Here we are, just shy of 4 months of this no-dating experiment, and I have to confess something: the damn thing played out like my new favorite rom-com. One that I’d proudly take with me to a deserted island.
What were some of the things I had hoped to gain from this romantic sabbatical?
An increased sense of self-worth.
Time to reevaluate my priorities.
Opportunities to experience my world through a completely platonic lens.
Lessons I wouldn’t know I would learn until I learned them.
The payoff has been this and more. The lessons that were yet unnamed at the beginning of this experiment revealed themselves over the course of the last few months: I learned to value others even more than I thought possible without seeing them as romantic options. I learned how to enjoy concerts without trying to stand in a cool way so as to attract attention. I learned to stop caring about people noticing me *that* way. I learned how to go to bed at a reasonable time. I learned that I was capable of being my own handy-man. I learned how to do electrical wiring and minor plumbing. I learned self-defense. I learned to self-validate more efficiently.
The most surprising thing I learned was how to fix a part of me that was too broken to choose a partner who deserved me.
It’s weird to have such bad self-sabotage issues that you make a habit of consistently picking people who are bad for you while knowing that you deserve better. The cognitive dissonance is not lost on me. Decades of trauma will do that to a person. I knew I would eventually figure out how to lessen my habitual self-sabotage, and I had been making progress over the last few years, but there was still a lot of room for improvement.
Shortly before I embarked on this undertaking, I met someone who I enjoyed talking to. We went on a couple dates before I realized how badly I was broken. Luckily for me, this person seemed to want to continue spending time with me in a platonic capacity after I had announced my plans not to date anymore for a year. We did the most platonic things two people can do: bowling, karaoke, activism, watching sports. This person saw me in ratty red thermals with my hair unwashed and no makeup on – the ugliest version of me. Trust me when I say I didn’t know I was spending time with someone I’d one day be dating.
There’s another lesson I didn’t know I’d be learning: becoming good friends with a person without trying to impress them with cool, sexy tricks is a good way to build a foundation for a solid relationship.
That’s what happened. We became good friends. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other under extremely platonic circumstances. We revealed new information about ourselves to each other organically. It was often times a slow burn – details about my life I would have been too quick to divulge to someone I was dating came months later with this friend, and I experienced the same in return.
Then I realized I was in the presence of someone with real partner potential for me. Not because I was seeking validation from a romantic source. It was because I had met someone who was really special and we had become best friends and also, damn it if it hadn’t dawned on me sooner, he was the type of person I always knew I wanted but could never seem to find. He was warm and sweet and made me laugh until I cried. He communicated with me clearly and consistently. He wanted to talk to me. He wanted to make me feel better if I was having a hard day. He wanted me to feel cared for. It helped that he was also very cute.
I wasn’t sure what to do with this realization. I had sworn off dating for a year for my own good – what would it say about me if I had impugned my own experiment by not following through with it and carrying out the full year? What if he didn’t feel the same way? What if he did feel the same way but I was still broken?
I decided that I needed to tell him how I felt. I told him I liked him and that I wasn’t ready to date but that if he felt the same way, maybe we ought to reevaluate our friendship in January 2017. He agreed and we continued to be friends.
What ultimately caused us to make our decision a month early was the frosty hand of Mother Nature during one particularly chilly December week. My furnace had broken and he offered to let me stay with him since he was the friend who lived the closest to me. The close quarters provided an opportunity for expressing new emotional intimacy. After that, we became inseparable. We recently acknowledged out loud to each other that we are actually dating.
I have dated many people before, but this time, there are quite a few foreign elements present: consistency, stability, equality, mutual respect. There are a few things missing as well: day-to-day anxiety, gut-wrenching depression, constant worry.
Falling for your best friend is a terrifying expedition. There’s the possibility that things won’t work out and that you’ll lose that person for good. It’s a little less scary when they fall for you back and even less daunting when they happen to be an extremely good person.
So this is the end of the experiment. I am dating someone I care about deeply and who cares about me deeply and they are worth my time and energy and heartspace. And I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to say that. I wouldn’t have become best friends with him if it weren’t for the experiment. I would not be here if it weren’t for the experiment.
If you made it this far in the post, thank you for reading. I hope what I’ve shared helps you if you’re struggling with your own attempts at balancing self-love with romance. If you have the opportunity, consider taking an extended break from dating. Take note of the new feelings, the panic, the relief, the adjustments, the growth – let me know how you do.
And if the person I’m dating is reading this: you were more than worth the wait and the risk. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being you.