"Finding yourself" is a weird concept.
How could I be intimate with someone else when I was not able to be fully honest with myself about my own longings?
“It's spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you've got it, you want—oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
― Mark Twain
We all long for something. I have always longed for a true partner in crime, an epic love. Yet, for two years of my adult life, I didn’t date — at all.
I was in graduate school when the relationship I had white-knuckled finally imploded — and with it, my desire to take care of myself. I rebounded, hard, and swung violently away from the things I had treasured as central to myself and my values during the relationship. I didn't want to be that girl anymore. I didn't want to be myself anymore.
I had spring fever, and then some.
There were six months of denial. I drank every night, didn’t go home for days, and danced on tables. I became a cliché; an approximation and imitation of freedom. Then, after my rebound broke up with me, I remember stopping cold in the middle of my walk through a subway tunnel and staring at the tiles on the wall, thinking, "OK, no more avoidance. It’s time to pay attention to this mess." To do that, I promised myself that I wouldn't date at all for an entire year.
And I did it. Well, not exactly: my self-imposed romantic and sexual chastity ended up lasting two full years. Believe me, it was a situation of desperate times calling for desperate measures. For two years, my heart ached: I threw things across the room in rages, yelled at God, and fell into stony silences. For two years, I was locked in a battle with myself.
And it sure wasn’t romantic.
I'm not writing to say that my two years of not dating were magical and wonderful and that I rediscovered myself and fell in love with life again. I'm not even writing to say that I think everyone should take a long break from dating.
I am writing to say that it actually and ultimately worked for me, and it is an option.
You don’t have to date. You don’t have to not date. You don’t have to do anything. I am mostly writing to say that you get to — have to — make choices...even in matters of the heart. And, sometimes, we have other things that require our full attention.
Dating is all kinds of things. But my heartache, and my exile, wasn’t even about dating. For years I had wanted — longed for — so much: things I admitted I wanted, things I wanted but wouldn’t admit to wanting, things that scared me, things I didn’t recognize, things that I thought were wrong, things I thought I’d never have, things I didn’t even know how to name. There were labyrinths, sinkholes, and quasars in my mind that I finally began to navigate, and I knew, somehow, bringing any other person into the picture would only cloud my vision; that this time was necessary — not exactly for healing what was broken, but for figuring out what was really going on in the first place. Maybe nothing was broken, actually. I saw through a glass darkly, urgently seeking my own face.
The truth is, I didn’t date for two years because I didn’t even remotely want to.
I’ve always been interested in intimacy, but my first forays into the dating world revealed I had a problem with it. How could I be intimate with someone else when I was not able to be fully honest with myself about my own longings?
I spent those two years doing lots of little, ordinary things: errands, classes, interviews, and Netflix nights. As well as some pretty monumental things: I completed a masters degree, began my acting career, and moved into a bunk bed with another girl. I began to identify and sift through a serious faith crisis. I drank wine and cried in the shower. I laughed with my roommates. I gave up movies for Lent (hardest thing ever).
What I didn’t do was discover myself — that is something I don’t understand as a concept. (How could I stumble across myself, like an island in an external sea, when I am swimming in myself every day?) But I did, through the long days and nights of grocery shopping, sweeping floors, auditioning, and riding the subway, become brave, or desperate, or exhausted enough to face myself in a way that I never had before.
Slowly, gingerly, like a cat on a hot tin roof, I became honest with myself about what I wanted.
And it happened on purpose.
Did taking two years off of dating culminate in a fairy-tale ending? Um, no. I almost wish I could say it did, but here’s the thing: honesty, longing, and loving self-care take a long time to work into real life. I wish I could tell you that I met the love of my life and lived happily ever after as soon as my self-imposed dating exile ended. I wish I could tell you that I never wrestled with myself or lied to myself again. But I didn’t. And I did. I’ve had relapses of hiding from myself.
But now, at least I know where to look.
I’m finding it so strange, funny, and hard to write about that time, those two years of complete physical and emotional abstinence. How do I quantify it; explain it to others? I took those two years precisely because there was so much to digest, and because it was so hard to digest: I had lost my first love. And I don’t mean only the boy — my real first love was my first image of myself, my first faith in God, my first blueprint for my life. I let go of all of those things at the same time, and had to stand still to find new language to speak to myself in my dreams.
What I can tell you is that my game changed. My focus shifted. Now, when I struggle, I know why. Now, when I am dancing around an issue, I recognize the steps and call myself on my bullsh*t. Now, I’ve learned how to pinpoint (if not name) the deep inner longings that grip and pull me from within, like a tide, and I realize that myself and my relationships are not external islands, isolated and virgin and discoverable, but part of a complex network of need and intimacy. I’ve learned that my identity is not something I have to search for, but instead something I have to be willing to see.
And that is bigger and better than dating.