All The Things I Learnt From Forcing Myself To Be Single For A Year

Hoo-boy. The big one. This is the big one.

It’s the first of January in 2014. My best friend awkwardly tags along with my boyfriend and I as we trek to a rocky beach, infamous among the local hipsters. I personally can’t stand the whole set up of the place, which is probably why it’s incidentally become the ‘Setting For At Least Two of My Major Break-ups’.

Long story short: after a series of tumultuous, stress-inducing, gut-wrenching fights, I finally gave in and ended things with that boyfriend. He claims it was as though I literally dumped him in the ocean, and in many ways, that’s exactly how it happened. When I emerged from the salty water, I did not feel cleansed, or relieved or lighter or even free. The stress of that short-lived relationship did more damage on my psyche than I realised. Like previous relationships before it, it would not end there. The emotional toll would linger like an unwanted nightmare, often for another 6 months, 9 months, sometimes even a year, through unwanted contact, emotionally abusive behaviour, guilt trips and more. I was tired of this routine.

My friends watched all of this unfold, knowing that it had only been a year prior to this that I had battled with another serious and drawn out break up that lasted longer than the relationship itself (patterns!) December was fast becoming the annual break up month for me. What it meant is that regardless of whether I was the one breaking hearts (usually), or if it was my heart being broken (that one fucking time), I always found myself on the shittier side of Christmas, getting inordinately drunk on whisky and wandering how I kept finding myself in these sad situations.

And so it was that on that day, on the first day of January 2014, I turned to my cousin and best friend Melissa and I declared:

‘One year. I’m taking one year off. I’m going to be single for a year’.

She laughed at me and said,

‘Yeah right, see you at your impromptu wedding in six months’

I wanted to HAW HAW at this, however she had a point. I often made these dramatic declarations and then a month later, some poor idiot would fall in love and I’d make excuses as to why I had to give them a chance, before tripping and falling into a spiral of never-ending male tears and me desperately and awkwardly patting them on the back and simultaneously trying to be free again.

And so I write this on the 22nd of December in 2014, fully confident that I have succeeded in my mission.

And here’s what I have learnt:

  1. You will not realise how liberated you are until that one day when you realise you haven’t thought about relationships or dating or anyone in particular for the last six weeks.

Then you will feel truly free. Those moments are rare. The ideas, the possibilities, the potentials, the flirting, the dates — all of this will still consume you, even if you try to avoid them, even if you make this promise to yourself. It will still be hard. It will still be painful. But those small pockets of liberation will make it all worth it. Just wait for those gasps of air and you’ll be breathing again soon.

  1. You will realise how much you don’t see your friends even in this state.

A lot of people like to claim that relationships impact friendships.

‘Oh we never see such and such ever since they did that thing where they fell in love and became really happy all of sudden and just disappeared, like what is up with that man?’ — and to this I say: be happy for them, you idiots! Love — when it’s real (and if they’ve disappeared in a state of fluttery happiness, let me tell you, that is as real as it gets) then you should congratulate them with the force field of a thousand magnets! BE HAPPY FOR THEM. The reality is that even in this state of forced singleness, I didn’t suddenly see all of my friends, or find myself with so much to do. My life was still exactly the same. It still came down to me to contact people, to make time for my friends and remember the people I wanted to have in my life. This is important to keep in mind. Don’t forget to maintain things. Plants, people, all of it.

  1. Dating is fucking hard.

I remember 2011 very clearly. I was a bloody trojan horse of dating. I was wheeled into their lives, only to surprise emerge in the early hours of dawn to attack their pulsating hearts. I was a nightmare unto every man. Most of them probably should have seen it coming, but I had discovered this liberated thing called, ‘oh hey I can date some of you jerks and not fall in love or want to be with you or ever have to see you again!’ It was a great time all round. And it was easy. I was getting asked out here and there. The problem was just deciding who was worth the time and who wasn’t.

ENTER 2014. Something has changed. What is it? That discerning process. This, ‘do I really want to spend six hours pretending to care about what this person has to say? thing. And it becomes really fucking difficult all of a sudden. Less and less people make the cut. Everyone is annoying. People you actually like or might be attracted to are either not available or wouldn’t notice you if you fell out of the sky and onto their plates. Are you wearing an invisibility cloak? What the hell is going on, when did this get so hard!

What you learn from this however, is how you still need to say no as often as you bloody well want. Do not feel obliged. Do not make massive concessions. Do not get desperate. Trust your gut instinct. Know what you want. Just because there are less options this is not more reason to whittle down and settle for one of those little stragglers. It’s even more incentive to keep saying no until you finetune what is is you bloody well want. It is hard, and you should probably not force it.

There could be a person out there whose eye you will catch and who will want to be with you in return. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s very fucking likely. Wait for that moment. Seriously. Whatever the moment is and however long it takes, it’s coming for you.

