Being Single Has Been the Most Romantic Era of My Life

redefining romance, finding romance, romanticizing single life
Re-Think Everything You Know About RomanceKhadija Horton - Getty Images

I knew it was over with my almost-boyfriend, a tall, witty guy named Tyler* who I’d been dating for almost four months, when he suggested we make it official. I’d had a nagging sensation that things weren’t right for weeks, but couldn’t really pinpoint anything that was particularly wrong about him. I just felt off, like I’d still rather be single despite wanting the benefits of being in a relationship. (Ahem, see: a designated plus-one to events and groceries that don’t go bad.)

A part of me was excited to jump back into single life and the freedom to do whatever I wanted, ready to embrace life as an individual. But even though I knew I needed a solo period of self-reflection, I couldn’t shake the conflicting feeling that life would be way more fun with someone by my side. I was quick to romanticize mundane tasks like working out and making breakfast, ready for another partner in crime to ride it all out with.

Why, then, did I feel the need to push romance away whenever I had it, convinced that I didn’t actually want it at all? I was torn, confused, and didn’t know what to do…

…So naturally, I booked a trip to Miami with my close friend Lucy for a much-needed reset. We shared a car from the airport, blasted Bad Bunny, and within the hour, we were drinking cocktails in our thong swimsuits, laughing a little too loudly and trying to sweet talk our way into a cabana discount. After launching back into our bullshit in record time, our manic giddiness reached new heights as the pool boy played along with our flirty antics and kept a consistent stream of free drinks flowing. His attention hit like a drug, and Lucy and I were high as hell. We couldn’t help ourselves; the entire afternoon was nothing short of cinematic.

But even though I was excited to spend time with Lucy, in between sticky sips of rum-infused coconut water and shooting the shit, there it was: that stubborn pebble of discontent reminding me that even though flirting with the pool boy was fun, it felt like all icing and no cake—sweet, but lacking. Once again, I craved something more, something deeper.

Frustrated with my inability to just be present and enjoy my trip, I realized: Whenever I was in a relationship, I romanticized being single. And when I was single, I romanticized being in love. For a relationship to pass my smell test, it had to live in the ambiguity of “newly-dating” with a hint of “might-fall-in-love.” Too serious and it felt stagnant, too light and it felt trivial. It was like I had a fetish for a sweet spot that felt unsustainable and unrealistic.

That day in Miami, part of me was having fun with Lucy, but another part was weighed down by the frustration that I couldn’t fully appreciate all the sweet, fun, exciting parts of romance—even something as simple as flirting with the pool boy—for what they were. I was too busy measuring my experiences against this pristine ideal that wasn’t too casual or too cumbersome. The emotional whiplash left behind a guilty aftertaste. I wanted to focus on all the fun I was having with Lucy on our girls trip, but instead, I was annoyed that I couldn't be content, always either searching for more, or craving less.

It wasn’t until I was dog-sitting in San Francisco a few weeks later that everything changed. As I sat on a park bench overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge with my friend's (appropriately named) dog Bridget Jones, I watched the clouds move and the metallic reflection of the sun on the water—every element working together to paint a stunning picture. I felt my stomach drop like it had many times before, except this time, it was different. I felt my breaths closely and imagined them getting carried away into the sky, all mixed up with the same momentum moving the clouds. You could say I was having a moment. Bridget Jones looked up at me, hoping I’d let her lick the sticky streams of melted ice cream running down my fingers from a forgotten cone I’d brought on our walk. I did, and after the flurry of licks subsided, she rested her head in my lap with a contented sigh, and together we gazed out at the bay.

How romantic, I thought to myself. Has life always felt this beautiful?

In that moment, I once again felt something clattering around in my heart, but it wasn’t a pebble, it was a seed. I was falling—not for a person, but for the intimacy of a moment. That park bench reckoning made me question, for the first time, the limited lens through which I was letting myself experience romance. What even is romance, anyway? I wondered. For so long, I thought it could only exist between people on the precipice of love, or even lust. But it took seeing romance through a different lens to realize that I was missing out on all of the enchanting, magical, love-filled moments that exist independent of attraction and sexual desire—moments that can exist just within myself.

Shifting my perspective on what romance was “allowed” to be opened up a floodgate of meaning and depth I craved that had nothing to do with my relationship status. Romance didn’t just exist on an axis somewhere between like and love, it was abundantly scattered throughout every aspect of my life. Pretty soon, I started noticing it everywhere—in the silhouette of palm trees against a dusky ombre sky on an evening walk in deep summer, listening to a moody playlist. A candle-lit tarot reading with a friend under a full moon. Cuddling with my roommate and falling asleep on the couch because we didn’t want to be alone in our rooms. Taking myself to dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant and purposely taking the long way home so I could listen to my favorite songs. Even getting dinner with an ex and realizing I missed him as a friend but not as a boyfriend brought me joy. Ironically, this stretch of single life was morphing into one of the most satisfying eras of intimacy yet.

Although nothing tangible in my life had changed, I felt more connected to myself and my environment than I ever had in a relationship, and it was all coming from the acute awareness that the experiences I was having in this chapter of life were my life. I didn’t need a partner to romance me when I could just romance myself—when I could find the romance all around me. Learning this helped me appreciate that my life was unfolding organically and could still take any shape at any time. In those moments when I craved the opposite of what I had, I was keeping myself from exploring all of the subtle contours of my reality.

I’m not going to lie: Sometimes, epiphanies come with relapses, and expecting life to be a constant stream of self-generated ecstasy and gratitude isn’t the point. But rather, it's to let myself be surprised by the nuance life has to offer. The reward? Being fully present with myself and those I love, independent of how I love them—and to me, that holds infinite romantic potential. How astonishing is it to know that romance is always there, patiently waiting for us to breathe it in?

*Name has been changed.

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