Jessica Kaufman is a curious blend of sensitive and bold. She finds her calling in teaching, organizing, gardening, and moving her body to music. Currently, she is running her own small business in the city of Asheville, NC.
Picture this: I was about six or seven months out of what was probably the most devastating breakup I’d ever experienced. (You know the kind of breakup I mean: the ones that turn you inside out, flip your center of gravity into some unknown dimension, leave you sobbing harder than makes any kind of sense.) I was 33, had just moved back home to Western North Carolina from NYC, and at half a year later was finally at the point of healing where other people were starting to look attractive to me. I was definitely not looking for something serious; I knew I still had some processing to do.
So basically I was sleeping around, enjoying my autonomy and freedom, and also enjoying not bursting into tears every time someone looked at me lovingly. In the new age hippie town where I lived, plenty of beautiful people felt similarly to me in regards to dating—we were open to exploring connection wherever it sparked up, we felt relatively safe about our friends being our make-out buddies and vice versa, and overall I was finding a suitable number of sexy folks who viewed monogamy as something that was just not necessary in order to live in healthy, fulfilling romantic connection. It was great, honestly. I had plenty of chances to experience my own loneliness and to do some ill-advised, mournful Facebook stalking of my ex up in Vermont, but I also had a rotating handful of attractive, communicative sweethearts with whom I was enjoying keeping things light. It all felt fluid, enough, hopeful, and no-big-deal. I was healing.
Then I met H: he was preppy, too clean-cut for me, and built like a hairless He-Man with the posture of a Disney Prince. Not my physical type at all, plus he was six years younger than me, and he was very recently dumped by his fiancé—we’re talking two months at the most. I identified with his broken heart, and was inspired by his rawness and vulnerability. I knew this wasn’t a person who was ready for a serious relationship, and neither was I. H wasn’t what I was looking for, but I was only looking for sweet, fun, connection... so we began making out, and much sooner than we had planned, started sleeping together. Sex was a pretty big deal for H, and to him, it meant exclusivity. Not immediately, but soon. For the first time since before my breakup started, there was someone in my life saying, “I want you to commit to me.”
The problems were multiple: we barely knew each other. I’d have to break it off with my other romantic partners, even though there was really no need to other than the request made by this new person. Plus, it wasn’t a request, it was an ultimatum. Forsake the others, and my freedom, for someone I was just getting to know? H lived in a dirty apartment with dudes even younger than him. His car and bedroom were in constant states of overwhelming clutter and disorganization. His ex’s stuff was still hiding in the corners and drawers. He had a prudish, judgy attitude towards nudity, free-love, waving your freak flag where everyone could see it—things I loved and felt great about. He was privileged in every way a person could be, and he said things about women sometimes that were so blindingly naïve that anyone less sweet than him would be labeled a misogynist. Red flags everywhere, and yet… neither of us could shake the feeling that we were supposed to be doing this. That I had a higher calling with this person, something karmically to work out, that it was here to teach me something. Call it what you like—I just couldn’t walk away from this beautiful, too-young, too-soon man. And so I committed. I made a conscious choice and stepped into it with my eyes open.
We had a lot to process about monogamy, but that’s a different article. H and I were together for a year and a half. Throughout that time, we both changed a lot. He grew up, grew open, grew his hair out. I introduced him to things that I wanted to experience with a partner (acro yoga, NVC, homesteading). He re-introduced me to my own heart’s readiness for a life partner, and I found a lot of healing around trusting someone new. He bought a house with land, and I spent every second of my free time driving the 45 minutes there and helping his domestic life get settled and cozy. I wanted to propose to him—if not marriage, than some other big and beautiful offering of my willingness to stay for the long haul. When it started to fall apart, I wanted to fix it, and he wanted to leave. It took me awhile to find the willingness to let it go. I had grown into a belief that this person really did, somehow, want a serious and committed relationship with me, even though he had jumped into it too fast, too soon, out of habit. The minute we started to break up, he was deep into hanging out with the woman he's now serious with; naturally, I have some difficult feelings about that. It’s none of my business; not my circus, not my monkeys. Letting go of someone’s life choices is big work after you’ve been together for awhile, and staying stuck in an ex’s choices brings nothing but confusion, heartache, anger, and questions that can’t be answered.
