is the link,” and then change the subject to something else. Refer them to this show. There are 150 episodes. All the info is right here.
I have to say too that it hasn’t come up that much.
I think younger folks deal with this more.
I’m sure they do. My mom brought it up and she hardly ever did. In fact, she was more Helen Reddy, I Am Woman song. She was all about, “Go that way.” She did say, “Are you not interested in dating anyone?” I got the feeling like a friend from her bowling or something, but someone outside asked her and so she was asking me. I don’t know if it’s because dad died, so she’s feeling that loss or whatever. I said, “No, I’m not.” It was like the first person who talks loses. I was quiet and she was quiet. She just thought about it.
It’s funny you say this because one of the things I wrote down here is you just say, “I’m currently not dating,” and then you stop talking.
I wrote something similar. I said something to the effect of, “I haven’t thought about that in so long because I’ve been so busy doing these other things.” You list off the other things you’ve been doing and the next thing you know, the conversation has turned to something else. There are a few tactics. It seems like you said with this show, you’re validating choices that people have already made because they’re happy about the choices, so there’s another response. “I’m so happy being single.” That’s another response that you could use. If it’s not or if it is a pain point for you, which it could be, there is that 20%. You could say that. “This is hard for me to talk about. It’s painful. Can we talk about something else?”
One of the things is something like, “I appreciate your concern. That’s nice to ask. Dating is not a priority for me. I’m working on this project and I’m loving it. It’s consuming lots of my time and energy. It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s nice that you think that but that wouldn’t be good for me right now.”
I like how you said that because you’re not putting anything on them and you’re showing them gratitude.
Most people are asking out of concern for your well-being and happiness.
Throwing a little data at them. You say, “You may not know this, but 50% of singles are not interested in dating at the moment, either casually or looking for a relationship. It’s much more common than you may think for someone to have the values that I have right now.”
The other thing I thought of was going to Jamaica or Mexico for holidays or going to Europe. Just disappear for the holidays. You come back and you’re like, “I didn’t have to have any of those conversations.”
They do happen. It is funny because there is a different class. We’re referring to someone who cares about you. A friend, a family member, etc. There is a class of conversation that is borderline inappropriate, which is a stranger or a colleague inquiring about your personal life and making assumptions about it. While I do still think you should be magnanimous and kind, I could see how that could be triggering or a colleague asking you about your dating life. You’re crossing some personal boundary that wasn’t invited if you’re not bringing it up.
Sometimes I could see how that could be passive-aggressive when someone may ask too. Just a little dig or something in there on how they bring it up.
I guess there’s always that redirect tactic.
Just go to Mexico. Let them deal with the work.
The idea behind us is, in some ways, it doesn’t even matter what you say. It’s how you say it. It’s so easy to be on the defensive and to be apologetic. What ends up happening is when you own this decision, which is a completely normal appropriate decision, and one that is up to you and not up to anyone else, they don’t get to decide what’s the right path for you. Being comfortable with your answer is probably the most important part of answering this question. That is my overall reaction to this idea. There’s probably some wordsmithing that you can do that lubricates the interaction a little bit more and changes the subject if you want or whatever. I’m at the point now where I’m like, “Let’s do this. All right. Have a seat.”
“Can I throw some data at you?”
“Let’s talk about relationships for a moment. Let’s talk about divorce rates.”
I can’t remember. I feel like we talked about this in another episode that we did a long time ago. If someone were to say to me, “You’re not a good mom,” it would be like water.
It’s not going to affect you.
You know what I’m talking about. If someone said something about another part like the comedy, there’s a little part of me that feels insecure about the comedy. How can you acknowledge that, and then bring that other energy that I have from the mom? It can be challenging because you don’t want to be fake.
A mother bear energy to the comedy.
I feel like I’m doing it now, but there’s a finesse to that because you don’t want to feel fake about it, but recognize it and then bring that I am good the way I am right now.
What Stephanie is referring to is I used to have a podcast called I’m Not Joking. I did 101 episodes and she was a guest on it many years ago. To digress for a moment, am I remembering this correctly? We did the podcast. I’m packing up and we’re chatting about comedy because that was my life. I said to you, “I’m starting this other project about single living.” Does this ring bell?
You were incredibly encouraging. You responded immediately by essentially telling me how much you liked the idea. I’m not misremembering that.
No, you’re not. I think I said it on stage too at one of the Solo Salons how rewarding it was to see you go, “I have this idea.” I think it was two years later, which to me does not feel like a long time to have it be a whole thing, successful, creative, and organized.
I didn’t have a partner slowing me down.
I think it’s that point that you bring up. It depends on what the topic is and how comfortable you can feel navigating a conversation about it. This happens to me with a lot of topics. I rehearse it in my head ahead of time. I know what I’m going to say. I imagined it and think, “When I get into this conversation, I’m going to kill it. This is what I’m going to say. This is how it’s going to go,” and it never goes that way because there’s always a curve ball. Something will trip it up.
It’s not to say don’t rehearse, don’t practice, or don’t think of how you would manage this topic if it’s something that you find yourself having to field a lot of the time. I guess what I would say to people is don’t worry if you flub it up. It happens. The more you do it, probably the easier it’ll get. It is those things that touch a nerve that is hard to talk about.
How you say it matters more than what you say. If you show fear, that’s the problem. You don’t have to show any fear and you’re going to be fine. I’ll say one other thing. You could tell I care a lot about this.
Except when you’re riding horses. I don’t know what it is. I always go, “I am not afraid,” and I get bucked off every time. We have horses growing up. With audiences, you have a little more leeway.
Don’t pander. That’s one of the things about comedy. Here’s another thing to remember, and that is with very few exceptions, no one else knows what makes you happy as well as you do.
That’s why masturbating is 100%.
You know all the spots and angles. The reason why I say with few exceptions is because I have some very close friends who know me very well, and they have a little bit of perspective. When they say, “I think you’re making a mistake,” I listen to them.
It’s good to have those friends.
You need those friends. It could be a parent, a sibling, or whatever it may be.
Your tough love friends.
They’re a tiny group of people. The average person could not tell you. That’s like someone going, “Stephanie, this Italian restaurant is so good. You have to go.” You’re like, “I don’t like Italian.” “No. This restaurant is so good. You have to go.” You’re like, “Come on. You can’t convince me to like Italian food if I don’t like it.” I have not come up with a good way to say, “You don’t know what makes me happy, so stop trying.” That’s just a reminder when you’re feeling defensive.
I think we accomplished what we set out here to do, which was to provide an alternative narrative to dating, whether it be a date or the whole domain. Also, some good tactics by which to think about what you might spend that time, energy, and attention on, and how you might negotiate that with the world to the degree that you want to or need to. I think it is unfortunate that you need to because no one ever goes, “Jill, Stephanie, why are you two dating? Why are you spending all this time dating?”
“Why did you have children? Why did you have a family?”
It’s not fair but it’s real. With that, I want to say, Stephanie, thank you so much.
Jill, as always, I appreciate you.
Thank you, Peter. I appreciate you too.
- How to Go on a Date – Past episode
- Stephanie McHugh
- I’m Not Joking
- Dating Friends and Sleeping With Strangers – Past episode
About Stephanie McHugh
Stephanie McHugh is a Denver-based comedian, speaker, voice over artist, and humor coach who has performed stand up at a recent Solo Salon. She has also appeared on Peter’s previous podcast: I’m NOT JOKING.
About Jill Cohen
Jill Cohen grew up in Miami, attended Emory University, received a masters in English from the University of Colorado and resided in Boulder for many years. As a travelling ER nurse, she worked in Colorado, Wyoming, California, Florida, and Australia.