In college, I had a girlfriend and things were mostly great.
We weren’t a perfect match for each other — obviously, or we’d still be together. But it was good enough for me that I felt secure in my life. No matter what happened, I had a person to be there with me through it all.
The break up was the worst thing that had happened to me up until that point. I didn’t realize how little work I had put into my relationships with my friends and family. I called my Mom crying a bunch during that time. Still makes me cringe thinking about it (thanks, Mom).
I had no idea how to be alone. And that’s when the series of horrible relationships started.
I would start relationships with people I had absolutely no connection with. We would make each other miserable for a while, then they would end and I would be alone again, looking for my next fix.
It’s a hard cycle to break. It took me years of suffering to figure out. But there are some ways to make the alone time matter enough to tolerate it, and to get the relationships you deserve.
1. Get a hobby
The feeling of loneliness isn’t your enemy here. It is trying to tell you something important. You need relationships in life. You need meaningful connection. But bad relationships are like cocaine — a great short-term fix and a terrible long-term strategy. Don’t fight that urge though; you will always lose. Instead, let it push you out the door. Go take a yoga class, start a martial art, an acting class, improv, or whatever you’re into.
Striking up a conversation at these places isn’t easy on the first day. Don’t rush it! Just go and keep going until you feel comfortable. Don’t make the experience a chore. If you do, you won’t go back. If any of this feels hard, you’re doing it wrong!
Try ClassPass if you don’t know where to start. Do a free trial and go to a yoga class or whatever is close. Don’t overthink it!
2. Do absolutely nothing
This might seem odd, but so much of what we do is motivated out of fear. We’re so terrified of “wasting time” alone that we end up in mostly meaningless relationships that waste years of our lives. You can’t afford to not do absolutely nothing anymore!
Tell yourself, “Until I am inspired to do something, I will do nothing.” The smallest action taken motivated by inspiration is worth 1,000 actions motivated by worry.
I really struggle with this one. So much of the world wants me to do more. Wants me to “hustle.” I would rather mindlessly swipe on Tinder for hours for the smallest hits of dopamine than think about what I actually want from a relationship.
Being alone never means something is wrong with you. It just means you are being properly patient.
— The School of Life
3. Write down what you want in a relationship. Don’t be flexible.
I recently did this for the first time. I have 12 things I look for. I’ll share them:
- I am very attracted to her
- She is very attracted to me
- She is in a similar place spiritually. Maybe further.
- She reads a lot, and has a well-formed set of values that are similar to mine
- She is financially independent, loves her work, but does not live to work.
- She wants kids
- She is funny, perceptive, and smart
- She is ready to enter a long-term trust relationship
- She is honest and brave
- She is slightly more extroverted than me and helps me maintain friendships
- She is more feminine than me, but it does not turn into a maternal relationship
- She is an excellent and patient traveler
Now that I wrote all these down, I can no longer fool myself. If someone isn’t hitting these marks for me, I am wasting her time and being unfair to both of us.
Some of these might seem obvious, but a lot of times we can overlook an important one if a lot of the other ones are covered. In my experience, it’s always ended badly to do this.
Go on lots and lots of dates. Make it a simple, cheap coffee date in the middle of the day. Be brave and say when you’re not feeling it. Remember, it has nothing to do with that person and you shouldn’t feel like you’re insulting them. Connections are rare and we all know it. It’s so much worse to waste their time.
If you’re struggling with this, I know how hard it can be and my heart goes out to you. Feel free to reach out to me if you need someone to talk to.
It is a fine distinction between being at peace with being alone and making loneliness your identity. You don’t want to fall into the latter. It is better to be together, but patience is key to finding the right together.
Good luck out there!