Help me become a better version of myself
October 3, 2020 8:52 PM   Subscribe

You, a relationship-minded person, took a break from dating in order to grow as a person, and it worked. Tell me your story.

This was me last year. And then, this year, this was me. There's more to the story about the most recent guy, but anyway. I was cheated on/treated very poorly in one relationship, only to get ghosted after five months the next time I start actually dating someone consistently. I was terribly heartbroken last year, and I feel like it took me so much time to get over the hurt and betrayal, and then when I finally met someone who, though not perfect, seemed world's better than my ex, he freaking ghosted on me, making me feel even more hurt and lost and confused. I tried so hard to apply everything I learned from the first guy--to take it slow, to look for flags, to communicate. I didn't see the same amount of flags. We certainly took it slow and he listened, fully, when I tried to communicate with him. It seemed promising! And then--POOF--he was gone. It's just discouraging because I do things right by the book--I am patient and loving, I use "I" statements, I communicate clearly and early and do not raise my voice, and yet I still get so damn hurt.

The point is, I want to date, but I also feel so tired and hurt. I attach to people quickly and frequently worry that I won't actually meet anyone and will end up alone. I'm afraid I'm dating out of fear and I'm afraid that it will lead me into a relationship that isn't good for me, one where my needs aren't being met or he's way too distant or abusive or whatever else. I want a relationship, but really what I want is a healthy relationship, one where I feel supported and valued and loved. When my relationships go bad I get so upset I make myself physically sick. Its not healthy and I want to be at the point where I am able to walk away instead of letting another person destroy me.

Okay, so I need a break. But how? I try to take a break and then it's like I get this itch, or The Fear--the one that says I may end up alone, the one that imagines a long life devoid of intimacy or romantic love, and then suddenly I'm on an app again. Or else I start thinking about the most recent quasi-ex and The Sadness hits and it's so all-encompassing and overwhelming that I'm downloading a damn app just to distract myself from it. In a way they help, because they remind me that there are so many people out there, many of whom are intelligent and accomplished and kind. But then suddenly I'm neck-deep in avoidant men and fuck boys and I get so discouraged that I start to feel awful again.

So.... maybe I need a break. Or do I? I may need a break because my current position in life has me back in the area for now, but with a plan to leave (though not as far away this time) in January, again. Awful time to be dating, really. I could do a friends with benefits thing, but what if I get overly attached and heartbroken again? I don't know how much longer I can do this. It's exhausting and I'm jaded. I want to be the best version of myself so I can find the healthy, supportive relationship I want and know I deserve. But then I get The Fear or The Sadness and they're so intolerable I don't know what to do with myself.

So tell me about your break from dating. I have the therapy angle covered.I'm trying to see friends but y'all there's a damn pandemic going on and that's not making this any easier. But I cook for myself and burn candles and exercise. I go on hikes alone and make a conscious effort to talk to friends. What else did you do to get yourself in a headspace to find a healthy relationship? Did it work? Where are you now?
posted by Amy93 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Okay, this is going to sound off the wall, and YMMV, but reading romance novels was really helpful to me in terms of modelling what a good, supportive relationship looked like, and that I deserved one too.

Speaking of books, you might also like this list of books to read while you're single.
posted by Tamanna at 11:11 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]

I'm sure you'll get lots of good advice abour how to be healthily single, but I just came in to say that you don't have to take a break unless you want to.

This: "I want to be the best version of myself so I can find the healthy, supportive relationship I want and know I deserve," suggests that you think you did something to deserve the bad treatment you received, and that if you just Do The Right Thing a good partner will appear. But that's not so. You're already doing all the right things. To be treated badly by two different partners in a row isn't surprising: A lot of people (and especially cis straight men, if that's who you're dating) are just terrible. I think one healthy thing could be to let go of the ideas that your ability to be happy in a relationship is fully under your control, that an unhappy relationship is your fault for picking wrong, and that if you are perfect/good enough a good partner will appear. Lots of healthy, sane people luck into shit relationships, repeatedly. Some wildly unhealthy people luck into healthy, happy relationships.

