From the day I began dating in junior high, I have always been in long-term relationships, give or take a few months in high school. It wasn’t something that I did consciously or expected to have happen but instead it was just how things worked out. Don’t get me wrong, not all of my relationships were A+ material – in fact, a majority were pretty piss poor in retrospect. But here I am, now at 27, single for the first time in over a decade.
My last relationship was nearly ten years (plus three years of friendship before that) and ended in a metaphoric divorce in every sense from dividing assets, separating up our pets and friends, selling our home, talking through our realtor rather than each other – you get the idea. The relationship as a whole wasn’t good, healthy or happy for a long time – maybe ever.
But even all of the lessons from these failed relationships couldn’t have prepared me for what life and dating would be like today. Gone are the days of meeting randomly at a movie theater or god-forbid the skating rink. Goodbye random friend requests on MySpace, Facebook or Instagram. Hello dating apps, small talk and getting to know other adults.
This is what I’ve figured out so far.
Dating apps are the worst.
Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s just me – but I cannot make small talk to save my life anymore. Tell me your deepest darkest or nothing at all. As much fun as it is to play 20 questions with a stranger every single day, it’s exhausting and quite frankly, I don’t care if your favorite color is blue. Tell me what you hate about yourself and why you go to therapy (or even why you should go). Let’s get to the nitty gritty so I don’t waste any more of my time on something that will go nowhere. Plus for every twenty people spoken to, there may only be one viable prospect and at least ten borderline psychos. It’s a real luck of the draw.
Being alone is hard but not impossible.
I’m not talking single-alone, but physically alone. I had been with my ex-partner nearly every day since we were seventeen, minus a semester abroad in college. I have never enjoyed going out on my own, even going to the grocery store or to get food alone would make me a little panicky. But suddenly, that was my only option. I forced myself to go get dinner on my own, just to settle into the feeling of being with myself. I started making a little habit of going to a bar in town on Wednesday nights, having dinner and just people watching. Sometimes I’d stay for an hour and sometimes three – just enjoying the atmosphere and soon it stopped being about fighting the feeling of being alone. I actually started to prefer it.
Redesigning life can be fun.
I was a teenager when I entered into my last relationship, a barely formed adult who was just bulldozing through life and exited closer to 30 years old with a home to sell, pets to care for, a job to maintain, etc. While I took plenty of time to mourn, adjust and move on, I’m taking even more time to craft who I want to be now. I had always compromised my wants and needs for my partner and now I could be and do whatever I wanted. I could decorate my space the way I wanted. I could buy the groceries I wanted. I could wear the clothes that I liked. I had already been on a path to self-improvement for the last two years and had thankfully built a foundation but now I could let it flourish. The freedom has never felt more enticing.
Don’t ignore gut feelings.
One approach that I’ve designated as non-negotiable is trusting my gut. My last relationship could have ended a lot sooner had I just listened to my gut years ago. Gone are those moments of putting myself second or ignoring my gut reactions for someone else’s benefit. Protecting my energy and space are now the most important thing to me. But don’t get me wrong, I still go above and beyond for those I love, for those who bring the same energy and love to me. But I refuse to waste time on people, projects or problems that serve no value or drain my energy. I owe nothing to a stranger I meet on a dating app – just like they owe nothing to me.
Be selective in your surroundings.
Physically and mentally. Find a space to call your own that makes you feel safe, secure and make it your home. Surround yourself with people who don’t drain your energy but instead lift you to new heights. Give your time and love to those who show up for you, in good times and bad. I tried to keep a lid on things for months after the break up before finally letting those close to me know and it was exhausting. Once I finally told people, the support, offers of help and understanding were overwhelming.
Sometimes things don’t work out and that’s cool.
You’re not meant to connect to everyone. It’s okay if the conversation goes stale or gets to a point where there’s nothing left to say. I have notoriously been the type to continue trying to breathe life into a dead relationship/friendship/whatever, but not anymore. Sometimes things deserve to end. Sometimes they deserve to end without any big fuss or final debate. We’re all here for a good time, not a long time, so stop wasting your precious energy with useless experiences just because.
Listen to your body.
For the last decade, my mental and physical health suffered tremendously in my relationship. I was gaining weight, depressed almost constantly, living a constant panic attack while thinking it was attributed to school or work or whatever current event just happened. Realistically, as soon as I rid myself of that relationship and everything attached to it – I’ve never felt better. Being able to live the way that I want and when I want is the best feeling. I answer to myself only, for what feels like the first time in my life. If I want to go on a run at 5AM? Great. If I want to cook dinner at midnight? Go for it! I feel more comfortable in my skin now than ever before.