When I sleepily walked into an early Saturday-morning yoga class last fall, dating was the last thing on my mind. Several months earlier, I had finally ended an abusive relationship and moved to a different city to start a new job. After the move, alone in a new environment, I downloaded dating apps on my phone one day and deleted them the next. I was mostly looking for friendship and connection, and to avoid the temptation of returning to what I knew was a toxic relationship out of loneliness. But, after a few weeks of inconsistent conversations, I realized I wasn’t being fair to myself or the guys I was talking to. My heart was not ready for a romantic relationship, and I needed to take a step back.
After a lot of soul-searching and a few tear-filled phone conversations with my girl friends, I decided to dive headfirst into getting to know myself again. I spent hours on my own, exploring my new city, biking, running, experimenting with new recipes, and reading books in every coffee shop I could find. I found a hot yoga studio with great instructors and began attending classes there every week. Most importantly, I found a therapist and began to painfully work through the circumstances that had led me into an unhealthy relationship and to learn how to avoid them in the future. Gradually, I started to enjoy my own company, and the self-doubt that had built up after years of criticism and abuse began to slowly dissipate.
But I was still lonely. I watched husbands and wives stroll around the lake near my house at sunset while I walked by myself. I saw couples chatting over drinks at a bar while I sat at a table for one and read (still one of my favorite ways to spend an evening). But, with the support of good friends and my therapist, I continued to spend time with myself and even somewhat embrace the feelings of loneliness and uncertainty.
Later, when my ex-boyfriend reached out again wanting to rekindle our relationship, I gave him a firm “no” for an answer. Several months earlier, a text from my ex would have evoked a wave of self-doubt in my brain, causing me to spend days trying to fix our relationship, wracking my brain for any way to improve things. But my months of “self-dating” and work with my therapist had helped me to truly accept that feeling lonely is better than being with someone who doesn’t respect you.
That Saturday morning, I walked into yoga class feeling more peaceful than I had in months. I had plans to spend the rest of the morning alone, reading a new novel in my favorite coffee shop. I was so absorbed in my thoughts, I barely noticed the cute red-headed guy next to me who offered to put my yoga blocks away. I left right after class, eager to get to coffee and my book. While standing in line at the busy coffee shop, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see the same guy from yoga smiling at me. We started to chat and quickly found we had many things in common such as our faith, being the eldest child in large families, and a deep passion for The Lord of the Rings.
We had so much to talk about that coffee turned into lunch. After sharing that he was only in the area visiting for a few days, he asked if I wanted to get dinner as well. Dinner turned into drinks at a nearby speakeasy, and we talked late into the night. Throughout the entire day, his kindness and respect for me and everyone around us shone clearly through every interaction. After I got home that night, I lay awake for hours feeling excited and wondering how I had met someone so wonderful at a time that I was least expecting it.
Nine months later, we are in a wonderful and healthy relationship, and looking back, the timing makes sense. Without the months I spent learning to love myself again, I wouldn’t have been in the right mindset to begin a new relationship. After a breakup, it’s tempting to jump right back into the dating pool so that we can skip over those uncomfortable feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. But especially after ending an abusive or unhealthy relationship, I found it tremendously healing to relearn healthy ways of relating to people and build up self-esteem and confidence before starting a new relationship. Speaking with a therapist probably helped the most, but spending time with good friends and family, as well as alone, was also helpful. Sitting with loneliness and uncomfortable emotions is never pleasant, but it can help prepare us for better things than we can even imagine in the current moment.