This is The One Thing That’s Been Holding Me Back from Dating
I broke up with my last significant other four years ago.
Yes, four years. I haven’t been in a relationship in four years.
I wish I could say I dated around a little, but I really didn’t. After we broke up I was pretty devastated. I spent most of my time journaling, hanging out with my friends, and finding comfort in books and music. Dating again was the last thing I was concerned about. I just wasn’t ready. I had little crushes, people I’d see and be attracted to, or people I’d consider dating just because I liked the idea of us together. But nothing stuck. In the end, I just wasn’t over my ex, and I wasn’t ready to get back out there yet. I had not fully healed.
And so, stuck in a rut of solitude and heartache, I decided to make myself heal. If I wasn’t interested in dating, I was never going to find someone who could help me get over my ex. So I had to do it myself.
I made more friends. I spent more time with them. I stepped out of my comfort zone. I wrote a lot. I made music. I practiced a lot of self-care. I developed lots of intellectual hobbies and dove into my academics. I established a career for myself in my field — education. I started my own business. I produced a lot of poetry. I travelled. I wrote some more. I reflected. I built a stronger relationship with my family. I sat outside in the sun and gave myself time to think. I laughed. I cried. I gave myself permission to feel.
And somewhere along the way, I healed.
It happened about two years after I broke up with my ex. I was happy about it. It felt good to finally heal. It took time, but I was okay now. And the best part? I had done it all on my own. I hadn’t used another relationship to bring myself back to where I started. I used my own independence as a way to find myself again — and not only did I heal, but I came out stronger. I had more self-respect. I knew what I wanted out of life and out of my new relationships. I learned to appreciate what I had and to be grateful for the little things. I developed confidence in myself and my abilities. I saw myself as one person, capable of achieving my dreams — not as a lonely girl who was missing her other half (which was how I had previously looked at the situation, before I actually faced it).
Even after I healed, though, I wasn’t ready to get back out there. I realized that I liked working on myself. I liked self-improvement. I liked being with my friends and having time for all of my hobbies and being academically successful. I liked not worrying about what people thought of me and not being preoccupied with the prospect of another relatinship. I liked looking out for myself without another person to connect with and check in with and devote much of my time towards. I liked traveling alone and meeting new people with no strings attached. It felt freeing, to say the least, and I absolutely adored it.
This phase of my singleness lasted another two years, until this autumn. When I had my first legitimate crush since I’d broken up with my ex.
This new crush is a cool guy. He is nothing like the guys I used to like. He is nothing like who I imagined I’d ever want to end up with. But that makes him all the better. He is goofy and unique. He shares my weird sense of humor. He makes me laugh every single day and he listens intently to whatever I have to say. I listen to him, too. We spend our nights watching TV together without even paying attention to the show we’re watching — simply because we enjoy each other’s company. My friendship with him is the fastest that I have ever clicked with someone, and the first time I have ever realized that I wanted a friendship to turn into something more, something long-term and serious. He truly is the coolest person I have ever met. I want to be with him more than I expected I was going to.
But then a thought occurred to me: can I even do it? Can I be in a relationship again?
The night I realized I had feelings for him, I sat in my bed and stared at the ceiling. I didn’t feel capable of being romantic with someone again. I’ve been single for so long that I’ve learned to live without having any sort of relationship aspects in my life. I’ve learned to live as a fiercely independent woman.
And right then and there, I understood what was truly holding me back from dating: I’ve been single for so long that it has become part of my identity.
Because I developed my huge sense of independence shortly after my relationship, I have learned (probably incorrectly) to credit my single status for my blissful independence. Every time I thought of a relationship within these last four years or considered a crush or wondered if I’d be happier with someone else, I’d stop and remind myself that I love being single because I love my independence. Being in a relationship would negate all of the progress that I’ve made so far.
But would it really?
And the answer is no. Being in a relationship and being fiercely independent and self-respecting are not mutually exclusive. It’s totally possible for the two to coexist in life. But I’ve just lived so long as a single person, learning to appreciate my independence and trace it back to my singleness, rather than realizing that my self-development happened because of me. Not because I was single. It was because I did this. It was important to me, and I’ve done something truly amazing for myself — single or not.
I’m stuck in this trap, fearing that a new relationship will erase the progress I’ve made so far and take away my happy independence that I worked so hard for.
And it’s a legitimate concern, I guess; it’s just not realistic. I need to learn to separate my progress and my self-improvement from my relationship status. Because the truth is, at the end of the day, I am who I am, regardless of whether I’m single or taken or dating or even married. If I’ve come this far only to believe that a relationship would take away my independence and erase my progress, then maybe I never really grew at all. Because by now, with everything I have done and all of the mountains I have climbed to get to where I am, I should be confident in myself and my ability to be exactly who I am while still having someone else by my side.
So it’s going to be difficult. I can’t just silence this false notion that I have in my head. But what I can do is work on it. What I can do is remind myself that this is who I am, this is what I’ve done, and no matter which steps I take next in life, this happiness and respect is here to stay. Because I won’t let anything take it away.
So if you’re like me and you feel like this, too: my advice to you is go for it. Welcome love into your heart. Realize that part of self-respect is going after the things that make you happy. And if love — and loving someone — makes you happy, then it’s in your best interest to pursue that and to let the love in. Let yourself feel everything authentically. Don’t hold yourself back. Strength comes from the inside, and once you have it, it’s there for good. Adding someone else to the equation won’t take away from what you have already built for yourself.
So I’m going to dive in and see where I end up. I’m the person that I want to be, and I’m going to keep working at that. Only this time, I might have someone that I love by my side. And together (if he’s up for it) we will let the love in and be happy.
My relationship status doesn’t dictate my health and happiness; I do. And that’s pretty empowering.