I’ve been single a few times in my adult life: Once, I was single because I wanted to be, but twice, it was because it seemed no one wanted to date me. Despite the misery and confusion I sometimes felt during my time as a single lady, looking back, those were the most formative periods of my life. I learned more about myself than I ever could have with someone by my side, and now that I am married, I am able to be a better partner. More than that, I'm able to be a better person in all other aspects of my life.
As William Butler Yeats said, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” Whether you choose singledom or are forced to experience it, being unattached provides the single best opportunity for true personal growth.
So, to all the men who didn’t want to date me back in the day, I want to thank you. Seriously. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you (or with you, rather). And to all the women out there who are single and hating it, here are eight reasons to appreciate this time in your life, hard as it may sometimes feel.
1. You learn to stop fearing loneliness.
While the aftermath of a breakup is painful, it's not the same feeling as loneliness. Loneliness isn't caused by someone; it's caused by the lack of someone. Loneliness is when even though you feel fine on your own, you still wish you could share your days with someone special.
Only by staring loneliness in the face do you learn not to fear it. And not fearing loneliness is one of the most freeing feelings in the world. When you realize you won't die from being without someone, your next relationship takes on a whole new meaning. There's less dependence and more partnership, less anxiety that it will end and more appreciation that it simply exists. After you confront loneliness, relationships will no longer define your life; they will simply add to it.
2. You have more time to cultivate other sources of support.
All too often, couples tend to start living in a bubble in which they rely on each other exclusively. When you're single, you're forced to turn to others in your life for guidance, support, love, and laughter. The more you explore and nurture these friendships as a single woman, the stronger they'll be when you do meet that special someone.
Then, instead of having your significant other be your one-and-only source of strength, you'll have a more balanced network of support. So grab a glass of wine with a coworker after a terrible day at work, or pick up the phone and call a friend. Chances are these people will continue to be the best ones to turn to in times of need long after you find yourself coupled up.
3. You come to rely on yourself.
Perhaps even more important than relying on a network of people is learning how to be more independent. Make dinner for one, unclog the toilet yourself, learn to eat alone at restaurants, and live by yourself (if it's affordable, that is).
Sure, you can always learn to do these things when you're in a relationship. But the difference when your single is that there's no safety net. If the toilet won't unclog even after you've tried your hand at the plunger, you can't simply call up your significant other to come over and help. I guarantee the prospect of that will provide the extra oomph you need to finish the job yourself. (In my case, I resorted to literally carrying buckets of dirty toilet water out to the backyard. It wasn't fun, but I'm oddly proud of it.)
4. You don't have to compromise your future.
Being single means not only having total freedom over your day-to-day plans, but also having a chance to make your own plans for life, without having to consider someone else. Thinking of going to grad school? Always wanted to take that trip to Greece? Now is the time to do it. If I had never gotten dumped, I never would've moved to Chicago and never would've landed a job at a magazine. And, coincidentally, I never would've met my now-husband.
Rather than focusing on how your life will change based on the next person you meet, focus on how you can change your life for the better — then do it. You have the opportunity to make a change without considering someone else, so take advantage. Making big changes alone can be scary, but I promise they are worth it. Best of all, later in life, you'll never have to wonder what you might have done or where you might have gone. Your what ifs will instead be remember whens.
5. You learn to comfort yourself.
As crazy as that sounds, many people have never learned to sleep alone as adults (including badass Nikki Minaj). Now, when my husband is away for work and I hear a noise in the apartment and start to freak out, I think, Remember when you lived in that little studio without a deadbolt and stuck a chair under the door handle as a replacement for real security? Yeah. You were fine then. You’re fine now.
6. You get to date yourself.
I agree that dates are pretty fun with another person (that's usually the point), but they really can be fun by yourself, too. Going to a spa or getting your hair cut shouldn't be the only two activities women feel comfortable doing alone. Explore a museum at your own pace on a Saturday afternoon, take a hike through a nature preserve, see a movie in the theaters, or go to your favorite restaurant and ask for a table for one.
You don't need another person to experience these simple joys — not a partner, not even a friend. Doing things by yourself might feel a little awkward the first few times. But trust me, no one is judging you. No one else even cares what you're doing. Besides, the inner strength and confidence you'll feel after doing these activities will far outweigh any awkwardness. (And hey, if it's really that bad, you always have your smartphone.)
Down the road when you're happily coupled, you'll be able to enjoy your alone time when your partner is out with friends, working late, or traveling. To realize you can be blissfully happy by yourself is an extraordinary gift.
7. You have more time to figure out who you are.
No matter how independent you are in a relationship, you're at least slightly shaped by the person you're with. Being single gives you an opportunity to be 100 percent, down-to-the-core you. Spending many days and nights in the quiet of your own thoughts can lead to the richest discoveries, whether it's something as simple as realizing you hate watching TV at night, or something bigger like realizing you want to write a novel one day. The time alone also gives you space to think about what you value and how you want to live your life.
During my third single period, I confirmed that I definitely wanted to get married and have kids one day. I also realized that Chicago was still where I wanted to be, even without the guy I had spent a lot of time with there. As it turned out, these discoveries helped improve my chances of finding the right person in the end. Which brings me to ...
8. You'll be more ready for love when you find it.
In an odd twist, being single can actually help you find incredible love. Similar to discovering who you are and what you want, you begin to see a fuller picture of who you want to be with. Taking time to be single and truly reflect on what you want in a partner will lead you to someone who can make you infinitely happier than someone who is simply filling a void.
Soak up the opportunity to set your standards for a partner. Go back to basics: Which traits do you find most attractive in a person? What hasn't worked in the past? What are your deal breakers? Of course, you can't expect someone to meet all the requirements you make on a checklist — but knowing what's most important to you is a great start. Eventually, you'll be glad you had the time to think about it.
Images: Flickr/Ianuiop, Giphy (8)