I used to feel differently. In fact, for the better part of my post-adolescent years, I felt compelled to be partnered up. After all, our society — from old media to social media — inundates us with the notion that being alone is somehow a mark of failure…that it’s an indication of your unlikability, your unworthiness. And if it wasn’t challenging enough pre-COVID, a year of social distancing (I mean who came up with that term?) has made it damn near impossible to start a new relationship.
Following my 2016 divorce, I didn’t wait for the ink to dry on the divorce papers before I was signed up for and searching at least four different online dating sites. I was not doing this for the reasons you may think. Through 11 years of marriage I never cheated — never even considered it. I loved my wife and had no interest in anyone else. I hadn’t wanted the divorce and felt completely disoriented, desperately lonely, and completely unloved when the marriage came apart. I believed that I needed to fill this void and fast.
During the subsequent two years, I met and dated several really great people. One relationship lasted almost a year.
In general, my experiences were good. Yet during the final dates of this post-divorce binge, with women who in every respect should have been excellent partners, I felt nothing…except relief when the dates were over. For a long time, I believed there was something wrong with me for feeling this way. Now I know that nothing was wrong with me. I just didn’t need to date. I didn’t need a partner. Moreover, I didn’t want a partner. At least not then and still not now.
Well, alright, maybe being single is — but I should still date, right? Wrong.
I had no desire to date. Why was I forcing this? Why did I feel compelled to do something that I was not enjoying?
I finally gave myself permission to be ok with being single and more importantly, to be ok with not dating until I actually wanted to date. Which maybe next week or maybe never.
For the first time in my life, I realized I didn’t need a partner to feel fulfilled. I realized I was absolutely comfortable being by myself. In my own skin.
My serial dating following the divorce was the finale of a lifetime spent trying to avoid reckoning with the idea of being alone. It was a desperate gambit to fill the gaping emotional void left by my divorce. As a married guy, I assumed I’d never have to go down that road again (the lonely road) …yet suddenly I was cast out and I flailed.
Yet at the end of that road — almost as if a switch had been flipped — I felt content alone.
I assumed (and still assume) that I will eventually want to begin dating again — but it’s been more than two years, and I remain content. Sure, I miss the highs of a relationship, and there are times when I’d like some companionship — especially during this year of isolation. But not often. And the painful lows of relationships are still fresh in my mind — those are thankfully not part of my life anymore. I am older now and I realize that the highs and lows are inevitable in any partnership — and will accept that if I find the desire to try it again.
Moreover, I am willing to admit that there are times when not being in a relationship is very much like being on anti-depressants. Everything is dulled — the emotional spikes of a relationship are gone…but there is a flip side. For the most part, I feel content, and rarely feel lonely.
I am not anti-relationship. Not by a long shot. My point is that it is clear to me that for much of my life I pursued relationships for the wrong reasons: to feel needed, for sex, to fill a void, to avoid being with myself…and the right reasons were hardly considered.
Now I am, for the first time in my life, comfortable with myself.
I am for the first time in my life capable of entering a relationship (when and if I decide to seek one out) for the right reasons:
1) To be a good partner;
2) To share experiences;
3) To practice compromise in order to sustain the partnership;
4) To be compassionate, emphatic, and caring.
Give Yourself Permission to Be Alone
If you take away anything from this essay, take this:
If you are content being single, then it is perfectly ok to be without a partner. Maybe for a year or so, maybe longer.
I recall being on a date with a woman who, after a divorce, took a year off from dating. At the time I thought “hmm…that’s a good idea…maybe I should try that…get my head together…” Then went on to feel horrified by the notion. I’d be lonely. I’d be bored. Id’ be incomplete.
Yet after years of not dating, I am none of those things.
So be honest with yourself. If you find the right person — either through an active search or serendipitously — awesome. But if you’d really rather be alone, it’s ok. It’s an opportunity to reflect and learn about yourself. To grow.
Reject society’s assertion that there is something wrong with you. There is not.
You are complete without a partner.