When I got out of my last long-term relationship, I forgot how to be single.
That sounds silly when you say it. Being single is not an occupation – it’s not like being a doctor or a convenience store clerk. You don’t have a repertoire of tasks that you are meant to fulfill or a checklist of items to cross off at the end of the night. By all definitions of the state, single should not be a thing you can forget how to be. And yet, when faced with it somewhat unexpectedly, I did. I forgot everything about how single life is supposed to go.
Who do I text things to? Was the first discrepancy that occurred to me. And then, who’s going to pick me up from work? They seemed like small, solvable problems, until the bigger ones started pouring in. Who is going to pay half of my rent? Who’s going to love me? Who’s going to be here on the really hard days when life starts reigning blows and I don’t know how to deal with them alone? Being single turned out to be a much bigger commitment than I found myself ready for.
And yet I worked it out. We all do. Because we have to. Because it’s a position we all find ourselves in unexpectedly at some point and so we make it work. We sink or swim. We figure out that there is no one way to be single but there are plenty of roles to try out. And over time, we take on more than a few of them. We end up as a combination of them all.
1. Be actively searching for love.
This is the first role so many of us jump to right after a break-up. There’s a huge, partner-sized hole in our life so we go out searching to fill it. Online dating? Great idea. Dates with random strangers you meet at coffee shops? Let’s go for it. Any way love is presented to us, we want to latch onto. Because we miss love. And we want it badly.
The problem with this ambition is that the most authentic love is never deliberate. The most genuine connections tend to emerge when we are looking for them the least (as cliché as that it) and the active search for love may work for some, but I question its validity. You can smell that sort of desperation from miles away.
2. Be heartbroken.
Be that single person who is SAD. Mourn the shit out of your ex-partner. Cry over their pictures. Drunk dial them. As awful as this version of your single self is, you need to be them. You just do. If you keep them eternally cooped up, you end up this weird, inauthentic version of yourself that gets upset over lifetime movies and probably develops anger problems. Be this person for a bit, because it’s going to help you move on in the long run.
3. Be helpless.
Forget how to do absolutely everything. Leave your laundry in the dryer for four days. Show up half an hour late to work because you forgot which bus to take. Call your best friend fourteen times in a row because you heard a strange noise in your apartment and you’re pretty sure that now you’re going to die. Be a big, helpless, adult-sized baby version of yourself and be patient with yourself throughout it. You’re learning a new routine. You are remembering how to be alone and it is coming back slowly.
4. Be a huge freaking Debbie Downer.
Otherwise known as a cynic. Doubt love and everything that comes along with it. Doubt your friends’ relationships. Doubt your parents’ marriage. Doubt that love really exists and that anyone could ever last forever and that everything that starts is not going to end up in divorce. Just doubt the crap out of love. It is a lie and you, the levelheaded single person, see it for what it really is. Which is why you avoid it. Of course.
5. Be a hook-up machine.
Be a slightly more fun mess than you were before. Be the single person who goes out too often, takes too many pictures, does too many shots and generally acts about five years younger than they actually are. Hook up like it is your day job. Download tinder and use it with pride. Fall temporarily and shamelessly into the arms of short-term lovers and actually enjoy the whole she-bang. You forgot that being single also means being free to do whatever you’d like and for now, this is exactly what you like.
6. Be unnecessarily empowered.
OWN being single. Be that girl. The one who talks endlessly about her career and her choices and the fact that no man’s holding her back. Work fearlessly and ferociously toward the life you want, despite the fact that you don’t actually have to be single to do that. But whatever. Wear your single title like a badge of honor because for the time being, it feels nice. It feels nice to have something to be proud of.
7. Be a soul-searcher.
Do all of those things that you forgot to do when you were in love. Write a novel. Buy a plane ticket. Explore interests you never knew you had and figure out who you really are as a person, now that you’re doing it all alone. Realize that there’s an entire world out there, an entire multitude of identities that you get to try on for size, because you’re young. Because it’s fun to. And because you want to figure yourself out before you jump back into another relationship.
8. Be avoidant of love.
It’s not that you’re cynical or bitter – it’s just that you’re busy doing you. You have a life that you love, you have an identity you’re proud of and you’re kind of enjoying the stability of being the only person you rely on. It’s not that you think love wouldn’t be nice someday – it would. But you’ve kind of settled into living life on your own and for now, that’s what you want. You like the peace. You like the certainty. You like yourself.
9. Be open to whatever comes next.
Stop looking at your own life like it’s a business proposal for a future partner. Stop looking at love like it’s the other shoe that’s going to drop. Just be. Just be open to whatever life you’re going to be living and whoever does or doesn’t come along. Settle into the idea that you’re not a Single-Person or a Relationship-Person, you’re just a person. A person who’s working things out and altering their plans almost constantly and who will, indefinitely, be a work in progress. But that’s okay. Because other people are works in progress too. And if you meet somebody new to work alongside, that’s cool. If you don’t, then that’s cool too. You’re open but not searching. And it’s a pretty nice way to be.