Summary: This past year I vowed to take a Heart Sabbatical – to intentionally stay single in order to get to know myself better and not risk falling into the trap of caretaking & nurturing a partner instead of myself. This involved not actively search for a partner despite my “ticking biological clock” at age 34. Here is what I learned.
As this year of intentionally staying single draws to a close, I’ve reflected on my many lessons I’ve learned about Love.
As I’ve posted about before, I think romantic love is over-emphasized. Yes, it is amazing to be so connected and close to another person. But there isn’t enough celebration that that intimacy can come in so many forms, with family and friends too.
We humans are social creatures and definitely need support to thrive. It can be a tribe or for some people, it’s enough if it is just themselves and perhaps their spiritual beliefs or life’s purpose. Some people can thrive completely solo or alone, but for the majority of people, we need other people.
In fact, did you know that babies fail to grow and can DIE if they don’t get enough touch DESPITE getting enough food, water and technical nutrients? Human touch and love are SO important!!
Touch starvation is real, and certain cultures or families can emphasize or be great at meeting physical needs but not emotional or affection needs, which has devastating consequences on its children.
Many cultures celebrate independence and self-sufficiency to the unhealthy point of hyper-independence or even counter-dependence, where they are anti dependence of any kind and have a hard time asking for help or relying on others even when it is necessary.
I know because I’ve been there. Even when I was sick and could barely stand, I forced myself to go to work or follow through on my commitments, and refused to burden people by asking for help.
I worked 80 hour weeks and 24-hour shifts and never missed even an hour to go to a doctor’s appointment because it meant someone else would have to sacrifice their time off to cover me. I would be deeply ashamed about that and feel that I wasn’t worth their inconvenience.
I was raised to see asking or even having needs as a weakness, burden and bother to others by my Chinese-American immigrant family. I “should” be able to take care of myself, in all the ways, at all times.
This was also reinforced by my family’s experiences, and my own, of having trusted others and being let down or that relationship ending. With each abandonment or betrayal, I built more and more walls around my heart.
It wasn’t until I realized how painfully lonely and isolating, and unsustainable, this way of being was, that I started to shift.
(I had started off on the complete other side of the spectrum with codependency, enmeshment, bleeding and needing others to fill the void I couldn’t figure out how to fill myself. I completely lost myself in relationships in the past and catered to and even anticipated every need and want of theirs, while abandoning my own, in the intense fawning trauma response and fear of being disliked, rejected or abandoned again.)
I’m now trying to get to the healthy middle ground of interdependence. I can’t do everything all the time by myself, and even if I could, it’d be miserable. Where is the line between healthy interdependence and unhealthy codependence though?
For me, I’ve found that the barometer is how I feel and react when my needs don’t get met. In healthy interdependence, there is always a choice, and requests are made, NOT demands.
You realize one person cannot meet ALL your needs, nor can one person meet some of your needs ALL of the time. (Humans are imperfect, which is why so many turn to the unconditional limitless love of God, the Universe, or their spiritual or religious beliefs.)
Healthy interdependence can’t be fostered without both people having developed their own healthy independence first. They’ve learned to self-soothe, be patient, and meet their own needs some of the time, but not to the extreme of never asking again or opening up.
It requires a delicate balance of softening and vulnerability, but with a steady hardiness as well.
I’ll be the first to admit I had a man-hating phase in my life, in my radical feminist days. The more I found out about abusive relationships, how much more of the burden of domestic tasks and the mental and emotional labor fell on women, and all the other ways the world was still so unfair to women, the more passionate and angry I became about it all.
I was alienating even the good men who wanted to be allies and actually help fight for gender equality. I was at baseline distrustful of men and set an unfair bar they needed to jump over that was based on past hurts or other people, rather than giving them the blank slate, curiosity and compassion they deserved.
Men are harmed by the current patriarchal system too, and have their own unique challenges to deal with, such as toxic masculinity and barriers to seeking support. Societal expectations harm ALL of us, and it’s not us vs. them but all of us on one team against harmful conditionings.
Feminism is about equality, and in countries such as Iceland where more gender parity is achieved, men thrive too and actually live longer by nearly 4 years!
Rather than being in discussions with only women in an echo chamber, I want to host, facilitate, and be part of more diverse group discussions so that men, women, non-binary, and all other identities can better understand and feel more safety with one another.
In my own journey of softening, I found I was able to let love in again, not realizing I had been blocking it for years, since a bad heartbreak in 2018.
