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A Comprehensive Guide: “Should I Quit Dating?”— 12 Surprising Lessons I Learned When I Quit Dating For A Year

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Photo by  Ian Stauffer  on  Unsplash

Last year, I quit dating.

I stopped having sex.

I deleted all my apps.

Now, a year later, I can hardly put to words the ways my life has been transformed.

But alas, I’ll try.

Let’s start with a story.

The Perfect Case Study for a Dating Addict

One night at an upscale food court in Dallas, I got together with a friend for dinner and drinks.

At the bar, my friend saw a couple of guys she knew, so we joined them and started chatting.

One of the guys was fun to get to know. He cracked jokes with us and the bartender, telling stories and chatting with us.

The other guy seemed distracted, looking at his phone for long periods of time and tuning out the conversation.

The only time he would look up was to nudge the other guy, breaking his friend out of the flow of his conversation.

“Check out how hot this girl is,” he’d say, showing a picture of a girl he had just matched with.

Then he’d go back to swiping on his phone.

To be honest, I kind of wanted to flirt with him.

Physically, he was pretty attractive, with light brown eyes and clear skin.

However, after nearly a year of quitting dating, I was a much wiser woman.

Instead of jumping vagina-first like I used to, I was watching him with eyes wide open.

At this point, I had a pretty good idea of who he was:

This was a guy that compulsively dated, taking pride in how hot his matches were. He used people like objects to avoid confronting himself and the magnitude of life. He embraced cheap encounters as quick fixes to forget that he didn’t have real, lasting connections in his life.

He talked about women from different cities that “he really liked”, but he has no idea what he means when he says that.

He seemed like someone who followed his dick around, reacting passively to the environment around him.

Despite his loneliness, he was completely blind to the opportunities for connection that already existed in the world around him.

I might be making some harsh assumptions.

But watching him, I just knew.

I thought back to a time when I looked like that: distracted, unsatisfied, bored, numb, jaded, wanting.

I felt sad for him.

Instead of calling him out, though, I simply smiled to myself and turned towards the others in the group.

(Note: Guy, I do hope you’re reading this post.)

Is This You?

You may read the story above and think, “ Wow, that sounds a lot like me.” (Note: Unless you’re him. In that case, guy, it actually is you.)

Or maybe it immediately reminds you of a friend.

You’re probably not thinking either of those things, though, because there’s one teensy little problem:

This kind of behavior is normal in our society.

Because of that, people stay in denial until something shatters their perception of reality, which usually only happens when it gets bad enough and they finally hit “rock bottom”.

“Should I Quit Dating?”

Ask yourself honestly.

If you’re thinking, “Hell, no. A dating ban sounds terrible…” you need to ask yourself why you think that.

Because if the thought of not dating for a year scares you, there’s a reason.

Maybe you don’t know what you’d do with all your free time.

Maybe you don’t know how to have fun outside of getting drunk and trying to hit on people.

Maybe you‘re not sure if you can cope with the eventual loneliness that will come your way.

The truth is, you can’t get better until you choose to face it.

I’m telling you, life is more than you think it is. If you push through all of the initial discomforts, you can find what you’re looking for, and much more.

Do You Know What You’re Looking For?

In order to address something, you kind of need to admit it exists.

For instance, you might have to admit that you don’t know anything about what real, healthy love actually looks like.

Like C.S. Lewis observes in his poem, As the Ruin Falls:

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love — a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek —
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

If you’re feeling dissatisfied and numb, compulsively swiping on dating apps every day until you max out your quota… you may need to quit dating.

Maybe you don’t identify with any of those things, but you’re curious to see what would happen.

To give you an idea of how this year transformed my life, I want to share with you the 12 surprising lessons I learned.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll want to experience those lessons for yourself.

(Note: Yes, guy, I’m talking to you.)

12 Surprising Lessons I Learned When I Quit Dating For An Entire Year

1. I know who I am, not who I think I am.

For a long time, I hid behind a mask, one that made me feel like I was good enough.

Because I grew up as a pastor’s kid, I found that sometimes being a bad kid could reflect on my dad and his career. I practiced hiding, believing that “being me” was something to be ashamed of.

By the time I wanted to figure out who I was and what I wanted, I was too used to pretending. I had forgotten who I really was, and it was a lengthy process to find her again.

It started with complete honesty with where I was at.

The reality is, I didn’t want my shame to prevent me from taking responsibility anymore.

By carefully observing the entirety of my identity and life, I finally came to know and accept myself.

This time, it was the real me, warts and all, not just someone I was pretending to be.

2. I seek out genuine connections.

When I used to go out with my friends, we would walk around the bar to “scope” for talent. When I saw someone cute, I’d go talk to them with the intention of getting something out of them, whether it was flirtation, sex, or the satisfaction of “achieving” something.

Nowadays, when I go out I still “scope” the place out, but my eye is different. I talk to people I think look interesting — maybe they’re dancing with a smile on the dance floor by themselves, or wearing an unusual outfit.

Instead of immediately losing interest if someone isn’t attractive, I seek out genuine experiences and conversations that create genuine connection. The difference in the quality of my life has been night and day. The depth of my interactions is unimaginable and I’ve found meaningful connections with everyone from strangers at the gym, neighbors I hadn’t noticed, and coworkers I once felt distant from.

The more I opened up, the more I realized how much I had to learn from the people around me.

3. I enjoy all the little things.

In nature, rewards usually come only with time and effort. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide a shortcut, flooding the brain with dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Our brains do not have an easy way to withstand the onslaught. — How addiction hijacks the brain (Harvard)

Relationships are like any other addictive drug that floods your brain with chemicals. The more you do it, the higher your tolerance, especially if it’s repeated exposure to the “honeymoon stage”. I had gotten to a point in my dating life where I would have a honeymoon stage that lasted only two weeks. I was left floundering, wondering why I wasn’t in love anymore.

By breaking the cycle of addictive behavior, I also healed my brain’s dependency.

That means my brain is a lot more sensitive to normal stimuli.

In other words, I don’t have to do as much to feel things.

It means I wake up and feel grateful. My dog’s frantic and goofy behavior makes me giggle and bubble up with childlike joy. I feel content just sitting and reading a book, and I feel sparks of warmth when I spend time with loved ones.

I’m not numb anymore.

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4. I’m closer to my family.

When I realized there was an issue with the way I dated, I found out that it went deeper than just romantic relationships.

I realized I actually struggled with all my relationships, particularly my familial ones. In general, I lacked boundaries, was afraid to speak the truth, didn’t trust people, and skirted around vulnerability.

However, as I started to deal with my romantic wounds, my childhood wounds started coming to the surface too.

I had always blamed my family for emotionally abandoning me, and never realized how stubborn I’d been. I had never felt understood by them but had also rejected any responsibility to make myself feel understood.

When I acknowledged the part I played in my family’s dysfunction, my relationships finally started to heal. I realized I’d been stubborn, defensive, and in love with my own ideals. I had lashed out at them even when they were only trying to help.

The more honest I became with myself, the easier it was to see myself and take responsibility for my life.

5. I‘m less selfish.

I had always been enamored by the romance I saw in Korean soap operas and Hollywood movies. To me, that was ideal love: a whirlwind of emotion, big acts of sacrifice, and a dramatic elopement into the sunset.

I realized this year that that form of love was selfish.

More often than not my crazy up-and-down “romantic” relationships were more about how the other person made me feel rather than who they were or what I could offer them.

Now I ask myself, how can I contribute to the people and community around me? How can I go out of my way to make someone’s day? Who do I have the capacity to help, even if I get nothing out of it? It may be as simple as leaving a Google review, lending a listening ear, or practicing saying ‘yes’ when people ask for help.

6. I express my needs.

Along with being less selfish, I also had to make sure I wasn’t being too selfless.

I had often tried to meet every need of my partners if only so I could keep their attention and feel like I was worth something. Throughout this process, I lost a huge piece of my identity.

I got to a point where I didn’t know who I was, and even if I did know, I had trouble expressing it to others because I didn’t want to be a burden.

I often defaulted to other’s opinions and desires because I didn’t know where to start on figuring out my own. In some ways, it was easier, less embarrassing to let other people make the decision for me.

