“Are you upset?” he asked.
Honestly, I was.
I was on a three-person date with a handsome Argentine whom I had been tasting Buenos Aires with for one wonderful month. Sure, I’d been forewarned that his “friend” Valentina was coming along that night to finally make my acquaintance. I’d been told that her motivations lay in practicing her English with a tea-loving Brit. In reality, it was a ruse to orchestrate a threesome. That very moment, I decided I was done with dating.
“Man drought,” “dating diet” or “self-imposed celibacy”; whatever you choose to call it, I was going to say yes to #NoMan2019.
In fact, a trio of factors led me down this dry path. It dawned on me that I had invested so much time chasing the highs of dating that I failed to realize the heart-twisting terror that it actually caused me: assaults on the self-esteem, anxiety, drained energy and hours wasted in the throes of sorrow when things didn’t pan out.
The year before, I’d been deserted in the cruelest fashion by a partner of six months. From one day to the next, he simply never spoke to me again. The thing about ghosting is that it’s tricky to get closure because you’re not really sure why, what or when to grieve.
Secondly, I had never truly been single. To be frank, searching for a man who was willing to promise forever was my preferred pastime. Despite my success professionally and with platonic relationships, my inability to locate Prince Charming somehow meant I’d failed ― a lifestyle narrative that still plagues many women.
As such, I was always somewhere in the dating life cycle: in the heat of passion, recovery or hunting once more for those dizzy, eclectic times. Each relationship was effectively a rebound, as I never gave myself time to heal or self-reflect. Without carving out crucial breathing space, I’d keep wearing the habits of yesteryear’s loves and tarring every man with the same brush.
Not to mention, I’d grown bored of the monotony of the dating process and bogged down by the mental clutter that came with it. There had to be a better use for my time than feigning interest in Suitor X and his life story. Simply put, dating was no longer fun.
The rules of the ban were simple: Friendship was all I could offer anyone, and I deleted my dating apps. All and any men who approached me were swiftly informed of the rules, which was actually a fabulous exercise in communicating my boundaries and desires.
For the first time in my life, I went out into the world with my green light switched off and felt freer and lighter as a result; the pressure to snag the prize was off.
While I might have expected life without the pursuit of romantic relationships to bring up feelings of sadness or loneliness, all of this actually culminated in a mind shift whereby I stopped viewing solitude as calamitous. I could give up my subscription to the Must Have a Man Association and life would still go on; it could even be great. Accordingly, recent reports from the American Time Use Survey show that, surprisingly, unmarried women are actually the happiest population subgroup.
Looking back, 2019 has been remarkable and fulfilling, and my decision to detox from dating yielded some significant takeaways.
I relished in my singledom
You can do or be whatever you want when you’re single. It’s also a prime opportunity to have fun discovering what you want your life to be about. I’d come across this advice before but I needed to experience it firsthand to get it.
Being happily single is only possible when you’ve fully recovered from the pain of a previous breakup, something I never let myself do until now. Throwing myself into someone else’s arms as soon as the sheets were cold was never going to alleviate underlying heartbreak; it’s essentially panic buying. Not devoting sufficient time to recovery also meant I’d be stepping into any new relationship with unduly low expectations, which is unfair to any new partner.
I also developed an appetite for alone time. I understood that solitude is not sadness just as much as marriage isn’t sure-fire satisfaction. Being able to withstand just myself for company meant I wasn’t desperate for anybody else’s. When you’re happy on your own, you’ll wait for the right people and be selective about who you let infringe on your precious alone time. I’m not anti-men, I’m just pro-me. Extended periods of solitude stop us from being commitment-hungry and mentally marrying any old person with a Colgate smile.
My passions and pursuits were all mine to explore
The time I clawed back from romancing helped me fall in love with the world again. I’m not usually one for unashamed country counting, but this year alone I’ve fraternized with Manneken Pis, Christ the Redeemer, the Eiffel Tower, Chicago’s Bean and the Panama Canal. I took a scenic ride on one of the world’s highest high-altitude trains through the depths of Salta’s Lerma Valley, went salsa dancing in Cuba and signed up for flamenco lessons. I felt absolutely zero guilt about wanting my life to be about my wishes because I realized just how delicious that could be.
My (platonic) relationships thrived
Because I invested more in self-care, I ultimately became a better, more well-rounded person to show up for the people in my life. I could be present for them when they had problems because I wasn’t reeling from another bout of heartbreak.
I got such deep satisfaction from spending time with my old friends and made numerous new ones. Studies of thousands of people around the world reveal that single people have more robust social networks than their coupled-up counterparts. They are far from alone and do more to maintain relationships. On a whim, I flew from Argentina to London to pay my sister a surprise visit and I didn’t have to check that a partner could make the trip, too.
I was regularly interrogated about the deadline
Many refused to believe I could genuinely be happy without the prospect of love; you’ll always invite criticism when you start to question societal norms. Did I sniff pity? Most certainly. I also spent a lot of time fending off questions about when I would finally bake a cake in my womb oven.
Having a partner is prestigious and a traditional marker of success. Even the most accomplished women are deemed pitiful if they don’t have a “better” half. When friends told me they hoped I’d meet someone soon, I know they meant well. However, it’s apparent that singledom is still perceived as a problem to be solved hastily particularly for women in their pursuit of self-worth.
My business soared
Whereas dating had always been my project, my priorities shifted and I had fire in my belly career-wise. I spent time really fine-tuning my voice as a writer and the powers that be listened. My dream publication reached out to me and I wrote for some of the biggest names in media including Lonely Planet, the BBC and Shondaland. I was featured as a travel expert on NBC News and was invited to become an instructor on Skillshare where I’ve since launched various classes on all things writing.
Sometimes I still pinch myself when I remember that I’m a full-time travel writer, published author and receive remuneration for the miscellaneous thoughts in my head. My book “Escape to Self” is a life design guide that one reader kindly described as “an empowering wake-up call” (thank you). I also started stitching together the proposal to expand my travel and lifestyle brand, Club Elsewhere. In 2020 we’ll be launching a booking platform to cater to a growing niche in wellness tourism.
My year without men has undoubtedly been my most productive to date. This isn’t to say that we can’t have love as well as ludicrous success; it’s the dating game itself that can hinder productivity and siphon one’s zeal. Sifting through candidates and conducting interviews is a job in itself.
Time and space are magnificent healers and this break ultimately freed me from the burden of viewing a life sans partner as a wholly wasted one. Coupled up or self-partnered, I have all the etchings of a full life. The term “spinster” doesn’t define me, nor does it rile me up.
The future beckons and perhaps the gates to my heart will reopen next year. The next person to walk into my life won’t simply be a cog in the wheel though; he’ll be someone I decide is worthy of spending time in my world, as I now know that’s a great place to be.
Rosie Bell is a roving travel writer, editor and author of “Escape to Self.” She’s been fortunate to visit over 100 global destinations but feels most at home under the sun. Her writing has appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, the BBC, Fodor’s and Lonely Planet. She’s also the founder of Club Elsewhere, a digital travel platform focusing on life-enriching experiences. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter @TheBeachBell.