2,190 Days Without “I Love You”

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1Illustrated by Tania Lili
Six years is 2,190 days. That's enough time for a brand-new baby to learn to walk, talk, and read. It’s enough time to go to veterinary school and get two years of practice under your belt. If you planted a Christmas tree today, it could be decorated in your living room in six years. And, as I’ve experienced firsthand, six years is enough online-dating time to email 1,152 men, receive responses from 196 of them, go on dates with 144, on second dates with 29, and on third dates with six. Total relationship tally: zero.

I’ll never get that time back. I’m not suggesting I didn’t learn anything from all of those failed dates and almost-relationships. But, what I’m adding up here is absence — what isn’t there: affection, hand-holding, companionship, split rent, shared chores, funny emails, trips out of town. And, probably most importantly, hearing the phrase “I love you” in a romantic way. (I have family and friends who love me plenty — and a pet, though she doesn’t say much.)

Don’t get me wrong; in those six years I’ve seen professional success, made friends, and experienced many other forms of happiness for which I’m immeasurably grateful. Plus, these 2,190 days have been my education — one of the most priceless things I own. Online dating is far from easy (I once joked that my future husband must be putting me through it to make sure I never leave him in the future), and it’s given me a unique perspective on relationships and life. I’ve become much more in-tune with what I want, what I don’t want, what I need, and more.

So, instead of chronicling the gory details of life in the wilds of the dating world, I’m here to share some of the positive chunks of meaning I’ve managed to glean over these 2,190 days (I won’t call it my “journey” because this is not an episode of The Bachelorette).
2Illustrated by Tania Lili
Freedom is valuable. I once woke up on Sunday morning with an idiotic hangover — the result of many hours in the sun, oysters for dinner, and gossip over glasses of bubbly shared with a friend. It was fun at the time, but I felt unreasonably low in the morning. How could I over-drink like this — at my age? How could I ignore my chores and errands? A dear friend quickly reminded me: Now is the perfect time to wake up hungover on a Sunday.

Why? Because I have no one to answer to but myself. No one else I need to take care of. No responsibilities beyond paying bills and keeping myself healthy. Apart from recycling, I can’t think of anything I did today that wasn’t 100% selfish. If I took this attitude into a relationship, my partner would be dealing with an asshole.

I like being single (you may hook me up to a lie detector if you like). Contrary to BuzzFeed and other Internet-traffic farms, single women aren’t all sitting at home in our stained sweatpants, overeating and looking at new cats to adopt on the Internet. There is so much comfort in doing what you want, when you want — in making informed decisions after consulting no one at all (okay, maybe just my mom). Singledom means having time to pursue hobbies without taking away from precious hours of togetherness. It means no fear of a relationship failing, and no worries over the safety of a nonexistent child. I’m not saying I wouldn’t ditch all that freedom if given the right opportunity. But, while it's here, I intend to enjoy it.
3Illustrated by Tania Lili
Life isn’t easy — and that’s okay. The longer I’ve been in the dating world, the harder dating becomes. This is counterintuitive to most experiences. Want to play piano? Practice. Want to be a better cook? Practice. Want to be more assertive at work? Put in effort, see results. Dating tells that notion to fuck off. I’ve tried different strategies, taken breaks, gotten back on the horse...it hasn’t gotten any easier. It will only get “easy” when it ends. And, after six years of trying, I can’t make it end.

I’ve watched others’ dating lives end; they couple, they marry, they reproduce. For me, a great comfort is that the dating world has never once deprived me of feeling joy for the people I care about — even those who have said goodbye to dating forever. I’ve never held a baby whose parents I’ve known for 10 years and thought, “This is so unfair.” Jealousy doesn’t stand a chance against tiny baby feet; there’s something about the happiness of friends and family and their little ones that recharges me, like a battery. People who have found love aren’t perfect, either. They’re just lucky.
4Illustrated by Tania Lili
Patience is a virtue. I can listen to friends, family, coworkers, and pop songs as much as you please. But, for every bit of dating advice I hear, I’ll hear the opposite a week later. “You’re not trying hard enough,” becomes, “You’re trying too hard.” “You’re too independent,” changes to “You’re too needy.” “It’ll happen when you’re not looking,” conveniently morphs to “You can’t just expect him to fall into your lap.” (That one’s my favorite.)

Yes, it’s taking me longer than most people (or seemingly longer than all people) to meet someone. Luckily, the thing that keeps me from screaming at bare walls is patience. I stay sane thanks to the calm knowledge that the universe doesn’t owe me anything; I already have quite a lot, and I can wait for the rest.

The end of the past 2,190 days doesn’t mean the end of my search for companionship. I have no idea if that will ever end. I also have no idea if it should end. Am I okay being alone always? Maybe? I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with that notion, just as I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the desire to be coupled. I like the idea of a partnership, of two people experiencing the joys of life together. (Also, if someone could kill spiders for me, that’d be great.)

Maybe hitting that midpoint of “okay either way” is what these six years have been about. What I know for sure is that I am who I am now because of these 2,190 days. I am who this experience — and many, many others — have made me. And, that person is ready for day 2,191.