How To Actually Date Yourself

Being single can be frustrating. Our society typically tells us that being single is an absence of something — romantic love, a partner, the ability to be desired, etc. We are taught that we need to work harder and change ourselves to fix being single and that we are less valuable than others when we don’t have a spouse, romantic or sexual partner by our side.

At the same time, we are often told to reorient our thinking about being single: to view singlehood as a gift, or to try not to get our self-esteem from a romantic partner. While certain industries, like the beauty industry, profit off of our insecurities, there's also a whole industry founded upon building up our self-esteem in hollow ways that don’t actually help beyond the surface. “Self-care" has been appropriated by corporations and turned into empty slogans and catch-phrases that result in very little actual care. Self-care, ultimately, is about taking care of yourself, and implicitly draws on practices that keep you connected with yourself and your communities and other support systems on a deep, sustainable level.

Jessica Dore, a licensed social worker who uses tarot cards to help explain mental health, often writes about how we are taught to believe that controlling our thoughts will change our emotions, but that changing our behavior is the most effective way to change how we feel. Thinking through this lens, if you're feeling some sort of absence when you are single, telling yourself to reframe the situation won't make you feel much better in the long run. Instead, you probably need to change your behavior.

Today[’s] card. In tarot the pentacle represents the material realm & the aspect of human life associated w/ this realm is behavior. Behavior is a tool we can use to transform internal life through action. Act powerful when you don’t feel or believe that you are & watch what happens.

For as long as I can remember, I have been wary of grand statements that aren’t backed up by action. One such statement happens to be, “I’m dating myself.” But when single, I’ve often told myself and other people that I’m dating myself. Your longest-term relationship is with yourself, so it makes sense that this phrase has become quite popular.

I’ve said it after breakups. I used to say it before I had ever dated anyone. I’ve said it when I was lonely and I wanted a partner. It feels good to say the words out loud, like a protective spell that tells everyone, “I might be single, but I’m using this time well. I’m happy without a partner.” I would say it without thinking, and I’d feel empowered for a moment, and then I would go back to feeling lonely/bored/sad.

Last summer, when I was half a year into being newly single and telling myself and my friends that I was “just doing me” or “dating myself,” I realized:

I wasn’t actually dating myself if I wasn’t putting in the work. 

Since then, I’ve been working on developing tangible strategies for dating myself. I am sharing these strategies with you, hoping that they may help illuminate the beautiful, confusing, nearsighted path back towards yourself.

As I’m writing this piece, I am social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has completely upended lives around the world, forcing us to stay at home and physically be cut off from most of our friends and family. Whether it’s losing work, managing a less than ideal living situation, or feeling a staggering sense of loneliness, many of us are facing a disruption of our personal routines on top of the breakdown of societal systems.

If you are reading this during the pandemic, I invite you to let this moment be a call to be with yourself. Take the time to evaluate how you are working with and against yourself, to honor yourself, to love yourself.

Strategies for Dating Yourself

Deciding that you want to improve your relationship with yourself is a big deal. Take a big, deep breath. Let your body fill up with air and gratitude. Let it go. This process is an ongoing one, but it’s made up of small, consistent steps. I know that if you’re reading this, you want to back up your commitment with action, so let’s take this next step together.

Cultivating a healthy relationship with yourself isn’t meant to replace having healthy relationships with close people in your life, nor is it just a way to bide your time in between periods of dating other people. Nevertheless, there will be times when you are alone. How you spend your time by yourself matters. How you feel by yourself matters. Your relationship with yourself also goes beyond what you do when you’re alone — it’s about learning to trust yourself to act in your best interest. Your relationship with yourself influences how you spend time with other people: who you invite in, how you do or don’t set boundaries, the types of pleasure you look for with the people in your life.

It’s actually alone time that helped me start to learn my love languages. When I was spending enough quality time with myself, I had daydreams about physical touch. Physical touch is something that I can do to an extent by myself, but I knew that I wanted sweet, playful, intimate cuddling and touch from others. I knew that that type of intimacy would need to be built over time, so I didn’t pursue people with that specific intention, but I held onto the feelings I knew I wanted, and tried to see if there was that potential with people that I met organically.

When I started to realize that I needed to move dating myself from a thought to action, my first thought was to take myself on dates. It makes sense — dates are a fundamental part of dating. Solo dates break up the mundanity of being alone in day-to-day life.

