What I Learned from My Dating Whirlwind (and Choosing to Stay Single)
So much of being in your twenties is about figuring things out. Figuring out a career, and finding the job that lets you move forward toward your goals. Figuring out a budget for your salary so you can pay the bills, but also figuring out how to still do fun things that cost money. Figuring out where you want to live, and how to deal with landlords and roommates and responsibilities. Figuring out how to cook for yourself, clean up after yourself, provide for yourself, care for yourself. Figuring out relationships, all while trying to find the illusive "one" you're supposed to end up with.
It's all hard. It's all messy. There really isn't a guidebook for any of it.
Our parents tried their best (most of the time) to get us ready, but they couldn't have prepared us for all of this. Our teachers and professors and mentors tried too, but nobody could have gotten us really ready for this. It's life, and we just have to live it.
I spent the last two years doing just that: living my life and figuring things out. Mainly, I was figuring myself out. I learned a lot from being single, from living on my own, from accepting a new job offer in a dream role, from moving in with a new roommate in a new area of town.
These two years have been an intentional time for personal growth. I was the girl throughout high school and college that always had a boyfriend, always was talking to someone, always had somebody to call when I felt lonely or just wanted somebody to tell me I was pretty. (Don't act like you haven't wanted that too!)
But after I graduated, adjusted (kind of) to the real world, and found myself heartbroken after another breakup, I realized I needed to step away from all of it and really figure things out. I had to live my own life, not the life of someone who was always a girlfriend, not the life of someone who was always adapting to the wants of another person.
I needed to live MY life. I needed to figure it out for myself.
And I did.
I actually figured out I was happy. I figured out I loved my work. I figured out what self-care looks like for me, figured out what I need to do to recharge, figured out what brings me true rest. I figured out what it looks like to have a solid rhythm in my walk with the Lord. I figured out what matters to me, what I won't compromise on, what I believe in, what I'm passionate about, what fires me up. I figured out how to write in my own voice, and I wrote a lot. I figured out what kind of red wine I like (malbec) and that tequila shots are never a good idea. I figured out how to cook delicious vegan/gluten-free meals from scratch and make enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day. I figured out my favorite paths around the neighborhood to get those extra steps in every day. I figured out what I love to read and how I like to learn and where I get my news and information.
But more than anything, I figured out that I didn't need a man to make me a whole, complete, alive, and thriving person.
I figured out that if I was to be single for the rest of my life, I would be okay. Really and truly. I would actually be happy even if I never got married, even if I never was a mom. I not only came to terms with that thought, but came to a real place of peace about it.
There no longer was this pressure on me to find my perfect person, because I was focused on becoming my own best person.
People loved to give me their opinions on my love life, though. That's been true always, and I think will continue to be true for forever. Everyone loved to tell me about how they found the love of their life when they least expected it, that if I just stopped looking I would find him, that I'm still young and there's still time and don't worry yet but put yourself out there!
I always hated those lines.
I always hated that people wanted me to fit a script, to match their story, to find this person to somehow find my worth.
I always hated that they didn't seem to see me like I saw myself: content, confident, independent, happy, whole.
But here's the thing: they might have been right. (It pains my stubborn self to admit this, believe me.)
I am still young.
There is still time.
I do have to put myself out there.
I did stop looking, and then I had three guys pursuing me all at once. (What.)
After two years of total me-time, I found myself in a position of having guys to choose from.
Hear me when I say: this is not bragging. This is not me thinking I'm hot stuff. This is just how it happened. I finally understood The Bachelorette and how your heart could actually like multiple people at once even though that seems awful and unfair. I understood all those episodes of that bachelorette crying over all the guys, because I spent many nights crying about the mess of it all too.
Let me briefly introduce them to you:
The first was a guy I met on Tinder. Yes, that app. No, it wasn't just a hook up. Yes, we went on real dates. He was great. Tall and charming, with killer eye contact and great knife skills in the kitchen and really fun friends. He paid attention to the details and constantly went above and beyond to show me how he felt about me.