If you want to date, date. If you want to take a break for self care, go ahead and do that: Dating is rough. But because it is rough, whatever you do, be gentle with yourself about the inevitable failures. You sound geeat. Someone is going to be very lucky to have you.
posted by shadygrove at 11:52 PM on October 3 [26 favorites]

One of the things that helped me enormously when I ended up on a long gap between romantic relationships was working on my relationships with my friends. Spending time with people who actively wanted to be with me because they liked me, treated me courteously, and who I could be open and honest with.

And then, when I was actively dating, I was lucky enough to have a partner in crime who was on the same apps and so on. We compared notes, and traded stories of bad dates, but with the benefit of hindsight, it helped me avoid making some of the mistakes that I'd made previously because my friend would call me out on them and me with them. Not because we'd asked each other too but because we genuinely didn't want the other to be poorly treated.

When you get really used to people treating you like a valuable and worthwhile person, it can make it more difficult to tolerate less. This is a very good thing.
posted by plonkee at 1:32 AM on October 4 [18 favorites]

But how? I try to take a break and then it's like I get this itch, or The Fear--the one that says I may end up alone, the one that imagines a long life devoid of intimacy or romantic love, and then suddenly I'm on an app again.

If you're actually going to do the take-a-break thing deliberately, this exact point is exactly what you're looking for. You need to be sitting back in the weeds waiting for The Fear to show itself, then instead of being blindsided by it you step straight out and stab it in the neck with your Great Sword Of Fuck You. And then you do the same thing again. And again, and again, for as long as it takes for it to get the idea and stop bothering you.

The way to stop rushing into the arms of people who will offer you temporary comfort in exchange for a chance to hurt you worse than you were hurting before you met them is to learn that being devoid of intimacy or romantic love is not the worst thing. It's completely survivable and, with practice, can even be a pleasant and totally sustainable way to have a fully satisfactory life. What you're after is the perspective you gain from loneliness having turned into solitude.

I didn't go after this deliberately; as the designated Nerdy Fat Kid, I more or less had it thrust upon me. My first intimate relationship followed my first kiss, which didn't happen until I was 30 years old and had had a solid decade of solitary adulting experience.

If that relationship had turned out to be abusive, I would absolutely not have had major difficulty in walking away from it. As it turned out, it lasted three years until she eventually dumped me. But we're still friends.

What plonkee says about getting used to people treating you as valuable and worthwhile is absolutely spot-on. And in general it's going to be easier for people who are not intimate with each other to treat each other that way, just because of the lowered emotional complexity.
posted by flabdablet at 2:14 AM on October 4 [19 favorites]

My life experience has been more like flabdablets and I agree with what they say, that if you can turn loneliness into solitude your life will improve greatly. The Art of Living Alone and Loving It by Jane Mathews, especially the audiobook version, will give a lot of ideas that if you spend time by yourself it can still be a pretty damn good life. That said, it sounds like you want a healthy relationship and I kind of agree with that, I think the right choice of partner in life can make a huge difference to quality of life. Standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles with a partner that makes you laugh can be more fun than standing at the altar with someone where you know your heart isnt in it. If you are committed to dating either now or after a break I think you will get immense comfort from the book "It's Not You" by Sara Eckel. She didn't get married until age 39 and dated sparingly before that. People would ask her the last time she had been on a date and when she answered honestly they would flat out ask what was wrong with her. Turned out there was nothing wrong with her, she just hadn't met the right guy yet. Once she did, things were surprisingly easy. The book recounts all the different reasons people said were the reason she was single and shows how the thinking behind each one was faulty. It's like a comforting mug of hot chocolate and a heart to heart with a friend.
posted by AuroraSky at 4:57 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]

So.... maybe I need a break. Or do I? I may need a break because my current position in life has me back in the area for now, but with a plan to leave (though not as far away this time) in January, again. Awful time to be dating, really. I could do a friends with benefits thing, but what if I get overly attached and heartbroken again?

If it weren't for COVID, I would suggest you date more than one person at a time. Even if you are just talking to people now, you might try some version of that. Don't get too involved, and don't think of it as looking for a permanent partner. That's what I did in a similar situation to yours, living somewhere for a job but planning to leave. For what it's worth, my current partner is someone from that period who disappeared and then reappeared after several months. He may have ghosted me because he found someone more interesting at the time? I don't know for sure, but it was good for me to find out I could deal with something like that.

