A juicy tidbit that no one on a first date or 51st anniversary will ever admit is this: being single is fun. Yes, there are horrible things about singledom, but there are also those moments of clutching a container of pre-made sushi in the grocery checkout and making eyes with a mysterious stranger when life feels downright invigorating. There are even the non-romantic moments in a single body’s life when being alone is positively spectacular: the times spent biking with wind in your hair, hogging all the good Skittles flavors, and wandering that epic expanse in which you get to know yourself and what you want. Sure, I’m engaged and wouldn’t trade my life partner for all the tea in China, but I’m pretty sure I never would have found my mate if I hadn’t been let in on this little secret and learned to embrace the fun of being single. Aside from this golden rule of loving yourself before you love anyone else, here are a few more lessons I’ve learned between the supermarket sushi aisle and the altar (which surreally waits only four months down the road, by the way)…
- Be honest about what you want. Do you want a soul mate, a bedmate, kids, marriage, a torrid string of love affairs, or some zany combination of all of the above? Whatever we want from our dating lives, we need to be honest with ourselves and the people we go a courtin’ with. It also helps to do a gut check every so often to make sure we’re really pursuing things we want in our love lives, not just pursuing things society and our friends tell us we should want.
- Act accordingly. Depending on what our honest goals are for our romantic lives, we’d all do well to adjust our physical behavior and body language accordingly. For those of us in search of some form of long-term relationship, this means ensuring the connection is emotional before making it physical. The time it takes to make sure of this varies, but most people I know in committed relationships tend to say some variation of this: “With him/her it was a little different than usual — by the time we first slept together I had a feeling we were both on the same page.”
- Don’t settle on a second date unless you’re willing to settle for life. Some people are willing to settle, and this is okay if it’s in line with your other values (for a more lengthy take on this idea, check out a controversial article about settling that The Atlantic published a few years ago). If you aren’t okay with the concept of settling, however, you should be able to tell whether a person is compelling, attractive and worth knowing by the second date…Think of a second date as a second chance for sparks, and if someone just isn’t holding your attention by that point, you owe it to yourself and your date to call it quits early on instead of stretching a “just okay” connection into months or even years of blasé romance.
- Break up. If you find yourself constantly wanting to change someone (or if you realize this someone is trying to change you into anything other than the best version of yourself), break up now. Yes, I mean it. Do it now, or run the risk of a lifetime of disappointment, screaming matches, unfulfilled dreams and depression. Being single is way better than being in a relationship like this, so…
- Get back on the horse/put back on that bear suit. If you go through a big break up, give yourself a few months to grieve and process but never let yourself dwell. If you need more time to enjoy being single and ‘find yourself,’ go for it. However, never stay out of the dating scene too long simply out of discouragement – try dating apps/online services, take salsa-dancing or cooking classes, and ask every single friend/colleague to set you up on blind dates. When you’re ready for fulfilling romantic relationships, you should give yourself as many opportunities as possible to find them.
Psst: Do these ring true to you? Do you wish you could go back and whisper these tips to a 23-year-old you, or do you cherish all the mistakes you’ve made learning love lessons on your own? If you feel like surrounding yourself with some images from the sweet yet calamitous side of dating, you can find this illustration as well as an array of prints from the “Missed Connections Series” on Sophie Blackall’s Etsy shop. I think they’re all pretty darn adorable reminders that the world is still full of romantics.