Sometimes getting another wedding invitation that you don't have a plus one to bring to or your family constantly asking if you are dating someone can lead to a lot of anxiety. Rachel Sussman, a New York-based therapist and relationship expert, says women get very nervous if they are not in a relationship by the time they turn 30. And feeling pressured to get married and start a family is still a widespead occurrence that more often than not we tend to put on ourselves. That's why we spoke to Sussman about ways to overcome that pressure and how to feel comfortable with your relationship status.
InStyle: What’s worse—the pressure that other people put on us or that we put on ourselves?
Rachel Sussman: The pressure that women put on themselves is worse. They would often say to me, if most of their friends are couples, they don’t want to feel like a third wheel, that they wished they had someone to bring to an event, how hard it is to go to weddings and baby showers, and just feel single.
Oftentimes, my clients would tell me how encouraging their friends and family are. So I think it’s more the pressure that we put on ourselves thinking we should be at a certain place in our life.
InStyle: What is a good coping mechanism to deal with that pressure?
RS: I think that the most important thing is to ask yourself, is this kind of pressure you are putting on yourself helpful in any way?
I think the only way it could be helpful is if you are someone who is very anti-dating or very lazy about dating so maybe in that case the pressure could help you and motivate you to go out there and do more things.
But other than that, I think you have to realize that the pressure coming from yourself is not helpful. Is it causing you anxiety? Then you have to work really hard to dial it back.
And I tell, especially to women, to focus on what you love about your life. You can’t control when you’re going to be in a relationship, but you can control dating. Are you on enough apps? Are you out there? Are you dating? But you have other things in your life that you are excited and proud about. Is there anything in your life that needs to change, to add more of anything or subtract more of anything.
The most important thing that I would like to say to anyone is, try the best you can to get comfortable and be happy with where you are in your life at that moment. And you definitely want to send out vibes that you are a happy, confident person. Even though your life might not be fully where you want it to be, try the best you can to accept the situation and make your life as good as it can be.
InStyle: Sometimes, people stay in a relationship despite being unhappy in it—just because they see marriage as the end goal.
RS: A lot of people are scared to end a relationship that’s not working out of fear of being alone and not meeting someone. And of course I always say to my clients, that’s not a good reason to be in a relationship. The only reason to be in a relationship and to carry forth in a relationship, is that person is meeting the majority of your needs, you feel that’s a healthy and happy relationship, and you’re both good for each other. But if you don’t have that, if you think you’re in an unhealthy relationship but you’re staying with someone out of the fear of a breakup, or that you’re never going to meet anyone, or that you hate dating so much, that’s bad.
[Because] at the end, what happens generally, is that the relationship does end and you know what, it ends so much later than it should have. So you’re still scared of dating and yet you end up being out there dating anyway and you’re much older. And what happens to those people is [they say], oh my god, I should have ended this years ago when it looked like it was probably going to end and when I had more time to meet someone, and more time to have a baby.
I have so many examples in my practice right now of women who stayed in either marriages or in relationships through their early thirties that they should have gotten out of. And then by the time the relationship inevitably ends, they are in their mid-forties already and what does that do to that woman, especially if she really wants to have a family?!
InStyle: What about outside pressure? Where does that most often come from?
RS: Most times, people would tell me it’s their parents. It’s mothers. You know, mothers saying things like, they want to be the mother of the bride, they want to be a grand mother, dropping little hints.
Going to family functions or holidays, inevitably, they’ll be asked, are you dating anyone, what’s going on with you? They’ll even tell me about uncles who’ll say: You are an untapped treasure. How come no one has scooped you up yet? And then that would make them very uncomfortable because no one says that to boys.
I have clients who would say to me: "No one puts any pressure on my brother. My brother doesn’t even seem to put any pressure on himself and he is 36 and single, happy as he can be. And I am 35 and single and I am miserable."
InStyle: What could people do when that happens?
RS: Sometimes parents are nervous that their kids don’t care. So they feel like it’s their job to tell them, get with the program.
So I feel like what they have to say, especially to a mother is: "Mom, I get it that I am single. This is me. This is my life. Would I like to be in a nice relationship? Yes, I would like to be in a nice relationship. Would I like to be married one day? Yes, I would like to be married one day. But it’s not helping me that you ask me every time I see you. In fact, it makes me feel worse. And I’d really appreciate it if you don’t ask me. And you can assume that I am dating. Assume that I do want to meet someone and when the time comes and if that time comes, you’ll be one of the first people that I’ll share it with. But until then, I am not comfortable with this being a continuous topic of conversation."
So if you can tell the parents that their questions are not helping you and, in fact, they are hurting you, I think then they might hear you and back off.
InStyle: What if that happens in a social setting? What’s the most appropriate way to react?
RS: I think the inappropriate reaction is to get defensive. I think sometimes making a joke is great: "Why? Is there anyone you want to set me up with?"
But it’s also OK to say, "No, I am not seeing anyone right now and I would really like to meet someone. So if you have anyone you’d like to set me up with, I’d be very open to that."
Sometimes, you do have to advocate for yourself.
InStyle: What if that pressure comes from your partner?
RS: It’s a problem because if you put too much pressure on someone, it could create a problem in the relationship. It’s OK to start a discussion with your partner, where is this relationship going and are we both on the same page?
I think it’s perfectly OK if you’re in a relationship to say, "Look, it’s not a secret that I’d like to be married and I’d like to have a family one day. And I am interested in going down that path with you. Are you interested in going down that path with me?
You kind of have to ask that question. And if the person says no or if they care about you very much but that’s not something they are open to, then you might have to end that relationship.