Several years ago, when I was living in NYC, I met a bunch of women who were doing this “year of no dating” thing.
No sex, no crushes, no seduction—just showing up in the world as a platonic sister to all. No hopeful texting, no “will he kiss me or won’t he,” no fantasizing about anyone sparkly and new.
At first, I was horrified to hear that people were doing this on purpose. Why deny yourself the life-changing power and magic of falling in love? The prospect of intentionally abstaining from romance was as inconceivable to me as sobriety is to an active alcoholic. Love is what got me through! It seemed like agreeing to live life without anything nice—like back rubs or vacation.
But as it goes with most things that horrify/fascinate us, I found that the fear inside me was turning into curiosity, and then curiosity started edging toward willingness to try it out.
I talked to these gorgeous, capable, satisfied single women, and listened to their stories. Before I knew what I had decided to, I’d set a date to stop dating.
That meant calling it off with the brooding blonde man from Boston who I started seeing in order to numb the pain of my recent divorce. It meant not filling my self-worth meter with the affections of someone new. It meant showing up to social gatherings committed to going home alone.
Every night. For a year.
Something inside me screamed and cried and seriously doubted that I could make it and that’s when it hit me—I had been using love as a substitute for self-worth.
Why be alone if it meant doubting I was worthy of someone’s love, anyone’s love? Why should I have to face that?
I hadn’t been sans-crush since middle school. I’d been bookending relationships since high school. My heart was like a grocery list: I need to get Sean. Nope, Tommy. Nope, Elisha. Nope, Jimmy. Nope, Dave. Nope, Allison.
Relationships fueled me to the point that I didn’t know what else I could run on. And I didn’t know any of this until I put them all down.
When I quit dating, I experienced serious withdrawal. First, from Boston guy, then from my ex-husband, then from the affair I’d had at the end of my marriage. Like layers of an onion, back and back and back, until one day I felt cleaner than I’d ever felt before. I felt fresh, light, open, new, and me. Those ghosts just weren’t with me anymore.
I felt myself in a fullness of presence that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t been able to feel while I was pushing around a shopping cart full of romantic yearning and unprocessed relationships. Taking serious time off allowed me to pick everything up out of that cart one at a time, look at it for what it was, and put it back.
I didn’t just walk away from my cart for a new one, or burn down the store. I did the work in a way that you can only really do when you’re single for a long stretch of time.
An amazing thing happened during that time—I came to realize that I could access the gifts of “a year of no dating” any time I needed it. While I don’t think everyone needs to take a whole year each and every time, I do recognize how valuable it is to take some time. A significant amount of time, meaning: you have to look at what’s in your cart.
What have you been pushing around? Or has it been pushing you? Are you tempted to abandon the cart, burn down the store, or (what I believe my most recent ex is doing) just add another beautiful, shining, heart-expanding item to the pile?
Don’t get me wrong; relationships are great. They are powerful teachers and offer us so much deep joy and growth and understanding. But until you’ve really known what it is to find that joy, growth, and understanding without the catalyst of a new relationship, I think that part of you will always remain unknown to yourself. Like a forgotten drawer or corner, it piles up with the detritus of what you haven’t unpacked, and you—not to mention your future relationships—will have to navigate around it forever.
My last boyfriend and I broke up five months ago, and I’m healing. My work now is to be single again. For a while. I need time and space to make sure that I continue rebuilding my life without the influence of my next “big relationship.” I need to get my new business off the ground. I need to continue to work the steps in my recovery program. I need to finish nursing the wounds my last relationship left in me, and I need time to further understand why I said yes to that relationship when both of us knew it was going to be a struggle. Most of all, I need time—real, seasons-passing time—to get used to my life’s rhythms as an unpartnered person (though I might not choose to be totally celibate this time around!).
When I meet my next serious partner, I want to be as free and healed-up as possible, to have had time to process not just the breakup with my most recent ex, but the overarching patterns in my series of adult relationships. I owe that to myself, and my next partner gets it as a side benefit of choosing someone as wise and mature as me, ha!
It’s been difficult to watch my last two exes move right into their next big things, but no one can be the arbiter of how other people are doing it. I’m sure it feels as right to them to move on quickly as it does to me to slow that train to a halt.
I believe there’s power and strength in solo time, and I’m amazed that it took me so long to figure that out.
So if you’re afraid, or curious, or willing, take your time. Try it out. Say no for now, if even part of you thinks that you could use a break.
Find your wholeness before you find your next love. It will serve you for the rest of your life.
Author: Jessica Kaufman
Image: Elephant Journal/Instagram; Noel Foglia/Flickr
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
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