The second was an old flame from my hometown. We have both moved thousands of miles from that desert state we grew up in, and we live only three hours apart now. His life so aligns with mine in terms of what we do for work: he's in ministry full-time, chasing after God and loving his students day in and day out. I love that we had home and high school friends in common, that he's known me since we first were in a church Christmas musical together in junior high, that he loves his dog more than probably anything, that he now has a badass tattoo that just gives me heart eyes.
The third was a set-up by a good friend at church, since he had recently moved to the area and didn't know many people and she thought I could help him get connected. I knew nothing about him, but after three hours in a corner coffeeshop, I felt 100% at home and at ease around this man I now felt like was an old friend. It was comfortable from the start, in a way that is so calming and affirming. He's older than I am, he's incredibly driven in his career, he's attentive, handsome, family-focused, and mature enough to be ready to settle down.
All three of them were after me at the same time, and after two years of dating nobody, I didn't know how to handle it.
I did a lot of things wrong. I probably led them all on in different ways, without even realizing I was doing it. I liked different things about all of them and was constantly comparing one against another, and I know I wasn't fair or fully present with any of them.
More than anything, though, as I was learning about them, and learning about what dating in my twenties looks like, I was learning about myself.
Spoiler alert: what I learned is that right now, I want to (and need to, and should) be single.
Here are the biggest things I took away from this whole whirlwind:
- It's scary to put myself out there. Even if you're not an introvert (I am, hardcore, though), it can be really intimidating to actually go on a date. I experienced this every time, even second or third dates with the same person. I don't think it ever gets less scary, I just think we get better at being brave and going anyway.
- Knowing myself is of the utmost importance. I know that I'm an INFJ. I know that I'm a rebel. I know that I'm a perfectionist. I know I'm stubborn and opinionated and often unfiltered. I know that I'm a writer and prone to romanticize things in my mind to write the better story I'll later want to tell. I know that I'm highly sensitive and a deep feeler. Knowing all of this helped me as I navigated unfamiliar waters and opened up to new people.
- My beliefs should never (and will ultimately will never) be compromised. I know without a single question in my mind that if I ever get married, it will be to a man who puts Jesus first, even above me. I will not settle for any less, even when there are great guys in front of me. I cannot be #1 to someone. Jesus must be.
- I must protect myself. I cannot fully trust that any person (no matter how great) will be looking out for what is best for me. People get carried away, caught up in the moment, and distracted, and when they cross lines I've set for myself (no matter what they are), I must be brave enough and bold enough to say no, to stand my ground, to walk away. I had to do this multiple times with these guys, and it was hard as hell, but it needed to happen and I'm proud of myself for doing it.
- Just because someone is great does not mean they are great for me. All three of these guys are wonderful. They're talented, driven, handsome, caring, and fun. Just because there are good things about them doesn't automatically mean they are good for me, though. It was strangely hard to turn down great guys even though I knew it wasn't right for me to be in a relationship with them, but I had to give myself the freedom and the grace to let go of the things that I knew weren't meant for me.
- Boundaries are crucial. Don't compromise. I knew what my limits were, and I knew I didn't want to blur certain lines. Learning to stand your ground on this is extremely hard, but it is absolutely imperative that you do. (Also equally imperative is giving yourself grace if you fail. Be kind to yourself.)
- Timing really is everything. Had things worked out differently and these three guys come into my life at different times, it all would have been a different story (clearly). Because of how it all happened, though, I had to make hard choices all at once. It is what it is. I trust that if something is "meant to be" then it will work out eventually in better timing even if it didn't work out now. That sounds cliche, but I believe God orchestrates things in His perfect timing even if it isn't the same as my ideal timing.
- People aren't judging you as much as you think they are. I was afraid to tell people I was going on dates. I was afraid to talk about the fact that I was actually dating different people at the same time. I was afraid to say I actually liked one of them. I was afraid to tell people he had asked me to be his girlfriend. I was afraid to say I had agreed. I was afraid to say that a week later, we realized we weren't on the same page at all, and I ended it. I was constantly expecting that everyone was judging me and drawing conclusions about me and thinking poorly of me because I was dating... but literally nobody cared. All anybody cared about was my happiness and my safety. When I told trusted friends, they laughed with me, squealed with me, asked me questions, felt for me, and just genuinely wanted to look out for me. They wanted the best for me. They weren't judging. I never needed to be afraid.
