10 Things I Learned About Love In 10 Years Of Being Single

“I can’t believe you’ve been single for 10 years — there’s nothing wrong with you.”

My date wasn’t aware, but she had just said the most touching thing I’d heard in a long time. My long-term singleness used to be something I kept a secret. I was worried I’d be thought of as inexperienced, clueless, or a kind of modern-day Virgin Mar..ky? But I’ve come to realize I’m more switched on than I give myself credit for.

I mean, here we were, sprawled out on a picnic blanket I had purchased specifically for this date (but also intentionally dirtied so it didn’t look brand new). Apparently the key is to be keen. But not too keen. PUA bullshit aside, here’s 10 insightful things about love and romance I’ve picked up over the last decade.

1. Relationships take work to work

A partner isn’t something you just grab and plonk in a spare spot like a houseplant. Okay, that makes keeping plants alive sound deceivingly simple. Houseplants and relationships both require tending to, otherwise they wither and die. No relationship is just great by default. Like a `rockin body on the beach, there’s a lot of work required behind the scenes. Realizing this has made me feel more comfortable with my long-term singleness. As the truth is, with so much on my own plate, I just haven’t been in a position to properly care for anyone else. Because in classic Scorpio style, when I’m in, I’m aaaaalllll in. For relationships to flourish, we have to have space in our lives and the energy and time to give. Until then, houseplants and pet rocks are a better options.

2. Labels don’t define you

While I haven’t officially called anyone my partner, I wouldn’t say my life has been void of meaningful connections. Despite my history of sending sexy selfies (got to give the people what they want), I’ve always had a primary drive for emotional intimacy. This has meant, even in the absence of labels, that there have still been connections. It’s not about the language used, rather the feelings shared. You can spend however long swimming in the shallow end or you can dive deep right away. Even some flings have left a lasting impact on me, and I genuinely hope I’ve done the same in return.

3. Love shouldn’t be possessive

In his book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck defines love as “the extension of oneself for another’s spiritual and personal growth.” He asserts that love is commonly possessive and conditional — which it shouldn’t be. “I love you… as long as you stay with me and love me back.” This is definitely a confronting thought. But think about it. If you really loved someone, their best interests and wellbeing would be at the top of your wishlist. And sometimes this involves the opposite of what you want. It might even mean letting go of them altogether. I had a friend demonstrate this by encouraging her fiancé to move states for an employment opportunity. As painful as it was, they knew their best interests lay in different states for the time being. I personally came to understand this only after separating with someone. Eventually, it was no longer the thought of being with her that made me happy, but rather the thought of her just being happy. This was completely unconditional.

4. Chemistry is hard to define but easy to feel

After swiping through enough online dating catalogs, we tend to get a good idea of what catches our eye — our type. This makes sense. But at the end of the day (or night ayeee), it’s not just about the boxes someone ticks off on paper, but rather the butterflies that escape from your mouth every time they open theirs. This is why it’s worth occasionally branching out and trying different types of people. Chemistry can be a weird thing to wrap your head around. But if you drop into your body, you’ll know if it’s there.

5. Romantic isn’t the only kind of love

Maybe this is a consolation prize for the big cuddly bear I haven’t won yet — but there are other kinds of love. If you consider love to be the losing of one’s self, the dissolution of one’s boundaries, you can definitely experience this in other ways. There’s love for family, friends, hobbies, animals (including pet rocks), and of course, one’s self. I have family that support me to the end of the earth, friends that share so much with me, and hobbies—from fitness, writing, music, and binge-eating—that I throw myself into wholeheartedly. They all enrich my life and give me those warm and fuzzy feels. Especially self-love. It tends to take the most work, but it’s the most rewarding.

6. There’s no set script

Rom coms, reality tv, social media, and even Shakespeare gives us distorted ideas of what love looks like. (When was the last time someone swallowed poison for me — amirite?) However, from the people I’ve met and their stories — from a friend who met someone on the other side of the world through Instagram and then dated them for a year before meeting in person, to another that lives with their partner but doesn’t share the same bedroom — I’ve realized that how a relationship works is ultimately between those involved to decide.

