Let me just say straight off the bat that I don’t want to be single forever and this is not an article about how love is a scam and we’re all better off alone. There is a huge part of me that longs for a meaningful, long-term romantic partnership, that wants desperately to fall in love, that wants someone to come home to at the end of the day to hold me and kiss me and tell me that everything is going to be ok.
All of that being said, I am not in a rush.
I do want all of those things eventually, and I’ll freely admit that sometimes I feel lonely and jealous seeing my friends who are in healthy, happy relationships. I wonder why it hasn’t “happened” for me yet and I wonder if I am doing something wrong. But I also know that you can’t just magically conjure the perfect relationship out of thin air by simply wanting it really bad.
And believe me, I have tried.
When you’re single, people in relationships love to tell you “You just have to not want it and it will come along when you least expect it – that’s how it happened for me!”. Others claim that you must do the exact opposite and write down everything you want in a partner, make a vision board, focus your energy on the kind of relationship desire and POOF – there’s your soulmate!
Again, I have tried.
I have tried looking for it and not looking for it. I’ve tried polyamory and monogamy. I’ve tried taking things slow and taking things way too fast. I’ve tried dating one person after another with no break in between for years. And since none of this so far has resulted in the kind of lasting relationship I would like to have, I have decided on a different strategy all together: being single.
Adopting a new strategy
For the longest time, I would hop from one relationship to the next. Not a serial monogamist so much as a serial rush-into-something-with-someone-you-barely-know-who-always-seems- perfect-at-first-and-then-act-surprised-when-it-quickly-falls-apart-ist. For a while, I felt like I just had to keep going. Surely, if I dated a high enough volume of people, one of them would eventually turn out to be a success.
After several years of this, I finally realized that it might not be the best strategy after all. While I did learn something from each of those relationships and am grateful for all the lovely men I got to spend time with, several of whom are still close friends of mine, it was utterly exhausting. I never seemed to be able to get past the beginning stages where things are new exciting but also confusing and unsure. And as one break-up was happening, there always seemed to be another wonderful connection waiting for me to dive right into.
Each time I went through a break-up, I would think “That’s it! I’m done! I’m going to be single for a while and just do ME”. (Sound familiar?) But then wouldn’t you know it, some amazing guy would come along the next day and I simply couldn’t NOT follow up on what could possibly be my next great connection, just because the last one didn’t work out.
After a few years of hopping from one relationship straight into the next, I finally decided that it really was time for something different. As I embarked on a 4-month trip around SE Asia, I vowed not to pursue any romantic interests while I was traveling and to reassess the situation when I returned home. (Ok, there did turn out to be ONE brief romantic interest on that trip, but it was very organic and totally lovely and it just happened to work out, I swear!)
A year and a half later, I am still single and other than a few very brief (and disappointing) entanglements, I have spent that time putting my energy into myself, my goals, and my friendships rather than into one romantic interest after another. I gotta say, it’s been pretty amazing.
While a year and a half may not seem like such a long time to be single, it’s the way I’ve been spending that time that has been really different for me.
I was single for most of my young life. I never really had a boyfriend in high school or college and spent most of that time crushing hard on EVERY boy and desperately wishing for one of them to like me back. It wasn’t until my early- to mid-twenties that I became more confident in who I was and found ways to interact with the opposite sex that weren’t simply me throwing myself at them hoping to be noticed.
So while I had been single for a long time, I wasn’t really spending that time learning to be fulfilled and complete in my singledom, but rather waiting and praying for someone to come along and make me feel whole, which is a completely different mindset.
You complete me
Unfortunately, banking on a partner to make our lives complete is a very common trap, probably because it’s how almost every single relationship is portrayed in movies and TV. Our idea of romance is centered on not being able to live without the other person. It’s Romeo and Juliet being willing to die rather than be apart after knowing each other for only a few days. It’s grand gestures and love conquering all and giving up everything that is important to you for the sake of being with the person who completes you.
While we all know on some level that these things are unrealistic, we can’t help dreaming about them and hoping we might be one of the lucky few who experiences such a once-in-a-lifetime romance. We get tricked into thinking romantic love is the most important of all life experiences and that if we don’t have it, we must seek it out at all costs.
But at the age of 31, I have come to a slightly different conclusion. Romantic love is great, but it’s not everything and if we build our lives around constantly trying to find it and keep it, we are bound to be disappointed. Life has to be about more than being in a relationship in order for us to feel fulfilled and being single is not the lonely existence that many people assume it to be.
