Have you ever spent a long period of time intentionally avoiding sexual or romantic entanglements? We’ve all had cold streaks when we haven’t met anyone we liked for a while, but we were still trying to meet someone, so that’s different. But have you ever set aside a specific period of time when you would intentionally stay away from any sort of fling/relationship/hookup? A time when you took yourself off the market, and when you sensed flirtation starting with someone, you diffused it right away. You weren’t dating. Have you ever tried it? Very few people have. It’s only human nature to keep searching for “The One,” after all, and nobody likes wasting time. Taking a long time off of dating can feel like wasting time. What if you miss your chance? What if “The One” passes you by? Realistically, if you have never, ever, taking a clean break from dating, the only person who is passing you by is…yourself.
Just like rushing relationships usually turns out to be a waste of time, failing to ever dedicate a period of your life to just you is also a form of wasting time. Any efforts to find a partner before finding yourself are all a part of wasted time – and will likely result in codependent relationships. After a slew of failed min-relationships tied together by flings and hookups, I took a year to quit dating entirely in my twenties. What I learned, I’ll never forget, and always cherish. Here’s what happens when you quit dating cold turkey for a year.
You realize it’s harder than you think
You might first scoff at the idea. “I can quit dating – no problem,” you’ll say, with plenty of confidence. But then, you’ll quickly realize that every instinct in your body sends you in the other direction. You’ll quickly realize how much flirting, and a search for connection, are a part of so many of your daily interactions. It will become apparent that you’ve always gone about your life – whether you’re just grocery shopping or at a party – putting out this certain vibe that welcomed potential romantic entanglements. Only once you need to shut off that switch do you realize how very on it has been, for a very long time. And it’s difficult to shut off. Curating a set of behaviors, from the tone of voice to body language, to facial expressions, that says, “I’m closed for business” goes against every fiber of your being.
You sit with some uncomfortable moments
The realization of how very difficult this will be will continue. You’ll wake up on some weekends, when the distraction of work isn’t there, and realize that you will not be going out to bars to flirt and try to meet someone that night. You don’t have any dates scheduled. You don’t have lunch with a fling on the books. And then…you’ll feel a deep loneliness. It’s this pang that’s very scary. You’ve spent your whole life rapidly covering that up by throwing a new love interest at it. But now, you’re not allowed to. You have to confront it. There is strength in sitting with it, realizing it won’t kill you, and coming up on the other side of it. But you’ve never had to do this before. You can’t self-soothe with hookups and the thrill of swiping through dating apps. It’s just you and yourself. It’s kind of scary – turns out.
Potential interests come and go
This will be very interesting and kind of make you laugh at yourself. Potential interests will pop up, but this time, you won’t engage. There will be a new cute neighbor on the street, or a new member of your kickball league. Usually, by this time next week, you’ll have been out once or twice and probably made out. But you won’t be engaging in this. So time will pass, and you’ll just observe this person – uninvolved with him. Then time will show you some traits you don’t like. Maybe some red flags and deal-breakers. You got to witness these from a safe distance because you didn’t act on your impulse to flirt and “See where things go.” You’ll laugh at yourself realizing, typically, by the time these red flags would have popped up, you would have already been deeply involved in a fling with this person, and having to break it off would have been painful. Learning about him this way is totally painless. Hm. Maybe there is something to this being alone thing.
Friends may not get it
Some friends will totally understand and respect your decision to take a break from dating. Maybe they did it themselves once and reaped the rewards. But, dating is kind of like drinking: it’s a very social thing, a lot of people do it, and it can be hard to be the only one who doesn’t do it. So when your friends ask you to go out with them (subtext: to meet guys), you…can’t. When a friend asks you to double date with a guy she met and his best friend, you…can’t. And these friends may tell you you’re no fun anymore, or that you’re ruining everything. Don’t let this pull you back in. These friends are probably slightly addicted to dating and flirting and hooking up (as you once were), and can’t yet see that about themselves.
Then you’ll feel freer than ever
After you stick with it, and don’t give into that pull to open a dating app, message an ex, meet a flirty coworker for a drink…after you just push through the discomfort and loneliness and do whatever you can to stay on this path…you’ll wake up one day feeling amazing. I’m talking incredible. Like you have this new superpower. Before, you felt like finding love and sex was “exciting” but now you can see it was actually this very short leash you were on. It directed every decision you made and place you went. It controlled you. And now it doesn’t have that control over you. You fully understand that not flirting with/going out with/making out with/hooking up with someone for a while won’t kill you. In fact, it makes you feel strong and healthy.
You reinvest in your friends
When you can’t direct your focus to finding new people to date online or planning a second or third date with someone, it dawns on you that you have and always have had this wonderful network of other people in your life, where there’s no romantic entanglement: friends! Oh right. You remember them. You used to squeeze them into the limited free time you had in your very active dating life. They were like guest stars who showed up occasionally on the show of your love life. You might feel kind of bad, realizing you’ve neglected them. And you might reinvest in those friendships, finally trying to spend some quality time with girlfriends you used to just see for a very brief coffee or walk. Perhaps you’ll take a road trip with some girlfriends or have a spa day.
You find your passions
You will only begin to realize how much time dating took up when you quit it. It’s about more than just the dates. It’s about the time spent on dating apps. It’s about the mental real estate it all took up – analyzing that DM, analyzing that date, talking on the phone with a friend to tell them about a new guy, figuring out what to say next time you run into the cute neighbor, getting ready for dates…Woah. Now you’ll find yourself with more free time than you know what to do with. And then you’ll remember a little something called passions. Or hobbies. Interests. They have many names, and you have many of them, but you hadn’t made time for them in quite a while. And now you will, almost out of necessity. You need to fill all this new free time with something! The great thing is they relieve you of stress – like the stress you’re feeling from having no men sending you flirty texts.
You see old relationships more clearly
If you’ve never taken a long hiatus from dating, then much of your dating life has probably been a blur. When your “solution” to heartache from one entanglement is to simply throw yourself into another one, you never give yourself the time to analyze what happened in the last one. Maybe your feeling has been, “Well, that was just the wrong person, so now it’s time to try a different person,” but you haven’t stopped to ask, “Did I have any role in how that played out? Is there any accountability I can be taking? Is there perhaps a way I’d like to do things differently next time?” You’re usually too busy already in the “next time” to ask those questions. Now, you’re not.
You build a self-care routine
There will be all sorts of activities you’ll suddenly remember exist when you remove the time-sucking element of dating from your life. Here are a few: taking relaxing baths, going for long walks, journaling, meditating, and doing nothing at all. If you used to fill up every free minute with swiping for a new match, going on dates, hanging out with flings, and planning dates, you probably didn’t have a self-care routine. There isn’t much stopping you now, and you could find that it’s really nice to do something that just you feel like doing – not what a date feels like doing.
You may last longer than a year
You might really get the hang of this no-dating thing and want to carry it on longer than a year. That’s kind of the idea. When you start the journey, you’ll just be counting the days – at 366, you get to date again. You think you’ll be itching to dive back in. But then, you change. You go from missing your dating life to loving your single life. Now, there isn’t necessarily a new calendar day on when you’ll start dating. You don’t want to pick up your old habits on day 366. You kind of want to keep living how you’ve been living – seeing friends, taking time for yourself, having hobbies – and then if dating comes to you, fine.