Earlier this month I celebrated a very special anniversary; my “Singleversary.” It marked my success in remaining single for an entire year.
Last September I endured my most significant break up to date. I’ll leave out the messy details for everyone’s sake. Though, I will say that the feelings in the relationship had been serious and the break up coincided with my first day in a brand new city on my first day of a brand new career. Needless to say, I felt out of control of the situation, broken-hearted, and not sure of what to do next. Sitting alone in my strange apartment in a strange city that night, I came up with an idea. I resolved that I would stay single for an entire calendar year.
That week as I reached out to my closest friends to make the obligatory “I’m Single” announcement to each of them, I also informed them of my plan to remain uncoupled for twelve whole months. They all, unsurprisingly, laughed and expressed their doubts that I would be able to pull it off. It’s not that they were unsupportive or didn’t believe in me. Rather, I had a track record for being that girl who always seems to be in a committed relationship. My friends reminded me that I hadn’t actually been single for a significant period of time since I was fifteen years old. They also reminded me of all time times in the past that I had proclaimed my intentions to remain single after other break ups only to announce a new beau a short month or two later.
If my decade-long history of serial monogamy was any indicator, I would not be successful in this attempt at forced single-dom. But I promised myself and my friends that this time it was different! And it was. I pulled it off.
Staying single for an entire year taught me so much. I’d like to share the top five things I learned from the experience.
1. The best kind of validation of self-worth comes from within.
Regardless of my perpetual in-a-relationship status, I had always considered myself to be an independent woman. However during my single project, I began to understand how much I relied on my ex-boyfriends to validate me. About two months in, without having a significant other in my life to greet me daily with “hello beautiful” or congratulate me on various work-related milestones, I learned exactly how much of my confidence in my intelligence, beauty, humor, etc. came from another person.
Without realizing it, the belief that I possessed positive, valuable qualities was almost all built from a completely external source. I relied on others to fuel my confidence and reassure me that I am smart enough for a certain academic or career advancement or that I do look amazing in a certain dress or that my tragic pun-ridden jokes are hilarious. I then recognized that my options were to a) fall into a pit of self-doubt that could only be repaired by a new beau or b) learn how to be my biggest cheerleader. I chose b).
Just a couple months later I realized that I really did come to fully believe in myself independent of what anyone else thought. I learned to acknowledge my own accomplishments and congratulate myself for a job-well-done. I learned to remind myself that I am beautiful. When a posting popped up for an even better job opportunity, I didn’t need to wait for someone else to tell me I was worthy of applying and interviewing. When I slipped on a new dress to go out on a ladies’ night, I wasn’t seeking compliments from others. I found that believing in myself and recognizing my own intelligence, beauty, and worthiness is the best kind of validation I could have. Nobody could take it away from me.
2. There’s a difference between single and lonely. Feeling comfortable being single will reduce the risk of falling into the wrong relationship for the sake of being in a relationship.
For at least a month after my break up, I undoubtedly felt lonely. I lost my partner in crime, my confidant, my close friend. I was convinced that being single was necessarily synonymous with being lonely. On countless occasions in my brand new city I encountered a restaurant, gelato shop, bar, or tea house and thought “What a shame. That place would be perfect for a romantic date.”
Over time, the loneliness aspect of being single dissipated and I finally learned that single and lonely are two totally different states of being. I began to see the city as a place filled with opportunity for me rather than filled with missed opportunities for a non-existent us. Choosing to be single forced me to learn how to be single without being lonely. It didn’t take long before I realized I wasn’t itching to find a new relationship to fill a void. I found fulfillment with myself and with my friendships. As a result, I chose not to go on dates with individuals I may have agreed to date in the past. I became more able to analyze compatibility from a more objective place. I wasn’t clouded by the desire to be coupled for the sake of overcoming loneliness because I was no longer lonely.
3. There is great value in pursuing individual hobbies and interests.
Again, no matter how independent I perceived myself to be in relationships, when in a relationship, my time was never 100% my own. I always had to be considerate of the schedule of my significant other. If there was a holiday from work or school, I always had to consult with another person about how we would spend the extra time. Obviously, while I was in a relationship, this did not feel like a chore. I was happy to consider another person’s schedule and plan vacation time with the person I cared about most. However, I learned that having complete control over my free time to be a very special thing.
Being someone that had always been in a relationship, the idea that I got to set the agenda every single day was new to me. But it didn’t take me long to become accustomed. It is awesome to be the one to decide what I get to do every day! I tried things I never would have thought to do or make the time for when I was still being mindful of another person’s schedule. I hiked a brand new trail in Northern California each month. I learned that I love spending time on water and learned how to row. I realized that I can make more than one person laugh when I became involved in improv at the local comedy spot. I realized that good night phone calls can be replaced with an intriguing book. I had the opportunity to try so many new things that I likely never would have tried had I been committed to another person’s schedule.
4. There is great value in maintaining platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex.
I was always that girl who only ever had close female friends. Definitely nothing wrong with that; I still love all my gal pals. But being single helped me discover why I never had male friends before. I reflected and realized that I dated the couple of male friends I managed to make in the past. In other situations, my boyfriend at the time preferred that I did not maintain close relationships with other men.
Choosing not to date forced me to maintain nothing more than friendships with the new men I met. As a result, I ended up establishing close friendships with four great guys. I have found it to be very fulfilling to have platonic, respectful relationships with members of the opposite sex. My friendships with these men are based on actual connections and common interests rather than attraction. Friendship with the opposite sex has given me a chance to learn more about male perspective and has actually taught me a great deal about what I’d like in a future partner.
5. Priorities and life goals can be made without conscious or subconscious influence from anyone else.
I understand that even the best relationships necessarily involve compromise. And I know that to reap the benefits of a happy, committed relationship I cannot live life exactly as I have planned it on my own. However, during my time alone I was able to truly reflect on my personal and professional goals. Without consciously or even subconsciously factoring another person’s desires I was able to engage in deep self-exploration. I was free to ponder future career moves without thinking about how it would impact another. I could explore different cities and see them as potential homes without worrying about whether a significant other would like it or be able to move there with me one day. There is value in knowing exactly what I want from life separate from another person. I believe I’ll be better able to assess compatibility with a future partner this way and better evaluate what aspects that can happily be compromised.
My year spent unattached was certainly not always easy. But it was absolutely worth it.
I spent 365 days single. I cannot say that every single day was a beautiful learning experience. It was really hard work sometimes. There were many days that I missed the comforts of a supportive relationships and the feeling of being in love. But I can honestly say that I am a better person for pushing through. I learned things I probably would not have had I found myself in another committed relationship sooner. Each day spent on my own has helped equip me to enter into a relationship as a better person than I was one year ago.
If you’re considering taking some time away from dating and relationships but are unsure, let this serve as my endorsement and encouragement. You can do it. You won’t regret it. You’ll learn more than you can imagine.