I wouldn't want to go back to a world where you had to be serious about someone to sleep with them, but if you feel you can't date multiple people and sleep with them, that's fine, especially right now.
posted by BibiRose at 6:17 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]

Call bullsh_t on The Fear: there are many ways to have friendships, emotional support and deep care without a pairing or singular other soulmate. Tell The Fear to move in with you as you accept that it wants success for you and as you accept you're okay without a partner. Tell The Fear you're planning on building a community who meet your needs and won't look for a singular character you'll put before anyone else.

Call bullsh_t on your entitlement: none of us are guaranteed successful relationships, and you seem to be in a culture where high expectations are set in cis-het relationships for women and are ignored or failed without consequence for men. That makes it harder to find or keep good partners but, that aside, there's nothing in cis-het relationships being the vast majority and needed for human breeding that means you're going to get an easy or successful one.

You've really got to be okay with The Fear being there; you've really got to be okay with the idea you're not entitled to success, and you've got to step bravely forward into each day with all the other feelings that give from accepting those concepts. This internet stranger would bet on you: I think you can do this, one breath and one heartbeat at a time.
posted by k3ninho at 6:40 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]

It seems like a great time to take a break because of COVID and because you're planning to move in a few months. That said, when you do date again, I'm willing to guess that you would be okay if you dated someone with a secure attachment style. You could try therapy for anxious attachment, but I don't think it's definitely necessary.
posted by pinochiette at 6:43 AM on October 4

I really threw myself into dating in my early 20s and then I eventually just hit my damn breaking point after one too many disrespectful jerks hurt my feelings. I gave up in frustration and just focused on other shit, not "in order to get to a place where I was comfortable being alone" but simply because dating had stopped feeling better than being alone.

I'm glad I did it. Now a person being attracted to me is a delightful surprise, not something I'm desperate for. I'm a lot more confident now.

I can't tell you exactly "how I decided." I had just reached my own personal limit with the bullshit of dating. It sounds like maybe you have too.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:54 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]

Whether you date or not, I think you should take some time out to examine 'The Fear' and 'The Sadness' you mentioned earlier. It sounds like it's having an effect on your relationships, as you said that you feel like you get attached easily.

I'd recommend the book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment, a book about attachment styles. You may find yourself subconsciously attracted to distant people who cannot fulfill your needs.

I personally am more distant myself and need lots of space, so I subconsciously chose someone who wanted NO space to fulfill some hidden needs. It did not work out very well.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:54 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]

Okay, so I need a break. But how? I try to take a break and then it's like I get this itch, or The Fear--the one that says I may end up alone, the one that imagines a long life devoid of intimacy or romantic love, and then suddenly I'm on an app again.

This was me. My relationship pattern was get involved with someone, very quickly. About 1-1.5 years in, start feeling bad about the relationship & break up with the person. Spend the next 4-6 months being relieved and then start being afraid I would never find someone. Then, I went into a phase I dubbed "Are you my lover?" (after the kid's book Are You My Mother). I would start "falling" for anyone and everyone, regardless of gender or relationship status. Well, I found out that when you put out that kind of energy, someone is going to respond and they probably aren't that healthy themselves.

My best friend told me that I just needed to have casual sex because that worked for her. So, when someone I'd known for 2 years and didn't even want to be friends with propositioned me, I took her up on it. She was the craziest person I've ever known -- incredibly manipulative. We had sex, but it became a relationship not too long afterwards. She moved in with me, and we stayed together about 2 years. I was suicidal and self harming because of the abuse and craziness. Finally, I was able to break it off after reading Emotional Blackmail - which is what I was encountering and which gave me the tools to set and keep boundaries.

After that experience, I realized I needed to take a break from relationships. I met with a therapist and worked through my fears of being alone. I learned that I can't really say "yes" if I'm not able to say "no".

I did find love again, and my wife and I have been together for 11 years. I wish you all the best. Working through this fear was really hard for me, and it took getting involved with a really crazy person for me to realize that I needed to do something different.
posted by elmay at 9:35 AM on October 4

I had history of falling for, and getting into relationships with men weren’t good for me, or even downright dangerous.
Here’s what worked for me:
1. First, figure out what’s important to you, you want a partner with shared values, but if you don’t know your own values, and a sense of what’s most important, it’s hard to take next step.
2. When you meet someone, hold back and take some time to evaluate them against those values. For me, this involved asking questions and intently listening to the answers.
3. Pay attention to your “inner voice” - for me, this meant examining when (and why) alarms would go off in my head. Previously, I just pushed those aside.