  1. Even in your darkest moments you will doubt yourself, you will believe you are incapable of loving or being loved.

You will see yourself as unworthy. This is false ego talking. Ignore that voice. It’s a liar. Most recently, towards the end of all of this, I began to have such massive doubts about myself. I didn’t know what made me ‘me’ anymore. I didn’t know why anyone would want to be me with me. Everything I had always thought about myself was cast aside. I even forgot momentarily that I had imposed this relationship ban on myself! I seemed to suddenly think that I had gotten to this point because I no longer had any choice or control. Instead it was just that my standards had gotten higher and I had been saying no to almost everyone. And even though that one guy I said yes to, eventually said no to me, that should count for nothing but a blimp on the horizon of this experience. No more importance should be attributed to that little bit of nothingness. Realising that is impossibly difficult. But it’s an important thing to remember. When they say no, there is a reason for it that has nothing to do with you. Accept it and move on your little tricycle of single power.

  1. It’s not just the high standards or the Official Year Off from dating that led you here. It’s the exhaustion of love and commitment.

The idea of being around someone for more than 24 hours, now induces a kind of tedium in me. I don’t know if that’s because a) I have not fallen in love this year or b) the last time I fell in love, I was delusional and naive and have since learnt my lesson or c) whether that is just how I am in general.

But I have now learnt to listen to that inner voice and to respect what my instincts are telling me. It doesn’t matter that you once felt this feeling of intense love before — the truth is you have not felt that way since then and you might never feel that way again. The important thing is to acknowledge those feelings for what they were at the time and then put them away forever. Whatever form it re-emerges in, this love thing, you will know it at the time and it will not be the feeling of ‘get the hell away from me and please stop talking to me and why are you even still here, ugh not another text message’, no that is the opposite of that.

  1. There is a difference between ‘Not Dating Anyone’ and ‘Dating Yourself’.

This year I did the former, not the latter. ‘There Was No One In My Life’ would have been the headline of the year, rather than the more important, imperative and actual goal of the year of ‘There Was No One But Fuck Yeah Because It Wasn’t About Them, It Was All About Me, Amen’. I wish I had spent half the time I spent worrying about being alone, actually spent worrying about myself — how to be better, how to deal with crisis, how to deal with stress, what was I doing with my career, am I even writing again? I kind of dealt with those things but not as much as I could have. I needed to be kinder to myself, give myself some much needed TLC, both the band and the acronym.

One of the most outstanding things I have always felt and noticed from the last time I was in love, was that I missed how I was when things were good. I missed the growth and development that a good relationship has on you. How you become a better person, how they help you grow and teach you new things and you genuinely feel like you come out the other end all the better for it. These are all traits you can still have when you Date Yourself. Realising that makes it all the easier to deal with your life.

  1. Loneliness is Powerful

Oh what a feeling- Loneliness (Toyota theme song jingle revised)

Look, loneliness is something I have felt most strongly while in good relationships. It’s something we all feel, all the time. And there’s no band-aid solution here. It is part of life. The biggest thing for me is being away from family and friends. I feel loneliness in that most strongly. The loneliness of not having a partner is almost incidental in comparison. 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, that is the most powerful feeling. Embracing your loneliness. Living side by side with it. Acknowledging it. Understanding it. It’s also a sign that you are capable of recognising that feeling — because you are stopping to hear the silence, because you are not throwing yourself into distractions or meaninglessness. You are looking for meaning and maybe not finding it and that’s okay. 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. How you rebuild, how you search for the right people to surround yourself with, or if that fails because there is genuinely absolutely no one, finding ways to make meaning anyway — to create something, to be driven by passion or something else that only you can access.

  1. Right After The Gut-wrenching Feelings of Devastation, The First Thought You’ll Have When You Learn About Your Ex-Bf’s New Girlfriend Will Be One Of Regret: ‘I have wasted this year because he won, he found someone first’

Of course, this is the most ridiculous thing you will ever think. But you will feel like you wasted time. You will feel like you woke up from a coma, and that invisible contract you thought you and all your closest ‘cool’ friends had unwittingly signed, had now been broken, that everyone had gone off and settled or done grown up things while you were out cold in your comatose and they forgot to send you the updated memo. You will question 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? My friends really do have great things going on, man I’m happy for them, BUT OH MY GOD DEATH IS AROUND THE CORNER AND NO ONE LOVES ME.

And instead, you need to acknowledge how these feelings have even come to pass. They are coming from a place of severe insecurity, self doubt and self loathing. A genuine place of fear. But that does not make them valid thoughts. It will simply take the attention of one young. attractive, sweet and caring individual, who thinks you are the sexiest person alive, to suddenly debunk all of those thoughts in a heartbeat (thank you Sweet Baby Faced Boy Who Could Be The 6th One Direction Member And Who Gets Excited About Food And What Do You Mean He Speaks Spanish).

But look, regardless of whether someone does show up to the party armed with a bottle of your tailored VALIDATION POTION, the reality is that time is not wasted, there is no rush. You didn’t lose a year in the void. You actually figured out a few things. Mostly you figured out what you *DON’T* want and in so many ways, that’s more important than thinking you know what you do want. You actually have no idea because you haven’t met enough people yet. What are you doing reading this stupid thing, go out and meet people!

