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I Stopped Waiting For A Relationship To Live A Romantic Life

It was the last three days of my one-month in Brazil, and I’d just returned from seven blissful days in Salvador back to Rio, where my journey began. I checked into the Hotel Nacional Rio de Janeiro, where I’d booked a gorgeous honeymoon suite just for me with a breathtaking view of the mountains in Sao Conrado. I dumped my luggage and collapsed on the bed when uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. I was overcome with emotions but wasn’t sad; I was overwhelmed at how present I was and proud that I’d made it by myself.

Like many people, the pandemic completely changed my thoughts about time; with every small moment of freedom lifted restrictions gave us, I kept asking myself: what or who am I waiting for? I’d always considered myself fiercely independent and outgoing. Still, for some reason, part of me felt the need to place life milestones on hold until my friends were ready or until I miraculously . I’ve never been someone who had a solid or organised friendship group, I haven’t had that lasted more than 6-8 weeks, so it wasn’t easy checking off my bucket list experiences because I thought they were a prerequisite to having fun. I carried an unspoken shame doing it alone. I’m proud to admit I was wrong.

Solitude is a crucial thing to sit with, especially as you get older. Learning how to grapple with and embrace being alone instead of running away from it has been pivotal to me. However, for so many people, this idea of sitting with yourself is unbearable. I spoke to , a Therapeutic Coach who put this down to internal avoidance: “When you’re in that space, you’re avoiding something; it’s either you’re avoiding your thoughts or being with yourself in some way,” she says. “It can also be anxiety-driven. When you’re alone, you’ve got to think about your life and the things that don’t make you happy.” So much of this is also about the expectations placed on us to be with others constantly, as Phelan explains: “You might sit at home comparing yourself to others on , scrolling on your feed thinking ‘these people are out together doing things with friends or someone they’re in a relationship with’ and so you feel that kind of inherent loneliness.”

Mona, 33, tells me she hated doing things alone. “I always thought it made me look like I had no friends because that’s how we view social situations. For example, you must go with someone when going out to eat. I always thought that everyone was looking at me like, aww what a loser no one to eat with,” she messages over Instagram. Eventually, Mona realised that waiting always became a hindrance. “After everyone [kept] letting me down or saying yes to plans and cancelling at the last minute causing me to miss out, I started doing things alone. I started small by going to Nandos or getting sushi, but then it graduated to cinemas. I told myself well, if no one wants to go and do these things, what’s stopping you from going?” This is a story I constantly hear from people; repeated disappointments are an awakening to get up and just go.

“If I don’t do this for myself now, I never will so I’m doing it,” Sally, 31, tells me nine days before she flies out on a solo trip. “I’ve been single for a while and often thought to myself if I were in a relationship, this would be easier, I’d be able to go with someone, split the cost and would more likely be safer, but I had to force myself not to second guess things and just go for it.” She’d been speaking with someone for a while, and when their schedules weren’t aligning, she realised he’d ghosted her.  “I was a bit upset but soon after decided to book myself on this holiday. I realised I can’t just wait for these things to happen based on what others are doing. I have no control over their lives, but I absolutely have control over my own.”

I also used my trip as an excuse to ; why wait on some random person to shower me with romantic experiences when I could do it myself? Much of our longing for romantic partners is partly fuelled by not being able to access the unique gifts and experiences seemingly reserved for those in love. I sought to relieve myself of this imaginary lack by just doing the activities and staying in the places I ruled out as unavailable to me, and it made every moment feel even more special.

I booked to stay a few nights at a small honeymoon-approved Pousada in Ilha Grande, where I met the kindest couple from Utah who invited me to spend the day island hopping with them on a speedboat they’d hired. We were picked up at the beach, headed to the main town to buy beers and spent the day floating through islands, talking about politics, spirituality and our cultural differences. I didn’t feel envious of their solid partnership or sharply reminded of my singleness, instead, I felt grateful for their warmth and inspiration and my time spent with them was a romance of its own kind. Phelan recommends romanticising your life by starting as small as asking yourself what it is you love and what to achieve for yourself. “By building that foundation, you’re living on your own terms, and anyone that comes in will be an addition because you’ve already created a life that feels good for you.”

On my trip, I met an American guy my age on Bumble who was also solo travelling. We met up for lunch after the carnival. “Don’t you feel lonely?” he asked, somewhat concerned. “Like, don’t you wish you had someone to share this with?” Despite being there was something dignified about his pursuits and worrisome about mine. It made me realise being alone had such gendered interpretations. I should feel shame about my independence, and even on my trip, I should crave partnership and seek companionship at every point. It reminded me of the : “Most men feel that they receive love and therefore know what it feels like to be loved; women often feel we are in a constant state of yearning, wanting love but not receiving it.” My American friend was aware of this and felt as if my time was better spent pining for love rather than enjoying the romantic experience of solitude. I relayed this story to Phelan to get her thoughts on why being alone as a woman felt out of place to some. “I think it’s because historically, we could not do that, so there is this expectation we shouldn’t do it. It is why people will ask where is your husband or where are your kids?”

There is no correct way to through solo activities, but it often feels like people see getting into relationships, for example, as preventing that. I’m guilty of telling myself to do something because I’m ‘not in a relationship’ or ‘I don’t have children’, as if that means my life would be any less fulfilling if that were the case. “We look at modern relationships as a compromise, but they should be collaboration; we shouldn’t compromise our needs. We should be like bringing them together, so we feel enriched because otherwise, you’re always going to feel you’re lacking,” Phelan says. “This comes back to the question, who are you outside a romantic partner? The more you can get to know yourself fully, the better any partnership will feel, and the better life will feel on your own.” Mona, 33, is married now, but that hasn’t taken away her autonomy or drive for independence. “I have a whole husband, but I still tell him, ‘these are the dates I’m going away, love you, take care of the cat whilst I am gone.’”

It’s important to recognise that you still might be anxious and worried when it comes to braving things solo, even in your attempt to make every day feel romantic. We wax lyrical about how much we enjoy being alone but don’t acknowledge that, at one point, we were all overwhelmed at the prospect of actually being alone. Remind yourself of the joy and growth on the other side of that bravery when you feel anxious. Deciding to get comfortable in my own company has been a long but rewarding experience. I’m no longer scurrying to fill my time with people, ignoring how bad they make me feel; I’m not desperate for a romantic partner and entertaining people who are human-shaped red flags. I’m not delaying the experiences I crave in life because I’m placing that responsibility on some random person I’ve never met. So book the trip, get the tickets, make the reservation and see where it takes you.