dating myself

why dating myself changed everything

It was a Friday at the end of July, 2013. The evening before, my two-year relationship had finally ended. I still think of that Thursday as my own personal day of liberation.

He was still living with me, would continue to live at my apartment for the next four days before he moved out to live with his parents in a nearby town. But I woke up that Friday morning with a weight off my shoulders, a feeling of such blinding lightness and release that I don’t believe I’ll ever forget. I don’t want to forget it.

Before I got ready for work, I wrote a group text to my closest friends letting them know what had happened. None of them were surprised, all were relieved and hopeful. We’d broken up briefly a few weeks before, at his pleading and promises I’d agreed to give him a second chance. He blew it, of course, and I was done.

The song lyrics to Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” pretty much describe the relationship and everything I feel about it, and him, now that it’s over. I’m not sorry it happened. It changed me and set me on a revolutionary course in my love life.

Once we’re out, the best thing that can result from a toxic relationship—or really any relationship, toxic or not—is a reevaluation of everything we believe about love and partnership. Clearly I didn’t know what I was doing, between my disintegrated marriage and my stint as punching bag and “sugar mama” (ugh) to a charming and manipulative thief. At first I was so giddy with relief and confused by the pain of detachment, I couldn’t think further ahead than a few weeks.

I read a lot of rich, validating books during those first months—books about breakups, about choosing yourself, about narcissists and emotional abuse and boundaries. And I realized that I’d never actually taken the time to think about what I wanted in a relationship. I mean, what did I actually want?? I knew what I didn’t want—a lying scumbag or a man-child like my ex-husband. But where did that leave me?

I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could possibly do for myself was not to date for a while. A long while. To remove myself from the dating arena entirely until I’d figured a few things out. But I didn’t want to be single by default again—killing time until the next guy showed up, using my energy to look or long for him. I wanted to be consciously single, to feel empowered by my choice not to date or enter a new relationship.

More than that, I wanted to date myself.

From my senior year in college on, I never had a chance to really be single—not involved with or distracted by a man or men. Between my boyfriend who became my husband who became my ex, to the men I dated while we were separated, to the man I ended up allowing to live off me for two years, I hadn’t ever truly taken a break from romantic encounters, and certainly not on purpose. I was a late bloomer in dating, didn’t have a boyfriend until college, but of course I didn’t spend those early years consciously creating a healthy sense of self-worth, I mostly had a series of crushes that went nowhere. When my husband and I split up, it would have been a great opportunity to take a long, honest look at myself.

Instead I was scared of being alone, lost without my married identity. I wanted to find what I thought I was lacking pronto—a new partner who would take me away from myself and all the unprocessed emotions from the last few years of crisis, loss and separation. So I ran headlong into the lion’s den and held myself an anxious, unhappy prisoner there.

In my heady sense of freedom when I finally got out, I vowed never to make those mistakes again. I had a second chance to embrace the kind of growth and self-awareness I could have prioritized after my marriage ended, and I was going to take it—joyfully, purposefully, powerfully.

I gave myself a year, though was open to ending that year early if I felt I was ready. But I intentionally set out to date myself for a year. This meant consciously giving myself all the time, effort, attention and affection that I’d previously given to men. Not being distracted by a lack of men or my interest in men, but focusing on what I needed—and giving it to myself. Recognizing what healthy partnership means to me and what I want it to look like. Loving myself in every way, learning what it means to be the partner I need. Identifying and writing down my core values. Writing letters and journaling to process pain, anger and shame from my past. I made an empowering playlist which I listened to while I walked my neighborhood, cleaned my apartment and sat dreaming in my living room. I learned to trust my instincts, to recognize and honor my own boundaries.

I invested in a relationship with myself in a way I’d never imagined possible.

About midway through this year, on a particularly festive New Year’s Eve out with two friends, I ended up kissing a stranger at midnight, who then asked for my number. I gave it to him—not because I wanted to, I didn’t, but because I hadn’t prepared a response. He texted the next day and asked me out, to which I never replied. I was hung over and full of chagrin, and took stock of where I was. I hadn’t meant for that to happen, but did it mean I was ready? If not this guy, would I want to say “yes” to the next one?

The answer was a very emphatic “no.” I wasn’t ready to give this up yet. I wasn’t ready to stop pouring my energy into me—relishing my alone time—living my life without the drama that dating and relationships bring. Of course there were lonely moments, but I had friends, family and pets to help me through those—not to mention myself. I lived through holiday weekends alone, I learned from the lonesome moments. I thought about a future partner, but I didn’t feel the lack of one.

