It sounds more dramatic than it felt—spending ten years single—because I didn't clock it every moment of every day. To me, adult life had always been a series of non-serious, non-exclusive relationships that never really seemed to stick. After separating from my mom, my dad once asked how I reconciled with loneliness. It was one of the first adult-to-adult conversations we'd ever had, where he was genuinely coming to me for insight after his own breakup. "It's all I've ever known," I answered plainly. And not in a sad or damaging sort of way—in actuality, I didn't know what being in a relationship was like. I didn't have the muscle memory to miss it or struggle through it. I was simply living as I always had, prioritizing my friendships and career as the makings of my own chosen family. "Those are the paramount relationships in my life," I told my dad over dinner, "the ones I work on and put effort into." It was then I realized perhaps I wasn't missing out on as much as society (and family members at holiday dinners) would have me believe. The fact is, I wasn't lonely.
That's not to say I didn't think about what it would be like to have a partner, it's practically biological to yearn for that type of emotional and physical connection. Especially because it spanned such a long period of time, almost the entirety of my 20s, I watched close friends and coworkers pair off and was admittedly left wondering what was wrong with me. It's hard for anyone, regardless of confidence and other fulfillment, not to fall down that hole every now and again. But, as I begin my own new decade (my 30s), I can wholeheartedly say I'm thankful for it.
That time and reflection is a privilege, one I may not have been able to take advantage of if my journey looked more like the story books.
My trajectory is not unique in that my 20s were defined by trying to find my place in the world—placing importance on my career above all else, doing predictably dumb things with my friends, and spending what little money I had on fancy egg dishes and cocktails. Though it was also characterized by a lot of internal struggle, both self-inflicted and otherwise. I was in the darkest and most difficult period of my on-going eating disorder recovery, a pervasive passenger in my life that, at the time, draped itself over just about every aspect of my being. It played a part in every decision, every feeling, and every interaction. I was holding on so hard to progress I had, what I recognize now as, no excess brain power to bring to a relationship. I wouldn't have been able to sustain more than the load I was already carrying. I wasn't ready.
Once I was more in control of my recovery, I felt myself change. I was more open; more willing to put myself out there. And yet, still nothing. I didn't meet anyone I felt differently about (except for one, and it didn't quite work out). It was then I realized I had to be okay with the possibility I might not ever find that indelible partner. I had to find peace in being alone. The arc of my life and previous relationships had never been conventional, and I could no longer assume that would change. I had to realize I was in control and move forward with permission to live, do, and feel whatever I wanted. I began to make choices and build my life around the idea it might not include someone else long-term, at least not in the traditional sense. And with each passing day, I made more decisions just for me. I stopped feeling scared or isolated because I didn't have an "other half." I was whole on my own. I thought critically about the institution of marriage (it's complicated, but I'm for it) and whether or not I'd ever want to be a mother (probably not, but the jury's still out). That time and reflection is a privilege, one I may not have been able to take advantage of if my journey looked more like the story books.
Everyone is different, and I genuinely believe I know people who are better off having grown up in relationships. There's so much value in that too. But, personally, I know I had to wade through those ten years solo before I could properly commit to another person. I needed to get to know myself better, to build and rebuild, reflect, and feel alone—but not lonely. I needed to know I could walk myself through this life before letting someone else walk alongside me. I wasn't ready until I was. The person I was no longer defines me and, because of those ten years, a relationship never will. And I'm good with that.