For most of my life, I was a serial monogamist. I started dating at the age of 15 — and really didn’t look back. I bounced from one relationship to the next for 15 years. In between boyfriends, I’d be single for a month, maybe two at the most — and like clockwork, I’d have another love interest. Even if it was “just casual” in the beginning … within a few months, we would usually become more committed.
I’d been in love once before and it didn’t work out — and throughout my many relationships, I realized I was searching to recreate that feeling, even if it wasn’t really there. It wasn’t until I went through a particularly bad breakup from a not-so-great relationship that I realized: Maybe I need to take a break from serial dating? I didn’t know what it was like to be alone — to not have a big part of my life revolve around whoever I was interested in.
I knew I needed a clean break to figure out how I’d found myself in what was, ultimately, a very toxic relationship — and I was trying to “fix” and “help” him, and he was not looking for a savior.
So, I put myself on a “man-tox” for a year, which meant no dating at all.
As I looked back over my dating history, I saw a few patterns. The first was that I was clearly trying to fill a void I felt inside by always being in a relationship — and that’s not a healthy way to enter ANY relationship.
When I dug a little deeper, I also realized that I hadn’t always been the best version of myself, especially in one of the relationships I really cared about. I didn’t know how to handle all the strong feelings, and I ultimately ended up pushing someone I loved away because I wanted to protect myself from getting hurt.
After losing that relationship, I jumped from one emotionally unavailable guy to the next. Deep down, I knew I couldn’t get hurt if I picked people who weren’t really available to me. I dated long-distance and pursued people who weren’t looking for anything serious.
There was a common theme, and it was a bitter pill for me to swallow: I’d messed up when I was in love, and ever since then, I’d been making unhealthy choices. It was a stark realization that I was the one making choices that were not in my own best interest.
My dating detox helped me to see that I needed to work on myself a bit so I wouldn’t keep repeating the same cycles I had before with unavailable partners. I had to look within myself to see where I needed to change first. I started going to therapy and it really helped me get to the root of things. I also spent time doing solo activities, like going for walks, meditating, and journaling — instead of planning my days around someone else. Creating the time to be by myself and talk through my issues really helped me to understand what I want from a relationship.
As a recovering people pleaser, I’m more aware now of my history of over-giving and not knowing what the word “boundaries” meant: I put other people’s needs ahead of my own, by dropping everything to help them and doing things to try to fix their issues, instead of focusing on my own. I often felt like my relationships were one-way streets, where I was giving and the others were always taking — and that’s because I was picking people who weren’t willing to give to me.
But the harshest reality was to see that I’d pushed love away when it was right in front of me. I’d dated someone for years who I really loved, but when problems came up, I panicked, shut down my feelings completely, and distanced myself from him. Until I forgave myself for that experience, I knew I wasn’t going to find the kind of relationship I really needed.
The purpose of my detox was to make healthier choices and be more intentional about pursuing relationships. After doing a bunch of inner work, most of which was not that enjoyable but super necessary, I’m confident that I’m ready to get back out there and meet potential partners who are available — and I’m willing to own my part. My dating detox formally ended after almost a year and a half — and I started being open to meeting new guys again, only now I’m way more discerning and use my best judgment when it comes to who I date and spend my time with. And I’m super excited because I know my next relationship is going to be healthy since I’m a better version of myself than I ever was before.
Originally published on February 6, 2020.