What Happened When I Gave Up Dating For A Year

Photographed by Alice Gao.
By Eve Sturges
Most of my 20s (and my teenage years, for that matter) were spent longing for a partner who would complete my identity. Someone who would make me happy, boost my self-esteem, and quiet the voice inside my head that told me, again and again, that I was not enough. Then, when I was 28, I got dumped, again, for no good reason, and I decided to give up on dating altogether.

Realizing that maybe a partner wasn’t the answer, I canceled my online profiles, deleted numbers out of my phone, and made a new commitment: no blind dates, no coffee dates, no phone numbers, no making out, no sex, no ambiguous “hanging out,” nothing — for a year.

A lot of people thought a year was too long and too crazy. But a year was perfect for me, and it was so successful that it turned into almost three. During that time, I shed layers of self-doubt and discovered that I could be my own best partner. I dated myself.

In doing so, I finally learned what I really liked and didn’t like, instead of building interests based on someone else’s ideas of what was cool, fun, interesting, delicious, funny, or beautiful. I started a blog dedicated to figuring these things out, and I read books for the first time since college. Instead of fearing alone time, I enjoyed renting movies and learning how to cook. My friendships deepened, and superficial relationships faded away as I started to recognize when and how I felt my most authentic self.

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For the first time, I actually enjoyed dating, because it no longer felt like auditioning for approval.

Least expected was the way that giving up dating changed my approach to other aspects of my life. I became more comfortable as a mother, and my relationship with my daughter improved. Without loneliness clogging up my thoughts, I was able to consider my future, what kind of life I wanted, and what kind of person I wanted to be. Graduate school became an idea and eventually, a reality.
When I started dating again, it was a whole new operation. I was no longer trying to impress anyone, so I was honest about my interests, my knowledge (or lack thereof), and what I wanted in my life. For the first time, I actually enjoyed dating, because it no longer felt like auditioning for approval. If someone never called again, I moved on. I was clear about wanting to date, not “hang out” or have vague text conversations or drawn-out email exchanges. I wasn’t looking for new friends or booty calls, and I wasn’t desperately combing websites for the next poke or wink or nudge or spark or whatever.

And then, I met my husband. He ordered a coffee, and I made a joke about muffins. My focus was so far away from impressing him or dating him that I didn’t even compute what he was looking for when we exchanged phone numbers. When we spent time together, I was open about my priorities as a parent and my doubts about his ability to understand my lifestyle. He was equally open with me about his intentions; he didn’t think of me as a friend, and he was willing to be patient.

In that time, I shed layers of self-doubt and discovered that I could be my own best partner.

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I think if I had met my husband three years earlier, it all would have been a disaster. My old self would have exhausted my own resources trying to prove that I was as cool and energetic as all the other single ladies in Los Angeles — those who don’t have children. He would have seen right through the façade and would have been confused by my desperation. Instead of seeing his authenticity and kindness, I would have been worried that he didn’t quite dress hip enough to be my fantasy boyfriend.

I never want to tell anyone that I met my husband because of my decision to be date-free for three years, because that’s not how everyone’s life works. It isn’t as easy as a step-by-step formula. And while I am no model for “how to meet The One,” I do have some strong ideas now about how to change your perspective on dating and relationships. Step one: Learn to be pretty stoked about dating yourself.

Next: What Happens To Friendships After Marriage?

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