Q: I recently broke up with my partner of almost four years, and while it wasn’t a difficult break-up, I feel a bit worried about getting back out there in the dating pool. Some of my friends told me to wait a while, but I don’t really like being single. I have usually been in monogamous relationships for most of my adult life, and I like to be coupled up . I don’t get why they are judging me as it’s my life and my relationships. I’m not planning to get back into a relationship straight away, but I do want to not leave it too long. I hate being by myself and want to share life with someone, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ve had a whole mixture of relationships, and some have been amazing, but the ones that weren’t great didn’t go on for too long. It’s annoyed me that my friends have said this, but it has made me think a little more about what they could mean. I don’t know how to ask them as we don’t really talk about this kind of stuff, so how do I start this chat with them?
Dr West replies: Sometimes, a great way to get over a person is to get under another. It works for some and is a disaster for others. You might not know which way it will result for you until afterwards. It can bring closure, or a whole range of other emotions to have to tackle. It may also be considered unethical by some people — you’re using other people to soothe your emotional pain. This objectification of the other person as a tool to meet your needs rather than it being an enthusiastic encounter because you like them for who they are is treating sex as a Band-Aid. Often, we use sex to connect with another person, but what we are really looking for is emotional intimacy. It’s hard to admit that sometimes, as it means showing vulnerability, whereas with sex, we can put on an act, fake it, and run through it as if we rehearsed our moves. Touch that can give us comfort but isn’t sexual is often called platonic touch and involves hugs, cuddles, hand-holding etc. It’s both weird and sad that, in our society, it’s harder to ask for this than it is to ask for sex.
Rushing into new relationships with others might give us an immediate boost, but it also stalls an opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from the previous relationship. All relationships will teach us something, regardless of how they end, and if we can take the time to process this, then we are more likely to spot relationship patterns that may be healthy or unhealthy. Then, we can address these patterns so that we can bring a better version of ourselves to our next relationship. We can reflect on what worked, and if the kind of relationship was really right for us. This will help with establishing boundaries, working on past traumas, and improving communication skills so that we can use any positive or painful experiences to grow and heal.
Grieving is also a natural process when a relationship ends. Whether that ending is from death, a break-up, or a drifting-apart, grieving is healthy, as we once loved that person and planned futures with them. Even after an abusive relationship ends, there is still grieving for the good times, for the person you hoped they could be, and for the loss of yourself while stuck in trauma.
Your friends can often see things that you can’t as they have some distance from the relationship. They may be able to spot patterns and behaviour that can be difficult to identify when you are wrapped up in romance. Additionally, they might have helped you through previous break-ups and are just concerned for your emotional state, rather than simply judging you. It would be worth sitting down with them and asking them their thoughts. It might be hard to hear some things, and you don’t have to take everything on board, but they might have perspectives that you will benefit from hearing. They could very well be coming from a good place and are concerned about picking up the pieces again if you have another break-up. Your response might also show that they have touched a nerve, so it will be worth chatting with them and letting them speak openly. They have been there for you for years and will probably be happy to have the chance to talk honestly with you.
This might be an opportunity to reflect on why you find being single so difficult. It is important in life to be comfortable with our own company. We need to be able to meet our own needs, self-soothe, and be okay with spending time by ourselves. We can’t outsource our lives to partners to support us — we need to support ourselves first before we rely on others. It’s great that you have identified the kind of relationship that you want to be in, but a fear of being single might point to some underlying issues that will need to be addressed. Where does this fear stem from? What is it about being alone that you hate, and why is your own company a thing that you reject? These questions will be tough to explore, but you will learn so much about yourself and your relationship choices if you are brave enough to explore the answers. You can do this yourself or through therapy. I always say that everyone should try therapy, and I really mean it, as it is a space to process our lives, which only helps us grow and ultimately be happier, both on our own and in healthy, functioning relationships.
Your friends want to see you thrive, so allow yourself time to process their words and be gentle with yourself as you reflect.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately