Until this summer, I haven’t been single since I was fourteen. My first teenage relationship lasted three years, until I went to college. After that, I lurched haphazardly from one bad decision to another in a series of short flings until I met my husband when I was twenty one and he was just nineteen. We married seven years later and divorced seven years after that. And then, as many of you already know, my subsequent relationship ended this summer.
About a week after my boyfriend left, I signed up to an online dating agency. I filled out the profile information with as few details as I could, mostly because it wouldn’t let me look on the site without doing so. Then, I forgot all about it, until an email arrived with a series of photos of potential partners. At which point, I panicked. After accidentally ‘winking’ at someone–argh– as I was trying to move between pages on the site using my phone, I hurriedly logged back in using my laptop and closed the whole account down. Not a shred of it now remains. And then I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Not ready for that. Nowhere near ready to meet someone new.
So, why did I do it? I’ve been pondering, and I think it’s because I’ve never been alone. I haven’t ever been single, not since I was the girl choosing between her pony and her first love. (The pony won, but then she died; my first experience of having a broken heart.)
I think I was simply panicking. Looking for someone who would fill that space; one that’s simply never been there before. I’ve always left relationships to start a new one. Immediately seeking out someone new was a completely automatic reaction (simply because I’ve aways been half of a couple) and not the right one. What I need to do is take a breath. To stop and properly grieve for a relationship that has died and then–for the first time–learn how to be single.
I’ve realised that (although I’m really scared about it) I want to know what it’s like to be alone. Being in a relationship had become second nature; as automatic as breathing. Something I’d done forever. When I stop to examine my actions properly, I know I want to spend some time really getting to know myself and what I want in my life instead of trying to seek out a new partner just because I’ve always had one. I want to go back to thinking about my Unravelling word of the year–nourish–and find the time to look after myself properly. To develop a bit of self reliance. Learn how to do the things that I’ve perhaps relied on other people to do; change tyres on my car, tidy up all the stuff on my laptop, build raised beds on the allotment.
And to indulge in my weirdness. Because being single means never having to compromise to keep someone else happy. Although compromise is a vital part of any relationship, not having to please anyone but myself for a while might just be a remarkable thing.
Cereal for dinner? Yep. Wearing whatever I like, regardless? Now’s the time. Solo cinema trips, slow meanders through art galleries and whole afternoons pottering in bookshops and garden centres? I’m really excited by the potential there. Dyeing my hair, taking up an all-consuming new hobby, travelling to places that I long to visit; they’re all on my being-single-is-great list. As are marathon Netflix sessions, keeping stacks of novels by the bed and spending my evenings over-sharing on this blog.
The kids are happier too, now I’ve settled down into single life. We’re planning lots of fun stuff together. They knew that I was upset when my boyfriend left, and so were they– they loved him. And it goes without saying that they were upset when their daddy and I broke up. But we all know this: happy mummy equals happy kids, every time. So if I can thrive in my single life, it will be good for us all.
Alongside all of this, I’m spending more time thinking about what I want from a relationship. What I’m prepared to compromise on and what I’m not. What the deal-breakers are. I want to know what I’m going to look for in a new relationship, when the time comes, because being honest when it comes to dating–whether I find someone via a dating website or an old-fashioned way– is the only way to find the right person. I shall lay out all my flaws and quirks but also be honest about my needs. And I’ll spend time trying really hard to become the kind of person that I might want to have a relationship with. My best self, if you like.
But for the foreseeable future, it’s time to indulge in just being me. And then, only when I’m really and truly ready and not doing it purely because I’ve always been half of a couple, I shall give that online dating site another go. Unless you’ve got a lovely single friend, that is…