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There’s a great case to be made for being alone.
. . .
Dear Swipe This!
Online dating makes me want to scream. I hate that it’s this thing you just have to do now. I’m thinking about deleting my apps, all of them. But every time I decide I’m going to do it, I feel like I just can’t. I mean, if I’m not on the apps, how will I ever meet anyone? It feels like keeping them is hell, but if I delete them, I’m just giving up on dating forever.
I’m a 29-year-old queer woman living in a big, but not too big, city. I like it here. I have a pretty good life. I like my friends, my job, and my apartment. I do work that I don’t hate, and I make enough to live alone. I even have cool pets. OK, they’re fish, but they’re really cool! But I don’t have someone to share it all with, and I really want to find that.
About a year ago, I actually did meet someone who was pretty great. She was really funny, smart, and cool. We had great chemistry. But then, about five or six months in, she freaked out. She said we had moved too fast and she wasn’t ready to be so serious. I felt like she had smashed my heart with a hammer. I wasn’t even trying to make things serious and I would have been OK with slowing things down, but she said that wasn’t possible. That was it. Over, no discussion. She just evaporated.
I was truly crushed. But I promised myself I’d move on. I re-downloaded Tinder and Bumble and Hinge and OKCupid. I even tried some of the new lesbian dating apps like Her. I made new profiles with cute pictures (I’m not like, Ruby Rose or anything, but I’m pretty cute!), and I sent witty messages. I went on a bunch of dates. There were some good dates and a handful of hookups. But nothing really clicked.
Then something snapped and I went through a drought. It was like I forgot how to be fun or interesting. I couldn’t even get to a first date. So for the past few months, I kind of hunkered down and stopped going on dates. I still swiped now and then and would talk to people who messaged me. But I didn’t move things forward. I guess I got tired and I sort of stopped trying.
But now I feel guilty about not trying harder. I feel like I should be going on dates. I mean, it’s spring! I should be out there meeting people and finding someone I can finally fall in love with. But every time I open an app, I feel sick to my stomach. Sometimes I strike up a conversation with someone who seems kind of alright, but eventually, I’m disappointed. It feels like work. And it’s hard for me to believe this will actually lead to anything good. And even if it does, how do I know it will even last? So maybe I should just give up. Maybe I should just delete everything and accept that I’m going to die alone in an apartment I like with some really cool fish.
Should I delete my apps? If I do, am I forever shutting a door to the possibility of meeting someone new? Am I just setting myself up to never find love?
Desperate to Delete
. . .
Dear Desperate to Delete,
Earlier this year, I did a very dumb thing. I walked out of a bar, took out my phone to scroll through Instagram for the zillionth time that day, and promptly slipped on the salts that had been laid out to keep the sidewalk from freezing over. My ankle rolled and I fell, hard, and fractured it. It wasn’t a deep fracture, as far as fractures go, but it was enough to keep me off my feet for a month. And even when I did start walking again, I hobbled. I couldn’t do ordinary tasks like shopping for groceries. Even writing was frustrating because sitting too long with my foot propped up was awkward and painful.
I was frustrated. I hated it. Especially because a week earlier, I had promised myself that I would finally, finally, get back to kickboxing.
But I did not go back to kickboxing. Can you imagine if I had gone back to kickboxing? Not only would it have been a painful disaster, I would, in all likelihood, have injured myself further.
You can’t kickbox on a fractured ankle, and you can’t find the love of your life when you’re nursing a broken heart. I’m sorry, you just can’t.
“But I’m not!” you might be thinking. “That was months ago, and I got back up again and started dating! I did everything right!” And yes, for sure, you put on a brave face and you put yourself back out there. But the fact is, you never actually took the time to nurse your broken heart. Instead, you covered it up and pretended it was fine and then threw it back out into the world. And now, when things don’t feel right or don’t click, you shake your fist at the universe, or at your phone. You curse your dating apps, the whole stupid system, and even yourself! “Why can’t things just fall into place already?” you wonder.