I later realized that I could think about dating myself on so many more levels. When I think about dating other people, I don’t just consider if the activity of a date was fun. I think about qualities in the relationship. I can ask myself about the qualities of how I treat myself. Am I being sweet to myself? Responsible? Negligent? Mean? Patient?

A good place to begin is thinking about relationships with other people and then analyzing your relationship with yourself from the same framework. We can often see these relationships with more clarity because they are external. You can think about past romantic relationships, or if you haven’t had one, you can consider how you might imagine future relationships. You can also think about how you evaluate friendships. Reflect on what’s important to you in a friendship and consider how you can provide some of those things for yourself — not to replace the friendship, but to strengthen your relationship with yourself. For example, you can ask, “How do I spend time with friends? What activities do we do together?” and then consider how you spend your time when you’re alone. 

 If a prompt feels difficult, you might want to try applying it to your relationships with other people. Also feel free to go out of order, only choose the ones that speak to you at this moment, and go at your own pace. You don’t have to answer all of these questions right now. In fact, the most sustainable changes are slow. You might find also the feelings wheel a useful tool as you reflect.

I’ve supplied some prompts to help organize your reflections.
The Present 

How do I spend my time? (We all split our time between obligations and free time. For now, let’s just consider free time. We’ll get to how we handle obligations later.)

  • What activities do I do?
  • How does time feel when I am alone? Fast? Slow?
  • How do these activities make me feel?
  • What activities might I like to do or try?
  • How would I like to feel when I have free time?
  • What activities might make me feel my desired feelings?

When it comes to obligations (work, homework, chores), how do I approach them? Am I responsible? Negligent? Distracted? Focused?

In the middle of doing something by myself, ask: “How am I treating myself right now?” 

The Past: 

What is my relationship with my past?

  • Do I commemorate and celebrate my history? How? Journaling? Blogging? Scrapbooking? Social media?
  • When have I faced conflict? How have I worked through and resolved conflict? What has that felt like?
  • What are some of my favorite memories? Why?
  • Are there memories that I would define as turning points in my life? What changed?
  • Are there times that have felt like I’ve failed myself? What happened? How did I treat myself when I was down? What did I learn?
The Future:

What are my goals?

  • Consider various aspects of life:
    • Hobbies
    • School
    • Work
    • Relationships
    • Spirituality/Religion
    • Living space

How do my current routines align with my goals? Do they distract me from my goals? Do they help me? Are they hindering progress?

One particular thing I’ve started to pay close attention to as I do this is my attention. When I’m alone, my attention is pulled in a million directions. I’m not just talking about being distracted from work. I’m talking about being distracted from things I know I want to do, things that I choose.

You might take yourself out on a date, write in your journal, or set aside time to masturbate, but what does it matter if you spend the whole time on your phone scrolling through social media? Would you check your phone constantly while hanging out with a friend, on a date with a partner, or having sex?

Being mindful of your attention is an important first step in redirecting focus. Notice when you get distracted and notice when you act on that distraction. When you feel yourself being pulled out of focus, acknowledge the urge, and tell yourself that you can get to it later, because what you’re doing right now deserves your whole attention.

Additionally, we need friends at all stages of our lives. Just as a partner in a healthy relationship should encourage you to have a rich and supportive community, you should cultivate your ties with the people in your life who make you feel your best. Dating yourself doesn’t mean spending all of your time alone; it means taking responsibility for your emotions, your health, and your growth.

The work of dating yourself is nonlinear.

Feel free to take these prompts in any order. Hopefully, though, these prompts will allow you to think outside the box. Dating yourself goes beyond platitudes and spending a lot of money on solo dates (although solo dates are fun!).

Make mindful space for your habits, emotions, reflections, activities, and the people in your life who make your life wonderful. You can and should continue to strengthen your relationship with yourself even if you start to date someone new, and hopefully these skills will serve you well when you have to communicate and negotiate with important people in your life.

These practices don’t have to stop when you feel fulfilled in your relationships. In fact, they’re more important than ever. I know that when I get really excited about people in my life, I can sometimes ignore my own feelings and start to compromise on values that are important to me. Practicing dating yourself in all states of relational fulfillment – whether you’re lonely, getting to know new people, or have committed connections – benefits you and your connections.

If you know you’re connected with yourself, you can feel more confident in how you handle external connections. These skills are yours to build and to have always.

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