After a few dates with guys who didn’t pass the above, I met my husband, and we’ve been married 27 years!
You deserve someone that suits you.
posted by dbmcd at 9:55 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]

I didn’t do it on purpose, but it happened to me. I was in a string of relationships in my 20s that leaned into the beginning of my 30s, but I’ve been mostly single the past 5 years. (I’ve had a couple short term non-mono partners within my social circle, but none lasted, and none were long term prospects)

Also, my experience on dating apps as a non-conforming AFAB human in LA has not been great.

I *LOVED* being in relationships. And still love the idea of it, and hope to have it again someday. I love cuddles and talking and collaborating, and the comfort and security of someone having my back 24/7. But in the most recent 2 years, I’ve become a lot more comfortable about being single.

I’m lucky to live in a shared house populated mostly by people I really like, so I’m not incredibly isolated, with or without COVID. I’ve picked up some hobbies that occupy as much time as I care to give them. I finally feel a sense of relief of not having to fight the uphill battle for emotional labor equality.

Even though I say I’ve been single for several years... for most of 2019 I was “dating” someone. We were into each other and largely “committed”, but he’s a non-traditional adult, who does not have or strive to lead a self-supporting lifestyle. For most of our time together, i was unemployed and semi-homeless, so both of us being low key drifters worked out. But once I got a job and my life started moving again—moving toward my dreams—I ended the relationship in less than a week. Not because I stopped caring about him, but because i has a strong sense of how I wanted my partner to fit into my life and match the pace of my life, and no longer had the patience to wait for that partner to contribute energy and/or vision.

My sense of identity of who I am (“while single”) did not come easy. It wasn’t just asking “what do i want in my life, how (else) can I get it?” But also testing my answers and re evaluating. I’ve gotten to a point where my life is busy enough with work and crafting projects that my relationship standards are really high—I’m not going to bend over backwards to accommodate a potential partner whose communication style is very different from mine. I like the way my life functions when I get up early (5am), and don’t want to compromise that schedule for the sake of dating.

I still want a relationship. There are things I don’t do, or don’t make time for while single that I would like to have in my life (certain kinds of travel and experiences). And there are certain kinds of brain drugs that just don’t happen as strongly (if at all), without a human partner. But I can’t force anyone to love me, or force the universe to give me someone compatible, so I’m putting energy in my now-life and setting things up so that even if I meet someone, I won’t dump my entire identity into being a spouse ever again.
posted by itesser at 10:13 AM on October 4 [5 favorites]

I feel you. I am a 30-year-old female whose attached friends outnumber my single friends, and I too wonder if I will ever have a fulfilling romantic relationship. So I don't have advice on how taking a break from dating helped me as I'm in the same boat as you, but just wanted to comment that you're not alone!

That said, something that was helpful for me was reading How to Be Single and Happy. I found it immensely helpful for feeling a little more at peace with my seemingly perpetual singlehood; I liked it a lot more than It's Not You because that It's Not You seemed a little more anecdotal while How to be Single and Happy felt more substantial/evidence-based in terms of the argument it was making.
posted by dean_deen at 11:07 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]

One of the things that helped me enormously when I ended up on a long gap between romantic relationships was working on my relationships with my friends. Spending time with people who actively wanted to be with me because they liked me, treated me courteously, and who I could be open and honest with.

This worked for me. I was in a longish relationship with a guy who was great but ultimately a bad fit. We split up later than we should have because I was prepared to put up with stuff that, on reflection, I shouldn't have. So I spent a lot of time with people who I didn't have to "put up with" things but who I genuinely liked and who liked me. I ignored people who were weirdos about dating and who didn't see single-me as someone who had value and was worth hanging out with on my own. I didn't avoid doing things I would have preferred to do coupled (trying out a new restaurant, going to a movie) though I did try sometimes to get friends to go with me. I tried to balance going to things on my own (weddings, social stuff) and going with friends.

