Single Life: Year 9
This year, it will be 9 years since my last and only long-term relationship. Nine. Years. If you had asked 10-year-old me what my life would look like at 28, she’d naïvely tell you that I’d probably be dating Mr. Soulmate and thinking about putting a ring on the finger. My life, however, is nowhere near that. As I reach the end of my 20s and witness the people I know in my age group, enter serious long-term relationships, get married and/or have kids, it does make me ponder about being single for nearly a decade.
My first go at love
As far as first loves go, I got really unlucky. My first and only ever boyfriend was psychologically abusive. He’d remind me often that people didn’t like me anymore and he was all I had, he cheated on me like it was a sport, exercised manipulation and control in many manners and for fun would dangle a kitchen knife across my throat. We started dating in my last 1.5 years of high school, and the teachers and staff started getting involved as I became a shadow. I’d spend lunches alone in the library, slowly but surely isolating myself from my friends. The night before my biggest final IB exam, I was called up by someone who had seen him cheat on me again. As I walked into the examination room I chuckled because my mind was numb and I knew I was fucked. The years I had dedicated to being a diligent student, were going to mean nothing, the high IB score I had been aiming for as my gateway ticket for university; was not going to happen. In my history exam I couldn’t recall the dates and important figures from The Cold War, Mao Tse Chung’s China or World War Two. These were subjects I had poured over and studied relentlessly, but my brain was drenched in sadness, so I couldn’t recall the information. So profoundly can someone affect you. It was a relationship where I lost all sense of self, 20 kilos and my mind.
I moved to London to study after high school, while my ex still had his senior year to finish. Despite the distance, our relationship continued in its own twisted manner. Eventually, feeling disintegrated by the relationship and in indescribable physical pain brought on by the relentless emotional torment, I wanted to resort to suicide and was thus hospitalised. Being hospitalised managed to pull the brakes on what could have been a bleak scenario, but it was going to be a very long road to recovery. When someone you’re in love with breaks you, your sense of trust and boundaries become distorted.
But life had to move on, so after a year at home in Switzerland, I moved to Staten Island, New York to attend another university. There, I’d for the first time in my life, understand what it means to be regarded as a lesser being because of your gender. My first week of school, a football player came up to me and said: “No one likes you. You have eyes that rape people”. Welcome to America, Amanda.
I wasn’t even a year out of the clinic, and was still internalising the trauma from my relationship, so I probably don’t have to elaborate much more on how my two years at the university went, in terms of experiencing men. During my final days there, my mum was on her way to Canada and did a layover in New York to visit me. I was a mess and incoherently sobbed into her body. When I woke up one morning, she was sat on the side of my bed and gently told me it was time to come home. I flew back to Switzerland 24 hours later.
My late teens and early twenties were a disastrous cocktail of male relationships. I may have been hospitalised for three weeks in a psych ward, but I was broken for a very very long time after that. You don’t suddenly glue all the pieces back together. You’re left picking up every piece, some of them you’ll never find again, and, in the end, you have a reminder of the original, but the image has fundamentally changed.
You don’t need to be a genius to decipher that these events, meant I’d need to put in a lot of psychological work if I was ever going to be able to enter a healthy relationship with a man. My ex was the only boyfriend I had ever had and so I only had our toxic behaviour to go on. I knew in my mind that it had been a destructive affair, but it was what I was used to and what I had come to understand as love. In order to avoid another relationship like this, I had to unlearn these behavioural traits and believe that healthy relationships exist.
The first initial years of singledom were welcomed. I needed a lot of time to settle into my own body and mind. I also needed time to achieve that little thing they call “self-love”. With no significant other to take care of I was free to focus on me. For a long time, I was afraid I’d drag my past experiences with into a new relationship, so I worked really hard in therapy. The day I knew the past no longer had a grip on me, was when I could think of it, and no longer recall the emotion. Usually my insides would burn and it would feel like my chest was going to collapse, but now, my body just remains as is. As they taught me in the clinic: The past is in the past, and it can no longer hurt me.
