How Taking a Break From Dating Helped Me Fall Back In Love With Myself by Serena Zets

I emerged from quarantine with the distinct confidence and self-assuredness that only comes from the relief of ending a relationship or leaving a place you have outgrown. I was experiencing both freedoms as 2022 began. I had just ended my longest-term relationship a month prior, graduated college in December, accepted a dream job offer, signed a lease with four strangers, and was preparing to move to Washington, D.C. in the first few weeks of the new year. The year was already ripe with change, transformation, and growth, and it had only just begun. 

I felt surprisingly ready to embrace these life changes and realized that they were what I had been subconsciously working towards for years. Yes, all of these opportunities felt miraculous in their timing and ease, but they came as a result of years of academic, professional, and emotional work. I had made this slew of difficult decisions solely for me and nobody else. This decision-making was given the space to occur because it was the first time in six years of dating that I had truly been single. Even during the periods where I wasn’t in serious relationships, I still went on dates and met new people constantly. I was always the friend with funny (and oftentimes unfortunate) date stories that made the whole group double-over with laughter. They laughed with gratitude for the fact that it wasn’t them who had to endure such dating dilemmas. On my college campus or in my hometown, past romantic interests felt inescapable everywhere I went. I thought this never-ending churn of romantic prospects brought color to my life and made me more interesting to be around or to talk to. I realized the human in me had been seeking a partner but the writer in me had also been seeking my next best story, and this constant pursuit of chaos was taking a massive toll on me. I would often choose to go on a first date rather than sleeping early, like my body was begging me to do. I would avoid certain places to avoid certain people. The unsustainable dating patterns I had developed were seriously impacting my life in ways I hadn’t realized until I took a step back and began to think about how I could actively remedy it in my new chapter of life in D.C.

After a few months of unfulfilling and deeply stressful dating in D.C., I decided to take a well-deserved break from dating and invest that time back into getting to know my new home and community better and taking care of myself. Rather than running around the city meeting up with people at various cocktail bars or coffee shops, like I had spent the months prior, I started re-investigating care into the activities I found fulfilling. My life began to fill back up with long walks through new parks, reading more, writing more, exploring museums and libraries, going to concerts, attending book talks, hosting friends and family from out of town, trying new recipes, taking baths, attending protests, making art, digging into my new job, spending weekends with friends and not looking at a clock once, and finally sleeping enough. I remembered how good and empowering it feels to be on a timeline that is solely my own. My calendar simultaneously filled up while all sense of urgency flew out the window. I finally had time to dedicate to all of the many things that sustain me. Without the distraction of dating and tending to others perceptions of me, I was able to remember that my self-perception and fulfillment was always what mattered most. In my period of not dating, I liked myself more than I ever had. 

My break reminded me that I am interesting in so many ways in my own right. I hold so much knowledge and strength in this body. I was who made my life colorful, not anyone else. Yes, I attract an eclectic and sometimes bizarre bunch of people, but that is because they are drawn to the unique perspective, internal world, and strong sense of self I have worked hard to cultivate. In past relationships, I have felt myself slip into my partners’ idealized versions of me and lose myself in the process. I am not a people pleaser by nature but my instinct to be liked would often overpower my own wants and needs. After my break from dating, I promised myself that I would never lose sight of myself in a relationship again. If a partner could not accept me at my fullest or the intricacies of my life, they didn’t deserve to be with me. Cultivating my identity and honing my interests while single allowed me to remember that I have always been complete, partnered or not. 

A small part of me wishes this story ended with a predictably empowering ending like I never went on another date again because I realized I loved myself more than anybody else ever could or A year later, I haven’t gone on any dates and am the happiest I have ever been. Well, that last bit is true; I am the happiest I have ever been. I am not only happy on my own but in the type of partnership I never could have imagined finding a year ago when I was going on date after date searching for my next best story. Six months ago I ended my break from dating to go on a date with somebody who caught my eye. My friends were all vocal in their disappointment that I didn’t continue the break and I understood. I kept reiterating to them that something about him seemed worth getting to know. Six months later, he continues to be worth getting to know more deeply and fully. Every day I am thankful for both the break and breaking it for him. If I had met him earlier, or when I was dating as unsustainably as I had been, I don’t think I would have accepted the kindness, calmness, or empathy he shows me. I would have written it all off as treatment I did not deserve. It was only after experiencing the extent of kindness I’m capable of showing myself that I decided I should finally accept it from another person too. 

Almost a year into life here in D.C., I am reaping the rewards of those difficult decisions I made last fall. 2022 is ending with as many changes and shifts as it began with. I’m no longer chasing the next best story; I’m writing it myself. 

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