At age 28, I ended a 14-year long streak of being in relationships. It was sad, but sorely needed; the entirety of my twenties had been devoted to two women, and I’d been serial-monogamizing since my teens — often discovering the desire for a new commitment before the old one had completely run its course, jumping from sinking ship to sinking ship, and continually passing up other, perhaps healthier opportunities I had made myself unavailable to pursue.
While being with someone for years might suggest you have something figured out, it’s not that hard for two people to stay together out of comfort, or insecurity, and ignore the increasing fights, the growing gnaw of panicked apathy, until something finally triggers the end. Rinse, repeat. Over time I had learned a lot about relationships, but not necessarily about making someone happy — least of all, myself.
Recognizing this unfair and unhealthy pattern of codependency, after the end of my last relationship I resolved to stay single at any cost — both to give myself the growth and fulfillment that only seems possible when one is truly independent, and to work out the personality flaws that have presented challenges in every attempt at commitment over the years.
To that end (and perhaps somewhat counterintuitively) I threw myself on OKC and Tinder, fresh meat to the dating scene, figuring that as long as I could transparently and safely remain uncommitted, at least some wisdom would come from interactions with others. And it has. My heart’s picked up some scuffs in the process, but I’ve given a few myself, and ultimately I’m a lot more confident and comfortable for it.
I was reflecting last night on what I’d learned since starting this experiment, and I came up with a few truisms that have been particularly helpful. If there’s desire, I’ll expound upon them, but I think they stand on their own. We’ll see what the next 7 months brings. (And if you’re responsible for something on this list — thank you.)
- ‘No commitment’ is not the same as ‘no attachment’. Staying out of a relationship doesn’t mean that all encounters must be impersonal and purely physical.
- ‘No expectations’ is, in fact, an expectation. You can’t assume others won’t get invested just because you don’t intend to.
- When someone first meets you as the person you’re striving to be, it’s easier to ‘be’ that person in their company — and eventually all the time. Always keep improving, find other people who are doing the same, and present yourself authentically to them.
- It actually is possible for lovers to gracefully step back to being friends. I didn’t believe this until it happened, and I’m thankful that it did.
- Always be honest. Always be honest. Always be honest. Always be honest.
- Honesty doesn’t always mean spilling your guts. Be wise; be classy.
- Liking someone does not obligate them to like you back the same way.
- Similarly, someone who likes you is not obligated to keep liking you. And it’s not always your fault if they stop.
- It’s important to know what a ‘meaningless’ encounter feels like, so you can appreciate the differences — both positive and negative — between meaningless and meaningful.
- Taking physical relations off the table does not at all preclude non-platonic intimacy and fulfillment.
- Verbal agreements are null and void whenever the heart decides they are. You can make emotional contracts, just don’t expect them to stay binding.
- The campsite rule exists for a reason. It’s a serious responsibility to be with someone who has less experience than you — either with sex or relationships — and regardless of an actual difference in age.
- Equality works on a longer timeline than the current moment. You can’t strive to be equals with someone you can’t gracefully accept sacrifice from.
- It takes strength to let yourself be taken care of. It’s selfish to require that effort from others and never make it yourself.