I subconsciously just didn’t feel getting too close to people was WORTH it, if all that was going to happen was that they were eventually going to leave, and the pain of that was too great.
I’ve had too many broken promises of people saying they would be there no matter what, and their leaving pressed on and re-opened my abandonment wound again and again (I had changed caregivers twice and moved every year until age 10, a lot of which I can’t consciously remember, but it’s deeply affected me).
I now see that it was so unbearable because I didn’t think I could be okay without them. I hadn’t built up my inner self worth and trust enough yet, to a level that I knew I could handle anything that came my way. I didn’t know *I* could be there for me, and that I counted.
I now see as well that impermanence is a part of life, and relationships of any kind are always a risk. Demanding someone be there for you no matter what is a form of control and manipulation, and that’s not real love. Love isn’t about possession or control.
(There are so many relationship tropes out there that are actually toxic when examined closely, such as not being able to live without a person, making them your entire world, pursuing someone repeatedly even though they said no, or needing to check with your partner about every decision).
Real love is encouraging and supporting someone to be true to themselves, and to be the best version of themselves, and sometimes that may involve them growing in such a different direction that it doesn’t make sense for you to be in each other’s lives anymore.
Demanding also takes away their free will. It needs to be a choice that they remain in your life, that they choose you every single day. It wouldn’t be as meaningful if they stayed out of obligation or for a reason that has nothing to do with you.
Of course keeping to commitments is important, and I take vows very seriously. I think people can be committed to trying their best, and always wanting the best for those they love.
You can also love someone but know that the most loving thing to do is to let them go so they can be with a more aligned partner. It doesn’t mean you stop caring about or loving each other, but it’s just that HOW you love each other changes, into a more platonic or even familial kind. Dating was simply a period of observation where we were trying to decide how we wanted to show up in each other’s lives.
This perspective has allowed me to honor my past relationships instead of erase them and stay friends with some ex’s and I’m genuinely happy for them when they find a better match for them. It’s a relief and reminder that not all the love and lessons we shared were lost.
Of course, if you find that this keeps you from being able to move on romantically and make space for someone new, this is completely normal and valid and please by all means go no contact or do not try to maintain any sort of relationship with an ex. There’s no right or wrong way.
Another realization I had was: I had been subconsciously treating finding a partner as a milestone or achievement to check off, or at least a goal that meant something about my worth, value, or life, because others, especially my family, judged me so much about it.
For a long time, I had desperately wanted to be partnered just to get them off my back and prove to them that I’m not too “weird” or too much of a “loser” to be “chosen” by someone (completely overlooking the fact that I have to do the choosing too; I am not so defective, unworthy, unlovable, etc. to be desperate simply to be “chosen”).
Singles are often looked upon this way with pity by society as “what’s wrong with them that they’re still single? That they still haven’t figured out how to love and be loved?”
And many singles judge themselves too, feeling too “defective” or “broken” for love, or wondering if it’ll ever be for them.
It’s so unfortunate. SO many people have all the most beautiful relational skills in the world and are wonderful souls, but that doesn’t mean they will definitely partner up by a certain time in their life!
Where we live, what activities we do, how many people we cross paths with, whom we meet, timing, so many factors matter in addition to relationship skills!!
Many singles also are focused on their career, self-development, hobbies, growth, families, friends, or other areas of their lives. Why do we judge that romantic love has to be of a certain priority?
Or even that there are so many barriers and judgments about whom or how we love for the LGBTQIA+, poly/non-monogamy, and platonic marriage communities? Why can’t we live and let live more?
Others’ personal lives are absolutely none of our business!! As long as they are happy and healthy, why does it matter who is in their lives or how they choose to live?
In fact, some studies have found that singles live longer and are happier! There was an unfortunate gender difference, that married men lived longer than single men but married women did not enjoy such a benefit from marriage. Likely due to still unequal expectations and division of domestic labor, household chores, childcare, mental load management, and even career accommodation expectations.
With complex and conflicting research and evidence, it doesn’t make sense to put partnership on a pedestal or tout one way of living as superior to another!
At the end of the day, your relationship status does not define your life or your happiness; it is a piece of your life, even an important one, but ONLY a piece.
And it’s because of that, if you try to live a relationship, rather than live a life, it does not go well. It would be like putting the cart before the horse.
(If you tried to live a relationship, this would result in codependency, enmeshment, self-abandonment, fusion and loss of your identity and individuality, which would leave you hyper-vulnerable to every little thing that goes wrong in the relationship, which would inevitably happen because humans are imperfect.