So, in my past year and a half of singlehood exploration, here are some of the valuable and unexpected benefits I have found from flying solo:
- Creating your own habits
I honestly never realized how much of what I did was aimed at either finding or pleasing a partner until I really committed myself to not pursuing any romantic interests. I feel like for the first time, I am learning exactly what my life looks like in the absence of any outside influences. I choose exactly which social events to go to, when I want to go to bed, what I want to eat for dinner, who I want to spend my time with, when I want to go out of town, when I want to be alone…the list goes on and on. I am creating my own patterns and behaviors that are based solely on my needs and wants.
Of course, all relationships require some compromise and I know things won’t be able to continue exactly as they are once I finally decide to re-enter that world, but now I have a solid baseline for what I want my life to look like and I will not accept a partner who causes it to alter drastically.
For example, I love going to bed early and getting up early and I don’t drink much alcohol anymore. But for a while, I was dating someone who liked to stay up late and party and I simply adapted to his lifestyle because I wanted to spend time with him. I knew it wasn’t ideal for me, but at the time, I didn’t have a strong enough sense of what I wanted in life to recognize that someone whose habits are so radically different from my own is probably not a good fit, no matter how much fun I might have with him.
2. Spending your energy on things that matter to you
Relationships take a ton of energy, especially in the start when you are constantly trying to gauge the other person and figure out what the heck is going on. If it’s not going well, it hacks away at your confidence and makes you question yourself when the person you care about doesn’t seem to feel the same way. When it’s going great, you spend all your time daydreaming and feeling twitterpated and just passing the hours until you can see them again! Either way, it’s kind of exhausting and other priorities tend to get knocked out of the way.
Looking back at my journal entries from the several years before I embarked on this journey, it’s easy to see a common theme: boys. It seems all of my thoughts were constantly focused on who I was interested in, who I was dating, the break ups I was going through, etc.
But when I look back through my more recent journal entries, the common theme is: me! My goals, my interests, my friends, the things I feel passionate about. I write about how practicing and teaching yoga makes me feel, the excitement and the fears I have around becoming a nurse, the new friendships I’m enjoying cultivating. My journal entries reflect where my energy has been going, which is towards all the things that matter to me other than romance. There are so many other parts of my life that are fulfilling and joyful and make me feel complete.
3. It changes your brain
I don’t have any science to back this up at all, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that my enjoying-my-single-life brain feels very different from my constantly-on-the-lookout-for-love brain. It has been a slow and gradual change, but over time and without even realizing it, I have trained my brain to react to men differently.
In the past, as soon as I met a person who intrigued me, I was immediately on a mission to date them and spend as much time with them as possible; it was almost like an addiction. If there seemed like there was any sort of connection there, I simply had to pursue it. Every confirmed connection was like getting a hit, which actually makes sense because we release hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin when we experience physical touch like holding hands and cuddling.
But now, my brain feels much calmer upon meeting a new cutie. I remind myself that there is no need to force things, no need to move at light speed, and that this is not in fact the last chance I will ever have to fall in love. There is no sense of urgency or impending doom if I am not able to be with this person RIGHT NOW.
I feel like my brain has learned to slow down, to focus its energy elsewhere, to trust in the process, to notice and enjoy a connection with someone new in the moment and then let it go without forming a death grip around its neck. It’s almost like a form of meditation and I think practicing yoga on a regular basis has also helped with this practice of non-attachment and being content.
Of course I still get excited when I meet someone who piques my romantic curiosity, but I simply don’t feel the need anymore to hold on for dear life before they slip away. And I gotta say, there is something very pleasing and rewarding about experiencing a new romantic connection and not feeling the need to pursue it.
4. Your confidence will soar…if you let it
Being on your own for a long time can certainly make you feel down if you are constantly wishing for a partner and wanting not to be single. But I have found that choosing to embrace singledom and really explore its myriad joys and benefits has been extremely rewarding to my sense of self-respect and self-love. I am grateful that I have chosen to put myself first, to prioritize the life I wish to create over the need to not be alone, to spend time really getting to know myself in the absence of a partner.
And the more I really get to know myself, the more I love the person I have become! I am super happy with the life I have created and the goals I am working towards. I have an abundance of meaningful friendships that I regularly put time into, a career that I am very excited about working towards, and plenty of time and energy to contribute to my various interests.
5. You learn to find peace with all the possibilities
As much as I want to trust the universe that some day I will find a great love, I know there is a possibility it will never come. Not because I am a failure, not because I don’t deserve love, and not because there is anything wrong with me. But because that’s just how life is.
