• Ayu Sutriasa

The Joys of Being Single

Is it normal to have had crushes as far back as preschool?

I recall being in pre-K and liking a blond boy named Brandon. I had my first “boyfriend” at 11-years-old at sleep-away camp—we tried to kiss and both thought it was disgusting. My first real relationship started when I was 15, and lasted 5 years.

As a straight, cis woman, I have always felt this nagging and unsettling pressure to be in a relationship. At some point in my life, I learned that having a man meant having worth, and that being single meant I was undesirable and unattractive. Of course, these beliefs are inextricably rooted in heteropatriarchy and the way our culture obsesses over romantic love. Nevertheless, I consistently valued myself based on what men, and specifically men whom I was romantically interested in, thought of me.

My five-year relationship ended not with a bang but a sizzle: we’d both known for some time that whatever we had wasn’t working, but neither of us could bring ourselves to end it. When circumstances essentially forced our hands, we both agreed it was over.

I spent that post-breakup year studying abroad in southern France, and honestly, I didn’t miss him at all. We had gone from talking every day for five years to no communication, we didn’t follow each other on social media, and my life was so far away and abundant with fulfilling new experiences that it was easy to distract myself. I didn’t really have to grieve that death yet, and I needed the distractions because the pain I felt about our failed relationship was far too overwhelming.

When I returned to the U.S. for my senior year of college, it all hit me—and hit me hard. I hadn’t really dated anyone in France, because, for the most part, I was just enjoying being somewhere else. But when I returned to “real life,” I couldn’t run away from the question: Who am I without a relationship?

Who am I without a man in my life? I was so used to being Ayu the girlfriend that I was wildly out of touch with Ayu period. I longed to reconnect with her, but I honestly didn’t know how. It was easier to fill my time with swiping on Tinder and texting randoms than to sit with me, myself, and I. I deeply missed being in a relationship, too: I yearned for that profound companionship and intimacy (and I made a lot of questionable choices searching for that.) It wasn’t until I finally slept with someone new that a door opened for me.

It took me a year and a half post-breakup to be physically intimate with someone other than my ex. Honestly, I was terrified that the person would find my naked body horrific, and that I wouldn’t know what I was doing. But that couldn’t have been further from the truth (obv.) It was a frigid January afternoon in Minnesota when I decided to hook up with a classmate. And I felt fucking invincible.

Sleeping with someone else without attachment, something I didn’t think I was capable of, made me realize that I had been approaching my single-ness in all the wrong ways. I was looking for things to fill this void I thought my ex had left, and I showed up for life like I was empty, in need of another to feel whole again. And while this sexual experience wasn’t particularly magical (sorry, Tom) it revealed to me that I didn’t actually want a relationship. What I deeply craved was freedom, and specifically, the freedom to make choices about my life without pressure, expectation, or fear of judgment. The freedom to just be me.

Once I gave myself permission to explore, embody, and act on this freedom, being single became a source of pure joy for me. I had been living inside an old, problematic rom-com titled “What I Think Boys Want Me to Be.” Shedding those familiar expectations was both terrifying and exhilarating.

This all came to a blissful, bursting crescendo when I moved into my first apartment at age 23, by myself. Oh, how I loved living alone. There really is a sweetness to solitude, and I savored it. Sure, I talked to guys, dated people, and certainly had many, many bad days. But living alone and being single guided me back to an inner empowerment that no man could ever give me. I was finally connected to the deepest, truest parts of myself, and I knew that whenever my time was to get into another serious relationship, I wouldn’t fall into old patterns. I had done some serious destroying and rebuilding.

Now, I am no longer single. I’m booed up with a truly loving, kind, wonderful man. We’re not perfect, but we have created a relationship that gives us both the freedom to be ourselves, and the support, encouragement, and accountability necessary to make that work. And I know that I wouldn’t be the partner I am now without having had those years to myself.

An unexpected outcome of my time as a single lady is that it actually taught me how to be a better partner. I had many toxic traits in my previous relationships that I couldn’t bring with me into something new. Countless heartbreaks from my exes, my family, and the world forced me to build walls, and some of those walls were armed with cannons full of mean and petty explosives. I needed to learn that love does not mean slowly eroding myself away until I disappear, or holding on so tight that my hands bleed. Love is showing up, exactly as I am, to walk beside someone who shows up, exactly as they are.

But please don’t think I’m implying that everyone has to experience being single. People learn and grow in diverse ways and environments and I would never assert that I know what’s best for anyone else. But for those of you who are currently single, and maybe feel down, confused, or weird about it (because society sucks): Cherish it. Take everything you can from it. Be its student. I promise you it is a tremendously precious time, and there is nothing wrong with you for wanting to be alone. There’s a lot of power in rejecting what society has conditioned you to believe makes you complete. As long as you are respecting your needs along the way, you can do no wrong.

P.S. I asked my Instagram lovelies why they love being single (because being single rules) and here’s what some of them said:

“Having my TIME back!” -Julia A.

“Pursuing personal growth without having to help someone else process their own shit.” -Melissa H.

“Pooping with the bathroom door open and not having to share the bed.” Hannah C.

“I literally don’t have to please anyone but myself.” -Murphy W.

“Making my own choices about my day to day and not being responsible for anyone but myself.” -Annina