On Valentine’s Day of my senior year of college, I went and saw the movie “How to be Single” with one of my best girl pals from childhood. We were both single and down on love and figured it would be the kind of strong, independent female “chick flick” pick-me-up that we needed. On the surface, the movie seemed like a slightly raunchy and ridiculous display of what happens when a bunch of crazy and single females get together. But underneath all of the drama, there lied the message of the film. Learning to be single is just as important (no, if not more important) than knowing how to be in a relationship. In order to be in a successful relationship, you need to know how to operate and be happy on your own and without another person, and that isn’t something you can usually figure out when you’re entangled emotionally, spiritually, and physically with another being.
I know this because I have had first hand experience. I know what it means to feel like you are “losing yourself” in a relationship, so to speak. It’s not that your partner makes you feel like you are losing yourself. There’s just a point in every relationship where things start to feel more settled and so many couples try to keep things exciting. In the two long term relationships that I have had, I’ve always felt this way. It’s not that I didn’t love my significant other at the time, but I started to feel this lack of adventure, lack of excitement, and lack of spark that I felt at the beginning of the relationship when everything was fresh and new. Every relationship, I think, goes through this at one point or another, and when you are with the right person you will navigate this rocky relationship sea together and come out even stronger at the end of the challenging journey. But with the wrong person, you are both more willing to jump ship and let your relationship crash and burn and finally let the sea filled with pieces of broken relationships swallow it up.
The first two weeks after my recent split with my now ex-boyfriend, I was actually doing pretty well. I threw myself into my career, worked out almost every day, engaged in better eating habits, spent more time catching up with friends, and continued working on several artistic endeavors like painting, working on my novel, and, well, this blog that I started. And it was in these first two weeks that I thought, I can do this. I can be single and happy again. And for that two weeks, I believed it. That was until the ease and convenience of dating apps started creeping into my thoughts as being a good way to boost my confidence as a recently single gal. This isn’t something I am proud to admit, nor was I proud of myself in the moment, but I caved. I made an account on a dating app that I had used before (only two weeks after the initial breakup) and I started sifting through all of the eligible bachelors that the world had to offer me in my area. I let my foot casually dangle in the water of the online dating pool filled with a variety of fish for two days and…….I immediately wanted to get the hell out of it!
There were several reasons why I wanted to dry off my foot and bury it in the heat of the newly single and not-ready-to-mingle sand. The first reason being how superficial and artificial I remember dating apps being. Not to say that everyone and everything about dating apps is superficial, but I realized how calculating the app made love seem. In my opinion, love can rarely be calculated. I say rarely because I know a few couples who have fallen in love using dating apps. So I’m not saying it doesn’t work or that it can’t work. But for someone like me who already goes into dating apps skeptical of everyone on it and everything about it, I automatically put my guard up, which instantly sours the recipe for love to happen. The second reason was the number of ex-flings or boyfriends that were also using the same dating app. Seeing their names pop up and their pictures fly by my screen made me feel like I was still being forced to live in my past relationships rather than being given an opportunity to look toward the possibility of future relationships. The third reason concerned the reasons that all of the eligible bachelors had for using the dating app. Their reasons often varied and it was difficult to sort out the genuine, down to earth conversationalists from the uncommunicative and “just want to have fun” specimen. And lastly, I realized that I just wasn’t ready to date. I knew that I had too many uncertainties and unresolved baggage in my own life that I felt I needed time to sort out on my own first before I was ready to open myself up to a relationship again.
After two days, I deleted my account, and I haven’t regretted or looked back. Since then, I have continued to work on myself and to focus on the things that make me happy and, well, me. And I am doing great. I can confidently say that I wake up every morning with a sense of individualism, independence, and confidence that I often grapple with maintaining in relationships. Yes, in retrospect, making a dating app account was a terrible idea at the moment, and I knew that. But I think it was important that I let myself make that mistake because it provided me with the clarity that I needed. I’m not ready to date. There is so much I want to do on my own first and in the comfort of my own personal bubble without subjecting myself to potential judgement, criticism, and heartache. But when I am ready, I know that I won’t use dating apps to find my “forever person.” As fun as they were in college, I consider myself an old fashioned gal caught up in a dating world full of modern day tricks. When people ask me which decade I’d like to live in (if I could travel back in time), I always say the roaring 20’s or the 50’s. You know why? Okay, yes, The Notebook is partly to blame and Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams gosh darn cutesy on set chemistry (though they apparently hated each other offscreen). And yes, the clothing in both time periods were pretty fantastic. But the main reason why I gravitate toward the past is because of how genuine relationships seemed to develop.
Think about it. If a twenty-something blue collar worker saw a beautiful, blue-eyed and strawberry blonde haired girl sitting in a café reading a book in a baby blue sundress, he didn’t walk by the café and think, I’ll look for her on Tinder later. Goodness gracious, no! He damn well knew that may have been his only chance to make this happening into more than just a beautiful and fleeting moment. So what did he do? He got over his insecurities and worked up the courage to walk into that café and to sit down next to this girl that he knew was something, but wanted to discover further what this something was. Now, whether this grew into a relationship that worked out is beyond the limits of my imaginative storytelling for today, but for all I know it could have become something more. But my point is, he may have never known if he hadn’t taken that chance. And I say this for women of that time period too, because I believe in both men and women sharing this burden.