This might mean never getting married, having kids, or even moving in together. Sometimes you break up and then get back together. Sometimes shit happens and you work through it. Other times, all ties are cut. Maybe it’s an open relationship. Maybe it’s not. We have to run with what works, not what everyone else is doing. Trying to conform to others’ ideas can just strain and snap what you’re already building.

7. People come packaged

We like to think of new relationships as new chapters. But the truth is old storylines still keep running. People come with baggage. Whether it’s from previous relationships or their upbringing, patterns will play out. No one walks to the later stages of life without getting some bruises, scratches, and shit on their shoes. The good news is that intimate relationships can provide a safe place to unpack, heal, and scrape off what you need to. In addition to baggage, people also come with circumstances. This can include anything from having a difficult family life, unusual work schedules, or complicated health conditions. When we make people part of our lives, we also make their lives part of ours.

8. There is no “right time”

The main reason I’ve been out of dating for so long is because I thought I had to first have all my shit sorted. I believed I had to have all aspects of my life — my career, mental health and location — neatly arranged. Then I’d find a partner to perfectly plonk into a spare spot like a potted plant. There’s some logic here. But the shit sorting, the self-work, it never really stops. So by waiting for the right time, we risk running out of time all together. #ForeverAlone

My mentality now is to just be honest about where I’m at and where I want to go and see if anybody wants to jump aboard this train. Hopefully I’ll find someone who choo-choo chooses me. And together we can keep doing our own work and sorting side by side with the added bonus of support and sex.

I’ll note that there definitely is a kind of ‘being ready.’ And it involves feeling emotionally open, comfortable within one’s self, and deserving of someone else. Because I wasn’t, I had unknowingly put up walls and pushed some great people away over the years.

9. It’s okay being single

Some people treat being single like an STI. It definitely has its perks. I’ve relocated three times in recent years. I book holidays and make plans with no second thought and generally do whatever. Relationships aren’t something to rush. Robin Williams said you can feel lonely in a crowded room and that also applies to being with the wrong person.

Rushing means risking picking incompatible partners, lowering your standards, or just giving off a needy vibe. I remember purchasing a book in Nepal, Be Love Now by Ram Dass. The woman at the counter said to me: “If you want love, you have to give it. Be it.” So that’s what I try to embody. Otherwise, if you believe having a relationship is an essential requirement for your happiness, you’ll possibly live forever feeling unhappy and wither like a neglected pot plant.

10. It’s worth waiting for

Unlike the other points, this isn’t something I know for sure. But I believe it. I once lived with a couple that spent six hours a night watching Gogglebox and Masterchef in silence while scrolling social media on their phones. Blegh. It really put me off of relationships. But I also see many people doing it right. They reflect this description, which I believe captures what relationships should be about:

“Sharing yourself with someone doesn’t mean just physically occupying the same area. It doesn’t mean exchanging facts with one another. It means opening up about your values, desires, feelings, and dreams. It means exposing your shame and insecurities and doubts and fears. It means living with somebody on an emotional plane, inhabiting that same heart-space together because that’s the one thing we can’t ever achieve by ourselves.” – Mark Manson

And there’s my 10 things. This whole love thing might be biology tricking us to bonk, an excuse for shitty reality tv shows, and a way for dating apps to sell me “super likes.” But like world peace, I think it’s an ideal that keeps us hopeful, going… and swiping. Believing in it brings out the best in me. I haven’t built no Taj Mahal, but I’ve pulled cunning pranks, written poems, learned to dance, written music, and even preformed stand up comedy all in the pursuit of this four-lettered word. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

I’m the ‘Boy Under the Bridge’ on a journey to the brighter side.

Keep up with Ricky on Instagram and boyunderthebridge.com