Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your questioning queries to bee@qweencity.com.

Dear Ashera,

After about a decade of a very DGAF attitude towards relationships, and several tumultuous / hilariously awful / plain old hilarious short-term affairs (and even more one-nighter/one-weekers), I think I might be FINALLY ready / interested in meeting an actual grown-up and having an actual grown-up relationship with them. The problem is, I have NO idea what I’m doing or if these people even exist in my small city where everyone already seems to be paired up. Any advice?

Signed,

Sometimes People Interest Nobody, Sometimes They’re Exceptionally Rad

Dear S.P.I.N.S.T.E.R.,

It sounds like you’ve spent a good amount of time playing the field and gaining some real learning experiences, which is great! But like many, you think you are ready to work on building something more than an interesting anecdote over cocktails. Buffalo is indeed a small city, but there ARE single people that are looking for the same thing. I have a couple pointers in searching for something *real.*

On the forecourt of the Temple of Delphi, “Know Thyself” was written. Now is a good time to do some introspective reflection, one of those “searching and fearless inventories of yourself” that’s a part of 12 Step Programs. This is not an easy task, but it is essential. What failed in past relationships? What worked? Most importantly, what did you learn? Take a long look at what your patterns are: do you get really involved really quickly, or are you most interested in hitting and quitting it and freak out when it starts to get deep?

Getting to know YOU can be done with a good therapist and/or with a group of friends that are in the same place. The workbook, What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety,” by Jaclyn Freidman is an excellent resource. It’s all about navigating the cultural landscape and sifting through all the mixed messages that we receive regarding sex and finding your truest, best, sexiest self. To use this book effectively, it can help to do this with a small group of trusted people. Go over the exercises together and process what it is that you really, really want.

The next piece in finding love is getting out there! I don’t mean go out to the same haunts that you already do twice as often—go do something new. Try out for a play, go to a poetry reading, try a new bar or restaurant. Personally, I have always met the most interesting friends and romantic prospects when I did something that was new and kind of scary. You may not meet someone that you’re interested in romantically off the bat, but you could meet someone who knows someone that you’d be great for. Expand that friend circle!

Speaking of friend circles, is there anyone that you’ve been curious about? Why have you written them off? There could be legitimate reasons like, “they are already coupled,” but there’s also plain fear of rejection. There’s no reason that hanging out with a friend has to be dripping in “Netflix & Chill.” It’s possible to just hang out, do something fun, and see if anything’s there. If not, no harm, no foul. Party on, Garth.

Real talk, though: being single is not a personal flaw. There’s a lot of cultural pressure to couple up, settle down, and fire out kids. Life’s not that simple. Do the personal work that you need to do so that when you meet someone that makes you feel more than meh, you have the space to let them in. Ask yourself, “How would I know this is real?” Are those the things that scare you? They’re scary for a lot of people. Allow yourself space and the right to be vulnerable. Most of all, be kind to the people you encounter out there and be true to yourself.