  1. Nothing Was Right This Year

Nothing was working out. Everything was falling apart. And in my utter moments of despair, I could have settled. I could have so easily settled. My God. I could have settled like a god damn English Colonial Settler grasping for any available square pocket of land with a tiny flag, land that did not belong to me, how dare I take it from the natives etc. etc. But I did not, no I did not, no sir no!

I mean sure, at one point I developed intense feelings for at least two very important people, but there was always reluctance from one or both parties, for strange and questionable reasons (we live together, I live far away, you’re my friend’s friend and I’m scared he’ll hate me if I date you, I’m really worried I might hurt you, I don’t even know who I am WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME GEEZ). And these are great reasons to be welcomed! Because if they were truly right in every way, you would not have to fight for it and those reasons to not date you would not exist.

Hell, I once made the excuse that someone was way too nice to me and so I was convinced he was a serial killer and I legitimately had to talk myself out of these thoughts. I am the queen of shitty, figment-of-the-imagination, excuses. There is a reason I keep making them that has nothing to do with truth about the other person. You have to see things from their perspective. You have to give people the benefit of the doubt. Everyone deserves a chance.

10.

“Someone can be madly in love with you and still not be ready. They can love you in a way you have never been loved and still not join you on the bridge. And whatever their reasons you must leave. Because you never ever have to inspire anyone to meet you on the bridge. You never ever have to convince someone to do the work to be ready. There is more extraordinary love, more love that you have never seen, out here in this wide and wild universe. And there is the love that will be ready.”

― Nayyirah Waheed

  1. I was never very good at relationships.

The hardest part of this year was looking at people who were good at them. People who made things work. Who sacrificed shit and put aside their stupidities and who made commitments to things and who persevered through the self doubt and the dramas and the tragedies. I had always thought I was good. I was a good girlfriend on paper and I did everything right. But I also did things so very wrong. In a way I had always acted exactly like my ex did when he broke my heart. All my relationships have been some kind of mega karmic revenge in that one moment. I had it coming and it fucking sucked. And for some reason I never really thought about what it meant to basically have done the exact same thing to everyone I had dated previously. The best thing you can do to rectify this is forgive yourself, forgive others and always, always, always aim for kindness in every situation. If you have acted with kindness, you have already won.

  1. When I was younger, I was almost 99% certain that the boys who were attracted to me were mostly attracted to my looks.

This is a really hard thing to reconcile with as an adult noticing such drastic changes to her body and her appearance. It makes you question your value, your worth and your sustainability as you get on. How will you meet new people going forward? What is your strategy here? I never bothered checking the fine print clause. Yeah sure, I probably hooked in some fish with my looks bait, but the only way to reel them is with something more, what kept them around or drove them crazy or made them pursue me really intensely, was intelligence. Not always, but it mattered to some, to the ones that should have counted. I was appreciated for my personality too — not always of course. But for a good portion of the time, yes. This is not something that has changed dramatically in this time. I am still more or less that person, I just don’t always feel confident enough to be her, to express her fully.

And it is not okay to suddenly dismiss years of cultivating that awesome person you really want to be, just because an ex boyfriend made that one comment about your thighs being too big, or another boyfriend said he wasn’t attracted to you anymore. Fucking forget those fucking comments they are as useless as Tony Abbott’s Ministry for Women.

You are a fucking mega babe, did you know that? Yes, you yes all of you (not you Tony, you’re an arsehole). Basically you have to start seeing your entire worth for the long haul. It’s not staring back at you on the surface. Dig deeper, there’s a you in there that deserves the right love.

  1. The reason I did not emerge from that salty breakup ocean back in January 2014, free and unencumbered, light as a feather or relieved, is that I had not yet learnt the art of letting go.

Sure I had in some ways let go of one or multiple toxic relationships from my life. But there is a difference between letting go of something obviously toxic, and letting go of everything you’ve been unwittingly holding onto for the last decade, things you didn’t realise were toxic. I don’t know that I have entirely let go of that thing now, but I am working on it. I am starting to recognise what my fists are still so tightly clenched around. Little things will grab you — like how the other night I met someone who intrigued me enough to captivate my attention for a few hours, a situation I didn’t entirely loathe. That was enough to keep me awake all night thinking about how different people inspire different things in us, people we never imagined could enter our lives, let alone have an impact on them.

And so the next day I walked with a different kind of purpose. I was no longer looking for one thing or for many things or looking to avoid things. I was simply free of expectation. I walked with open hands held high saying, I surrender to the void. I will let things happen and unfold naturally. I won’t hold them to weird standards or force things or analyse or obsess or cry or question or dwell on the past. I will let go. I will free myself. I will re-focus my energies on what matters. This at the very least, was the most important lesson of all.

Most of all I have learnt this:

‘Commitment is not the opposite of freedom, but the underpinning of unconditional love. Making a true commitment — to a partner, an organization, an ideal — is the most freeing thing one can do.’

This is true. But it’s about committing to real love and not some figment of your imagination.

Be smart, take no shit and above all else, be strong — show strength and just kill it in 2015.