All the things I learned from being single for a year

Few people took me seriously when I declared my intention to be single for a year. And why should they? It was a dramatic one. I made this declaration after a break up that literally took place while swimming at a rocky beach, allowing me to simultaneously say that I dumped him in the ocean as well as pretend momentarily that I was in the mafia.

When I emerged from the salty water, I did not feel cleansed, relieved, lighter, or even free. As I lay there on the towel, dripping water on the hot rocky surface, I knew the stress of that short-lived relationship did more damage on my psyche than I had initially realized. In that moment I was so tired of this routine from all past relationships: The dating and breaking up cycle had really taken it out of me.

And so it was on that first day of January 2014 that I made a silent, and then very loud, promise to myself. I would take 365 days, one whole year and dedicate it to being in a long-term relationship with only one person: myself. Here’s what I learned.

At a certain point, you’ll forget what it’s like to be consumed by relationship questions.

This took me a total of eight months. But when it happened, I wasn’t able to remember the last time Ithought about another person. I was in the moment, in the now and consumed by life – my own life. Those moments are so rare. Liberating my mind from the constant worries of dating allowed me to feel free to dream and drift and focus on myself.

It’s still takes work to meet up with your friends

People often claim that relationships impact friendships, that having a partner means that friendships get put on the back burner. But even without the distraction of another person, in my state of forced singleness I still had to make time for the people in my life. I also began to appreciate how hard it can be to find the right person, and so when my friends disappear into a bottomless pit of love, I was truly happy for them.

Dating gets both harder and easier once you know what you want

In my early twenties, I thought dating was a great time all round. You had options, and you were open to meeting all kinds of people. The problem was just deciding who was worth the time and who wasn’t. In my late twenties, and something has changed. The discerning process has set in. The “do I really want to spend six hours pretending to care what this person has to say” question starts to float into my head. I found it harder to meet people, because my have skyrocketed. I know what I want now, as opposed to before, when I would have ordered one of each on the menu.

I learned that this is OK, even something to welcome. Say no. Do not feel obliged. Do not make concessions. Do not force it. Do not settle for one of those stragglers or whittle down your options. Trust your gut instinct. Know what you want and see it as a chance to keep saying no until you fine-tune what you want (if you don’t yet know).

You realize that it’s worth waiting for the right person

The difference is in trusting your instincts and what feels right. Maybe you’ll never have that same feeling of intense love again. Most likely you will, but it will be different. Whatever form it re-emerges in, it won’t wear you down, but will strengthen you in a way you never thought possible. When it’s right—really, truly, right—you’ll know, and it’ll be spectacular.

You need to be nice to yourself

My year wasn’t one where “there was no one in my life.” It was  “the year when it wasn’t about anyone else; it was all about me; please pass the potatoes!” I wish I had spent half the time I spent worrying about being alone actually worrying about myself : how to deal with stress, how to be alone, how to manage my career? I needed to be kinder to myself, and give myself some much-needed TLC (both the band and the acronym). A good relationship can help your development into becoming a better person, and being the person you want to be when you meet someone you want to be with.

You learn to live with loneliness, and that it’s something everyone feels

We all feel it, even in good relationships. Loneliness is the strongest indicator that you are alive. Learning to live with this feeling, not to overcome it or overpower it, but to gently usher it in like a small duck coming in from a pond, is the most powerful feeling. Embracing your loneliness, living side by side with it, acknowledging it, and understanding it is so empowering. It’s okay to sit with yourself in that silent solitude and still try to listen for the music. What you do next is what matters.

Your exes don’t win because they found someone else first—it’s not a competition

When my ex started dating again, I felt a lot of things. I questioned everything. Was it the right decision to cast love aside for a year? Did I miss out on something? How can I suddenly start again? How did my ex beat me to it? Will no one ever love me again?

Grab those thoughts and throw them in a  sack and light the sack on fire and throw the fire somewhere that won’t pose a threat to homes or humans. Those thoughts are coming from a place of self-doubt. You didn’t waste time with your ex. You figured out things you wouldn’t have realized otherwise. Life isn’t a contest to find your mate and settle down. We all go at our own pace.

You’ll reconsider how you want to be in a relationship

It’s easy to be a good partner on paper. To tick all the right boxes, observe all the right occasions, and then wonder why things didn’t work out. In that year, I did a lot of reflecting. Sometimes I didn’t stop and consider how the other person felt until it was too late. All you can do is see it, forgive yourself, and always, always, always aim for kindness in every situation. If you have acted with kindness, you have already won.

You’ll learn the crucially important skill of letting go

It’s a matter of unclenching your fists ever so slightly and walking with a different kind of purpose, one where you know you can let things happen and unfold naturally. Don’t force it, obsess over it, cry or question or dwell on the past. Learn to re-focus your energies on what matters. You matter. So be the most attractive you’ve ever been by falling in love with yourself all over again.

Sheree Joseph is a writer who lives on the Internet. She specializes in digital content, social media and cheese. She blogs at Tiny Thought Revolution and tweets here for kicks.

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