Breaking up with my live-in partner a year ago was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
So when I read 10 Reasons Why it Sucks to Be Single, it made me reflect on the greatness of this phase of my single(ish) life.
I agree that dating can suck if you let it suck (I’ve spent a lot of time letting it suck). At 35, I’m finally at the point where I know how to rock my (‘dating’) life. By ‘rock’ I mean that it can be freaking fantastic, but I also mean that it can be rocky: uncomfortable, uncertain, unsettling.
It’s still scary, but I’m learning how to have less rocky moments, and to ride out the ones that happen.
So how did I get to this place? I could throw the usual phrases at you: ‘love yourself,’ ‘be open,’ ‘live/love your own life’, blah blah. Sure, these things are the basics, but I think that there are other questions that we need to be asking ourselves on a regular basis in our quest for truly fulfilling relationships.
It takes a willingness to reach out, to practice real compassion, to think outside of the box. Every day.
Some stuff I am learning:
Romantic relationships can happen without sex. True intimacy can exist between friends. It’s possible to have a good friendship and good sex together, without having a (deep/monogamous) commitment.
Love takes so many different forms, but sometimes we forget about this possibility because we traditionally place the most value on traditional (heterosexual/monogamous) romantic relationships, thereby devaluing other kinds. I’m not saying that everyone does this, but for the most part this kind of love is deeply engrained in most cultures as ‘true’ love, or real love, or the highest form of love.
As we focus on this we tend to not learn how to build other types of loving relationships that should be valued as equally.
2. How to know my own space.
I’ve always known that I need a lot of alone time/space, but now I understand how to take it and why I need it.
I am understanding now that good relationships offer you this space, even if it seems like an unconventional amount of space in the context of ‘dating’.
This can change and shift. But the point is that I’ve learned how to rest in the space between. I am learning how to be less attached and more loving. In fact, space allows me to be more loving.
3. How to examine relationship and personal needs before expressing them.
We are told that to have a healthy relationship we have to be able to express ourselves: our wants, needs, dreams. I’d gotten pretty good at identifying which needs/wants were things that I could get for myself, and which were things that I truly valued in a relationship. I wasn’t asking for too much. But it still didn’t work.
Some of these needs are perfectly valid (and I now have many of them met in a way better way). But I’m also realizing that some of the things I have been asking for are things that I only thought I wanted in a relationship.
So lately I’ve been challenging myself with deeper questions: is this something that I actually need, or that I’ve been taught to believe I need? Is this what I want out of a relationship, or is it something that I’m expected to want from a relationship?
4. The importance of not trying.
I tried to online date—really tried. But it felt like shopping to me. It felt like one or both people were too focused on the outcome and not enough on the present. It felt like I was ‘buying in.’
I need to be face to face to figure out if there is a ‘click.’ We don’t even have to talk much, but we do have to spend a bit of time together in a comfortable kind of environment, and have a reason to see each other again.
As for relationships, there is only so much talking and figuring out and trying to ‘keep’ a relationship going that one can do. If both people are consistently frustrated and ‘trying’ to work things out, if there isn’t a true sense of peace and grace at least most of the time between two people…well, why?
I think that people push square pegs into round holes because it’s socially acceptable to stay together, and not to break up or divorce. I think that if we truly knew how to be happy this wouldn’t happen as often.
5. The relationship industry makes us miserable.
There is an entire industry (and elements of many industries) that is based on selling us relationship ‘norms.’ So long as we are willing to buy-in, there will always be other people making money off of our own relationship/dating assumptions and insecurities.
I’ve been there, done that, bought the book.
Admittedly, some of the books were somewhat useful, but my life is much richer now that I believe in my own ability to make my own rules.
6. Relationships are D.I.Y. projects.
Relationships are not about rules—they are about creation, evolution, building something amazing. They are always experiments.
Thinking of things this way can ease the pressure and keep the fun.
Variations from the norm might be related to gender identity, sexual preference, romantic ideas, friendships, frequency of interaction, why you see each other, mutual needs, geography…whatever. It’s about building what your heart feels is right and what works in your life.
7. How to go with the flow.
We tend to freak out about relationship changes and think that certain things are indicators of security: that (s)he has said ‘I love you,’ or maybe you have bought a condo together.
Shit happens. There will be heartbreak, separation, death—despite the purchase of the condo or ring or whatever. Relationships are naturally fluid and intimacy will wax and wane. Priorities and feelings shift.
When we figure out how to adjust to these changes instead of resisting them, everything is easier.
The ability of a relationship to sustain itself through ebbs and flows is an indicator that it is worth keeping.
8. Love relationships are not separate from the rest of life.
Admit it: how many times have you fallen in love and decided to predominantly spend most of your time with that one person? It’s a natural urge, and in some ways it feels wonderful.
I’ve definitely been prone to isolating myself, to ‘escaping’ into the relationship. Lately I’ve made a sincere effort to not do this at the expense of my other friends, hobbies, and most importantly my alone time.
I am seeing the value in having relationships with people that are a part of my life, which makes the relationships more about community rather than exclusivity.
9. Attachment is worth watching.
We all feel attachment—we are human. I’m paying attention to when and where and why I have moments of attachment and also aversion. It’s okay to be attached, it’s okay to want someone, or something, but it’s a good idea to step it back and understand why (sometimes) before or instead of diving in.
10. Reaching out is important.
I have to depend on myself for most things, and it’s a vulnerable thing to have to step out and ask someone for help, especially when that help is emotional. When you are in a relationship, you normally ask your better half for help with most things. Having to reach out further can sometimes feel awkward, but it’s an important thing to learn to do.
It takes a long time to unlearn a lot of the things that we’ve been socialized to think and feel about how relationships are supposed to go. We really do have a choice in how to build and maintain meaningful relationships.
So it’s important to be super patient, lead with the heart and stay curious. Open each day with a question.
Oh, and don’t forget to have some fun while you’re at it!
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Assist Ed: Dana Gornall/Ed: Sara Crolick
Image: Kal Loftus/Unsplash