This past summer, I met a man in a shared Lyft. We exchanged pleasantries, discovered common interests, and at the end of the ride, he handed me his business card and asked me to email him. Over the next several months, we exchanged texts, met for drinks, spent hours laughing and lounging on the beach, and fell into a whirlwind romance made simultaneously sweet and bitter by his impending yearlong trip around the world spanning from Africa to Southeast Asia and beyond. When he left in late September and our connection waned, I was dismayed but not devastated. You see, I discovered something true about myself in our relationship and its aftermath, a truth I never imagined I would own: I am at peace with my single life.
To be honest, I used to recoil from that statement. I was adamantly, viscerally, even violently opposed to it. I thought being at peace with this stage in my life would mean I had given up—that I would stop trying to find the man of my dreams, stop searching for the relationship that my heart, my soul, yearns for. No, I thought. I won’t be at peace until I find him . . . find it. That thing I’ve wanted for so long has become as much a part of me as my breath, my heartbeat. How could I be at peace with a life I had for so long defined by a glaring absence?
But when we mutually agreed that the distance had put too heavy a strain on our connection, I knew that this stalwart peace now permeating my sadness wasn’t something I should reject. It was the strength I had gained over the past few years and only recently recognized.
Here’s how I got here.
Not long before I ordered that shared ride, I knew I needed a change in perspective in the way I dated. So I took action and radically changed the way I date. More accurately, I radically changed the way I live my life. I like to say that I started living a “life of yes” because I said no to one specific activity. For me, that was to stop using dating apps.
The change in my perspective was gradual and multifaceted, and in many ways, I am still in the midst of it. Perhaps the most significant change was my reclamation of autonomy in my romantic life. When I used dating apps, I thought I had been taking charge of my dating life, but I discovered that I had actually ceded control to the algorithmic whims of apps driven by big data, and propelled by my own excessive and increasing desperation, I descended into mindless swiping that left me more dissatisfied than when I started.
More importantly, though, I realized that the apps were not the disease, they were simply my drug of choice. They were the frantic attempts at self-medication. In my twenties, I had often fallen prey to my own poorly defined understanding of my role in dating relationships. I paid more attention to what my dates thought of me and far less to what I thought of them. I treated each budding romance with kid gloves—tiptoeing around conversations and worrying about what could go wrong until it inevitably did.
While I gained more confidence and dating skills by the time I hit 30—I was still never truly at peace with my single life. I was frustrated by it, exhausted by it, living in a constant state of thinly veiled panic. I viewed my daily single existence as a prolonged and agonizing pit stop on the road to the perfect relationship, engagement, and marriage. Not exactly the best frame of mind for finding a life partner.
What changed? I got fed up, and I let it go. All of it. My expectations, my timeline, my checklist, my reliance on apps. With this new mindset, I also let go of my tightly held belief that if I tried hard enough I could earn a relationship the same way I earned two degrees and a job I love—by grit, wit, and determination. So I burned it to the ground and decided to live my life—my single life.
This peace permeates everything and lets me be me.
Quitting online dating left a hole in my social life that I filled by taking risks—by embracing the beautiful possibilities inherent in uncertainty. When I met my future beau in that Lyft and he asked me to email him, I responded yes, whereas the past me may have otherwise tucked his card in my purse, forgotten as I distracted myself with profiles on my phone, until some future deep clean of my summer wardrobe would unearth it. Instead, I opened my mind, my heart, my life to the possibility of him—of us—and we had a beautiful adventure.
My decision to date that Lyft guy and our subsequent brief but beautiful romance was like a flashing neon sign from the universe that I was finally doing something right. For once, I didn’t see this relationship as that hopeful missing piece in my life. It was exciting, affirming, and perfect just the way it was. For the first time, I didn’t agonize over where it was going or what it might be in the future. Our relationship wasn’t a means to an end but an end in itself, and viewing it as such allowed me to see it for the gift it was, even when it ended.
In the months after my whirlwind romance came to a close, I've continued to find freedom and peace in saying yes—to dates, to invitations, to volunteer opportunities, and most recently, to giving dating apps another try. The difference? This time I’m not relying on apps but using them to supplement the life I’m already living. Sure, I’m dating—but I know that I am whole as I am. I no longer see dating as way to fill a void but rather a way to meet men—open to the possibility of romance but not stuck on it. Last week I met up with a man who asked me out on the train, and a few days later I sat down to coffee with a Hinge date.
I’ve discovered that I’m only living my best life if I fully embrace the stage I am in. When I found peace in my single life, I didn’t stop living—I started.