How Being Single Is The Best Mental Health Experience
As I write this, I am sitting in a café in Amsterdam. I am currently traveling through Europe for a couple of months before moving to Spain to try my hand at freelance writing full-time. Living in Spain and being a writer are dreams of mine that I have carried with me for years, and being on the brink of realizing both means that I’m happier than I’ve been in years. I feel as though I am finally living to the fullest and best expression of my true self. As a result, my mental health is the best it’s ever been.
The thing is, none of this would have been possible if I wasn’t single.
Not Being In A Relationship For The First Time In Ten Years
In October 2017, I became single for the first time in nearly a decade. I ended my long-term relationship, which had lasted for nearly seven years and been immediately preceded by my first serious relationship, which lasted for two and a half years. That’s almost ten continuous years of being in committed romantic relationships. Since I’m about to turn twenty-six, that means I had been dating someone throughout my entire adult life. I spent some of my most formative years in a relationship. I don’t regret that at all – it was a healthy and supportive partnership – but it does mean that I had never really done much growing on my own.
I certainly took charge of my mental health during those years, going to therapy for the first time, seeking treatment for my eating disorder, and mustering the courage to start taking medication for my anxiety and depression. But throughout all of those experiences, I always had my partner to lean on. We were long-distance for several years, so often the support was virtual, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d never truly been self-reliant when it comes to my health and wellbeing.
At first, when I became well and truly single – no partner, no boyfriend, no one I was dating in any way at all – my emotional wellbeing plummeted. I realized that I didn’t know how to move through the world without a significant other. I felt anxious all day, every day for a week straight, second-guessing my decision and wondering if I would ever find love again. My depression resurfaced as a result of the heartbreak as well, and I was having trouble managing my daily life through the symptoms. Any kind of self-care felt like a Herculean task. With my mental illness suddenly so active, after I had been relatively stable and happy prior to ending the relationship, I feared that I would get stuck in old patterns.
The Wellness Benefits of Being Single
Once I began to heal from the breakup, I was able to focus on taking care of myself in a way that I hadn’t in years. I lost a best friend and partner, but in many ways, I regained myself. I shifted all of the time and energy I used to devote to my romantic relationship towards my self-care. I better cultivated my relationships with friends and family as well, but more than anything, I nurtured my relationship with myself.
There’s no doubt that there are plenty of health benefits associated with being in a healthy, long-term relationship, but we need to talk more about how singledom can have a positive impact on our wellbeing, particularly for those of us who have spent years in relationships as I had. Here are the top five benefits I’ve experienced since becoming single:
1. Strengthen Close Friendships
I wouldn’t at all say that I neglected my friendships while I was in a relationship, but I was able to put far more time and energy into them once I became single. There are only so many hours in a day, and it’s a fact that if we divert some of them to a partner, there’s less time for all the other relationships in our lives. I was a good friend before, but I became an even better friend when I was able to focus solely on my friends rather than try to balance them with a romantic partner. Furthermore, as more and more studies emerge showing that friendships may be even more important for our long-term happiness than familial and spousal relationships, we have more reason to prioritize them than ever before.
2. Greater Sense of Community
Not only did I spend more time with my friends when I became single, but I also relied on them more. Rather than having one person be my go-to for support when I needed advice or a shoulder to cry on, I began to turn to my friends more often. This vulnerability strengthened our bonds and meant that they also felt more comfortable coming to me for support when they needed it. I was surrounded by a much stronger community than I even realized I had, and it wasn’t until I became single that I learned to fully rely on it and support it myself.
3. Stronger Identity
It can be easy to lose oneself in a relationship, especially if it lasts multiple years. It is natural for our significant others to become a part of us, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing (as long as we’re not codependent). It does mean, however, that being single offers a kind of clarity and self-awareness that can be more difficult to find when we’re coupled up. When I became single, I more clearly discovered my likes and dislikes, my desires, and my values, in a way that would not have been possible without the influence of a partner, however positive that influence may have been. With this stronger sense of who I am, I became surer of what I was capable of.
4. Decreased Anxiety | Increased Self-Sufficiency
When my significant other and I broke up, much of the anxiety I felt at the outset stemmed from a fear that I wouldn’t be able to navigate life solo. Thanks to my friends, family, and community, I wasn’t entirely on my own, but I no longer had a partner to go to for help and companionship. When I realized that not only could I survive on my own, but also thrive and enjoy life, my anxiety actually retreated to even lower levels than when I was dating my partner. My newfound confidence empowered me and gave me a sense of self-sufficiency that I had never had before. This significantly improved my experiences with my mental health.
5. Freedom to Choose
Perhaps most important among the benefits of being single is the freedom to choose what is best for our own mental health and emotional wellbeing. Even when I did not make conscious sacrifices for the sake of my relationship, I often found myself prioritizing my partner’s wellbeing over my own simply in terms of the time and energy I invested in him, rather than in myself. Being single means that I am free to choose when and how I care for myself, and to always put myself first in any decision I make about my own happiness. As a result, I am pursuing two dual dreams that I had postponed for several years, and I am more mentally healthy and happy than ever.
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