Post-Valentine’s Day Musings from an Ambitiously Single Woman
By Tara Upshaw, a third year Biology student at Ryerson University.
I am a fervent reader of the New York Time’s, and yesterday morning — Valentine’s Day — I woke up to a wedding announcement that uniquely resonated with my single soul. Serena Powery and Joseph Tillman met not long after Mr. Tillman had, on the advice of his pastor Craig Holliday, committed to a ‘dating fast’. The two immediately entered into a strong friendship, and did not pursue a romantic relationship with one another until some time after Mr. Tillman’s fast had ended. Regardless of any religious motivations, Pastor Holliday has the right idea with this whole ‘dating fast’ business.
As a necessary preface, I am extremely happy for all of the people who were able to spend Valentine’s Day with their person. It is a wonderful thing when two people are able to openly share themselves with one another.
For many single people, Valentine’s Day can be a very long day, bringing about feelings of isolation and misled reflections on our self-worth. I don’t believe anyone should spend a single day of their lives feeling this way, and was inspired by Pastor Holliday to share my own reasons for supporting an intentional withdrawal from the romantic market.
I have been single now for a year and a half. Initially, I did try, but dating can be immensely discouraging as a student. Virtually every person you would be interested in dating is also busy crushing their own goals, and it’s rare that you find yourself in a room with a person on the same frequency as you, with an aligned timeline and priorities. When I realized I was going to have to take dating completely off the table while I focused on professional school applications and my projects at Ryerson, I was really okay with that.
And as of 11:59 yesterday evening, I am still happy with my choice. I spent my entire day yesterday hanging out with one of my favourite people — me! A year ago, I definitely didn’t make my own list of top five preferred humans, which is pretty sad. These are some of the things I have learned while being single that got me to this place:
1) How to pay attention to what I want for my present and my future. When I was making the decision to remove myself from the dating game, I did spend some time thinking about what I wanted in a partner; this is a hard question for a young person, as most of us are still in a stage of rapid growth and change and are unsure of how we will fit within the context of a long-term romantic relationship.
The easiest way for me to answer this question was by paying attention to how I felt during my previous relationships and on the dates I had gone on in the past months. How I was treated during certain moments with those people made clear which qualities I didn’t want in a future partner.
I do know for sure that, when I am ready, I want someone who is supportive of my goals while having plenty of their own. I believe “what do you want?” is a question that should be regularly re-examined throughout your life, and I will revisit it when I become open to dating again. I’m sure my answer will be a bit different by then.
2) How to be honest with romantic interests, and people in general. I ashamedly used to be a chronic ghoster. I fell off the face of the planet instead of telling someone something I knew would be hard to hear. With men who have recently been interested in me, I’ve started telling them from the beginning what I want from our relationship and what I’m feeling. The tune of this conversation has been “friendship” and “the need to be independent”. It’s a skill that has translated to my professional relationships, as well; it’s much easier to set expectations when you’re prepared to communicate exactly what you want.
3) How to unapologetically say “no”, and what to do when they just aren’t hearing you. First step: get far, far away, and do not look back. Part of this lesson has been learning to embrace my right to say “no”, in regards to both sex or even giving my time to someone just because they ask for it.
Your time is valuable. When you love what you do and you’re committed to your goals, the moments you have are precious. Do not permit anyone to make you feel guilty or selfish when you choose to spend those moments on what is most important to you right now.
4) How to ignore the superficial charms of incredibly attractive people. When my brain decides that it finds someone physically attractive, my heart rate jumps to about 120 BPM and I lose most capability of speech. I also blush, hard. It is extremely embarrassing and frustrating (and also why I never talk to fellow regulars at the MAC, LOL!). In an attempt to push my brain past this psychological barrier, I do my best to refrain from deciding if I find someone authentically attractive until I’ve given them a few minutes to speak. It either strengthens or shatters the spell completely (in my case, it kind of sucks either way).
Look for the value between someone’s ears, first and foremost. Attraction follows your brain if you let it lead.
5) How to acknowledge what I did not like about myself. For me, I needed to work on being more empathetic with the people I loved. It was a difficult thing to acknowledge, and I was disappointed with myself when I reflected on how my inability to stand in others shoes had affected my past relationships. It was something I really wanted to change about myself, and I think I have (Mom, can you confirm?). I can say that I’m proud of that part of me now, knowing where I used to be.
All of the spare time you have to think is the most challenging part of being single. It is easy to frame this internal conversation with the question “why haven’t I found someone?” but that is not what this introspection should be about. Again, it ties into what you want. What about you would you not want as a quality in a partner? How can you become that version of yourself that you would happily date?
This dialogue isn’t intended to make you feel like crap. If you’re single, you have nobody to be emotionally accountable to. There is a lot more room to practice correcting your flaws than there is when you’re already in a relationship.
6) Most importantly, I learned how to be generous with myself. What do I like about me? This question took a lot of time and practice to answer, but after a year of focused self-improvement, there are actually a lot of things. Many of these qualities were there before I was single, but I needed space to practice self-love; I needed to get to a place in which I required only self-affirmation to know what I have to offer, where I am lacking, and how to be okay with that knowing that I am always doing my best to be better.
A recurring theme in all of these lessons is the ability to identify what I wanted. This was the fundamental skill I had to develop to really draw these key conclusions. I practiced paying attention to the way my mind and body reacted during certain situations, and reflected on these sensations to really break down the thoughts and feelings I had in those moments.
It is unreal how much romantic love changes how we see ourselves and the language we use to describe our lives. Love is a powerful thing, and at the right time with the right person, it’s exquisite. However, I have always had a much more difficult time evaluating myself when I measure my worth on the terms of the person I love or people who could potentially love me. I am now at a place where I exclusively use my own meter stick of worth, a tool I was able to develop because I took the time to be alone and explore who I am and what I needed.
When you finally meet that person, you may never have the opportunity to be young and single ever again. And you may walk into the same room as that person much sooner than you think. If you are currently single, I encourage you to shift your internal dialogue to a theme of positivity; you have so much to offer someone as you are now. How can you presently be accountable to the partner you want in the future? How can you become the person that partner deserves?
Learn to love all the parts of you; learn how exactly you need to be loved. Start big projects at work or school; go to the gym because you want to find yourself sexy; go to a movie alone because it’s Oscar season and it’s finally Leo’s time and you just want to support him. Change your definition of worth to what you do for the world, rather than what someone will one day want to do for you. And then enjoy who you’ve become.
Lend your heart to no one until you own in entirety all that makes you you. The right person is out there and will be waiting in the right room when you’re ready to teach them how to love you. Until then, stay ambitiously single, and be your own damn valentine.
Happy belated Valentine’s Day!
Tara Upshaw is a third year Biology student at Ryerson University. When she’s not focused on science, she’s creating platforms for development for marginalized groups in STEM and balancing a quintessential mix of hobbies, from half-marathon running to training therapy cats. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @tupsheezy. If you are interested in contributing your unique perspective as a science student to RUSL, please contact Tara at firstname.lastname@example.org.