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I am originally from the Dominican Republic, and my family is somewhat traditional. I lived with my dad until I left home to go to grad school, and my sister Claire lived there until she got married at 23. She is now 33 and has a loving husband, a dog and two kids. I am 35, and sometimes it feels like my biggest personal accomplishment is that I once slept 12 hours in a row. Pathetic.

But that’s not true. I have worked very hard to build a thriving career in this country and make it my new home. However, all this hard work seems somewhat irrelevant to my family, or at least to my grandmother, whose first question whenever we speak is always, “When are you getting married? You are getting old. I don’t want you to end up jamona [old maid].”

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No pressure, right?

In the past, I’d try to divert the conversation and boast about my job or my apartment or that trip I took last month. Unfortunately, we always ended up back where we started: “Ay mamita, you are there so alone.” I would say, “Abuela I have so many friends. I’m not alone!” But that was never enough. I was single, not because I wanted to be, but because finding the right person was not easy. My grandmother met my grandfather when she was 15 in their neighborhood park, and they were together for the rest of their lives. At 80 years old, she had a hard time understanding “how a perfectly fine and healthy girl couldn’t find a husband.” I wanted to scream and tell her, “Abuela, me neither!”

I am telling you the same thing I told my grandmother many times: I was trying. I promise you that I had tried everything in my power to find a decent man. I went out to bars; I went on blind dates; I went to speed dating events, and I was on every dating app imaginable. Dating was my part-time job. For a period of time, I was going on at least two dates each week with different guys. I will never forget that summer Sunday when I went on three different dates in the same day: a breakfast picnic in Central Park, then brunch in Clinton Hill and later, drinks in Williamsburg. Please note that I live in Park Slope. I was on a mission.

I was doing everything I could, and 90% of the dates that I went on were good and would turn into second dates. I would get really excited and think, “This might be it.” But almost always, we would exchange a few more texts, and though I would hope for that third date, they’d often not even text back. Yes, ghosting was a common theme in my dating life.

Take Andres, for example. I met him on the app Happn. He had moved to Brooklyn from Spain only two months before, and I thought because he was still “fresh off the boat,” he would not be the typical New York-type heartless type that always ghosted on me. Well, I was wrong. After I gave him a tour of the city and took him to my favorite dive bars and introduced him to the best margaritas in Brooklyn, he stopped responding to my texts. That was the end of Andres.

Ghosting, however, was not the only issue I dealt with: Bruce was a handsome, interesting, intelligent, older Canadian man. I was smitten with his knowledge and his many life experiences. He had traveled all over the world, biked around Africa, read thousands of books and cooked dinner almost every night. I was crazy about him, and after six months of intensive lovemaking, trips to the beach and the mountains, and gourmet coffee drinking, I found out that he was not cheating on me, but he was cheating on his girlfriend with me. She was age-appropriate and living in Canada, which is why he went there so often to “visit his parents.” He destroyed my heart and made me doubt myself and every other man. After a while, though, I was back at it, because I needed to continue my so-called husband-hunting journey.

Vladi was an engineer who seemed more interested in meeting my boss and my clients than dating me. I ended things with him by telling him that maybe Bumble was not the app for him and suggested he should explore LinkedIn.

After so many failed attempts to find a partner, I decided to stop putting pressure on myself and forget about finding a husband, and about my dying eggs, and just enjoy my life. I stayed open to dating, but I stopped thinking that every man I met could be the father of my children and instead, enjoyed getting to know them. Maybe they were great guys, but maybe not what I needed or wanted in my life, and it was a good lesson to learn how to better filter that.

After I made this decision, my creative juices started flowing and I decided to launch a podcast, Singleling, to interview people about their dating lives, mainly to find out if other people were living similar experiences to me. Guess what? They were. It was refreshing to hear other people related to my stories, and it was a relief to feel that I was not the only one in this situation. These stories became my support system and helped me to not feel so discouraged, to build up my personal strength, while also continue believing in love.

While working on Singleling I met all sorts of people and a lot of them became new friends. And since my priority was not to go on dates, but to enjoy life, I had more time to find other things that made me happy. I volunteered as a mentor of high school kids that were struggling to find what to do after graduation. I enrolled in an improv class, and though I wasn’t the best one in it, it was one of the most fun things I have done in life. I went on trips by myself and learned that you can have the best time anywhere in the world, even if you are alone, all you need is a willing heart and an open mind. For the first time in a while I was, finally, truly happy and it wasn’t because I had a boyfriend, I was dating myself, and I loved it.

Last summer I went on several trips, because when you are not on a dating mission, you have more time to do these things. One of these trips was to Denver, to visit my friend Jenna. On this trip, we talked a lot about what it means to live a happy life, about how happy Jenna was in Denver and how I was enjoying meeting different people, but most importantly, how happy I was because I was finally feeling in love with myself.

On my second day there, she took me on a beautiful hike with a friend of hers, Steve. I am not the outdoorsy type, but I was in Colorado, so of course I had to go on a hike. Surprisingly, I enjoyed that hike and also enjoyed Steve’s company, during the hike and after: We went out for drinks and I felt a very strong connection to him.

On one hand, I found Steve to be very different from me, and yet very similar. He liked the outdoors, loved skiing, golfing and camping and listens to Phish. Whereas, I like to write (indoors), go to storytelling shows and watch TV, and I would dance and sing to any pop song.

Steve has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever known, and I would not have seen this by looking at his Tinder profile. Honestly, if I had come across him on the app, I would have totally swiped left. Thankfully, I didn’t meet him online. I met him when my heart and my mind were ready. I am happy because he is now the person I’m in love with, and perhaps he will make me and my abuela happy by becoming my husband one day. However, if that doesn’t happen and I end up a jamona, it will be fine because even though I am dating Steve now, I am also still dating myself, and that will never change.

One thing that listening to all the stories I have recorded on Singleling have taught me is that you will only be able to find love from someone else, once you learn how to love yourself. And now, I believe my life is more than just a husband hunt, it’s about pursuing things and relationships that make me feel happy and fulfilled, regardless of the outcome.

Vanessa Valerio is a Moth StorySlam winner from the Dominican Republic living in Brooklyn. She performs stories about her time living in Europe, her childhood in the Caribbean and her crazy life as a 30-something single woman in New York. She is the host and producer of Singleling, a podcast that showcases love and dating stories from regular people and storytellers around the world. She also co-produces Party of Two, a monthly comedy show about dating in the modern era. She has written for the Singles Warehouse and Camara Flash.

Zoie Harmon is an LA-based filmmaker and artist working in collage and found-object sculpture. She is interested in intersectional feminism, divination, ritualistic self-care, body horror and Rihanna. You can watch an example of her film work on Vimeo and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to itsnotpersonalnyc@gmail.com. 

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