I know what you may be thinking. Get your head out of the past and get with the present! I don’t disagree with you, but here’s the thing. I’m not living in the past, but I am choosing to make my present so much more than I think dating apps have made it. Instead of relying on an app to carefully (or superficially) calculate who I may be a good match with, I have decided to do away with algorithms and to embrace the mystical, and fantastical ways of the universe. When I am ready and when the time is right, I think that I will be thrown into a whirlwind of love so instinctive and extraordinary that I will not question it, because I will know that it came from a place that was unaltered, unaffected, and real. So to all the dating app enthusiasts out there, my sincerest wishes to you and your endeavor to find love, but I think I’m going to bench myself for now in the game of swiping left and swiping right. Of course, I may decide to log back on and see what fish are out there out of sheer curiosity, but I don’t think I’ll be taking it quite as seriously as I once did.
And even after this grand epiphany of mine, I still have my day to day doubts and insecurities about my ability to find love. Sure, I’ve had those melodramatic days where I say, over coffee with one of my girl pals, “Oh, I’m going to die alone and be forever single,” but I usually bounce back fairly quickly when I’m singing my heart out in the car ride home to “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall and Oates. The truth is, even though I like being on my own, I am human and I crave intimacy and connection as much as another affection seeking creature (yes, even when I say I’m happy being single and I don’t want a relationship). It’s true that I ultimately want to find a classy, kindhearted, and intriguing gentleman that will make me happy and sweep me off my feet. Sure, I want to share my life with a lad that is invested in my thoughts, my heart, and my soul as much as my exterior (and will bring me coffee when I least expect it). Of course, I want to wake up in the morning next to a fellow who would rather spend every moment he could holding me in his arms as we talk about the infinity of the universe versus scrolling through his latest Instagram feed. In the end, I want a love so pure, so genuine, so wild, so unpredictable, so on fire that there is never a dull moment in our relationship because they aren’t just my passionate lover. They are my number one fan, my biggest supporter, and, ultimately, my best friend who I could never imagine my life without. But I know that in order to be ready for that kind of love, I need to know how to be that kind of person on my own, and that I can’t mold the future of my love life out of daydreams and movie screens.
While I have my perfectly normal doubts about finding love, I have discovered there are a lot of reasons why I love being single and unattached. The world is at my feet and the possibilities of my own world seem exciting and infinite. Although I feel a sense of total control in my life, everything feels so uncertain and unpredictable at the same time. As I have talked about in recent posts, I’ve been an anxious person most of my life who has, on several occasions, let fear rule my world. There are so many things I have expressed interest in doing at many points in my almost twenty-four year existence, but fear has always talked me out of doing them. And the number one thing I have always talked myself out of doing is traveling. Whether it was due to financial or anxious reasons, I would entertain the beautiful and tantalizing possibility in my head for a few short moments, and then write the idea off as the daydreams of a silly girl who didn’t belong among adventurous tourists. But when my boyfriend of 17 months and I recently split up, and when I felt a wave of total uncertainty wash over my entire life, I decided to say, “Aw, screw it.” I took my friend up on an offer to go to Germany, Switzerland, and France this summer and to actually commit to it. That’s the thing about spontaneity and wishing. A spontaneous thought and a whimsical wish will always remain as a thought or a wish if you don’t take that first step toward making it come true. For me, getting my passport was my first step toward making a crazy thought and a forever wish into a reality.
And here I am. I am a few weeks away from finishing my second year of teaching, and a little less than two months away from a committed and definitive trip to Europe that I couldn’t be more thrilled and giddy about. And after all of my wide awake, 3am thinking, and after all of my looking in the mirror “what do I want” stares, here is what I have learned: Breakups are tough and making the transition from being in a long term relationship to being single again is like spending an insurmountable amount of time trying to resolve a massive tangle that has developed in my hair (at least cutting my hair short has eliminated that problem). Resolving issues often hurts whether it is in a relationship or with yourself because you often have to confront the doubts, insecurities, and flaws of your own existence in order to smooth out the relationship with another or with yourself. But knowing how to resolve your own issues will make you a better problem solver when it comes to relationships. And recognizing the need to take time for yourself to explore the depths of your own emotional maze is just as important as not being afraid to take that leap of faith when a handsome and interesting stranger approaches you in a coffee shop and asks you about the book you are reading.
Knowing how to be single is more important than knowing how to be in a relationship because you have to understand yourself first, including your own needs and your own desires, before you can share them with someone else that can both love and appreciate everything that makes you, well, you. So here’s to the hot summer nights with friends, to hiking the tallest mountains with your heart beating out of your chest, to immersing yourself in a myriad of worlds via reading books and sipping iced coffee alone on a park bench, to watching sunsets solo on the beach with your feet submerged in the cool sand, and to loving yourself in a way you have never loved yourself before.