Most of my twenties (and my teenage years, for that matter) were spent longing for a partner that would complete my identity. Someone who would make me happy, boost my self-esteem, and quiet the voice inside my head that told me, again and again, that I was not enough. Then, when I was twenty-eight, I got dumped again for no good reason, and I decided to give up on dating all together. Realizing that maybe a partner wasn’t the answer, I canceled my online profiles, deleted numbers out of my phone, and I made a new commitment: no blind dates, no coffee dates, no phone numbers, no making out, no sex, no ambiguous “hanging out,” nothing for a year.
A lot of people thought a year was too long and too crazy. A year was perfect for me, and it was so successful that it turned into almost three. In that time, I shed layers of self-doubt and discovered that I could be my own best partner. Literally, I dated myself. In doing so, I finally learned what I really liked and didn’t like, instead of building interests based on someone else’s ideas of what was cool, fun, interesting, delicious, funny, or beautiful. I started a blog dedicated to figuring these things out, and I read books for the first time since college assignments. Instead of fearing alone time, I enjoyed renting movies and learning how to cook. My friendships deepened and superficial relationships faded away as I started to recognize when and how I felt my most authentic self. Least expected was the way that giving up dating changed my approach to other aspects of my life. I became more comfortable as a mother, and my relationship with my daughter improved. Without loneliness clogging up my thoughts, I was able to consider my future and what kind of life I wanted, and what kind of person I wanted to be. Graduate school became an idea, and eventually a reality.
When I started dating again, it was a whole new operation. I was no longer trying to impress anyone, so I was honest about my interests, about my knowledge (or lack thereof), and what I wanted in my life. For the first time, I actually enjoyed dating, because it no longer felt like auditioning for approval. If someone never called again, I moved on. I was clear about wanting to date, not “hang out,” not have vague text conversations or drawn out email exchanges. I wasn’t looking for new friends or booty calls, and I wasn’t desperately combing the online sites for the next poke or wink or nudge or spark or whatever.
And then I met my husband. He ordered a coffee and I made a joke about muffins. My focus was so far away from impressing him or dating that it didn’t even compute what he was asking for when our phone numbers were exchanged. When we spent time together, I was open about my priorities as a parent, and my doubts about his ability to understand my lifestyle. My old self would have exhausted my own resources trying to prove that I was as cool and energetic as all the other single ladies in Los Angeles who don’t have children (nope, nope, nope). He was equally as open with me about his intentions; he didn’t think of me as a friend, and he was willing to be patient.
I think if I met my husband three years earlier, it all would have been a forgetful disaster. I would have tried to convince him I was cooler than I am, he would have seen right through the facade and been confused by my desperation. Instead of seeing his authenticity and kindness, I would have been worried that he didn’t quite dress hip enough to be my fantasy boyfriend. I never want to tell anyone that I met my husband because of my decision to be date-free for three years, because that’s not how everyone’s life works; it isn’t as easy as a step-by-step formula. And while I am no model for “how to meet The One,” I do have some strong ideas now about how to change perspective about dating and relationships. Step one: Learn to be pretty stoked about dating yourself.