- Even if people want to date you, it's okay to choose staying single. This has been the biggest lesson out of all of this for me. I think I felt like because there were guys interested in me, I had to choose one to be with. It seemed silly to turn all of them down, because HELLO, I've been single for a long time and nobody is perfect so at some point won't I have to choose SOMEBODY if I want to actually be in a relationship? Yes, but that doesn't mean I have to choose one of these people in front of me at this exact moment. It's okay to prioritize myself in this season of life. It's okay to change my mind. It's okay to say no. It's okay to make the choice to stay single. It's not selfish to do what is best for my own heart. I have to protect myself, keep my heart safe, trust God, and follow where I believe He is leading me, even if that isn't to a guy and a relationship.
- Your struggles don't go away when you are with somebody else. Being with somebody or having a boyfriend or dating people doesn't make things go away. You aren't automatically happy, you aren't automatically stress-free, you aren't automatically free of anxiety or depression or body image fears or insecurity or ANYTHING. Who you are and what you wrestle with goes with you into a relationship. Having a boyfriend isn't a cure-all.
- Relationships of any kind take real, intentional, hard work.
If you were hoping to read this and leave with dating advice or some list of ways to snag the perfect guy, I'm sorry to say I don't have any of that for you.
I'm so far from figuring this whole dating thing out (does anyone ever figure it out?) and all I can share is my own story and the things I've been learning in the process.
It's messy. It's hard. It's emotional. It's confusing. It's challenging.
It takes a lot of bravery to date. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and open your heart to somebody new. It's scary to download the app and make the profile and let others swipe left and right on you. It takes a lot of energy to make conversation and ask good questions and engage with other people. It takes a lot of strength to risk heartbreak and disappointment again.
But it's also really beautiful to try. It's really worthwhile to build new relationships. It's really exciting to go on first dates. It's exhilarating to have butterflies in your stomach. It's fun to make new memories with someone, even if the relationship fizzles out.
Dating shows you new glimpses of humanity and shows you who you are, too.
Dating opens your eyes and your heart to the realness of another human, while shaping who you are as a human, too.
Dating is scary and silly and exciting and exhausting and fun and frustrating.
Dating is wild and it's a whirlwind.
So is being single.
After a few weeks of dating, I'm choosing singleness.
I'm choosing me. I'm choosing what is best for my heart, for my faith, for my soul, for this season.
I'm learning who I am. I'm learning what my heart desires. I'm learning what is important to me. I'm learning about what types of people I like being around. I'm learning to pray for whoever my future husband might be (if he even exists). I'm learning to be patient. I'm learning how to take care of myself. I'm learning what my identity truly is, outside of a label or a relationship. I'm learning how to let the Lord satisfy every want and wish of my heart. I'm learning what it looks like to lean on Him fully instead of relying on another broken human. I'm learning to find affirmation in His words of truth instead of in the words of a boy. I'm learning to find peace in the waiting, learning to find contentment in this time of confusion. I'm learning to tune out the voices and opinions of other people who think my life should look a certain way, and instead tune into His voice that whispers love and purpose over me constantly.
I don't have answers.
I don't have advice.
I have my story, my mess, my experiences, my questions and my utter lack of clarity...
and I have hope in what's to come.
Whatever it looks like, whoever it's with (or isn't with.)
I have a heart that is open and a faith that is learning to trust more fully in a good and gracious God. If there's a man out there for me, I believe fully the Lord will make it happen and blow me away with His goodness and faithfulness. If there is a lifetime of singleness ahead of me, I believe fully that the Lord will still blow me away with his goodness and faithfulness.
Whatever comes, I will trust Him.
And I will keep choosing joy in all of it.