Don’t rush. Take the opportunity that being single offers you.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Are you swiping?

Do you have profiles set up on five different platforms?

Are you constantly looking at your phone hoping for a match, text, or sexy pic?

Don’t you ever get tired of this shit?

I mean, what the hell are we looking for?

, you say. But, is that it?

Are you really that committed to finding a partner, or does it just feel good to receive attention from people you find attractive? Don’t you get a little boost of excitement and intrigue every time you see a match or a text pop up on your phone?

Sure, the potential of finding a suitable partner is always there, but is that what’s drawing you back to your phone 75 thousand times a day?

If you’re anything like me, your desire to find a potential mate plays second fiddle to your desire for validation. This is an addiction you should kick because there’s something more valuable for you to do.

Who are you? What’s your passion? What matters to you? How do you choose to spend your time? Why?

These unanswered questions are holes inside of us that we often think and hope our romantic partners will fill, but they can’t. And avoiding or ignoring these important questions will only leave us feeling empty and dissatisfied.

Taking the time to figure your shit out won’t just help you as a single person. In the long run, the answers will serve you well when looking for a partner, too.

Shots of Happiness

Don’t you get a little boost of happiness when you match with someone you think is cute? Don’t you feel good about yourself when you pick up your phone and see a text from a prospective partner?

I do. And I’ve started to notice it’s like a drug.

It feels so good when you get it, but that feeling quickly vanishes. And the instant it’s gone, don’t you want more? Aren’t you desperate for more?

This is the cycle I find myself in now. Nothing is ever enough. I just keep opening up those apps and swiping and texting, hoping that I’ll get some kind of reciprocation.

But, no matter how many matches I get, texts I receive, or dates I go on nothing changes. I keep needing more.

This reminds me of something called the variable ratio reward schedule. The idea is basically that if you want a behavior to continue, you vary the frequency of rewarding the behaviour. Maybe you reward the third instance of the behaviour, maybe you reward the fifth. But, it’s not completely random — it might average out to every four instances.

This quirk of our brains is why slot machines are so addictive. We know we’re going to “win” eventually, we just don’t know how many times we need to play before we do.

Is this how you feel about swiping, matching, texting, and dating? Is your desire to check your phone more about how good it feels to “win” than about finding a great partner?

Everyone Likes a Compliment

There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about your dating life. Sure, soak in the attention. Why not enjoy it?

The danger of external validation is not our enjoyment of it, it’s our need for it, it’s our addiction to it.

It’s often hard to notice the difference between enjoyment and addiction. In some ways, they are one and the same. If you like something, you want to do it again, obviously. Addiction, though, is more than just about to do something again, it’s about to. If you feel compelled to do something at unusual times or high frequencies, you probably have an addiction or at least an unhealthy habit.

This is how I often feel about dating apps. Whenever there is a pause in my day — I finish a task at work, I get in the car, I get stuck writer’s block— there is this little voice in my head that reminds me of these apps. It nudges me in their direction by reminding me of the excitement of new matches and texts.

Caring too much about external validation is a problem. If you get lots of it, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of seeking it. Being in a relationship might seem boring in comparison. If you get just a little of it, it’s easy to convince yourself external validation is the end-all-and-be-all of life. You might settle for the first person that calls you “cute.” In neither case is your behaviour about finding a worthwhile partner — it’s about feeding your desire for validation.

I began using these apps after my ex-wife and I split 3 years ago. I hadn’t been on the dating scene for 15 years, and it was both exciting and terrifying. What I’ve noticed in the time since then is that the allure of external validation masks a more interesting problem — the problem of who we are and what we’re doing here.

Gaps

Our family, friends, and society-at-large make us feel like crap for being single. The older we get, the more people look suspiciously at us for not having a partner, not having children, and not having that big, beautiful home in the ‘burbs.

Do you feel this pressure to be in a relationship? Do you feel like something is wrong with your life when you’re single? Like, fundamentally wrong?

The fact is, we’re all sold a dream of what our lives are supposed to look like. And, for many of us, it’s the natural thing to do. After all, we wouldn’t be here today if our parents didn’t realize that dream.

That’s why being single not only feels scary, it can also seem wrong.

So, in a desperate attempt to , we throw ourselves into these apps rather than stop to consider that being in a romantic relationship is only a part of what’s important.

When we’re obsessing over our relationship status, we’re not paying attention to other parts of our lives. Or, at least, we’re not paying as much attention as we should be.

Why does life only begin when we’re in a relationship? When we’re someone? Why can’t life start before then? Now?

I think our obsession with relationships is in part driven by the difficulty of figuring out who we are and what we want. In some ways, relationships are a distraction from the stress and anxiety of filling in these gaps. It’s easier to define ourselves based on our relationships than it is to choose how to define ourselves as an individual and mold our lives around that definition.

I’ve tried to fill these gaps with relationships. Like, really hard. What I’m starting to notice, though, is that there is a profound emptiness in living that way. Sure, it’s nice for people to like me, but if I don’t like me, no amount of affection or love from someone else will ever resolve that.

We all know that no one can figure our shit out for us. But, don’t we wish they could? Don’t we wish that someone could wave a magic wand and *poof* all our problems would be solved?

It’s the disconnect between what we know to be true and what we want to be true that’s the problem. We know that we have to do the hard work of figuring our shit out, but we so often wish and hope someone can do it for us.

It’s been my experience that if we rely on a partner to fill these gaps, it will only leave us resenting them for failing to fill them.

Yes, having an amazing relationship is a wonderful thing, but it’s not . If you keep telling yourself that it is everything, then that’s what you will come to expect, and you will ultimately be disappointed.

This is why I’ve decided to break out of the cycle of chasing after external validation. I’ve decided I need to focus on myself. I need to answer important questions.

What do I want to do with my time? What makes me excited, passionate, happy? How do I build the habits that make a life worth living?

These questions will never go away, whether we’re in a relationship or not. The only difference is that it’s easier to hide from them when we’re distracted by a relationship and hoping our partners will fill the holes left by those unanswered questions.

When we convince ourselves that we need a partner to be whole, we don’t feel good enough when we’re single. But, I think this is a strategy for ignoring the elephant in the room, which is demanding that we figure out who we are and what we want to do with our lives. Being single gives us an incredible opportunity to focus on ourselves, to figure out shit out — don’t let it slip through your fingers.

Being Single is OK

If you’re single, society will make you feel like you’re broken. You’re not.

Being single is an opportunity to focus on yourself, to figure out what you want from life, and then to pursue it. Yes, that’s hard, but it’s easier than being in a relationship where you expect the other person to solve all your problems for you. I know because I’ve been there. It doesn’t turn out well for anyone.

And, by figuring out who you are and what you want, you bring that much more into a relationship when you’re ready. You’ll also have more discriminating tastes because you won’t just be on a quest for external validation — you’ll be on a quest to find someone truly worthy of your time.

This is where I’m hoping to get to. Will you join me?

Written by

Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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