After watching Love Is Blind's Deepti Vempati declare, "I choose myself" during the show's season 2 finale, I thought about her statement for days. Those three words perfectly capture the space I'm in right now. Over the past few months, I've been in a deep state of reflection about my dating life. At 22 years old, it's still just begun. However, there's a lot to take inventory of already.
I entered my first long-term relationship at 15. Like many high schoolers, I was eager to experience those "first love" moments. Initially, the dynamic between my partner and me was fun and exciting. We'd go on movie dates, wear matching outfits (cringey… I know), and talk for hours every night after school. But over the two and half years we dated, it became unhealthy. He became emotionally abusive and manipulative. Every day felt like a roller coaster, as I wasn’t sure what version of him I'd be dealing with that day. I recognized our partnership was toxic, but spending years together fostered mutual codependency that made it hard to detach. We eventually separated a month before I headed off to college.
As I entered into the next chapter of young adulthood, being single felt foreign. I felt like I needed to be attached to someone else. At that time in my life, my insecurities led me to believe I needed outside validation (i.e., from significant others) to feel worthy and beautiful. Navigating the dating scene with this mindset led to several eye-opening experiences.
During my first year, I joined Tinder and became a chronic swiper. According to a 2018 study by the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, women were more likely to use Tinder to find “true love” and boost their self-esteem. This finding was very applicable to me at the time. Having on-demand access to mood-boosting compliments and conversation was what my lost 18-year-old self was looking for. I also thought the online dating route would make it easier to find "the one".
Most of my matches resulted in casual connections that fizzled out after a few texts or FaceTime calls, but some led to months-long "situationships". Though I wanted an exclusive relationship, I settled for undefined dynamics to hold onto their affection and attention. In many of these instances, I also ignored red flags and wound up on the receiving end of narcissism, gaslighting, and deception.
My turbulent dating experiences weren't limited to apps though. In early 2020, I connected with someone I knew through a mutual friend, and we dated for a year and a half. Our relationship had beautiful moments, but over time, the tumultuous moments overshadowed them.
When that relationship abruptly ended, I fell back into my old habit of swiping to make myself feel better. After striking up several pointless conversations with matches, I had to ask myself, Why won't you take a break from dating?
I was emotionally and mentally drained (and had been for a while). But this was the first time I acknowledged those feelings. It was clear I needed to remove myself from the dating scene for a bit. I've since deleted dating apps from my phone and have been focusing on cultivating my holistic happiness. Over the past six months, my self-growth and self-love journey has been triggering and healing simultaneously.
This process has involved assessing all the relationships (and "situationships") I've been in. As a writer, I've naturally taken to journaling about the peaks and pitfalls of each experience. While rehashing past traumas isn't pleasant, it's helped me gain clarity on what I want personally and romantically in the future. Finding a therapist to further learn from and work through these issues is also in the cards.
Setting boundaries has also been critical. Exes will often try to creep back into your life, and it can be easy to slip back into old situations because they feel familiar. Younger me would have quickly given in when an ex would ask to meet up, but that's no longer the case. I've learned how to say no and cut toxicity out of my life to protect my mental health. I'm focused on moving toward a happier future and not being weighed down by the past.
I've also taken the time to better understand myself throughout this period. I have repeatedly asked myself, Who is Olivia? This question has motivated me to explore my interests and invest in hobbies that spark joy. I've been able to cultivate passions like working on my podcast and learning a new language.
Striving to gain a firmer grasp of my sense of self has also encouraged me to delve deeper into my self-care practices. I've leaned into reciting daily affirmations, calling out the traits I appreciate in the mirror every morning. Being able to shift the way I think and speak about myself has already impacted how confidently I show up in the world and will help me navigate future relationships.
Ultimately, discovering my identity outside of romantic relationships has helped me recognize that I've always been complete. I've learned that my worth isn't tied to my relationship status. Choosing myself has helped me become the happiest I've ever been and allowed me to embrace the power of independence.
Love is beautiful, and partnership is something I want for myself one day. However, I want to be able to experience it in a healthy way. And for me to do that, I have to take a break from dating. There's no time line for when I'll step back into the dating pool. Instead, I'm choosing to let my intuition and instincts signal when the time is right.