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There were many low points in my eight years (more or less) as a single person. One in particular was in December of 2010, right around my 32nd birthday. Funny that I can’t even remember why it was a low point. Probably because I had created some kind of timeline where I imagined that I should have been in a relationship by that point. To cope with all the hopelessness, bitterness, loneliness, panic, frustration and feelings of failure I was experiencing, I wrote an open letter to my single self. Although I didn’t believe it at the time, I gave myself the most awesome advice. To quote myself to myself (how meta), my main point was that I should be patient and do nothing:
“In waiting, you’ve grown impatient at times and have tried to force things that weren’t meant to be, fought too hard for something that you knew was wrong, held on too tight to something that was already dead and gone, or pushed people away out of fear. No more of that. The only thing left for you to do now is NOTHING … Love is a mystery that you can’t harness or control or elicit or will. Accept that it’s a mystery and sit down, shut up, enjoy your freaking life, and patiently wait your turn.”
After I wrote this, people were telling me how much they liked it. I scoffed it off as a whatever, because, like I said, I had lost faith, even in the truth of my own words. It turned out that I was dead on. Exactly what I told myself to do — be patient and wait my turn — was precisely what led to me running smack into the love relationship I was waiting for. Literally! I ran into him on the subway one day and the rest was a wonderful mystery. I look at him sometimes and say, “Why were we both on the same subway car that day?” I have no idea. Even though I’m in love, I don’t have single amnesia in the least. I remain strongly connected to the part of me that wrote this letter. I remember exactly how she felt. It’s National Singles Week — not that I need a holiday to reflect — but it’s just as good a time as any to look back on some of the wisdom I took with me from those eight years I spent with myself, which in the end, I am grateful for.
1. Learning to love your own company is invaluable. I can’t remember who said it now, but a Buddhist philosopher talked about cultivating a lifelong, unconditional friendship with yourself. The biggest mistake I was making as a single person was trying to fight against, punish or shame single Ami. Instead of being an unconditional friend to her when she got dumped or went on a shitty date, I would tell her it was her fault and blame her for it. What an asshole I was to myself. If I were to be single again, I would be a lot more laid back and compassionate about the whole thing. Like a friend.
2. People will impose their ideas about relationships upon you … try to ignore them. The most annoying part about being single — aside from what an asshole I was to myself about it — was what assholes other people were to me about it. People love to ask you why you aren’t dating or when you plan to or force advice or single guys upon you when you didn’t ask. Seriously, people said the most offensive shit to me — from commenting about how embarrassed I must be to attend my brother’s wedding alone to how I might have better luck if I straightened my hair on first dates. I’m not even kidding. In order to stay sane through long stretches of singlehood, you’re going to have to drown out all that noise and remember that it doesn’t matter what other people think.
3. It’s out of your control. There are some things that are in your control — like choosing not to listen to people who make annoying single comments to you — but there are other things that are not. Like the big one: when you’ll meet the right person for you. It could be five minutes or five years. The sooner that you accept that you cannot control that, the easier your life will be. It will allow you to focus on what’s really important: enjoying your life and being the best person you can be — singled or coupled.
4. You’re going to go through phases. Sometimes you’ll be revved and ready to date. You’ll be on OKCupid scrolling though suitors like a mofo, you’ll be accepting potential setups, guys will be popping out of manholes on the street to date you. Then you’ll go through dating fatigue and erase your online profile and sit in a dark room for weeks. Then you’ll embrace your hiatus and do ME TIME to the extreme. Then you’ll get sick of ME TIME, but there will be no prospects and you’ll find yourself in the most epic dry spell. You’ll go for months without so much as eye contact with a person you’re attracted to. Then one day, you’ll reactivate your profile or meet someone cool at a party and the whole damn thing will start again. Respect where you’re at in the circle of dating life and don’t try to fight it.
5. When something’s right, there’s nothing you can do to screw it up. You’ll never believe that this is true, but it is. You’ll always think, If only I had done A or B or said C or D, so-and-so would still be in my life. Nope. Not true.
6. PAFU. This was a term coined by a college friend of mine. It stands for PEOPLE ARE FUCKED UP. This is not meant to be negative. It’s just realistic. Understanding that people are strange, unique creatures not to be understood (yourself included sometimes) — especially when it comes to love and intimacy — is the most invaluable realization a single person can have. It allows you to go out on a series of horrible, mortifying dates or be rejected a stupid amount of times and shrug your shoulders and realize that it has nothing to do with you. Oh, he’s a 37-year-old polyamorous intern with a child and wife in a mental institution and he didn’t feel the need to disclose this BEFORE we went on a date? Oh yeah. PAFU. Oh, I thought things were going great and then he told me that he had an allergic reaction before our date and then I never heard from him again. OH YEAH. PAFU.
7. Don’t be jealous of coupled people. Sometimes, during my long ass single stretch, I would get jealous watching my friends get snapped up left and right. There were times when it seemed like everyone I knew was in love/getting engaged/getting married/having babies. And this would give me carte blanche to feel sorry for myself. Comparing yourself to other people is always a waste of energy, but when I was single, I had this perception that being in love made your problems go away. Being in love is great, but if anything, I’ve found that it makes you have to face your problems more honestly because there is another person there staring you in the face. Don’t waste your energy comparing yourself. Be as happy for all those people as you’ll want them to be for you when it’s your turn. And it will be your turn at some point. I promise.
8. PATIENCE. I said this to myself back in 2010, but put that Guns N’ Roses song on repeat because this is key. I thought I had taken all I could back then, but I still had another 2 years and 3 months of bad dates, breakups and romantic disappoints before anything lasting. So how do you cultivate the kind of patience that takes years? Stay focused on what you ultimately want and in the meantime, be the best person you can be. Oh, and try to stop focusing on what you don’t have and enjoy what you do.