Words by Natelegé Whaley. Art by Sam Liacos.
Emmy-winning actress Tracee Ellis Ross often speaks about embracing “choiceful solitude.” At the Glamour Women of the Year Summit in 2017, she dropped gems about living happily single and childless in her mid-40s. “It means risking being misunderstood, perceived as alone and broken, having no one to focus on, fall into or hide behind, having to be my own support and having to stretch and find family love and connection outside of the traditional places.”
It was important to hear her truth in a society that projects that life is incomplete for women if they aren’t mothers, girlfriends, or wives. She reminds us that titles don’t define us; we define them. No matter your gender identity, choosing long-term or temporary solitude can be a freeing time in a culture that sells romantic love as the ultimate high. In that space, there is an opportunity to affirm ourselves without relying on society’s expectations of how we should exist.
Titles don’t define us; we define them.Natelegé Whaley
A dating break can be necessary after a breakup or when going through other life transitions such as leaving a job or grieving the loss of a loved one. Sometimes we need ourselves more than we need anyone else. A break from dating can put us in a position to receive healthier love in the future. ILY spoke with six women about dating breaks and how it changed them. Here are their thoughts.
After her ex-boyfriend ghosted her she needed healing…
“I was in an intensely passionate, budding relationship and he ghosted unexpectedly. I was completely heartbroken and couldn’t figure out why he disappeared because we didn’t get into an argument or anything. During my dating break, I learned to manage expectations by always setting clear intentions. I learned exactly what I would and wouldn’t tolerate when it came to a partnership. Most importantly, I learned that no romantic relationship can thrive without communication and reciprocity.
No romantic relationship can thrive without communication and reciprocity.Mya Abe
Now I am dating again. I went back because the guy I’m currently dating was my friend first and after two years, we felt ready to explore the romantic side of our partnership.” — Mya Abe, 25
She realized moving from relationship to relationship wasn’t fulfilling...
I’m currently on a dating break right now. I’ve been dating for four years, but I’ve been single for four months. I took a break because I believe my spirit felt like it was time. In the past, I would end things with one guy and move on to the next with ease. Even though I might’ve been a bit frustrated, it didn’t take me long to get back in the game. Right now, the thought of dating doesn’t appeal to me the way it did when I was newly single. Some people don’t realize the energy it takes to put yourself out there, open up, and get to know someone with the possibility that things might not move forward.
I feel like it’s time for me to focus on myself in every aspect, and I can admit that I’m totally fine with that. I’m learning how to process my feelings better and allow myself to actually feel them, as opposed to burying them and acting like they don’t exist. I’m also learning how to cope with things not going the way I envision them and how to move on from situations that don’t end on my terms. I haven’t gone back to dating because I’m not 100% sure if I want to right now. This is the first time during my period of being single that I’ve been totally by myself. While there are moments I want to get back into dating, I want to give myself all the undivided attention I deserve and know that I can give myself before I add another person into the equation.” — Danielle Brissett, 30
After her relationship of six years, it was time to re-learn who she was…
“I’m coming up on like a year-and-a-half of my dating break after leaving an almost six-year relationship. I’ve always been a highly autonomous person, but I don’t think I’ve always been self-considerate. Taking the time to re-learn myself and understand my needs and desires, and also understand what I am willing to compromise on and where my boundaries are has been my biggest lesson. Nothing particularly is stopping me from going back to dating. I understand myself in a new way and I haven’t really met anyone that aligns with my desires or adds value to my life in the way I require, so it just makes more sense for me to continue to focus on myself for the time being.” — Stephanie Smith-Strickland, 30
She was over chasing emotionally unavailable people and wanted to recenter…
“In Spring 2017, I got out of a relationship and realized I was undervaluing myself and not being honest about what I wanted. I wanted to take a step back and clear up why I was making decisions to be with people who didn’t truly honor me and why I was so willing to give up my truth to be in a relationship.
I am scared that someone will abandon me or run away so I cling and contort myself to try to make them stay.Janna Zinzi
During my break, whew chyle, I learned that I was holding onto a lot of fantasies about romance and relationships. I learned that I’ve been actively choosing unavailable people. I’ve learned that I am scared that someone will abandon me or run away so I cling and contort myself to try to make them stay which we know isn’t healthy or even possible. I learned that I didn’t want to make decisions out of lust when I’m really looking for a partnership. I learned that you can’t will someone to love you. I also am still uncovering my own subconscious beliefs about being unworthy or unloveable. I’ve learned what self-love actually means beyond IG memes: that it’s an ongoing practice of living in your truth and being your own biggest hype woman.
You can’t will someone to love you.Janna Zinzi
Girl, I wish I was dating now! I traveled this year and had amazing experiences with men internationally. They were much kinder to me than the men in the States have been. I’ve had meals paid for, flowers gifted to me, things that I haven’t experienced for the most part in Los Angeles. I tried apps after the first year of not dating (and [being] celibate) and it was trash. It just doesn’t work for me and never has except for hookups. I’ve considered going back on apps but it makes me feel hopeless and I’ve never gotten any payoff, just wasted emotional energy and fuckboys and fuckgirls. I do want to date but not really sure how to meet people. Los Angeles is challenging for Black women especially if you don’t fit a certain type of look. Geography is a challenge! Also, I meet cool men and we connect on social media, but all they do is watch your stories and never speak. So I’m a bit confused and annoyed by that.” — Janna Zinzi, 39
Her dating break led to a healthier view of relationships and now she’s happily engaged...
“I took a conscientious break from dating for a year. After multiple disappointments in the relationship department (break-up and ghosting), I realized it wasn’t them, it was indeed a “me” issue. For far too long, I gave too much power to the guys I dated or talked to. My happiness was contingent on their acceptance. I was in love with the thought of love. I also learned my worth. How could I love someone when I didn’t even truly grow to appreciate who I was yet? Once I learned my value, it was easy for me to have a healthier view of love and romance. Presently, I am happily engaged to a wonderful man who sees my full worth by loving me for me. He’s even made me love my flaws. No one’s perfect, but I’m sure close.” — Gabrielle Pharms, 33
After an abusive relationship, she’s finding true happiness in solitude…
“I’m currently on a dating break. It’ll be two years in February since my last relationship. So I guess you could say I’ve been on this fast for about a year. Honestly, I was in a really bad situationship with someone I knew wasn’t right for me. Battling my own demons and trying to find answers led me into the arms of this person. It was abusive physically and mentally. I was being gaslighted every time I brought up a concern or an issue. Once I let go of that situation, I realized how much I needed to grow up and come into my own. That’s when I decided to just chill on dating.
I would say right now my title is “single and not available.” I’ll be down to go out on a date and make a new friend, but anything further I’ve pushed away. One, because I’m afraid of being vulnerable and getting hurt. Also, dating is emotionally taxing. I decided that I’d spend that time, energy, and money on bettering myself. I learned that I can’t expect someone to love every part of me if I don’t love those parts of myself.
I can’t expect someone to love every part of me if I don’t love those parts of myself.Jasmine A.
I realized that I was purporting this idea of self-love and care when I was doing the opposite of that in my day-to-day life. So much of what I wanted was based on the idea of a successful relationship. It took noticing this that got me to realize that I’m happy with or without a partner and that things don’t have to go my way for me to find happiness. Now I face all my problems on my own, and it’s equally empowering as it is fearful. Currently I’m not dating. There is just not enough time for me to be intentional about dating.” — Jasmine A., 29