What I've Learned From Never Being In Love

by Laken Howard

I'm totally comfortable with my dating history, but I feel like I have to come out and say it: I've never been in love. I've dated and crushed on and casually banged, but I've never been in a serious, long-term relationship, and I won't lie — it kinda feels weird sometimes. When you spend years going on dates but never finding something that sticks, there are definitely moments when you doubt yourself, and wonder if you're the problem. The good news? In most cases, that's total BS. There are so many moving parts to any relationship, which creates so many little things that can cause a blossoming relationship to fail.

I know I'm only 23 — super young by most standards — but I still consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to love. Tons of people have high school sweethearts, or else stumble upon their first serious relationship sometime in college. On the flip side, my high school romances consisted of one-sided, barely there crushes, while college brought a mixture of awkward drunken makeouts at parties and the beginning of my tumultuous relationship with online dating. Of that bunch, there have been plenty of duds, some painful rejections, and a handful of guys who I actually really liked. But still, four years later, here I am: single AF.

I'm not really in a rush though. Meeting someone awesome and falling in love is hardly predictable, and there's no need to get all worked up about when it might happen. In the meantime, here are seven things I've learned from all the never-too-serious dating I've experienced in my 20s so far.

1. Casual Sex Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

Because I've been single and actively dating for what feels like forever, I've had my fair share of casual sex. I'm super open, so people often assume that I have good sex most — if not all — of the time because of my willingness to communicate. The truth? I envy people in relationships, because they have the chance to get super comfortable with one another, which opens the door for more sexual exploration. When you're only seeing someone for a few weeks, there's hardly opportunity to ask about butt stuff (unless that's already your thing). Long-term couples can have their own sexual struggles (like falling into a rut), but the comfort level will always be something I crave. However, casual sex does have its own benefits and I have no issue with it in general.

2. Mutual Enthusiasm Is Hard To Come By

The most horrible thing about dating is, without a doubt, the feeling you get when you realize you like someone way more than they like you. Wouldn't life be so boring and predictable if there was never any doubt about someone returning your feelings with equal enthusiasm? Yeah, but it'd also probably be a hell of a lot less frustrating. When you're in a new relationship, it's almost impossible to guarantee that you're both moving in the same direction at the same pace, which naturally creates moments of doubt on either end. There's nothing wrong with a little insecurity (it's normal in every relationship), but it's a breath of fresh air to meet someone who not only returns your feelings, but openly expresses them, too.

3. It's Kinda Awkward To Have No Exes

Generally speaking, I tend to date guys at least a year or two older than me (if not more). And because they're a little older, there's almost a 100 percent chance that they have at least one serious ex. Healthy relationships ideally aren't affected by either partner's exes (or lack thereof), but it's still something that can be a little weird to explain when it comes up. When I'm talking about my dating history with someone, there's always a slightly awkward moment when I'm like 'by the way, I don't have any super serious exes you need to worry about.' Sure, I have some "exes" of a few months, but I can't relate to the experience of being in love with someone and then parting ways. I don't consider this a flaw or some sort of measure of inexperience though — it's just a fact about me.

4. Timing Is Crucial

Timing is so important when it comes to finding a relationship. If your life paths are even slightly out of sync, things might just be doomed. There have been multiple times when I've been seeing someone and things were looking great, only to end prematurely because I (or they) moved to a different city. As long as you're both honest about what you want, there's nothing wrong with dating with an expiration date. But it's also worth recognizing that no matter how much you like someone, sometimes the timing just isn't right for the two of you to be in a relationship.

5. Dating Takes Effort

Holy smokes, dating is so much more work than you might realize. When I first started online dating, I used it as another clever way to procrastinate less stimulating activities (like studying). Swiping on Tinder during your lunch break is all fun and games, but active dating takes tons of effort. You have to browse matches, message people, carry on conversations, plan dates, and then actually meet up with people. It's exhausting. Now that I'm a dating veteran, I've learned to juggle all of those things, but it definitely isn't a skill you can pick up overnight.

6. Ghosting Isn't Black-And-White

Sadly, my love/hate relationship with dating apps also means I have a storied past when it comes to ghosting, too. I've both done the ghosting and been ghosted — probably more of the latter if I'm being transparent. While most people are quick to demonize ghosting and throw metaphorical tomatoes at anyone who cops to it, I've learned through casual dating that there are plenty of occasions where ghosting is totally acceptable. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, for example, there's no harm in cutting contact without a word. It's your dating life and you never owe anyone an explanation if you don't want to give them one, but there are also times when you should be upfront rather than ghost. Pro tip: there are nice ways to break up with someone that don't involve the silent treatment.

7. Short-Term Relationships Aren't Pointless

Though I haven't been in love yet, I've still had tons of valuable relationships (of varying lengths) that have taught me a lot about dating. Long-term dating isn't the only way to find meaningful, fulfilling connections. As Carrie Bradshaw said in the Sex and the City movie, "Some love stories aren’t epic novels. Some are short stories. But that doesn’t make them any less filled with love." L-word notwithstanding, the point remains: short, casual relationships can still be fun and full of value, even if they aren't built to last. That's a lesson I'm glad I've finally learned.

Images: Laken Howard/Bustle (4)