Eleven months after my breakup, I went to a Match.com rafting event with a girlfriend. I enjoyed it, and found I was interested in what online dating could offer me. I was ready to dip a cautious toe in the pool—but this time I was prepared. I was going to do this differently and I knew exactly what that meant—conscious dating, open to adaptation as needed. I wrote my New Rules in Love and read them over daily. When I started communicating and going on dates with men, I listened to my gut—my best and truest ally—and never doubted or second-guessed what it told me. If it said never see this man again, I would tell him it wasn’t going to work and move on. I journaled before and after almost every date, keeping a clear perspective on every experience, discussing my reactions openly with friends.

And it was fun. I had fun meeting different men—always a little nerve-wracking right before the date began, but once it started I was fine. I allowed myself to say both “yes” and “no” frequently, dating from a place of strength and abundance and confidence, rather than fear and lack. I took breaks from dating for weeks at a time, hiding my profile and giving that energy back to myself. I eventually stopped online dating after six months, it was just too time-intensive for me, but it was a good way to get back in the game. After that I met men in the real world, which took intentionally accepting invitations to social events and creating my own opportunities to go out and talk to strangers.

When I met the man I’m with today, I knew immediately and instinctively that he was a good person. We chatted, exchanged numbers, met up casually at a concert the next week. Eventually I texted him first—but not out of desperation; I had another date that week with another man I’d met. After my first date with my current partner, I knew something was very different—and even then, we both took our time. We didn’t rush, nobody got love-bombed. Every step of the way going into this relationship, I used my conscious dating techniques. I continued to remember what mattered to me, to invest in my own wants and needs first. Even as my life opened to include him, even as we compromised and became closer, I made myself a priority. We’ve been living together for more than six months and I’m still doing that. It’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had—because I’m also still in a great relationship with me.

I believe he and I work because we share the same core values—ultimately I think that’s what creates the best chance for compatibility long-term. We have our issues, we talk them out. I see us building a life together, and I feel hopeful and excited about the future.

But at the same time, I know I’ll be OK no matter what happens. I’m not afraid of losing him. This isn’t cynicism or pessimism or denial; it would be devastating and heartbreaking beyond belief if we broke up. But I’d still have me. I’d still have a full life and as many chances for happiness, fulfillment and joy as I do with him. I’d still have a whole identity, something I never understood or valued before.

Dating myself was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I wouldn’t be the partner I am now without that experience, wouldn’t be in the relationship I am, wouldn’t be the person I am. Whether we’re on our own by choice or not, we don’t have to just live through singlehood because that’s what fate handed us, to sit resignedly in the Singles Waiting Room until we can board the next dating train. Societal pressures aside, being single has advantages we often fail to appreciate, not the least of which is a chance to intentionally prioritize ourselves.

If we redirect the energy we’d give to a partner or dating into ourselves, instead—into our ambitions and desires, our growth, our finances, our friendships, our hobbies and travels—for even one month, it might just lead to some pretty amazing results.

Dating ourselves isn’t solely a means to building a better, healthier love life in the future. It’s a radical and empowering re-imagining of our beliefs about love, partnership and fulfillment.

And that changes everything.

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ending one chapter and starting the next

I’m on the verge of a new chapter in my life. In a month or so, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend of almost a year. It’s a change we’ve come to see as right and necessary, one that we’re both excited about. The weight of maintaining two households with pets has become an increasingly awkward and heavy burden on both of us. We want to share a home base, to have the chance to create routines that don’t involve one of us racing 15 minutes away to the other house.

I’ve lived with two other men, one of them two separate times. Moving in together wasn’t deliberate or planned, but either horrifically premature or a haphazard decision based on circumstances—or both. I didn’t get a chance to think about what it meant, if I really even wanted it, what I would be gaining and losing. I jumped in blindly, head first, with the assumption that of course I wanted to live with this guy, why wouldn’t I? Even if I had some doubts, it was just for a couple of months, so what was the big deal?

With hindsight, I see the big deal.

Even now, coming at this from a totally different place, it’s so easy to be distracted by the pull of everyday tasks, the mounting to-do lists and plans that come with big decisions and moves. But it’s not enough to just know I want it and get busy doing. This is a pretty profound beginning, and if I don’t take some time to honor that—to recognize the ending that’s inherent in any beginning, to consciously let go as I move forward—I feel like I’ll miss out on some important steps. I might wind up feeling more lost and confused than excited and gratified and grateful.