Here’s the thing about healing: Although it’s close to impossible to speed up the process, it’s very easy to halt it completely if we neglect our wounds.
I’m sorry that you got hurt. It sounds to me like you got hurt very badly. Unfortunately, these things are unavoidable sometimes. But what happened next is the source of your current pain. You never gave yourself time to heal. Maybe you imagined that by brushing yourself off and getting back to “work,” you could bypass your pain. But when we do things while ignoring our injuries, we risk reinjury. And so, I think in the process of trying to help yourself, you reinjured your heart over and over again. Maybe at first, it had a numbing effect. All those dates did distract you. But then all the pain piled up. With every disappointment came a new bruise, and now your heart is aching anew. It’s screaming at you to stop, stop, stop!
So what can you do?
You can stop! Delete the apps! You are so afraid that by doing so you’ll “lose” something or miss out on someone. But what the hell do you actually have to lose? You’re afraid you’ll be alone? You are alone. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot.” And I’ve got news for you: finding the love of your life won’t change that. Don’t get me wrong. Partnership can be beautiful and lovely, and there are many ways in which it makes life easier, but if you’re hoping it will save you from your fears or your troublesome feelings, I promise you, it won’t.
Instead of torturing yourself with this unending scenario of “What if I end up alone?” I would suggest you entertain a new scenario. Right here, in the present. “What if I am alone and I enjoy it?” Maybe you don’t at this moment, but I can tell you that being alone and being lonely are not the same thing.
Alone can be the quiet of walking through a beautiful garden. Alone can be getting lost in a good book. Alone can be singing your heart out and shimmying in the shower. Alone can be beautiful and glorious and joyful.
Alone can also be sadness, heartache, and holding yourself through the profound pain of a deep loss. And this too can be wonderful.
But right now, you’ve got this notion that alone is bad and dangerous and scary. And you can download every app and go on a date every night of the week, but until you reckon with these thoughts and feelings you have about yourself and what it means for you to be alone, I don’t think you’ll enjoy dating one bit.
Here’s the funny thing about fracturing my ankle. As much as it sucked, I’m glad that it happened. I had to cancel a trip to France and to Iceland and I absolutely love croissants and glaciers. And yet, I am still grateful for my fractured ankle. Because while I sat on my couch and struggled to find a comfortable angle for elevating my leg while holding a laptop and tending to a very demanding cat, I learned to be patient with my body and to observe what healing looks like. I learned that healing cannot be rushed, but that it can be eased if I am willing to be unconditionally tender and gentle with myself. I learned that a functional ankle is truly a blessing. And when I did start walking again without pain, I felt the kind of joy you feel when you recover from a nasty sore throat and discover that your body feels wonderfully normal again.
I believe a broken heart can teach you much of the same. Maybe it will frustrate you at times to feel the pain. Maybe you will wish it were more comfortable. But bit by bit, maybe you’ll feel it mending and returning to joy, to hope, to love.
So go ahead and delete your apps. And spend a little time with that broken heart that you tried to breeze past. Ask it what it needs to heal. A little time on the couch? A little patience? Maybe a warm hug from a good friend who tells you it’s OK to be sad that the person you liked so much went away?
Above all, if you want to heal, if you want to feel whole again, you’ve got to give your heart permission to do its thing. I wonder if, when you mock your choice of pet, or when you say you’re not Ruby Rose-hot but you’re pretty cute, you aren’t trying to beat people to the chase. I wonder if you’ve learned self-rejection as a form of self-defense. And I wonder if that’s why you rejected your own heart when it needed you most.
So yes, it’s spring. But screw the pressure to date. Instead of looking for the one, I would advise you to get to know yourself and your heart, bruises, wounds, and all. Be alone. And treasure it. Choose it. Because when you do, what you’re really telling yourself is, “It’s you, yes, you. I really want to spend a lot of time with you.” And I have a hunch those are words you’ve been longing to hear for a while.
Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.