The day after my 29th birthday, my boyfriend of five years left me for his best friend’s ex. To be fair, it was complicated: we were technically on a “break.” You know, the kind of break that is supposed to make him crawl back with an engagement ring and the personality I always wanted him to have.
A week later, I was drowning my sorrows over chilaquiles and breakfast cocktails with a girlfriend. Trying to comfort me she said, “You’ll get snatched up by a great guy before you know it...but you might have to wait a year or something.” I nearly spit out my Bloody Maria. A year?! Surely this whole single thing wouldn’t last that long.
I was on a timeline. I was supposed to have my first kid by the age of 32, but I wanted to be married for at least a year first, and together for two years before that. So that meant I needed to meet my future husband...yesterday.
As it turned out, I was single for another four years before I met my incredible husband. It was a road of exploration, loneliness, adventure, self-discovery, and more episodes of Sex and the City than I’m willing to admit. Looking back, I can see how each of the following tools led me to find my ideal partner: myself. After that, meeting the love of my life was just an added bonus.
1. Grieve the loss of expectations.
Expectations are the key to unhappiness. The more we allow them to run our lives, the more dissatisfied we become. I first allowed myself to grieve the loss of the relationship I thought I would have with my ex. I said farewell to our unborn children (“Henry and Alice, you were so adorable in my head!”) I wrote angry letters to my ex and ripped them up. I wrote down all the things I had hoped for at this point in my life, and then ceremoniously burned the list on my Brooklyn rooftop, with two girlfriends alongside me for comfort. I slowly released my own expectations and began living the life in front of me.
2. Ignore expectations of friends and family.
To me, the worst part about being single is having other people feel sorry for you. One night, I met a married friend at my favorite Japanese restaurant on the Lower East Side, and entertained him with hilarious horror stories of the big city dating scene. (I used these tales to gloss over my heart-aching loneliness.) He looked at me with empathetic eyes and said, “This must be so hard for you.” I left the dinner and burst into tears, weighed down by outside pressures.
Once I’d recovered, I took matters into my own hands. I asked my close friends to tell me they weren’t worried about me, even if they had to lie when saying it. When my brothers teased me about my love life, I promised them I would end up alone, obese, and confined to a motorized scooter. After my mom suggested I go on a date with my recently divorced 2nd step-cousin, I sternly asked her to grieve the loss of the husband and grandchildren she was attached to me having. Reluctantly, she agreed. I finally felt free
3. Be your own role model.
Around my 31st birthday, my step-dad sweetly asked, “Do you have any female role models who decided to never get married or have kids, but ultimately found happiness?” I couldn’t think of anyone. “Well,” he said, “maybe it’s time you be your own role model.” That conversation inspired a five-week solo backpack trip around Europe, regular volunteering with homeless kids, and a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Husband and kids or not, I wanted to be able to look back at this part of my life without regrets. (Life tip: take out a piece of paper and write down what you’d want people to say about you at your funeral. Start living that live immediately. YOLO!)
4. Don’t rely on others to fulfill you.
I sat in my therapist’s office at the age of 32 and told her that even though I was finding increasing success as a film producer, I didn’t feel complete. It would take marriage and kids for me to find true fulfillment, I confessed to her. She stopped me in my tracks. "That's bullshit," she said. "You think someone else is going to fulfill you? You’re the only one capable of that job." Months later, I moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in a Master’s program. I decided to give up my successful but ultimately unfulfilling film career, and started my journey as a therapist and life coach. Whose help did I need to make this decision? No one.
5. Focus on others.
When you’re not dwelling on your own issues, you become more attractive to everyone around you. Transferring to a new school in the 6th grade was terrifying. My parents told me not to worry about what other kids thought of me, but to instead find someone who looked lonely and spend time helping them feel comfortable. “Focus your energy outwards and you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.” As an adult, I still try to remember that lesson. When I found myself sulking at a dinner party because I was the only single guest, I reminded myself of my parents’ advice. By spending my time asking people thoughtful questions about their lives, I was able to stop feeling down about my lack of a partner. Get out of your head, get out in the world, smile at a stranger, talk to a timid party guest, and see how much lighter you become. Happiness is sexy.
6. Make a list of six non-negotiables.
Everyone says it, but it took me years to accept the fact that I couldn’t get everything I wanted from a single person. When I was dating, I had a long wish list: smart, hilarious, sensitive yet strong, educated, gives nightly back-rubs, stable job, loves kids, excellent tipper, volunteers regularly, gourmet chef, no cats, chews quietly, cultured yet outdoorsy, flosses nightly, likes Bob Dylan but hates Nickelback, finds me incredibly fascinating, and so on. That said, I never prioritized what was truly most important.
After years of dating everyone from the “not quite acceptable” guy to the “my head might end up in a freezer” guy, my therapist challenged me to narrow down my list to six non-negotiable qualities. It was difficult, but I eventually came up with my list: mutual respect, emotional maturity, spiritual connection, good relationship with his family, sense of humor, and sense of adventure.
When I met the man who eventually became my husband, he didn’t have everything I’ve ever wanted in a partner. He still doesn’t. That said, he embodies my six non-negotiable qualities beautifully. Whenever I get annoyed by his loud chewing or disappointed by his lack of back-rubs, I focus on how lucky I am to have literally found the man of my six non-negotiable dreams.
Even if you use the tools above perfectly, I make no promises as to when and where you’ll find your soul mate. My grandmother didn’t meet the love of her life until she was in her 90s. Run along your own track -- one you built for yourself, one you can be proud of. If someone pops up and decides to run alongside you for a while, great. Regardless, live each day with joy and vigor, and be sure to enjoy your (preferably Nickelback-free) journey.