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Realizing the value of non-romantic relationships

Now single, I am taking more time to invest in my friendships — and in myself

<p>I started to see myself as more than someone’s potential girlfriend, but as a full person in my own right.</p>

I started to see myself as more than someone’s potential girlfriend, but as a full person in my own right.

When I ended my multi-year long situationship in December, I did not know what to expect. Part of me thought that it wasn't really over and we would find each other again. But as the weeks passed, it started to sink in that for the first time in several years, I was truly single and alone — no school break flings or talking stages to jump into. I can't say that I am totally happy being single, or that I never feel disconnected from my happily coupled up friends, but this breakup has taught me to focus on the relationships that matter most to me now.

My ex-boyfriend and I started dating in high school, and we tried and failed at long distance in college. A year after our initial breakup, we started seeing each other again when we were home from school. Recently, I realized that our setup — as much as I enjoyed it when we were together — was holding us both back from meeting new people.

After we truly ended things, I did not jump right back into the dating game and find true love, nor did I become a self-care queen who takes herself out on fancy dates. At first I felt a twinge of regret, as if I had made a mistake by breaking up with my ex, and I worried that I would never meet someone new. I kept myself up at night thinking that I had pushed away the last person who would want to date me.

In the void of singledom, I couldn’t get dating off my mind. I threw a Hinge profile together in the Coupes line one night, and I considered whether I should ask out my class crushes. But whenever I thought more deeply about actually being in another relationship, I bristled at the prospect. As much as I liked the excitement and comfort of being in a relationship, I did not feel ready to go back to that life.

My reluctance to enter into a new relationship deeply puzzled me. I loved having a partner — I wanted the dinner dates, movie nights and Valentine’s Day flowers that my partnered friends were getting. I kept trying to put myself out there — I said yes to spontaneous dates with people I just met, and I allowed myself to crush on random strangers. Still, nothing ever clicked or felt right. I started to wonder if something was wrong with me.

To understand my feelings, I worked on healing from my former relationship, which was a difficult process. With time and distance away from my ex, I realized that some things that I thought were normal in my past relationships were not good for me. In most of my relationships, my partners made me feel down about myself. I regularly felt betrayed, and my insecurities became the butt of their jokes all too often. 

I became angry with myself over these realizations, livid that I had let myself stay in those unhealthy dynamics. I journaled about my feelings and let out my anger — mostly by dissing my exes. It was cathartic, but I still had no real interest in dating again.

In conversation with my friends, I realized I only felt like I wanted a boyfriend when they talked about their relationships. I had always been in on the joke whenever the people around me talked about their dating lives. After my breakup, suddenly I was not. 

Realizing that my fear of being single was about no longer fitting in with my friends — and not about actually being in a relationship — took some pressure off of me to get back into dating. Instead of using my time to think about what apps I should download or what people I should date, I began to spend time being present with the people who are already important to me. 

Being in a relationship never got in the way of my friendships, but my recent breakup had clouded my mind, preventing me from being fully present with my friends. Now that dating is not a priority in my life, I can look at a fun night out with friends as simply a fun night out with friends, not a chance to meet my next boyfriend. Over the last few weeks, I have also reached out to childhood friends I had not spoken to in a long time.

Being single has also given me an opportunity to focus on my relationship with myself. I had previously convinced myself that my personal value was dependent on the validation of a boyfriend. I would only let myself feel confident if my partner thought I was pretty. Once that external validation disappeared, I had to learn to cultivate confidence for myself. I began to dress up for myself. I worked to appreciate my body, not for what it could look like to a romantic partner, but for what it does for me. I started to see myself as more than someone’s potential girlfriend, but as a full person in my own right.

It has been a few months now since my breakup. I still feel the occasional nagging desire to get back into dating for the partnership and the fun, but these thoughts are rare and fleeting. I am no longer overly concerned about how and when I will find my next boyfriend. Instead of focusing on potential romantic connections, I get to hang out with my best friends and nurture my growing self-confidence. I know that eventually I will be really ready to start dating again, but right now, I am happy where I am.

Julianne Saunders is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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