My work now is to keep working on a big part my own personal growth: staying single. For awhile. I need time and space to make sure that I continue rebuilding my life without the influence of my next Big Relationship. I need to get my new business off the ground. I need to continue to work the steps in my program. I need to finish nursing the wounds that being with H left in me, and I need time to further understand why I said yes to that relationship when both of us knew it was going to be a struggle. Most of all, I need time—real, seasons-passing time—to get used to my life’s rhythms as an un-partnered person. When I meet my next partner, I want to be as free and healed up as possible, to have had time to process not just the breakup with H but the overarching patterns in my series of adult relationships. I owe that to myself, and my next partner gets it as a side benefit of choosing someone as wise and mature as me (ha). H isn’t doing that. His two months between the ex-fiance and me, and the nebulous number of months between me and his new girlfriend are his alone to decide on. No one can be the arbiter of how other people are doing it. I’m sure it feels as right to him to move on quickly as it does to me to slow that train to a halt. Here’s how I know what to do.
When I was living in NYC, I was fortunate to meet a slew of women who were doing this “year of no dating” thing. At the time, the prospect was as inconceivable to me as sobriety is to an alcoholic in her cups. But as it goes with most things that horrify/fascinate us, I found that the curiosity within me was edging towards willingness, and before I knew I had decided to, I set a date to stop dating. That meant calling it off with the brooding blonde man from Boston that I was seeing to numb the pain of my recent divorce. It meant not filling my self-worth meter with the affections of someone new. It meant showing up to social gatherings committed to going home alone. Every night. For a year. Something inside me screamed and cried and seriously doubted that I could make it—and that’s when it hit me. I had been using love as a substitute for self-worth. Why be alone if it meant doubting I was worthy of someone’s love, anyone’s love? Why ever have to face that, even? I hadn’t been sans-crush since middle school. I’d been bookending relationships since high school. My heart was like a grocery list: I need to get Sean. Nope, Tommy. Nope, Elisha. Nope, Jimmy. Nope, Dave. Nope, Allison. And on and on and on. Relationships fueled me to the point that I didn’t know what else I could run on. When I quit dating, I experienced serious withdrawal. First, from Boston guy, then from my ex-husband, then from the affair I’d had at the end of my marriage. Like layers of an onion, back and back and back, until one day I felt cleaner than I’d ever felt before. I felt fresh, light, open, new, and me. I felt myself in a fullness of presence that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t been able to feel while I was pushing around a shopping cart full of romantic yearning and unprocessed relationships. Taking serious time off allowed me to pick everything up out of that cart one at a time, look at it for what it was, and put it back. I didn’t just walk away from my cart for a new one, or burn down the store. I did the work in a way that you can only really do when you’re single for a long stretch of time.
An amazing thing happened during that time—I came to realize that I could access the gifts of “a year of no dating” any time I needed it. While I don’t think everyone needs to take a whole year each and every time, I do recognize how valuable it is to take some time. A significant amount of time, meaning: you have to look at what’s in your cart. What have you been pushing around? Or has it been pushing you? Are you tempted to abandon the cart, burn down the store, or (what I believe H is doing) just add another beautiful, shining, heart-expanding item to the pile? Don’t get me wrong; relationships are great. They are powerful teachers and offer us so much deep joy and growth and understanding. But until you’ve really known what it is to find that joy, growth, and understanding without the catalyst of a new relationship, I think that part of you will always remain unknown to yourself. Like a forgotten drawer or corner, it piles up with the detritus of what you haven’t unpacked, and you—not to mention your next relationships—will have to navigate around it forever. So take your time. Try it out. Say no for now, if even part of you thinks that you could use a break. Find your wholeness before you find your next love. It will serve you for the rest of your life.
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