So many people dread the single life. For a while, so did I. If I wasn’t dating someone, I felt less valuable. My friends didn’t help. I don’t blame them, because that’s how everyone thinks. Oh, you’re single. Frown. Hey, I know someone you might like!
If I wasn’t dating, then I would stalk coffee shops until someone asked me out. I was lucky, of course. It never took long. The problem: I was always dating. All throughout my 20s, I never took time to figure myself out. What I wanted. What made me happy.
You seem skeptical. Look, I’m not saying renounce romance forever and go live in a monastery the rest of your life. You can if you want. But that’s your call. I’m saying that sometimes you need time for yourself. Oceans of time. Like, an entire weekend by yourself. The irony? Sometimes you have to live the single life before you can date someone successfully.
I’ll give you plenty of reasons. First, the most superficial one: When you’re constantly hunting for love, you can look desperate. I know because I’ve been there. The moment a cute guy entered my sights, I would watch him. Creepy. I know. It doesn’t matter how attractive you are, if you give off the desperate vibe, they’ll run. Why? Because it shows that you aren’t comfortable with yourself. If you don’t like yourself, you’ll never survive a relationship. Those are full of commitment, risk, sacrifice, and other drags. Everyone has looming self-doubt, but too much of that makes you unfit to care for another person.
You have to like yourself. Or if you don’t like the word “like,” then you have to be okay with yourself. Understand you have faults and weaknesses, but also know your strengths. Know that your strengths and weaknesses will complement your partner’s.
Some friends and I stayed up late drinking at a conference recently. (I know. I do that a lot.) We talked about reachers and grabbers. A reacher is someone who dates upward. They bag someone they think is slightly out of their league. A grabber looks slightly downward. Grabbers can be a little insecure; they need the constant adoration of a reacher. As it happens, my friends and I agreed we were all grabbers.
Here’s the thing about being a grabber: You can’t date upward. I’ve tried. I’ve had some smokin’ boyfriends. It never lasted long, because I was too enamored. So enamored it was hard for me to argue with them, tease them, or even act like myself. I wanted to please them so badly I wound up acting like a little puppy all the time. They got bored with me. Dumped me.
The best thing that ever happened? I got crushed by the love of my life. The aftermath surprised me. I thought I’d die of heartbreak. But after a few days, a sense of relief filled my veins. Even delight. I would finish teaching on Thursday evenings and reach for my phone. Then I’d stop and say to myself, “Oh that’s right. I don’t have to call Ryan anymore. I can just go meet my friends downtown.” I could act normal, finally.
Most importantly, I stayed home and wrote whenever I felt like it, instead of going on dates or keeping Ryan company and putting my work second, or last. I finished my thesis and got some stories published. I applied for a PhD program.
A few months of quiet single time had results. Before I moved for my PhD, I did party a little bit. Some ex-boyfriends took interest in my new gravitas. Yeah, I still hung out with them sometimes. They’d latched onto my social group somehow. So one time a smaller group, four of us, went bar-hopping. It was an interesting night. After the first bar we started to trade kissing stories. For some reason, we just started actually kissing each other between bars, almost like a joke, except one of those jokes that’s really just an excuse to behave badly. I was leaving in a couple of weeks, so that probably emboldened me to take more risks. I figured I’d never see some of these people again. And Meg was so cute.
Anyway, the ex-boyfriend. I think his name was Scott. Not the one who broke my heart. He was more of a rebound. He led me outside our last bar around 2:30 am, looking distressed. He said, “I’m just wondering why we haven’t hooked up yet.”
I said, “I thought you dumped me.”
He stepped closer. “I think I fucked up. I’ve just been watching you all night. I didn’t know what I had.”
If this were some shitty self-help blog, I’d tell you I left him outside that bar to rot. Hah, not on your life. He was still good looking, and I didn’t give a fuck. I was blooming into a midnight hedonist. We made out on a bench right in front of a group of drunk undergrads, and twice more before I left town. No strings attached. I enjoyed his new demeanor toward me. All of a sudden, he was the reacher now.
I’ll also confess one of my sins: I met up with another guy I’d had a crush on for a while, at a department party. From there, we walked downtown to a pub. We drank a little and talked. He leveled with me. He said, “I’m engaged now. But I’ve liked you for a while.” We flirted against the backdrop of live music, kissed once in the alley, and then I went home to enjoy some selfie time.
Heads up, plot twist ahead: For the first time in my life, I started turning down offers from attractive guys if they didn’t seem right. They would chat with me, give me their number. We might meet for coffee, but if I didn’t feel a connection then I’d cut them loose. Finally, I felt real self-confidence. I’d always had interests and values outside of relationships. Now I recognized them, learned to put them first sometimes. God, this post is sappy. I’d better stop before I say something uplifting. Shit, too late: If you’re single, maybe the problem doesn’t rest with you. Maybe you haven’t met the right person. On the other hand, if you’re not happy with yourself then no relationship will change that.