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I tell everyone I don’t want love and a family – but I do

Ask Roe: You’re being ruled by shame and rejection. It’s time to stop hiding

Dear Roe,

I'm 29 and have only had one proper relationship, and it ended 10 years ago, when I was 19. I'm embarrassed, so I always make out that I don't want a family or any of the conventional stuff, but I really do. I've tried online dating for a few years, but nothing has come from any of the dates I've been on. I know I'm still young, but I'm starting to believe it will never happen for me. How can I change that?

You are working so hard. You’re working so hard to hide who you are, to push other people away, to ensure you will never get what you want. You are working so hard to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that you won’t ever have the life and love you truly desire. The solution to your problem is to stop working so hard, to stop fighting yourself – and, like many things, this solution is simple but not easy.

Right now you are ruled by shame and rejection. You have built your life around these concepts, around the idea that there is something inherently wrong with you. And, like many people for whom shame is a dominant force in their lives, you’re obsessed with people’s perception of you. You are not only sure you are broken and unworthy and a failure, but you think everyone else is sure of that, too.


That’s why you try so hard to control people’s perception of you by concealing your desires and proclaiming that you never wanted them anyway. You overexplain, you protest too much, you declare you have no interest in love and marriage and family, your voice just a little too high to be completely convincing.

Accepting what you want, respecting what you want, expressing what you want, and striving for it: that's bravery. That's power

You feel powerless because you haven’t got what you want – love, a relationship, the confidence that you will eventually find someone to have a family with – and have settled for the power of controlling the public narrative about yourself.

The problem is that hiding yourself is not power. Being ruled by shame and the belief that something is wrong with you is not power. Pretending you don’t want something you truly, deeply, madly want is not power. It’s the opposite. It’s surrender. It’s surrendering to shame and self-loathing and hopelessness. It’s surrendering who you are to a version of yourself that requires no bravery, no vulnerability, no effort to get the things you want.

Accepting what you want, respecting what you want, expressing what you want, and striving for it: that’s bravery. That’s power. You think that by admitting you want love and a family and “the conventional stuff” you’re revealing that you are a failure by not already having them. But every single person who ever wanted those things and got them started where you are now: by not having them.

And all the gorgeous, glorious people who could possibly give you love and a relationship and a family? They’re out there right now, wanting what you want. But instead of meeting them and saying, “I see what you want, and I think it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful it makes my heart ache. I want that, too. Let’s talk about what other things we find beautiful and what we want and what makes us happy, and let’s see if being around each other makes us happy, too,” you’re putting up walls and too-loudly declaring, “What you want is stupid and too conventional and vulnerable and romantic for me, I’m not interested.” And still you wonder why you’re not connecting with people or getting any closer to what you want.

You need to stop working against yourself. Stop hiding behind an identity that doesn’t fit, and shrinks you down, and blocks you from your dearest desires. Stop obsessing about what other people think of you, and trying to control the narrative around yourself. What other people think of you is none of your business. Your happiness, your desires and your life are your business. Start working on that.

Stop focusing on words – the words you worry that people are assigning to you, the words you use to try to change their minds. Instead, tune into your desires. Tune into your feelings. How do you feel? What are you so scared of? Where did you learn that vulnerability was a weakness? What makes you happy? What other joys have you denied yourself because you’re convinced that you’ll fail, or that people will judge you or that you don’t deserve the happiness they’ll bring?

As you start stating what you want out loud, do not worry about other people's perceptions of this apparent shift in your mindset. You do not have to explain yourself – and if you want to, one simple phrase will do: I changed my mind

You have to ask yourself these questions, and answer them honestly, because you have to know and accept yourself before anyone else can. Commit to yourself. Commit to loving yourself, not abandoning yourself, not shaming yourself for your desires. Commit to being compassionate, to respecting your own boundaries, to letting yourself be quiet. Stop demanding that you shrink yourself down and perform for people who never asked you to.

Practise respecting what you want in small ways. Do one thing you’ve always wanted to but have been too scared to – taking a class, going to an event, asking a new friend to go for lunch, wearing that outfit you’re convinced you can’t pull off. Go to therapy and allow yourself a safe space to express every desire and vulnerability you’ve ever had to a person dedicated to helping you sit with and respect your feelings.

And practise setting small boundaries that respect your feelings, by saying, “This feels off”, “I’d prefer not to” or, “I would like more, please.” Once you start respecting your feelings and exercising your power, you will see that the world doesn’t end once you state your desires out loud. And you’ll start noticing the people who respect your desires, who want to hear what you want, who want to give it to you. And they will start to show up. Once you start acknowledging who you are and what you want, other people will too.

As you start stating what you want out loud, do not worry about other people’s perceptions of this apparent shift in your mindset. You do not have to explain yourself – and if you want to, one simple phrase will do: “I changed my mind.” It will be true. You are going to change your mind – about yourself. You are going to stop hiding. You are going to stop being ruled by shame. You are finally going to respect what you want – and trust that you deserve it.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies. If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at Only questions selected for publication can be answered