How Being Single for Years Made Me a Better Partner

Years of singledom teach us more than what we want in a partner—they also teach us how to be a great one when the right person comes along.

One year after graduating from college, my girlfriend and I broke up. I was living in Boston, just north of the town where I grew up, and I went a little crazy if I’m being honest. Maybe I was making up for “lost time,” maybe I was trying to forget the pain of breaking up, who knows. But immediately post-breakup, I was certainly not my best self.

After almost eight months of being single and “playing the field,” if you will, I came to the realization that I actually wanted to just stay single and have the opportunity to focus on myself. I spent long hours in the office, traveled a lot for work, and felt relief in not leaving anyone or anything behind. It made focusing on my friendships much easier, my volunteer work more attainable, and I had a general sense of relief. As a single guy, I had way more fun going out with my friends when I was actively not trying to meet anyone. Ironically enough, I felt like I met more “someones” when I wasn’t trying to meet anyone at all. This actively intentionally-single phase lasted probably 18 months, in which I cultivated many friendships, focused on what I wanted to do most, and, to be honest, had a lot of fun. Find out what these women love about being single.

About four years ago, I was gearing up for a high school friend’s wedding. I had visited the bride and groom in Chicago and met who was to be their maid of honor. In discussing my romantic prospects for their upcoming wedding with the two of them, I noticed a beautiful young woman in a photograph on Facebook from their wedding shower. When I asked the bride about her, the bride laughed and asserted that, as the woman in question was young, Jewish (like me), and from the neighboring town, I must have already met and probably dated her. This woman, whose name I learned was Lauren, was for sure new to me and had really caught my eye.

As the wedding day approached, I asked some mutual friends about this beauty from Facebook. Everyone assumed we knew each other and had already dated.

Fast forward to the rehearsal dinner, and my parents sat with a “beautiful young Jewish woman who skis, is good with kids, had a sharp sense of humor, and was just a total rock star,” as they put it. I politely informed them that I already had two prospects at this wedding and didn’t need a third.

As it turned out, the maid of honor wasn’t right for me and I didn’t have the courage to introduce myself to the gorgeous woman from Facebook who was even more breathtaking in person when I saw her on the dance floor. I also spent half the night avoiding my parents, so as not to meet whomever they wanted to set me up with. The wedding was a blast. I danced and sweated up a storm. At the end of the night, I saw the young woman from Facebook leaving the party, realizing I missed my chance. To my surprise, she kissed my parents goodbye and my mother mouthed “this is the one!!” at me. I realized, in that moment, I may have blown it—”Facebook Girl” and “Parents’ Rock Star” were one and the same.

The following morning, I sent a craftily worded Facebook message to her begging for forgiveness for not introducing myself at the wedding, apologizing for both my excessive sweat and poor dance moves, and asking to make it all up over dinner in the following weeks. Luckily, she obliged. On our first date. I knew on her front porch, as she fixed my collar before we even got into the car, that this was it for me. I’d had enough experience to know what I was—and wasn’t—looking for, and this kind of confidence was for me. Today, more than four years later, we’re engaged to be married. Here’s what my time being single has taught me about finding and being a good partner.

We clicked from the start

As someone who had a lot of experience going on dates, I could tell what wasn’t going to work from the start. The conversation usually felt forced and pressured, but not with Lauren. I always say you shouldn’t stay in a relationship because it’s easy, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. While we hadn’t met or previously dated, I did attend preschool with her brother and our parents were acquaintances, if not friends. There was no stressful getting to meet the family. There has been no challenging discussion over religion, values, or beliefs. I was on day one, and consistently continue to be, impressed by my now-fiancée’s confidence, wit, humor, and kindness. These are the 15 signs your relationship is solid as a rock.

My single years taught me my hobbies matter

Before my time being single, I might have pretended to like a potential girlfriend’s hobbies or not really cared that we didn’t share many interests between us, but now I know that it’s important to love what you do together. Lauren and I both love to ski, dance, and just have a good time. She’s also learning to play golf, which is one of my favorite hobbies.

I’ve learned that no relationship is without conflict

Not having anyone to fight for—or with—taught me the importance of healthy conflict in a relationship. Sometimes I feel Lauren doesn’t do enough around the house, and sometimes she accuses me of bottling things up, but we communicate our feelings and talk things through. Sometimes when we argue, I mark our fights on the calendar with the conversation or issue that precipitated them. It’s actually hilarious to look back on. “May 10: argued about who took the trash out more.” “On February 16 we fought about hair left in drain.” “On October 30 we fought about me losing my phone.” If our biggest issue is the shower drain, I’d say we’re doing just fine! Find out the things healthy couples do when they argue.

Each bad date or failed effort taught me something I was looking for in a partner

I remember on one date, the woman waited outside the restaurant for me rather than going in and checking in on her own. Whether it’s at a restaurant or a task we need to accomplish together, this showed me confidence and a “go-getter” attitude was clearly important. I once broke off a relationship with a girlfriend who lived in Brookline (I was living in Beacon Hill at the time) because it was too far away. When I expressed discontent with the ride to pick this girl up, a friend showed me how I clearly felt like she wasn’t worth the time. When Lauren and I started dating, I drove to Marblehead from Beacon Hill, a 45-minute drive from the suburbs to the city! I loved the car ride. I’d call my friends to talk about how great this girl was and how I was looking forward to whatever date I had planned. Clearly, the same friend pointed out, something was different this time.

I learned what’s most important to me

being singleCourtesy Sam AndlerWhile I was single, I learned how I like my apartment cleaned, beds made, and laundry done. I also learned what I like to spend my time and energy on and what I feel is a waste. I focused on my family and it showed me how important they are to me. That has allowed me to understand her family relationships, value them for her, and want to make her family feel like my own as well.

I’ve had to adjust my expectations

There was a serious adjustment after being single for so long; I was used to my independence. By no means is Lauren needy or controlling, but I wasn’t used to planning my days and nights around someone else. It took me a little while to get used to “checking in” when I was out with other friends. But I got there by reminding myself how nice it is to actually have someone who cares about me enough to want me to “check in.” Next, read on for relationship advice from couples who have been married 50+ years.

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