What I Learned Being Single for 30 Years
I dated plenty but didn’t have a long-term partner till I was closer to thirty-one than thirty.
It wasn’t planned. In fact, I did my best to exit the super single life. All those years of mostly horrible dates interspersed with a few good ones led to internal growth I couldn’t have dreamed of as a 13-year-old. The NYE parties without someone to kiss, weddings without a date, nights solo in my own space learning my passions helped shape me into the strongest version of myself I could be.
Everyone has different life experiences. Some are more common. I’ve met others on the super single train. It isn’t abnormal. Yet long-term singleness isn’t as frequent as having a first boyfriend/girlfriend/non-binary partner as a teen, though. My more unique experience has given way to hard-won wisdom.
Never did I seek self-worth from a relationship. Instead, I went through drowning despair at a nagging thought. “Why doesn’t anyone want to be with me?” There were times I wanted to alter my personality to become more dateable. It was so easy to see my lack of relationships as a personal fault.
Learning to love myself and stand firm in who I am took time — years. It wasn’t unlike learning to love my naturally curly hair. What was once always straightened now flourishes and bounces. I didn’t compromise who I was or my values for the sake of gaining a partner. And learned to stop apologizing for that uncompromising stance.
My many first dates are legendary among my friends. It’s well known I would ask big questions early like, “Do you want to have kids?” and often get into debates. We’re talking passionate, arm failing debates on all the taboo dinner table conversations AKA the important topics in life. It’s how I have fun but also tests if a person can handle my intensity. Everyone (except my boyfriend) who made it past the first date eventually didn’t align with my life goals.
Most advice out there online says to not do this. I can see why. It didn’t lead to many relationships. Instead, it led to someone who can handle me at 100%.
I read a million how-tos and sought advice from others on dating. It seemed helpful at the moment. When it came time to practice those intricate dating rules, a red flag went up in my mind that it all felt a little too much like playing games or pretending to be someone I’m not.
There’s more value in being true to yourself in whatever manner you date and find someone compatible with your unfiltered self. In fact, my partner asked some big questions on our first date too. I had never been more attracted to someone. Not altering my basic instincts to land a few more dates kept me from going further with someone poorly matched.
Loneliness comes for you, whether you are single, dating, or in a committed relationship. Humans are made for connection and interaction. We crave it to soothe our pain-ridden souls. It takes bravery to look into your heart without any filter or another person to hold your hand. We all must make peace with who we are, apart from anyone else. It’s scary and hard. Learning to face loneliness can lead to unexpected moments of joy and love between only you and yourself.
Loneliness came for me often. It still does even in a loving, supportive relationship. My years of facing those emotions on my own have helped me not freak out on my partner or doubt our relationship’s health.
I never went to therapy though I often wish I had. The barrier was always the cost. That didn’t stop me from seeking out help and practical tools to manage my thought patterns. I learned to recognize harmful thoughts such as “I’m alone, and no one loves me.” I would capture them in my mind and banish them with positive thoughts like, “I have people in my life who love me.”
Processing my feelings came with journaling, a widely recommended practice by mental health professionals, and prayer. Practicing mindfulness is hard work but helped me stay healthy and work through loneliness.
My heart is a soft thing. I have fiercely protected it my whole life, letting only a select few see how deep my feelings go. There were stretches when I was bogged down by self-doubt. I didn’t want to let anyone in. I actively had to choose to share my deeper self with others. It was an aching choice to open up on dates or with new friends or old ones. I didn’t let up. Somehow I knew if I stopped letting others in, my heart might never respond to love as it should.
Then I met my boyfriend. Our third date was difficult but sealed it for us. You see, on date number two, he shared the most. He laid out all of his red flags and intentions. For the first time in a long time, I froze. I liked him so much and wanted us to keep dating. Letting him see my hopes, my red flags, my complexities, and fears was terrifying.
I let him in on our third date. He had questions. Between walks and cafes and bars, we talked all day. It ended in the back of his car, making out like giddy high schoolers. He accepted me as I was. A year later, and it’s still hard to share things with him. It takes asking myself, “Is this something I want to tell him, or he should know.” The answer is always yes. His support and constant love make it a little easier.
Having this man in my life with his committed love helps me share my heart more. Perhaps if people saw more of our tears and joys, fears and sorrow — our humanity — they wouldn’t feel so alone. Loneliness and unresolved pain is often the driver of poor behavior in my experience.
My partner has helped me share more of myself with others. My years of singleness helped me grow and accept myself all on my own.