Now, I push myself to say the truth even when I’m afraid.

If a waiter asks me how I like the food, I tell them how I really feel about their mediocre parmesan chicken, even if I do it while stuttering and avoiding eye contact.

I speak up when someone crosses my boundaries, whether it’s a close friend or my boss.

At a checkup, I’ll continue telling my doctor what doesn’t feel right even if I’m worried I may be taking too much of her time.

I’m now aware of how small I try to make myself, afraid to express myself honestly and worried that I’ll be a burden.

7. I don’t put a band-aid on my loneliness anymore

“Loneliness is you crying out for connection with yourself” — Anonymous

When I used to get that itch of loneliness in the past, I would mindlessly pull out my phone and start swiping. I would get on Tinder, Bumble, Hinge (you name it, I had it!), etc and start chatting with people.

It was a surface-level fix for a deeper problem.

Unfortunately, practicing this form of cheap intimacy within the dating apps also impacted my life outside of them.

When I went out, I would seek only surface experiences that gave quick hits, always on the lookout for the next distraction so it could rip me out of numbness.

Little did I know, I was just trying to avoid facing myself. On the rare occasion that I was alone, I always kept busy with a TV show or a shiny new project to work on.

This past year, however, gave me the space to have an “incubation period”. I forced myself to sit through the discomfort and became more aware of my thoughts. I also wrote down my reactions down so I could analyze the patterns of my behavior and where they came from. I read books and listened to podcasts, learning from the top clinicians in love addiction and codependency.

By being alone more often, I forced myself to look in places that I hadn’t looked in for a very long time.

8. I pick the right friends.

At the beginning of the year, I realized I was surrounded by unhealthy people. As the first step of my recovery, I had to cut them out.

Slowly, over the year, I built my friend group back up, filtering out everyone I felt would slow my progress. Part of the journey was figuring out who to filter out, and also how to go about it.

Throughout my recovery, I learned that unhealthy people attract unhealthy people. In my desire to become healthy, I had to surround myself with people that, in some ways, I wasn’t used to. I didn’t initially connect with them because they were “too happy” or “too boring”.

But, over time, I saw how stable and happy their lives were. I had to redefine what I knew about love and grow comfortable with caring honesty and everyday joy.

If you’re surrounded by quality people who call you out and want you to grow, it’s a daily occurrence to be flooded with gratitude.

As someone who used to rely on my partner to be my whole world, I learned to lean on a chosen family, people who genuinely care for you and want to see you succeed.

9. I have values.

Before this all happened, I truly believed I had values.

In reality, my actions were controlled by my emotions and the validation I got from others.

However, to have values, you live by them in every situation, not just when it’s easy.

If your value is “to be kind”, this means you don’t start saying cruel things to someone because you feel like they hurt or disrespected you.

Even when I’m seething and angry, I now strive to look beyond my emotions to treat others with respectIt seems simple enough, but for a kid that grew up watching her mom (a pastor’s wife, mind you) get extreme road rage and flip people off, my temper can flare up at a moment’s notice.

However, there’s power in intentionally choosing your identity. I won’t accept my bad behavior just because I’ve been conditioned that way for more than a decade.

As I thought about how often I lost control of my actions, whether it was because of my emotions, validation, or external pressures, I decided to define what I stood for.

I came up with a list of 15 values that I eventually turned into a poster that now hangs on my bedroom wall.

Here are a few of them:

  1. I give my best in every situation, regardless of what I get out of it and who is watching.

  2. I am self-sufficient. I look to myself before asking others for help.

  3. I am vulnerable, not ‘open’. I do not lie about my reality or hide behind walls of shame.

10. I don’t run on empty anymore.

I decided I would stop pretending, even if that meant others would feel uncomfortable, or no one agreed with me.

When I stopped pretending, I stopped feeling drained all the time.

Do your actions flow out-to-in or in-to-out?

Before, I used to volunteer because I knew that’s what “good person” does. It grew to be pretty exhausting and unsustainable.

Now, it’s a world of difference. I feel productive and excited about life.

Instead of having to force myself to do things, I have forward momentum and abundant enthusiasm in my hobbies, friendships, and career.