I basically "stopped looking" and tried to appreciate the things I had gotten back that I did not have in my last relationship (ability to sleep in, not having to "perform holidays" I didn't enjoy, an end to dramaz from his family etc). I spent time with friends who were in relationships and learned about what is normative give and take in a relationship and what isn't. I basically decided that it was possible for me to pretty easily have a lifetime partnership if I wanted (being a cishet woman with decent looks and personality) if I had no standards, but since I accepted that I had standards I should start thinking about what those were. For whatever stupid reason, that was helpful, thinking "You can have a relationship if you're willing to take ANY relationship. But that's no you, so why don't you twiddle the knobs a bit and be okay not just taking ANY relationship right now?"

I wound up, years later, in a pretty non-traditional relationship but one that checks all of my boxes. I think it was helpful for someone who is kinda non-traditional herself, to be willing to think in more expansive terms about how to make this all work. I am so sorry you got done bad by terrible people. I agree with others: sit with that fear, but don't blame yourself. You deserve someone who is as mindful as you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:12 AM on October 4 [7 favorites]

This fear makes us put up with behaviors that are damaging to us, but also holds us back from asking for the change or treatment we deserve. A healthy sense of peace with oneself is needed not only to not fall for the wrong person out of desperation, but also to navigate a good relationship, which does not happen until people are able to be centered within themselves.
Its not just about falling for the wrong person, it's also about bringing a whole healthy self to the right relationship.
After I ended a very long relationship my therapist has almost been chanting a mantra that I will not put up with what I did in that relationship again. It seems like a no brainer to me intellectually, I feel like I get it, but I also think he recognizes that these patterns are not so easily changed and its needs constant reiterating. Now as I'm dating again I'm learning to look for signs of emotional availability and readiness in the men im meeting.
I have to say I was so exhausted after I broke up that I just hibernated for a year. I started dating when I felt it was not out of pressure but because I wanted to meet people again. The pressure felt like an extension of the reasons I stayed in the old relationship. I had to cleanse that way of feeling out of my system before starting this new phase.
posted by whatdoyouthink? at 7:49 PM on October 4

I would like to add that if, as your username suggests, you are a feminine-presenting-person who was born in 1993, and you really feel like a break from dating is what you need, do not let yourself get sucked in by social pressure to have everything “sorted” and locked down by a particular age. You have lots of time for babies and longterm partnerships, if those are things you are invested in. Lots of outside sources will make you think you are failing if you aren’t pursuing them Right Now.

Try not to listen to those voices. You’ll enjoy relationships and building a family structure (if you decide you want those at all) way more once you know yourself, your patterns, how your history impacts your present behavior, and what you want most vs. what you won’t tolerate. It’s also perfectly fine if you realize you don’t want those things.
posted by unstrungharp at 8:34 PM on October 4 [4 favorites]

Do you have any single role models? Role models make things a lot easier. Here are two suggestions - follow them on Instagram or just find some interviews with them on Youtube or podcasts. They're young but they're ahead of their time (so says this lady in her 30s anyway).

Chidera Eggerue (aka The Slumflower) writes regularly about the joys of singledom, and wrote a book recently called How to Get Over a Boy. She's blunt, brutal and inspirational!

Florence Given is an artist/illustrator/writer, whose catchphrase is "Dump Him" which sounds a bit facile but there's more to her than that. She also has a book out which might be very up your street, Women Don't Owe You Pretty. I know that sounds like it's not directly an answer to your question, but I think it might help you answer it a bit more holistically.

I hope these two give you a good place to start, I think they should be required reading for women to be honest!

also apologies for the UK only book links but I refuse to encourage patronage of the evil giant
posted by greenish at 7:38 AM on October 5

Oh I have so much to say about this idea. Could likely write a book, but I will be focused and succinct as possible.

Ultimately the best couples are couples that share many things and do not differ in major things. Everyone in the world should look into the science of relationships, specifically the work of the Gottmans at the University of Washington. In short that is the conclusion the research has discovered.

The trouble is learning about yourself takes time and relationships help you learn about yourself. Impossible to find someone like yourself to commit to if you are not largely formed.

I would take it a step futher and say know and love your self before expecting someone to love you. How can we expect to feel love if we do not indeed embrace and love ourselves first?

So whatever you need to do to get to place where you know and love yourself, do it!

So much more I could say about this but I think that is the most important thing.
posted by Airos at 11:34 AM on October 11

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