I’ve had a lot of luck in my short time on this planet and I was born into an incredible amount of privilege. I’ve been fortunate to live a pretty amazing life so far and for that I am eternally grateful. I may not have ever been in love, but I’ve had a lot of other amazing experiences that many people never will.
Because life isn’t designed to make sure we all get equal amounts of the good stuff. It’s random and chaotic and messy and beautiful and totally unpredictable. Some people have to deal with unreasonable amounts of trauma and heartbreak and some people seem to have all the luck. So far, I’ve been pretty damn lucky.
I sure hope that I get the chance to fall in love someday because it seems neat, but I’ve also come to accept that it’s not in the cards for everyone, and that is ok. As the great Jim Carrey once said “As far as I can tell, it’s just about letting the universe know what you want and then working toward it while letting go of how it comes to pass.” I am working toward the life that I want for myself while at the same time doing my best to not be tied to any particular outcome and trusting that it will all work out the way it is supposed to.
6. You become comfortable with alone time and with yourself
I used to hate alone time. Holes in my calendar filled me with fear because I really didn’t want to spend time by myself. I’ve always been a huge extrovert and I love being around people, so I just chalked it up to being a social person. But over the years, I have realized that my inability to enjoy alone time probably stemmed from a lack of self-love and a need for validation. As I have become more confident in who I am and have learned to love myself more, I have magically started to enjoy and actually crave time by myself.
I think sometimes a partner can be a crutch in this way. When it feels like everyone hates you and the world is out to get you, you can always turn to the fact that at least there is this person who loves you and wants to be with you. When you feel lonely or upset, there is always someone there to comfort you and hold you. And because we put so much value on being a couple in our society, even being in an unhealthy relationship often feels better than being alone because at least you have that validation.
When you are single for a long time, you have to learn to provide that unconditional love and validation from within, rather than looking for it externally. You learn how to find your own intrinsic value regardless of your relationship status and you become more comfortable spending time alone, because you have to!
Of course, a healthy partnership has plenty of benefits as well and being single is not the only way to access what I have outlined here. You do not have to be alone to be confident and love yourself, to pursue your own goals and interests, to have a calm mind, to create a life that you love, to be independent and enjoy alone time. Ideally, your relationship will enhance your ability to do all of those things and more!
But for someone who has never been in a stable long-term relationship, whose relationships have mostly remained in the energy-draining stages, being single has been a wonderful time to explore who I am and what I want out of life. And I know that everything I am working on right now will likely make me a much better partner in the long run because I am able to rely on myself for my sense of wholeness, love, and identity, rather than on my partner.
So, what next?
It’s not that I have committed to remaining single for any specific amount of time, but rather that I have committed myself to focusing my energy on the aspects of my life that do not involve romantic relationships. I’m not completely opposed to the idea of something new, especially now that it’s been a year and a half, but I’m also happy with how my life is at the moment and I’m not sure I’m ready for it to change.
I have really settled into this single phase of my life and am enjoying myself immensely, especially after living alone in my parents’ house for the past month. Yes there is the occasional lonely night where I wish I had someone to Netflix and chill with, but most of the time, I simply feel happy, content, and grateful. I love my life, I love my friends and my community, I love the activities that keep me busy and challenged.
At this point, it will take a pretty special connection for me to bring a new romance into this life I have so lovingly built for myself.
I want a partner who is both independent and affectionate. I want a partner who is willing to have difficult conversations and be honest about things that are hard to be honest about. I want a relationship in which we both feel safe and heard and listened to and cared about. I want a partner who has their own ambitions, their own friends, and their own interests and who supports mine. I want an adventure buddy who I can travel with who is also ok with going solo.
Most of all, I want a relationship in which we both choose to be with each other every day, not because we complete each other and couldn’t stand to be apart, but because being together enhances both of our already complete lives.
Because being single is not a disease. It is not a condition for which one should be pitied. It is not something that needs to be fixed or a challenge to overcome. Enjoying the single life doesn’t mean that you have to never want a partner and it doesn’t mean you are simply putting on a ‘brave face’ and pretending to be happy.
Whether my next relationship is ten days or ten years from now, I will continue putting my time and energy into the activities and people I love and I will enjoy the process of getting to know myself and cultivating the habits that make me happy. I will let the universe know what I want and work towards it while letting go of how it comes to pass.
And in this world built for coupledom, I will continue to relish the many joys and benefits of being a single thirty-something woman who loves her life and truly could not ask for anything more.