Unlike many of my friends who frequently share their dating escapades and relationship highs and lows, I have never been much of a dater. Whether it was school, career or my mental health and personal wellbeing, other aspects of my life have usually taken priority over swiping on Tinder and grabbing drinks with strangers, hoping for a spark. This means that I’ve had many incredible opportunities for growth and achieving my goals but there have been periods of time where I’ve felt like I've really missed out on having someone beside me to share my success. I’m lucky to have a fantastic network of supportive family and friends but sleeping alone every night for almost 28 of my 29 years has taken a bit of a toll.
I've always found reasons or excuses why I didn't want to go on dates. I wanted to wait until I found a new job. I wanted to get a new car first. I wanted to move to a different side of town.
Although I’m someone who can – and does – feel incredibly content being single and nurturing the relationship I have with myself first and foremost, as I approach 30 I’m realising that my priorities have shifted to include finding a partner. Over the past nine years or so, I’ve almost always kept several dating apps on my phone at any one time, and have had my fair share of first dates (and other encounters). Despite this, I’ve never really committed to dating consistently and intentionally. Aside from my one more serious partnership, I’ve always found reasons or excuses why I didn’t want to go on dates. I wanted to wait until I found a new job. I wanted to get a new car first. I wanted to move to a different side of town. And the main, ever-present excuse: I wanted to lose weight. While I could construct countless arguments for the validity of each of these roadblocks in my dating path, they all come down to one core motivation: I wanted to be the 'best' version of myself for any potential partner I might meet.
Rather than put the present version of myself out there, flaws and all, I have put off dating for the majority of my adulthood because I’ve held this ideal vision of who I wanted to be when I eventually met my forever person. This may sound sad – and I’ve come to realise that it kind of is – but I do know that I’m not alone.
Tara, 34, pursued long-term relationships throughout her 20s until she realised that she didn’t know who she was because her identity was engulfed by those partnerships. "My 20s became this response to who I was dating at the time. For me, it took a relationship totally blowing up my world for me to realise I was quite literally existing to fulfil someone else’s happiness. So I took a break. I stopped dating. I knew I needed to make space for myself. To figure out who I really was, as myself. What I wanted, valued, respected, enjoyed…not only in a partner but in life." This is obviously a great reason to put off dating – but what about when the motivations aren't so healthy?
Goals set as a contingency for a relationship are based on motivation — an emotion — and [that] motivation is not sustainable. It fleets, flutters and fails at different points of the process.
Dr LaNail Plummer
"One can and should always have personal goals but not as an avenue to make oneself 'better for the next relationship'. These goals should be personal because one wants to achieve them for oneself, and not connected to a relationship at all," says licensed psychologist Dr LaNail Plummer. "If a person’s statement is 'If I lose weight, then I’ll be more attractive or ready for a relationship', that person [could potentially] gain the weight back if the relationship doesn’t come to fruition within a short amount of time, or when the relationship starts to shift. Goals set as a contingency for a relationship are based on motivation – an emotion – and [that] motivation is not sustainable. It fleets, flutters and fails at different points of the process."
Logically I know that waiting until I am a more conventionally attractive version of myself before dating isn’t an effective or helpful goal. But it’s easy to let that excuse hold me back from putting myself out there – and risking the sting of rejection or failure if a new connection doesn’t work out. Kate, 24, has had a similar experience while waiting to date until after she finishes her PhD. The stress and schedule of getting this degree meant she felt like she had to put off dating until she was more available and less overwhelmed, for the benefit of the other person. "I keep thinking that I am a better partner and more likeable when I’m less busy and stressed," she says. "I’ve been single for over four years and adding another source of stress and potential pain to my life – even though I want to be in a relationship – feels overwhelming. And even though I want desperately to let go of the past – people who hurt me, what ifs, stuff like that – and move into a happier future, I just don’t feel like I’m ready for it or like I deserve to do that yet. Like, once I’ve conquered all the stress and difficulty of grad school, I’ll be a better person and people will want to date me in a way they wouldn’t now."
Plummer acknowledges that setting healthy and attainable goals for yourself (rather than for a future partner) is not a bad thing but adds that a lack of confidence in yourself will never build a solid foundation for a relationship. "Confidence is built. It takes work, strategy, discipline, consistency and even a little failure to see how we bounce back or build/utilise resiliency. Instead of using tools to build a relationship on unstable ground, it’s better to use those tools to build ourselves up. And let’s be real, some of us don’t have sharpened tools or any tools at all. That’s when therapy sets in, to learn the tools; meditation, to know when to use the tools; and spirituality, to know how to use the tools and which tools are unique for us – specifically, for our purpose, passions and our relationships."
I’ve been in therapy for many years, which has been instrumental in teaching me how to better myself and heal from painful dating experiences in the past. I’ve taken a lot of strides in my confidence and self-love but clearly I still have a way to go, based on my compulsion to 'get better' for a future partner or relationship. Still, I know that I can work on those things with a partner, whenever I meet one. That’s the beauty of a healthy and solid relationship: you get to grow and better yourselves together. Until then, I’m done putting off dating until I’m my 'best self' for someone else. I know that the right person will love me for me.