XI: Sleigh Bells, Snow, And... Living Single?

Ah, the New Year… A time of engagements, winter weddings, kisses with that special someone, and picture-perfect Instagram posts of smiling couples celebrating these joyous milestones.

Do I sound bitter? I hope not, because I’m genuinely happy for those people as long as they are genuinely happy. Or at least I try to be happy for them while I lounge in sweatpants, ugly-eating a Chipotle burrito and either Netflix binging or reading smutty novels. But I digress.

On the opposite side of the relationship coin you’ll find people like me—the ones who are just trying to find that ultimate happiness, but are dealing with struggles of their own in the process.

You know how there are different tax brackets in the hierarchy of society? Well, relationship statuses seem to have developed their own social order with singledom shoved down toward the bottom. Singledom quickly becomes the ‘black sheep’ of the relationship family, especially as we age and our friends settle down. I can’t help but wonder why, though. Is it truly such a shameful thing to be alone, at least until you find your special someone?

"How are you single?"
"You could have any guy you want—why not give [so-and-so] a chance?"
"I know someone you might like."
"You should get back together with [so-and-so]."

NO. Just, no. I’ve grown tired of hearing these comments, even if people mean well by them, so I’m using 2018 as the catalyst for a fresh start in dating. These coming years will be a time for change in the romance department, for me personally, and hopefully for anyone else out there who feels the same level of frustration. This is my plan for effecting that change:

1) Self-evaluate. Reflect on your own truths and embrace them, even if it hurts.

Bree once discussed the process of conducting “Self Check,” and how it can help you stay on track and avoid the lonely spiral down the hole of negativity and cynicism. Well, I believe this concept can also be applied to our notions of romance. For a long time, I wondered why I felt so unsettled; why I couldn’t just be content in my long-term relationship and get married; why I broke it off only to launch a bad luck streak with other men. Then I realized I needed to step back and engage in some serious introspection. What are my expectations, and how am I portraying them to the world?

During a recent dinner outing, after I poked some lighthearted fun at my perpetual singledom, my date made a thought-provoking comment.

“I know why you’re single,” he said. “When people see you, they see that you have this goal set out for yourself, and you’re just really going for that goal.”

I didn’t quite understand why that would influence someone’s dating potential, but then the lightbulb gradually came on. He was right. My intense focus in other areas, like my career and my schooling, made me unavailable to a certain portion of the dating pool. But in the process of conducting the dating “self check,” I realized that my intensity and ambitious nature were important parts of who I am, and whoever I ended up with would have to accept that. Remember what you value most about yourself, and don’t compromise those qualities to appease someone else.

Unfortunately, my own personal quirks and my desire for independence and solitude sometimes overshadow my ability to show another person that I actually crave his closeness. I rarely initiate outings, concerned that I might be ‘bothering’ the other person by doing so. If I stay at someone’s house overnight, I’ll rush out of there the next morning for fear that I’ve overstayed my welcome. Even my own long-time struggle with mental illness has clouded my ability and desire to be open and vulnerable with other people (you might read more on this later).

We all have areas where we can improve. These happen to be the areas I need to work on, because they are products of my own self-consciousness and inner issues.

2) Learn to let go when you know it’s not going to work. Don’t force it.

In her list of lessons she learned in 2017, Nicole emphasized that at some point you just have to let go of relationships that are past their expiration date. “The proof is in the pudding,” as the saying goes. If you’ve been sleeping with someone for a long time hoping that he’ll finally make you his girlfriend, it’s probably not going to happen. If your marriage or relationship is past the point of repair and you’ve tried absolutely everything to make it work, it might be time to let go. The list goes on, but the concept is the same. Stop watering those dead plants.

Many of us grow up believing that we’ll be settled into our careers by 23, happily married with a house by 25, and have babies not long after, but strangely enough I never expected that to happen to me. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted that to be me, honestly. And now, at 26, I can openly admit that this timeline just wasn’t meant for me. I’m a late bloomer, I suppose.

