I’ve never really been in a relationship. I’ve had flings, trysts, flirtations, one-nights stands, friends with benefits, dates, crushes, and unreciprocated obsessions, but nothing that ever grew into anything substantial. And while it can occasionally suck to not have someone hanging off your arm at parties or warming your bed on chilly Sunday mornings, I have gained some valuable lessons from my perpetual singlehood and ongoing quest to find someone who will actually date me.
1. A relationship will not solve all your problems.
In fact, it will create new ones. An otherwise calm and content day can be turned on its head because your partner woke up on the wrong side of the bed. A relationship means giving up a lot of the control you have over your life and your moods. You now have a whole other set of obligations, opinions, routines, and feelings to somehow meld with yours. There’s always this tendency to think the grass is greener on the other side, but just because someone’s in a relationship does not mean they’re happy, and it does not mean their life is perfect. If you can’t be happy while single, you’ll have a hard time doing so in a relationship.
2. There is nothing original about this.
Anything your partner says or does to you, they have said or done to someone else, possibly as recently as this morning. That barista who wrote his or her phone number on your coffee cup has done so to a dozen other patrons. Those silky smooth lines have been perfected over time, have worked on countless occasions before. Anyone who appears out of nowhere with an express intention of wooing you is playing those same cards every night of the week. Often, they’ll even tell you about people they’re attracted to and flirt with people right in front of you. This is not some ironic display of affection or an attempt to play it cool, it is a blatant form of disrespect. You are special, don’t settle for someone who doesn’t know that.
3. Sex is not a sturdy foundation for a relationship.
Sex on the first date will not ruin something that was otherwise destined to succeed. But it can draw out something that had no business going anywhere in the first place. If you’re still getting to know someone and figuring out how you feel about them, sex can put added pressure on the relationship and provide incentive to keep seeing someone you otherwise aren’t too bothered about. If you sleep with someone every time you see them because you have nothing to talk about and fear that, by conversing, you’ll be forced to face the realization that you don’t actually like this person at all, and are simply infatuated with the idea of them (and their body), this is not a good relationship. When a relationship is built solely on the physical, sex becomes a shield that keeps you in limbo between establishing true feelings and realizing this is going nowhere.
4. You are capable of having a relationship.
Sometimes I’m desperate to get a relationship — any relationship — under my belt, just for the experience, just to prove I can do it. If I can get one person to commit to me, maybe I’ll start believing I’m desirable, that I deserve better. A few practice rounds can’t hurt, just so I know what I’m doing when the right one comes along. One will hopefully open up the doors for more, toughen me up a bit. Maybe relationships are like Pringles: “Once you pop, you just can’t stop.” But having failed relationships is not the way to prepare yourself for a successful one, working on your own issues and doing what makes you happy is.
5. Dating someone you don’t like is not the way to avoid getting hurt.
I often find I’m more reckless, I try harder, if I’m not actually convinced I like the person. It’s like I’ve got less to lose, they can’t really hurt me if I’m not that into them. But this always backfires. I end up feeling worse, having stuck my neck out for something I didn’t even really want. I’ve invested time and emotional energy and settled for less, only to end up with nothing to show for it. This feeds a dangerous cycle of desperation where I go into things willing to take whatever I can get, rather than figuring out what will really make me happy and going after it.
6. Trust your gut.
If, as hard as you try, you just can’t shake the instinct that you should not trust this person, you’re probably right. Don’t listen to the friends who tell you you’re being paranoid or overanalyzing everything. Don’t listen to the voice in your head telling you that because you’ve been hurt before, you’re projecting all your insecurities and anxieties onto the tiniest things. You probably are overanalyzing, you probably are projecting, but that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. If something just doesn’t feel right, there’s a reason. When it’s right, you’ll know.
7. This hurricane is not as bad as the last hurricane, but it’s still a natural disaster.
Every guy I’m with treats me marginally better than the last. This has the unfortunate consequence of making me settle for relative kindness and assuming I have no right to expect better. Just because you’ve survived a category four hurricane doesn’t mean you should run out into the eye of the storm when a category three comes along. It’ll still destroy your house. The fact that no one’s been willing to rise to your standards before is no reason to lower them.
8. You teach people how to treat you.
If you’re afraid of demanding respect from someone or asking them to commit to you because you’re scared they’ll decide you aren’t worth the effort and high tail it out of your life, good riddance to them. Repeatedly settling for less than you want or deserve will only make you question your own worth and pave the way for more subpar dating situations.
9. Nobody is a mind reader.
Assumptions are dangerous and they will come back to bite you. Passive aggression, though my reflex in any and all situations, will not serve you well if your aim is to get into an actual relationship. For this to work, you must state what you’re thinking out loud and ask questions. You can’t know what someone’s feeling until they tell you, and you can’t assume they know where you stand either.
10. Pretty words are worthless.
There’s nothing better than an affectionate text from the person you like. If you’re feeling uncertain or anxious, a short message telling you how pretty you are is the best thing in the world. Every time you’re feeling sad or lonely or neglected, you can reread that text and remind yourself that things are fine, they really do care about you. But sweet texts are a dime a dozen if they aren’t backed up by actions. It’s all well and good to tell me you like me, to promise things will get better, but there comes a point where you have to stop listening for what you want to hear and look for the truth in their actions.
11. Ignorance is bliss.
In my experience, the nicest thing someone who’s not interested in you can do is ignore you. Give me a few weeks of silence and a couple unanswered texts, and I’ll get the hint, I’ll move on, I’ll probably even remember you fondly. What I can’t handle is being turned into your yo-yo. We’ve all fallen for that person who isn’t interested, but will do the bare minimum to keep you from getting over them, just for the sake of their ego. They’ll always respond to texts, but will never text you first. They won’t make plans to see you, but have no problem going home with you if you end up at the same party. And for awhile, you ignore the obvious, keep telling yourself they wouldn’t do this if they didn’t care on some level, and you hang around waiting for the day they explicitly tell you to get lost. But it never comes and you eventually get sick of this bipolar existence and have to put your foot down and tell them you’re done, secretly hoping they’ll beg you not to go. Spoiler alert: They won’t, and it’s the one nice thing they’ll ever do for you.
12. There’s always tomorrow.
You’ve waited this long for someone to kinda, sorta, maybe pretend to like you, and it probably feels like it’ll never happen again. It will. Right when you’re not looking for it, when you’ve ceased to be a soppy washcloth, desperate for someone – anyone – to love you, when you’ve channeled your energy into achieving your goals and living a badass lifestyle that makes you happy, someone will come along who genuinely appreciates what an awesome human being you are. It won’t be forced, it’ll just make sense. And it will make you wonder how on earth you ever settled for less, and grateful to every single thing that brought you to this place and this moment. But what do I know? I’ve never even been in a relationship.