Two women, two very different reactions to a break-up. Senior features writer Clara How swore off men for six months, while another woman went on a dating spree to get over her ex. Extreme choices, no doubt, but both women took away lessons in love. Here's Clara's story.
In early 2015, I found myself at my lowest, crying under my desk at work. I had been typing on my keyboard, tears running down my cheeks, when I glimpsed my boss heading my way. Ninja like, I ducked under my table until the coast was clear.
The cause of my distress was realising that my ex-boyfriend had a new girlfriend, just weeks after we’d split up. We had been together almost three years, and I was adjusting to my new normal, which meant we were still texting and exchanging e-mails. But that day, I received a two-line e-mail telling me that all contact between us would have to stop. It was my first real heartbreak, and I completely fell apart. I wallowed in self-pity for months, but at some point, decided I had to meet a new man, someone who would blow my ex out of the water.
That didn’t happen. I fell into a dark hole of dating men who enjoyed my company, but didn’t want to commit. One guy ghosted. Another said we didn’t have a connection. A third told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious. My self-esteem took a beating. “What’s wrong with me?”, I wailed to a close friend. The last straw was Zach*. We met on a dating app and hit it off. After two months of frequent texting, we went for a movie, and drinks after. Things looked promising. But on our second date, he dropped a bomb – he wasn’t looking for a relationship. It was one more rejection I just couldn’t handle.
That was Nov 19, 2016, and I decided I would swear off men for a year. That meant no swiping on apps, no meeting new men, and even if I was asked on a date, I would keep him strictly in the friend zone. I saw it as my Eat, Pray, Love dating sabbatical, minus the exotic destinations. For the first time, I would be consciously single. Previously, I’d had periods of not seeing anyone, but that was a reluctant singlehood. The aim of this year-long man drought? To understand myself better and the type of man I wanted to date, figure out what was really important to me, and stop fretting about when the one was going to show up.
So I went forth, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, into my year. Starting a new job helped. I was also determined to make the most of all the extra me time, so I signed up for barre and aerial fitness classes, and even a burlesque workshop – anything to push me out of my comfort zone. For once, I was doing things just for me. Burlesque, for example, was a way to get comfortable in my own skin rather than please a man. Solo trips to the cinema or exhibitions, and reconnecting with old friends, became a new normal. I started cooking again, and rediscovered the restorative effects it had on me.
Three months in, I had a breakthrough. One Saturday, I had the afternoon to myself and chose to chill at a quaint cafe. Sitting in a sunlit room, eating mushroom pasta and sketching birthday cards for friends, I felt an unfamiliar sense of contentment. It dawned on me that this time was my own, and I was free to do whatever I wanted with it. It was so different from before, when I would feel resentful about being alone. That day, I began to appreciate the fact that by fixating on what I didn’t have, I was missing out on what I did have – a job that gave me a great deal of personal satisfaction, and a healthy and active social network, even without a plus-one.
I was happy with the changes I saw in myself, and curious about whether my new-found perspective would truly have an impact on the way I dated. So on May 13, 2017, I decided to dive back into dating.
My first big test came pretty quickly. I reconnected with Zach, and everything was as good as I remembered. He texted every day, we met up regularly on weekends, and we were obviously attracted to each other. I didn’t rush into anything. What stood out this time around was how comfortable I felt with being alone, even though I was dating again.
On one date at a museum, Zach left early for dinner with friends. Before this, I would have been crushed that he was taking off to spend time with others. Now, instead of moping, I treated myself to squid ink risotto at Symmetry and after that, saw a performance of Tango at the Drama Centre. Did I miss him? No.
After five consecutive weekends of dates, I asked Zach if he’d like to make things exclusive, since he didn’t appear to be seeing anyone else. Turns out, he was. I was crushed.
I woke up the next morning with a clearer head. I recalled the episode of crying under my desk a year before, then thought about the night I had gone to the play on my own and enjoyed myself. I had worked so hard to get to a place where I could be happy and contented; I wasn’t going to let this guy derail me so easily. Once it became clear that Zach wasn’t worth it, my sadness abated. I’m sure he won’t be the last example of things not working out on the romantic front. But while I can’t control encountering men who don’t want the same things I do, I can control the way I react, and do things on my own terms.
Months after the experiment, I’m still single, and meeting new people. But I also take myself out on solo dates to new cafes or haunts that I want to check out. I buy myself flowers, and I pick up new hobbies. I’ve learnt that the person who can ultimately make you happiest is yourself.
Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.
This story was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Her World magazine.