Like what I felt right after my wedding. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I got married. I don’t regret marrying my college boyfriend, but I wish we’d taken the time to talk through a lot of things before we got engaged, and I’d understood what a huge transition it was. When I got back to work after the honeymoon, I felt disoriented, depressed and hopeless. Post-wedding blues aren’t uncommon, some of it due to the fact that you’ve been frantically working on a project for months and of course there’s a letdown once it’s over. For me, a lot of it was because I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was changing my identity, taking on a whole new role as a wife and life partner, without taking any time to recognize that I was losing something, too.

And then it was backwards during my divorce—I struggled to let go of the identity I’d built during the marriage, belonging to someone. That period was all about the ending, versus getting married being all about the beginning—and each time I didn’t see that I needed to process and honor BOTH. Meeting my toxic ex just as I was stumbling toward a new truth, right on the cusp of learning who I was without my ex-husband, slowed the process down by about two years. Once I got out of that relationship/nightmare, I was finally free to get to know myself. Date myself. Give all my time and energy and attention to ME.

For the first time in my life, I was my only priority. I got to decide what I did and when I did it. I reclaimed myself, rediscovered my self-respect, and enjoyed the heck out of it.

After a year, when I decided to start dating again, I did it knowing exactly why I wanted to eventually find a partner, with a clear set of intentions and a deep attachment to my singlehood. I had fun with the experience, and eventually stumbled across someone who I grew to love, respect and appreciate, someone who shares my core values. I’m not with my boyfriend because I was unhappy alone—the opposite. I’m with him because I finally figured out what it means to be happy, what it means to be aligned with what matters most to me.

It means being authentically myself. Caring about myself and allowing myself to screw up and say no and have needs. Writing new rules.

It means feeling free. Relaxed. Safe. Loved.

It means taking care of my life, my health, my cats, my home, my friends, my family, my money, my job. All the things I’m responsible for—and not being manipulated into taking care of any person or obligation I’m not responsible for.

It means making sure I have empty moments to stare up at the sky and quiet my mind.

It means curling up with a book for hours, only getting up to find snacks or go to the bathroom.

It means experimenting and exploring and having adventures. Traveling to new places. Doing activities that I love and trying new ones.

It means feeling whole within myself.

It means carrying all of that forward with me, always, through every new chapter and every transition, not taking any of it for granted or forgetting how important it is.

I really treasured my single life, my tiny cozy apartment. It was so straightforward and fulfilling. I loved coming home on a Friday night and reading until I fell asleep at 9 p.m., waking up early to a quiet Saturday alone, making myself a special Christmas dinner of steak salad, creating small everyday rituals. I’ll miss those things. There’s loss in most big changes, and these things are what I’m losing. At the same time, I’ll be coming home on a Friday to make dinner with someone who loves me, waking up early on a Saturday to a quiet day of bike rides, gardening and cooking together, celebrating holidays and creating rituals as a couple. A new fulfilling life with my partner in our new home.

Being on the cusp of change is a really powerful thing, if we remember to check in and pay attention to how we’re experiencing it. It’s an opportunity to take stock of what matters to us, what we’re leaving behind and what we’re taking on. Every new beginning marks an ending of something else, every ending a new beginning, and all that we feel about both deserves to be fully honored.

disorienting freedom of singlehood

(Originally written in July, 2013, just over a week after my last relationship ended.)

This was my first weekend alone, and it felt disorienting and liberating. I loved knowing that my space was my own, to expand and explore and change and roam in at will. There is an aspect of loneliness, but I reminded myself that “it’s just a place to start.” I worked hard on projects, keeping myself distracted, but I also allowed for time to just sit or walk or rest with my thoughts. I’m not afraid of the silence, but right now there’s still a tender empty place inside me that he used to fill. I can only take so much of nothing before it starts to ache, and there’s no release in tears though I wish there was. I’ve cried everything out for the time being, and healing will just come with time, with journal writing, with talking to confidantes, with loving and taking care of myself.

I allowed myself some indulging in terms of spending, though not more than I can afford. It just feels good to buy my home and myself a few new things, just because it’s now fully mine. New dish towels, new olive oil pourer, new salt shaker, new tongs. New table for the backyard, new plants to fill in some gaps. Plenty of food in the cupboards, some new clothes. And a few free things, too – music I’ve been wanting to listen to, that I didn’t even realize I wanted or needed. One of my favorite movies.

