Ah, the life crisis. Most of us become familiar with it at some point in our 20s. Stuck in jobs we don’t want, in house shares we don’t like, with no idea how to move forward. A whole host of crisis-cures have wriggled their way into our everyday over the past few years — meditation, yoga, green juices, visualisation, ‘intention’ journalling and goal-setting. And now I’m about to throw another one into the mix: celibacy.
Yep, that’s right. Celibacy hasn’t got that great a reputation outside of the clergy or those creepy ‘purity balls’ American teens attend with their parents — because being a single young millennial woman is all about sex positivity and swiping right, right? But while it’s fun to have coffee dates to look forward to and a couple of people to low-level Facebook stalk or WhatsApp at 1.27am, do you ever feel it can get a little, well, unnecessarily stressful?
Modern dating culture can end up becoming all too anxiety-inducing. As well as all the confusing are-we-aren’t-we hook-ups and casual relationships, a huge 78% of millennials have been ghosted at some point — an experience that can bring out all sorts of insecurities, even if you weren’t actually that bothered about the ghoster. Secondly, it’s stupidly time-consuming — the average Tinder user spends 77 minutes a day on the app, and that’s not counting all the time wasted on dates with people you don’t really want to see again. So next time you’re going through one of those phases where the sky feels like it’s falling in, consider how taking a break from sex might help press the reset button in your brain.
Here’s how living like a nun (minus the religion bit) helped sort my life out.
Last summer, I had one of those aforementioned crises. Got turned down for the promotion I had my heart set on, didn’t know where the hell I was going next — you know the drill. To get myself back in order, I pencilled out a weekend in my diary to relax, take long baths, and make some big decisions about my life.
I had just — a few days before this weekend — got back with an ex. On the Friday, as I was running my bath, he phoned to say he thought we should call it off. And just like that, all my plans evaporated. I did a lot of drinking, a bit of crying, and an embarrassing amount of angry 5am texting. I did precisely no thinking, planning or pampering.
When Monday morning came round and I dragged myself into the office rubbing my swollen eyes and cradling a large coffee, I had an unexpected moment of clarity. To get through this life crisis, I had to give up men.
“I’d been embroiled in several poorly judged flings, and one long-distance affair that I’d lost an awful lot of evenings talking on Skype to…”
The recent getting-back-with-an-ex thing was just the latest in a rather tumultuous period in my love life. I’d been doing a fair amount of dating, become embroiled in several poorly judged flings, and lost an awful lot of evenings skyping one long-distance affair. I realised that, despite having been technically ‘single’ for over two years, I hadn’t actually, properly, been alone. Too much of my mental energy was being taken up by men, and I wanted it back for myself.
I started thinking about my friend Lauren, a documentary filmmaker. She’d been single throughout most of her 20s, lived on three different continents and won awards for her work. Could her success have anything to do with the fact that she had no partner around to distract her?
I announced my plan, triumphantly, to my housemates that evening and they looked at me, perplexed. “But it’s the summer,” one of them reasoned. “You’ll want to have fun.” “Why do you have to be so extreme about it?” asked the other.
There was no swaying me. Because the moment you decide to give up sex and dating — I swear — something switches in your head. An inner calm enters your mind and your brain fog lifts. I was practically giddy with excitement at all the things I could achieve now that my thoughts were not occupied elsewhere.
And this only grew as the weeks went on. I planned, plotted, got career-coaching and made the decision to go freelance. I got involved with side projects, started pitching and making new contacts.
The whole time, I didn’t waste a single minute staring at WhatsApp blue ticks or wondering when I’d hear back from someone. When I got into bed, my mind drifted towards exciting project ideas, rather than going over the details of my last date. It was as if I’d reclaimed my own mind. Lady Gaga once said that “women lose their creativity through their vaginas”, and I think she might have been onto something.
Sex is a human urge, yes, but not in the same way as eating or breathing. You won’t die if you don’t have sex. You will miss the physical side of it, though (and if you’re like me, probably start having weird sex dreams after the first month or so). Just buy yourself some new toys and focus on getting really good at wanking. As a bonus, it should make your sex life even better when you finally return to it.
I made a promise to myself that I’d only return to dating once I felt ready, which I imagined would be after around six months. And once I did, I felt much more in control than I had before. The beauty of having been properly alone for a while made me realise that it could be a positive life choice, rather than something that happens because you’ve ‘failed’ to meet someone. Ghosters and ditherers no longer bothered me.
A woman who doesn’t need or rely on anyone else is a powerful — and feared — figure. For centuries they were burnt as witches. Lone women are still warned not to walk alone at night, as if they should be scared of the world — when, perhaps, it’s the world that’s scared of them. And despite our embrace of dating and hook-up culture, there’s always an underlying message that you should, really, be sorting through all these faces to find ‘the one’.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a relationship, sex, or something in between. It’s when it’s prescribed to us as the only way of spending our 20s that it becomes problematic. I see so many friends come out of relationships and hop back on the dating merry-go-round, never giving themselves a chance to actually be alone, and I can’t help but question that now.
So if you ever feel as if you’re tiring of the swiping, the painfully dry dates and the will-they-won’t-they-reply jitters, remember: you don’t have to do it. Take a break to focus on yourself, even if just for a few months. It may end up being the most satisfying affair you ever have.
Originally published at https://www.refinery29.com.