Deep down I’m definitely a hopeless romantic who dreams of being swept off her feet by the proverbial ‘Prince Charming,’ minus the white stallion, because that would just be SO extra and I would feel bad for the horse.

But in all seriousness, like every other red-blooded woman out there, I want to experience that spark with someone—a palpable chemistry where I just know it’s mutual. Unfortunately, reality has not yet subscribed to this wishful storyline. The rare times that I felt that ‘spark,’ it turned out that he did not want me the way I wanted him, or a relationship just wasn’t feasible for one reason or another.

Does the one really exist? Or do we encounter a series of ones throughout our life, depending on what stage of self-discovery we are in? I have no clue, but from personal experience I can definitely say that one universal truth remains: You can’t force it. Chemistry with another person might come once in a lifetime, or it might happen with multiple people. It might be apparent right away, or it might manifest during the get-to-know-you phase. Regardless of when or how it happens, I know I need that chemistry in order to go all in, and I intend to carry this train of thought with me into 2018 and beyond.

I’ll confess that I’ve given my body to the wrong people under the guise of ‘hookup culture,’ hoping (naively) that it would lead to something more.

I’ve sacrificed my time for people who wouldn’t do the same, hoping it would spur them to reciprocate.

I’ve failed to follow my intuition even when it screamed at me to let go and move on.

But that’s the good part. It’s a new day, a new year. I won’t make those mistakes again, because I’ve learned from them.

3) Make peace with the inevitable. Focus on your own life, and the rest will fall into place.

Our social media-dominated culture and dating phenomenons like “ghosting” and “benching” have made it more challenging than ever to find something real between all the bullshit. The ‘grass is greener’ mentality has only become more prevalent in this era of endless options. Sadly, this dynamic is here to stay, but from now on I choose to remain optimistic and cling to the belief that true relationships are not a lost cause.

Even being engaged to my long-term ex, I always felt off kilter, like something in my heart was sorely missing. Unfortunately, one thing no one ever tells you about love is that it hurts just as much to break a heart, as it does to be the one getting it broken. Sometimes I still wonder if I made the right choice—whether I should have just stayed in that safe zone. But I’ve also learned unforgettable lessons during these few years of singledom, which have allowed me to mature into the woman I am now and break away from the common path. This change in my life was inevitable and necessary, even if it was painful to go through at the time.

I’m still figuring myself out and figuring out what I need in a partner. Contrary to the pressures imposed on us by societal norms, there is no mandatory deadline for ‘putting a ring on it.’

Am I crazy for giving up a potentially ‘safe’ and comfortable life in favor of being alone and searching for that greater something? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone is crazy for following his or her intuition, both in love and in life.

It’s time to accept that not everyone is set up for the characteristic pattern of engagement, marriage, kids, grandkids, and so forth. The nuclear family is not a requirement, and people don’t have to follow the same curriculum. Tying the knot is not the be-all-end-all, and having children is not a biological imperative.

By no means am I saying I don’t want those things—I do—but I don’t think they’re necessary in order to lead a fulfilling life. If I do get married, and if I do have children, then it likely won’t happen until I’m well into my thirties. And you know what? It was a hard pill to swallow at first, but I’ve come to terms with that revelation. Making peace with the inevitable is crucial, otherwise you’ll always carry around the weight of your unhappiness while watching everyone else move forward.

Put simply, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for relationships. To those who have found that long-awaited chemistry with your ‘one,’ I wish you all the best and I hope that happiness lasts a lifetime. But I hope you can also return those positive vibes for people like us, the ones who are still searching, still hoping, still dreaming.

To anyone who shares these sentiments, let’s embark on this journey together and make 2018 a fresh start. Don’t settle, and don’t waste your time on people who don’t deserve it. Just keep focusing on doing the things you love and being with the ones who bring you joy.

Everything else will fall into place.

No human being can really understand another, and no one can arrange another’s happiness.
— Graham Greene