I cleaned things out and threw them away – food, clothes, movie files, paperwork, dead leaves. I scrubbed out my fridge and reorganized my cupboards. I found many things that reminded me of my ex-boyfriend and our life together, and while they gave me twinges, some sore moments, through it all I felt a growing confidence and liberation. This is right. I’m supposed to be alone right now, supposed to be living in my apartment with my cats, taking care of my car, taking care of my money, my plants, myself. Not looking after anyone else. Not having anyone else look after me. Not giving energy to anything or anyone but myself and my friendships, as they need me – and to what extent I’m capable. I’m dating myself, developing a brand-new relationship with this divorced, single woman who lives in an adorable one-bedroom apartment with two cats, someone who has her life relatively together, a writer and publisher of books, a hostess, an adventurer, full of deep, abiding gratitude for her life.

Not chaotically torn between ending a marriage and beginning a new relationship.

Not struggling madly to set boundaries against a tide of manipulation and resistance.

Not planning my life around another person’s wants, needs, moods or problems.

Not waiting anxiously not knowing what might happen next – wondering if we’ll break up, if some new shoe will drop, for some new temper tantrum – or even some new expression of love and commitment.

Not stressed out and anxious, worn to a thin thread of patience yet desperately afraid to snap for fear of the consequences.

Not surviving day to day, clinging to what love and affinity there was.

Not codependent or waiting for affection that may not come.

FREE.

Free of all of this, free to be whoever and however I need to be. Free to come and go and not have anyone walking in, bringing their stories, their needs, their issues, their emotions to pile in my lap.

Right now, I need to be free of that.

I need to cradle my own needs, issues, stories and emotions in a loving embrace.

I need to shake out the moths in my spiritual practice and look long and hard at my stories and how they’re defining and limiting me.

I need to build my friendship with me and with others. Explore. Create.

I need to inhabit my life as a fully empowered and independent person, for the first time as an adult not waiting on anyone else for anything. Not waiting for my ex-husband to come back or make a decision or help me with the divorce or get his belongings. Not waiting for my ex-boyfriend to make the movements in his life that he needed to make. Not waiting for any man to become a better and more equal partner to me, or striving to be a better partner to them.

None of that.

It’s odd and surreal and sort of hollow as victories go. But I do feel it’s a victory – over the status quo, over the pain and suffering of losing my ex-boyfriend, over my need to be loved more than respected, my codependent tendencies, my black hole of lack.

Tonight I can make myself dinner and sit on my back patio and read.

Or I can take a long power walk to McKinley Park, listening to music.

Or I can go to the dollar store and spend $4 on 4 things I really want.

Or I can take myself out to dinner.

Or I can go to Safeway for a pork loin.

Or none of the above.

My freedom is strange. It’s like a big loose rubbery emptiness around me, with so few limits (only in terms of vast limits of time, space, physics, riches, and so on). There’s a peculiar quality to it, a tenderness, a thrill of potential joy, a flavor of sorrow and grief for what was, a presence of the past still very much with me, knowing how things would have been only a few short weeks ago, in my old reality. This is the neutral zone, the very essence of a neutral zone. In spite of all the work that I’m doing in thinking and planning and celebrating New Beginnings, and in spite of the fact that in ending things with my ex I’ve started a new beginning, this is the time to float from the ending of one era, of the relationship, of the reality I knew, into uncomfortable nothingness – disorienting, strange, disillusioning nothingness – before the beginning fully arrives.

Tonight is one more marker, one more step on my road through this emptiness and discomfort and into whatever comes next. Tonight marks the first week of my ex-boyfriend moving out, a month since we had our last Monday date (the day his second chance began), the first real week of me living this new life on my own. And while there’s the flavor of sorrow and emptiness, I’m only just beginning to understand how grateful I am to let go of the spell of love, the need for attachment and intimacy, the unhappy watchful games I played for so long. Of course I sort of miss them, just like we miss anything we’ve grown used to. But they exhausted me. They tore me up inside. Reading over diary entries of the past two years reminds me of that more than anything ever could.

And now, I am really and truly done with it. I think I always knew the relationship would be the casualty of me becoming whole and happy again – it was one of the other of us, and in the end it had to be the relationship. Though I am only a speck, connected with all the other specks, no more and no less, part of this entire fabric of creation, I am still too worthy to be so brutally compromised for the sake of being loved. I owe myself better than that, and will not accept the unacceptable any longer.