I remember talking into the night with my cousin, a few years younger than me and wading through the jungle of dating in college with intermittent singleness. We discussed the disappointments, the disparity, and the dangers of misjudging one’s self-worth. I’ve learned that I have to have immense psychological stamina to believe in myself, because I will never run out of societal evidence that my “lovability score” is wanting. I believe that human beings are most fulfilled when we have a committed life partner with whom we can give our whole selves, but what if that isn’t our reality? I’ve navigated the ups and downs of dating, singleness, and self-discovery and I’m still learning. But I can honestly say that I have gained a real happiness in this stage. Loneliness is real but it can be overcome. Here is what I’ve learned:
- Establish a support system
Historically, I have occasionally taken my introverted independence a little too far, to the point that I somehow believe I can take on life totally on my own. THIS IS NOT TRUE OR HEALTHY. I’ve had good friends come and go for jobs, school, marriage, etc. and I’ve learned that I often have to rely on myself for my own happiness.
Last year, within a couple months of each other, I had two close friends become engaged. Suddenly their world was consumed with matrimonial minutia and I reflexively surrendered my spot on their list of priorities, figuring I should play along with what I then believed to be inevitable. By now I had become familiar with this pattern. I filled my world with lots of distraction but eventually fell into a funk. I eventually approached my best friend and admitted “I’m a hot mess, I need to talk”. I then went to her newlywed apartment, sat on her couch, and unloaded for a solid 3+ hours. I don’t think I’ve ever singlehandedly talked that much in my life, and the weight I had carried left my body and mind. She proved to me that connection is not a luxury, it is my food and drink. I learned that I don’t have to do this alone and some people will always be there if you ask for it.
I have to have at least a couple of people in my life with whom I can be completely authentic. No façade, no filter, just me. For a long time, I believed I wouldn’t truly have that kind of emotional intimacy until I had a ring on my finger. But guess what? I need to be truly loved now. That’s not something one can postpone–at least not without serious consequences. Life is meant to be lived together and my life will be more full if I can better serve and connect with others.
This involves eating well and exercising regularly. Yeah… I’m still figuring this one out. There are already countless articles pretentiously clamoring to be the sexiest diet/workout, so I’ll try not to add to that discussion. Just treat your body well. When I picture my ideal healthy self, I see someone who moves, experiences nature, enjoys colorful, fresh foods, and is temperate. I don’t believe in wearing my exhausted body as a badge of productivity. I believe in resting when I’m tired, eating when I’m hungry, and moving forward.
As cheesy as it sounds, I have found a tremendous value in taking personality tests. I’ve used enneagram and Meyer-Briggs and the latter in particular was REVOLUTIONARY in my self-awareness. There were so many things I now understand about myself that were previously a frustrating mystery. I’ve learned that I’m happiest when I can participate in meaningful connections and make a difference. I’ve learned how important it is for me to recharge when I’m overstimulated, and many other insights. When you don’t understand yourself, you tend to judge yourself and others much more harshly. I’ve learned that sometimes, just by virtue of how my mind is wired, my gut response is healthy in some situations and unhealthy in others. I can now pick up on my red flags and take a step back to course-correct. The study has also allowed me to peek into other personality types to get an appreciation for their outlooks as well.
- Conquer something hard
It’s very important to know that you’ll not just survive in the singleness wilderness, but thrive.
I have a huge love for performing arts, i.e. music, theatre, film, etc. I’m mostly a choir nerd with very limited acting experience—just some provincial community theatre as a kid. I’ve always been annoyed by people who are desperate for the spotlight, but also simultaneously jealous of their self-confidence, of which I had little. I think it is one of the scariest experiences to screw up on stage or in an audition. I decided to practice. I printed headshots and a crappy resume and auditioned for a musical, a video series, and a film. If I had to guess, I would say the auditions ranged from terrible to okay. But guess what? I DID IT. I was brave and I’m very proud of myself for it.
My point is, when you’re single, it is easy to be stagnant and wait for your life to happen: “I’ll be happy and lovable when _____”. I’ve learned that if I want to be the happiest, healthiest version of myself, then I need to majorly step out of my comfort zone. In this practice, I’ve noticed a change in my self-confidence. I no longer inwardly cringe at the idea of trying new things and failing. I’m much more mentally resilient to handle difficulties. I’ve learned that I’m capable of greatness and that I can conquer enormous challenges.
- Be open to new things
When life happens and my “plan” isn’t realized, it helps to be open to new things, or try something different. Apparently if one wants to have a life partner one must date. After a dearth of good dates, I decided to try online dating, with which I have a tolerate-hate relationship. I think of it as one of life’s necessary pains, like taxes or mammograms. But guess what? It’s probably the most efficient way to break the ice and meet people. At the very least it’s something I can actively do to increase my chances, and there’s nothing like the illusion of control over one’s life. 😉
- Exercise your independence
There was a point where my best friends were getting engaged and three different people at my job announced they were pregnant and I just thought: “I have to get out of here”.
So I went to New York. I took a long weekend and ran away to Manhattan all by myself. It had been my third time visiting NYC and I felt very safe and comfortable going alone. I ate cupcakes, French food, and saw some shows. I burrowed in a tiny hostel, strolled the crowded streets, and did a lot of thinking. I ran in Central Park and breathed the muggy August air of independence. In that urban, congested city, I felt wide and open. And then when the constant stimulation became too intense, I could retreat and recharge at will. When I find myself resenting my stage of life, it helps to relish the unique pros of my situation.
Prayer should be a therapy session—a sacred occasion but still honest and authentic. I’m still “practicing” the art of prayer. Sometimes I’m great at it and sometimes I’m bland or distracted. I would make the case that it is VITAL to have a rich spiritual life and connection with God. I’ve learned that even when I have no one, I have God. I could put it like this: if I was stranded on an island, all alone with no help or resources, I could turn to God for help, and go on. I am NEVER truly alone.
There’s something magical and divine about crafting raw materials into a whole. This can be practiced in endless ways. I personally like to play piano and sing. I love to interpret and musically relate others’ stories. I also enjoy writing, doing puzzles, and trying not to kill plants. Over the last 2 years, I’ve participated in an Interfaith Choir, Lux Singers, dedicated to creating musical art to share light and healing. When I’m busy with a creative challenge, I feel more human, more present, and like I’m truly living.
Because I have no dependents, it’s SO easy to only think about MYself and MY happiness. While I believe that achieving happiness requires taking personal inventory to make changes, I know I’ll never be truly happy unless I look outside myself. To not serve others is to live an empty life. When I consciously try to be kind, observant, complimentary, and regularly do nice things others, I feel better about my progress as a human being and I’m less whiny about my singleness.
I believe in joy no matter where you are in life. Life is meant to be extraordinary, no matter what.