In the past 9 years, I’ve been on a lot of dates. Few have ever gone onto a second date and going onto a third is like finding an albino lobster. It’s rare. Yes, I’ve had a few gentlemen who I saw on and off for a few months, but it always fizzles out. Either I’m interested in taking things to the next level and they promptly disappear, or, they like me, and I’m not interested. Then there’s the most likely scenario: I develop a crush on someone who doesn’t like me back at all. These crushes are the worst. I feel like crushes are small appetizers of love; sort of like cupid drizzling a bit of amour over you to
get you ready to get kicked in the nose when you reach full dosage. My whole body goes into a frenzy when I like someone; my mind goes into a fog. Whenever I get a crush I’m reminded of why I don’t like having them; it’s as if someone has too much influence over my actions and state of being. My crushes rarely know I like them because I’m so disastrously awkward and shy around them that they just write me off as weird. I’m also really bad at flirting. I’ll shoot “flirtatious” eyes at a man I’m interested in, but apparently, I could consistently win Olympic gold medals for having the most vicious resting bitch face. So, while I think I’m being cute, the man
I’m interested in is being terrified. Needless to say, I am rarely approached. A close friend of mine is really good at dating tricks, so she’s trying to teach me. So far, so bad.
Aside from my inability to find someone where the “I like you” is mutual, there’s also cultural dilemmas. My Third Culture Kid tendency of changing my home location, doesn’t make dating easy. I was 18 when I moved to London. 19 when I moved back to Switzerland. 20 when I moved to Staten Island. 22 when I moved back to Switzerland. 23 when I moved to Copenhagen. 25 when I moved to London to do my masters. 26 when I moved back to Switzerland. 27 when I moved to Copenhagen, which is currently where I reside. Bouncing around certainly does not make it easy to date.
I feel as though it’s taboo to admit that you want a relationship; it’s as if you're deemed needy when really it’s a natural social aspect. We are social beings, we crave connection so it makes sense to seek it. But before you can even finish your sentence, someone will (unhelpfully) chime in “it will come when you least expect it” and/or “you need to love yourself first”. It makes my ears bleed. First of all, dating apps are hardly an unexpected moment – regardless of your intentions, you’re both on there with the goal of meeting someone, and in this day and age I know more people who fashion relationships from meeting online, than I do from meeting through a friend of a friend. Of course, I would love to meet someone through a mutual friend or from being in the same setting. I can just picture it: a warm summer evening, me in floral dress, him in a linen shirt, sun kissed skin and rosé on tap. It’s super romantic, but also super unlikely. Instead, getting carpal tunnel in your thumb from swiping is far more realistic.
The cliché that rings true: your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself
Let’s go back to the “love yourself” part. In this area, I have made leaps and bounds. I’ve been going to therapy for 18 years and so I have a pretty hefty mental tool kit. I was plagued with anxiety and depression from a young age so even before the abusive relationship started, I had gotten treatment for bulimia from ages 15-16. I suspect my mental health issues made me an easy target for toxic relationships, but I’ve worked relentlessly to turn that around. Where I used to punish myself through eating disorders and cutting, I no longer do. I see my value and my worth. Like any other human being, I have my good and bad days. But if there’s one take away from all the messy things that have happened, it’s that I entered into a relationship with myself early on.
I do not have the hallmarks of a life that many feel you need in order to be fulfilled. I do not have a steady income, my music career is still trying to take flight, I don’t have a long-time partner, kids or a permanent home to call my own. But I have something that many others don’t: I am acutely in tune with myself, and that for me brings fulfilment. I know my values and my beliefs, and I am at home in my own soul - a comfort many people don’t learn. Think of yourself like a country – there are some beautiful sites, some mundane ones and some areas you should cross with caution. While the soft squishy thing between my ears can bring me to psychological hell, I know who I am, and I know how to handle my landscapes.
So, I don’t need a man to save me. Frankly, I did that myself. But I have ventured and discovered many aspects of my being for many years on my own, and I’m craving some company. I've cherished and enjoyed my single years. Not having to be mindful of someone else's needs allowed me to flourish and take the necessary steps in practicing self-care. I don't think your relationship with yourself is a journey that ever ends, but I feel I've made a solid start with mine.
Just like I can’t emotionally recall the pain from the past, I don’t remember what it feels like to be head over heels in love anymore. But from the experience, I know that on the days where there wasn’t abuse, it was pure (at least for me) and it was one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. Where once I winced at the thought of being in love again, now I look at couples and I think to myself: that looks nice. So, prince charming, wherever you are, I hope our paths meet in the near future, because I think life could be a little sweeter with you.