There’s a big difference between pretending and being authentic. On the outside, they may look the same, but the person pretending can’t keep up the act for long. The one that’s truly passionate and authentic will continue to overflow, creating a solid foundation to multiply their pursuits on.

11. I choose to trust.

Instead of seeing the worst in others, I started assuming the best.

Before, I had a victim mindset. I believed that everyone had ulterior motives and wanted something from me, particularly in romance.

For example:

They asked me about my day not because they want to know, but because they wanted to alleviate their boredom.

They wanted to have sex not because they wanted me in their life, but because they wanted to use me for my body.

They wanted space not because they need to recuperate and recharge, but because they no longer felt the same way about me.

I was so convinced that I was not worthy of their love and attention that even when they were trying to show me love and attention, I rejected it.

What you focus on is what you see, so if you only pay attention to the events that confirm your suspicions, you’re creating a scenario that’s ripe for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you’re looking for a specific outcome, you will find it.

Maybe you believe you’re justified in being jaded and suspicious of others.

The truth is, it’s a choice.

It’s deciding to choose a better future for yourself, despite what you’ve experienced in the past.

Because if you are suspicious and distrusting of the world, it says more about you than it does about the world.

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are.”

— Stephen R. Covey

To begin to trust, you have to master Brenee Brown’s advice:

“Assume others are doing the best they can.”

And to do that, you have to work on developing clear boundaries:

It turns out that we assume the worst about people’s intentions when they’re not respectful of our boundaries: It’s easy to believe that they are trying to disappoint us on purpose.” — Brenee Brown

Once you set and maintain boundaries, it allows you the space to assume the best about others instead of allowing them to be their worst.

Once you start seeing more kindness in the world, your perspective of the world will completely shift:

“Kindness scales better than competitiveness, frustration, pettiness, regret, revenge, merit (whatever that means) or apathy. It ratchets up. It leads to more kindness. It can create trust and openness and truth and enthusiasm and patience and possibility.” — Seth Godin

12. I know what love is now.

Throughout the years, I had partners tell me they loved me. I had always tentatively said it back despite the voice inside that whispered, “ You’re a liar. You don’t know what love is.”

Usually, the words tumbled out of my mouth because I believed what the sensations in my body were telling me. The warmness, the tingling, the racing of my heart.

Those things are certainly part of falling in love.

But true love is what’s left when all those sparkly feelings go away.

Love is respect and persistent kindness, even in disagreements and flaring tempers.

Love exists in the calmness of self-sufficiency, not the desperation of needing someone or being needed.

Love is not rescuing or being rescued.

Love is freedom, not control.

Love is believing that you are someone worth loving, not putting someone on a pedestal.

Love is having the courage to show who you are, even when you can’t be completely certain you can trust them.

Love is being honest, even when it hurts.

Love is appreciation and gratitude, regardless of the storms that come.

Even though I started out this year committed to a black-and-white set of rules, I ended up unraveling so much more. I came to see myself and the world with a completely different perspective.

Although parts of the journey were intensely painful, I’m left with an overwhelming sense of wonder. Our minds and our souls are infinite, and there is so much more left to uncover.

This journey can be endless if you only keep evolving and discovering.

This is only the beginning.

Some Practical Tips:

Pitfalls to Avoid —

  • Don’t be satisfied with superficial changes. It’s not about dating, it’s about uprooting every area of your life. Observe yourself. Figure out your patterns and what triggers you. Read Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules of Life. Don’t settle for a victim mentality. Take responsibility for your life. Keep digging.

  • Avoid perfectionism— if you fall down, get back up and keep going. There’s no need to start over. I broke lots of rules, but I didn’t allow shame or ego to keep me from picking back up where I fell.

  • Don’t be too easy on yourself — it’s easy to slip back into an addictive lifestyle. For example, I used to go on dating bans frequently, only to find myself dating someone again three months later. Commit to a time frame and then stick to it. If you meet someone that you really like — they can wait. Respect yourself and your boundaries. Don’t be like the alcoholic that says, “But I only have a problem with beer, not wine!” Dude, wake up. It’s all the same.

My Conditions For the Year —

If you’re curious about the actual rules I followed for the year, you can check out this piece I wrote.


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