When I hit my mid-20s, I decided to take my love life more seriously. I wasn't going to waste time on people who didn't share the same values, interests, or personality traits I'd ideally want in a partner. I'd had my fair share of "having fun" with guys I knew I wouldn't marry, but as I grew older and watched my sisters find amazing partners to share their lives with, I realized that if this was something I really wanted, I needed to make it a bigger priority in my life.
Where was I going to find such a guy? All signs pointed to online dating, so I spent a couple days crafting a killer profile that showed off my personality and passions. In less than a day I was flooded with messages, profile views, compliments, and likes. Soon I couldn't even keep up with my conversations. I was constantly chatting with attractive men and had dates lined up weeks in advance. At work, I was known as the girl with endless dating stories--so much so it almost became my identity.
A Hard Look at the Habit
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was reflecting on some goals I had created for myself at the beginning of the year. Some were big, like visit Australia (my home) and learn Spanish; some were small, like (finally!) learn how to do a cat-eye and properly furnish my room (which I had put off for a year). It was April, and I realized I hadn't crossed anything off my list.
When I thought about how I was spending my time, I was shocked to realize so much of it was spent dating. And not just going on the actual dates: looking at profiles, responding to messages, all the mental space taken up by thinking about these guys. Maybe I had made finding a partner too much of a priority. Despite having a ton of fun, it still felt sh*tty not having accomplished anything I'd set out to do this year. So I decided to do something I'd never done before: give up online dating for 40 days. Here's what I learned.
1. I had to confront some not-so-comfortable parts of my past love life.
I'm an extremely happy, outgoing person, but during the first few days, a dark cloud came over me. Painful things that I hadn't thought about for years--including mistakes I'd made in relationships--started to flood my mind. I had never really spent time thinking about past breakups. But during my dating detox, I forced myself to sit with these very uncomfortable thoughts. This meant (a lot of) crying, a constant sad mood, and journaling about everything that was going on in my mind. Fortunately, after a week, the pain went away, and I felt back to normal. As difficult as it was, I'm so grateful for this time period. It's what I needed to fully move on.
2. I replaced swiping with healthier habits.
This is hard to admit, but the first thing I would do most mornings was check my messages. Sometimes that meant a quick five-minute glance; sometimes that meant an hour of wasted time. I've heard what you do in the morning sets your mood for the rest of the day, so I knew it was a great opportunity to replace a bad habit with something productive. I started journaling as soon as I got up and became a morning exerciser (who knew you could do both in under an hour!?). These two habits totally lifted my mood (something I really needed) and made me much more energized for the day ahead.
3. Validation from online dating felt a little too good.
Online dating was the only real form of social media I personally consumed. I work in social media, I don't post selfies, and I rarely check my own social accounts (kind of like how a chef never actually cooks for himself).
It was a constant ego boost, and when that was taken away from me, I felt a little empty inside.
But online dating can do dangerous things to one's ego. Who doesn't enjoy getting thousands of likes and profile views? Or being asked out every single day? It was a constant ego boost, and when that was taken away from me, I felt a little empty inside. Where was I going to get my validation from? This realization confirmed that I needed to love myself more and reminded me that a stranger's compliment (though nice to receive) provides only a fleeting high.
4. I was placing too much emphasis on dating and not enough on other areas of my life.
It's not news that Hollywood is obsessed with love. And I don't think real life is too different--if you're in a relationship, you're constantly asked how your spouse is or when you're getting married. If you're single, you hear, "Are you dating anyone?" over and over. Dating became an addiction, and when that was taken away from me, I noticed that there were areas of my life I should have prioritized just as much as finding a partner. Having a partner is an important part of a full, happy life, but it's definitely not the the only important part. I spent some more time evaluating my performance at work, being a better friend (who wasn't too busy with dates!) and reflecting on whether I was living a life that truly brought me joy.
5. It made me realize how much I missed my home.
Living so far from my home country of Australia, I found it easy to seek comfort in romantic relationships. Not having the ability to hug my mum after a bad date or spend time with family when I was feeling lonely really weighed on my heart.
When I returned from a recent trip home, I realized my family would always be my emotional support system--even if they lived halfway around the world. No amount of dates could ever replace that important role they played in my life. I started to send them texts/emails more frequently when I was feeling lonely, instead of turning to dating apps to fill the void.
It's been more than six months since my dating detox, and a lot has happened over that time. I've set boundaries around how often I go on dates, I've been very picky with who I go out with, and I only log in once the workday has ended (if at all). More importantly, I've accomplished almost 75 percent of my goals this year! I've also kept up journaling and a.m. workouts. #win.
The biggest success from this experiment, however, was that I realized I didn't need to be dating someone to be happy and feel confident. While having a partner would be great, it wouldn't complete my life. It would complement it. (Take that, Hollywood!)