People in relationships are quick to tell their single friends that they should enjoy being single. They’re wrong.
I got divorced back in May 2012. It was my fault. Not hers. The specifics don’t matter much beyond that. Around the same time, my book came out. I was on TV on a bunch of occasions, and I was traveling all over the country. So much so that I practically lived out of hotel rooms for the next three years. As you might imagine, I did what any newly-single guy in his late 20s with a modicum of reknown would do: I went on a dating bender.
Telling people to be happy about being single doesn’t accomplish much of anything. It’s the empty calories of dating advice.
But in 2015, I decided to stop cold turkey. It was time to heed the advice every single person in America gets: Get a hobby. Go to the gym and take better care of yourself, and enjoy the alone time. Embrace it, your friends in relationships might say, and have a blast. Except, I found that advice is great … but only for a while. And after that, all you’re left with is a sense of restlessness over being single and alone. What I want you to know is that this feeling of anxiety is OK. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be in a relationship after you’ve done everything you’ve needed to do.
Let me explain:
Until 2012, I had never been alone. Single, sure. But I grew up in a small house with a big family. Then I went off to college, met a girl, married that girl and moved into my first apartment with her. And for a short while, we lived with her family during the peak of the Great Recession. So that first bit of advice single people always get? “Enjoy the time you have when you’re alone?” I did that.
Being alone can be great for about a year. Maybe two. Then you start looking for someone to enjoy the things you enjoy.
It was awkward at first. It’s still a bit awkward to go alone to places like the Denver Zoo, but being alone can be great for about a year. Maybe two. Then you start looking for someone to enjoy the things you enjoy. It’s perfectly natural. We’re social animals by design. We are not meant to be alone and happy. And while we live in a culture that prioritizes individualism and self-sufficiency above everything else, even the most self-sufficient among us eventually learn that we can only go so far before we need other people to help us take the next step.
As far as the personal care thing goes: That was something I indeed needed to do. For a while, my diet consisted of nothing but Chipotle and Starbucks. I didn’t work out, and I was still barely functional with a lot of things most people take for granted. So in the course of that newly-found alone time after the divorce, I joined the gym, took up yoga and went full vegan. (OK—I needed a hard shove from my doctor to go vegan, but I did it.) Finally, I’ve suffered from OCD my entire life. Being single and alone, in addition to changing my diet and exercising, gave me the time and opportunity to better manage this disease. I still have it, mind you, but I’m now aware of what’s me and what’s OCD behavior that I need to identify and stop.
Lastly, I took up a hobby. As a geek, I was part of the first wave of people to play Magic: The Gathering in 1994. I fell out of the game when I went to college and picked it up again briefly in 2009. On my own for a couple of years now, I’ve been buying new booster boxes with regularity, building decks, and occasionally venturing out to the store to play others. In my time alone, I found something I desperately needed: a hobby that had nothing to do with being on the computer.
I had done everything I was supposed to do while being single. It was at that point I realized the limits of all the dating advice given to single people.
All of this that I’ve shared with you took place between 2014 and 2015. When 2016 rolled around, I realized I had done everything I was supposed to do while being single. It was at that point I realized the limits of all the dating advice given to single people.
What you should know is that there comes a point at which you’ve done all the things single people are supposed to do. At that point, once you start putting yourself back out there to find someone, it’s OK to be frustrated about not being in a relationship. There’s nothing wrong with being frustrated. It means you care. You’re passionate about finding someone to love.
Dating can be frustrating and expensive. I’ve always felt that the people who tell you to shut up, relax and enjoy being single are giving you that advice from two different vantage points: 1) They’re in a relationship and would rather be single themselves, so they’re living vicariously through you. 2) They’re well-intentioned in wanting you not to be mopey and enjoy your life.
That’s sweet of them, but telling people to be happy about being single doesn’t accomplish much of anything. It’s the empty calories of dating advice. It sounds good, and the advice-givers think that information will be useful, but it just makes the person saying it feel better about him- or herself.
So what should you do? You should take the time you have while you’re single and figure things out. Had I not done so, I’d probably still be a mess and working on heart attack No. 2. So, get yourself together, if you haven’t already. Then, figure out what exactly you want to do with your life. Once you have a plan (a loose outline is totally OK, too), that’s when you can jump back into the dating and relationship pool. It won’t be easy. It’s going to be tedious, frustrating and cost you some money, but I have faith that it’ll be worth it.