How Taking A Year Off From Dating Helped Me Find Myself Again
Deciding to take a year off dating at the age of 32 was a very daunting decision to make.
Did I really want to delay finding the right person when most of my friends were close to engaged or married?
But what I considered even scarier was imagining myself jumping into yet another toxic relationship, wasting more of my time and further damaging my mental health.
There’s a famous phrase often quoted that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I had realized I was doing the same thing over and over with different men yet always hoping for a different result. I kept repeatedly dating men who were emotionally unavailable hoping that I would somehow be able to change them, and of course, I never could.
Each time these relationships ended I would be devastated. I romanticized these on and off relationships I had by comparing them to the toxic romances on TV. I would watch Blair and Chuck on “Gossip Girl”, Carrie and Big on “Sex and the City”, and be convinced that these passionate on and off relationships that we rooted for were just like my scenario and in the end, everything would work out between us, but it never did.
After a particularly bad breakup, I finally had enough this time. I felt like my entire identity had been erased and I was no longer that fiercely independent, quick-tongued girl I had always been but now a broken girl with no self-esteem.
I didn’t want to be a victim anymore. I didn’t want to be the girl whose self-worth depended on the opinion of the person she dated. It was time to take control of my life and figure out why I kept falling for emotionally unavailable men.
I knew I would never be able to do that if I jumped right into another relationship as that would be similar to putting a bandage over a hole of a sinking ship just so that I could float longer in my damaged vessel.
I didn’t want a temporary fix, I wanted permanent solutions and I knew that a dating sabbatical was the answer. I needed to take a long, hard look at myself and my past in order to help me with my present and my future.
I knew I couldn’t do this alone so I made it my mission to find a therapist and to stick with it.
I realized that finding the right therapist is a lot like dating as you’re not always going to connect with the first therapist you meet and it sometimes requires meeting more than one. It’s also important to build enough trust to open up and make progress by attending multiple sessions. With the right therapist though, magic can happen. She helped me take the focus off the men in my life and onto myself, which is what I realized I should have been doing all along.
It was no longer about men, it was about me.
Shifting the focus to myself meant rebuilding my sense of self. I was so used to walking on eggshells to avoid breakups or fights that I realized I hadn’t been my authentic self for years and basically forgot who I was. I made a concerted effort to discover my former self and strangely enough, it started with music.
In my last relationship, our music taste was very different and we would often listen to what he liked. So I made a point to spend my nights playing music that I love, discovering new songs and creating playlists that made me feel good without caring what anyone else would think.
Rediscovering my music taste created an entire shift in my life and lead me into being curious about what else I was passionate about. I realized I wanted to go back to university and study to become a counselor. I found my love of writing again, something I had given up years ago, and I even discovered new passions that I never thought to pursue before.
I finally had the space to think about what I really wanted out of life and what I had to offer.
I realized that not only had I been dating all this time without really knowing myself but I had been dating without really thinking about what I truly wanted out of a partner. I wrote down all of the things I wanted in a partner and what would be considered deal-breakers. It felt empowering to put it down on paper as it made me feel that once I was ready to date again, I’d be able to sift more easily through who would be a good match for me and who wouldn’t.
I also thought about what made me a good partner. Would I date me?
It was uncomfortable to look at my shortcomings but I needed to navigate the areas where I felt I was thriving and the areas that needed work. From doing this, I realized I needed to take better care of my health, be more organized, and be more responsible in other aspects of my life.
Once these areas started to improve, I noticed I started to feel more confident overall.
Once I was able to get my self together, I was able to foster other relationships in my life.
I then realized while it was great to do all this self-work, life is better with a solid team and that doesn’t need to come from a romantic relationship.
I had spent so much time with my former partner and dealing with the breakup that I didn’t see the overwhelming amount of love and support that was surrounding me all along from friends and family.
Realizing this allowed me to forge stronger connections with the people I had been neglecting and made me realize how important it is to foster these relationships whether I’m single or not.
Now that I have completed my year of being single, I’ve learned I really love myself. I went from being codependent to independent again with a solid routine that includes consistently carving out time for my hobbies, my friends and family and most importantly, for myself.
I look at dating as a fun bonus to my life where anyone that I do date is just a nice addition and with or without them, I’m still whole.