I've been single now for three years, and have reaped the many obvious benefits, most of which involve never sharing dessert, wearing granny panties 24/7, and never compromising my Netflix queue. Being single isn't something I think about very often, because I've always been a person who is just as happy with somebody as I am on my own. While it would be nice to be in a relationship, I've just never felt a compelling need. Someday I might feel differently, and I hope that is when I meet the right person. But while I'm single and enjoying myself, there are plenty of things I can do to ensure that my next relationship healthier than the ones before.
I mean, to be clear, I'm unlikely to knock Gilmore Girls off my queue for the sake of another human being. But like a lot of people, I had that first big mondo-serious relationship in the early college phase of my life, and while I'm not too far removed from those days, I am removed enough to be able to look back on it and know what I might have done differently then – and what I know I will do differently in the future. I'd like to think that I'll be a lot more prepared and mature the second time around, and a lot more able to just relax and enjoy myself. Here are a few of the habits all single people can practice to make their next relationships better (and really, these will all just make you happier and healthier in general, relationships aside):
When I was dating, there were so many new experiences I was scared to try alone and was so relieved to have a partner for. Once that was over, I noticed that I didn't take nearly as many opportunities. It all kind of came to a head on this ridiculous afternoon when I wanted so so badly to rent a canoe on this lake where there was about to be an air show I was looking forward to, but I'd never actually been in a canoe before, and one quick sweep around was all I needed to know that nobody was doing it alone. Embarrassed to even have been standing there that long, I walked away – and then I stopped. This was ridiculous. I was scared of – what, making an idiot of myself for a few minutes while I figured out how to steer? Being alone in a lake full of couples? Boo, hiss.
All of the above happened. I fumbled, and I endured several eyebrow raises from the canoe rental people, but it was all worth it to get to feel that sense of pride that I figured it out and braved it anyway. And the air show was freaking awesome. It would have been a significantly less exciting day if I'd stood on the shore over something as stupid as being self-conscious that I didn't have a date.
Think About What "Baggage" You Bring Into Relationships
People say "baggage" like it's a bad thing, and really, it's not inherently negative. It's the sum of our history. It's proof we've lived and loved. Who wants to be with someone who hasn't done a lot of both? Because, really, you just get better at both the more you do them. But that wisdom doesn't come without battle wounds. So stop pretending you don't know where yours are. You do because they ache sometimes when it rains. Take a good, hard look at this "baggage" while you're on your own, so that by the time someone new comes into your life, you'll know your sore spots intimately enough to give someone an accurate lay of the land. And that's the healthiest thing you can do in a relationship: Not pretending your perfect, not pretending you're entirely without baggage, and being able to openly and honestly tell someone exactly what they're getting. Not to mention, that kind of self-awareness and self-acceptance is sexy as hell.
...And Actually Try To Spend Some Time Downsizing It (As Much As Possible Anyway)
We all have to accept that the people we date, especially as we get older, are going to come with some baggage. We all have families, jobs, past relationships, maybe even kids, and our own particular set of scars and disappointments from the past that give us weird triggers and emotional blockages that simply will affect our future relationships. We need to be able to kindly accept – and even lovingly tend to – those things, both within ourselves and in others. That said, if there are ways to mitigate the hefty weight of your baggage, alone time is a great time to do so. Have that uncomfortable heart-to-heart with your mom. Clear the air with your sister. Apologize to that ex you wronged. This is the time. Your closet might never be fully cleaned out, but you can sure as hell make as much clear space in there as possible before someone you care about comes along.
Establish Your Own Routines
Any relationship requires flexibility and compromise, and you should be prepared for that to come when it does. But by establishing a routine of your own, you know that the compromise doesn't end up compromising who you are. If you are the kind of person who loves to exercise every morning, stay the kind of person who loves to exercise every morning. If you have goals or ambitions that you need to work on every day, keep them in sight. You don't want to become an entirely different person whenever you date someone, and having a strong sense of self and your priorities will help ensure that the person you end up with appreciates you for who you are.
Ask Yourself What You're Looking For
Do you want your next relationship to be serious or casual? What kind of qualities in a person are important to you, and what kind of things will you not be able to live with? What kind of disagreements can you handle, and which ones will rock the boat too much? Nobody is perfect, and you can't expect your next relationship to be perfect, either. But it helps to go into it with a clear idea of you want for the present or for the future, and being single gives you plenty of time to consider that.
Take Note Of Your Successfully Dating Friends
All of my best friends are in serious relationships. Let me reiterate: all of them. Thankfully they are all in relationships with stellar people and I have never feel like the third/fifth/seventh wheel that I am, and I'm happy for all of them (and not just because I foresee a TON of free wedding cake in my future, but like, genuine friend happiness). What's interesting, though, is I have seen the difference between the way my friends communicate with the great guys they are dating now and the guys that they dated in the past. It's an entirely different dynamic. They operate as a team and support each other, and are upfront and honest about the way they feel. It is both inspiring and weirdly educational.
Recognize Your Faults...
Some of the most cringeworthy moments of my life are remembering things that I did or said in a past relationship. Things that seemed so justified and necessary at the time were, in hindsight, up the wazoo immature. I have to force myself every now and then to own up to it, even if it's just in my own head, because the memories serve as a giant STOP sign whenever I feel that same phantom compulsion to do or say something as recklessly as I did back then.
...But Also Your Strengths
As cliché as it sounds, what's done is done. Remember the past, but don't dwell on it, because there is no using in wallowing in something that is long over. Remind yourself of all the awesome parts of yourself, too. You're a person who has a lot of love to give and a lot to offer in a relationship. Finding someone who deserves it is not a matter of "if," but a matter of "when."
Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.
Images: Getty Images; Giphy(6)