You will inevitably hurt and misunderstand each other, but what is important is your ability to communicate about conflicts in a safe way and sincerely repair.)
Lastly, I have learned that I do not have to chase or earn love. Love is our birthright; we deserve to be loved for who we are, exactly as we are, not what we do or how we “perform.”
Growing up in a culture where love, care and good treatment were conditional on my academic achievements or on how well I behaved led to me losing sight of the unconditionality of love.
Being in an environment where I had to walk on eggshells to maintain the good mood of and good standing with my caretakers was exhausting and damaging to my self-worth.
It led me to becoming hyper-vigilant, very attuned to what I needed to do to maintain the peace and “get good results,” and very frightened, anxious and hard on myself when I failed to measure up.
I know my caretakers did not mean for it to feel that way, but their poor emotional management leading to differences in their treatment of me when I was obedient vs. not was VAST, and it felt as painful as being disowned, if not officially in name but in action.
Seeing the disappointed or scornful look of “you’re a burden, a hassle, an inconvenience, not worth it if you don’t do well” felt like the ground was falling away beneath me. Losing the people I loved felt like death (which is a natural human response and survival mechanism from our ancestors), or worse than death.
And I had a pattern of choosing emotionally cold or unavailable partners because it was familiar to me to be emotionally starved and have to earn their love or work really hard to try to get my needs met. Subconsciously I was trying to obtain a different ending to that painful story. It also kept my heart safe.
(Sadly it never worked out. I now know better to not try to change or convince people, and to choose a partner who is available and fairly compatible already rather than staying for potential).
For a long time I did not have the strength or inner or outer resources to risk being outcasted. Now that I’ve become fully authentic, expressed my truth and set my boundaries, in some ways my worst fears have come true, but at least I had prepared for it.
It’s still so painful to be estranged, but it is far better than the alternative I was in before, and I at least have inner peace knowing that if love is conditional, it’s not real love anyway.
I hope my caretaker will come around one day, but if not, that’s ok, because how I feel does not depend on anyone else outside of myself.
Our feelings are ours, and we cannot shift blame or responsibility to anyone else. No one “makes us feel” a certain way; it is HOW we interpret their words/actions that determine how we feel. There is always more than one way to interpret a situation.
Thus, we have control over our internal world and how we feel, and that in turn often affects our external world and sets up a feedback loop. We can choose thoughts and interpretations that make us feel better, because why not, it’s a choice and we don’t know the full story anyway. What others do is not personal to us, only a projection or reflection of themselves.
For example, someone forgetting to call us when they said they would can be interpreted with anger (“How could they disrespect me like this?!” or “They’re a liar/can’t be trusted!”) or with compassion (“They must have a lot going on to make them forget. I wonder what happened,” or “This isn’t their strong suit, but here are all the other ways they show up for me and show their love to me.”)
Easier said than done, but when we can release and love others unconditionally, outside of situations of abuse or neglect, it frees us to be happy and content with what we have. We can choose to see the positive spaces instead of primarily the negative ones (our brain has a natural negativity filter and bias again from our prehistoric days of needing to be extra cautious to survive).
When we are totally empowered and in charge of how we feel, we can choose to feel happy and satisfied with our relationship, and just be appreciative that someone we love so dearly, respect and admire so much is simply IN our lives.
We can focus less on what they give or do for us or what we give to them. Not that these are not important, but they won’t rock the solid foundation of the relationship, with its principles of “I’m loving you the best that I can” and “I see that you’re trying your best too” and “we signed up to do life together, and I’m just happy for your company, companionship, and the lessons I learn from sharing this journey with you.”
Impermanence too, helps to allow what is and appreciate the time we have together. Very rarely do partners die at the same time, yet no one tends to want to think about it. You are quite likely to have to learn how to survive on your own, so making sure that you can thrive solo before you enter a partnership is very important.
Knowing that we can always access love, safety, and happiness within ourselves empowers us to enjoy all our relationships with less fear and more joy. To love more fully, richly, deeply, intentionally, thoughtfully.
It was thanks to all this quiet solo time that my life’s mission became even more clear. I am here to serve as a vehicle for change, growth, healing, and ultimately, expansion of the soul into more love. A returning to the powerful, loving, trusting beings we were born as, before we learned all our harmful conditionings.
Even though I’m still single, I have full faith now that love is for me. I practice it every day in ALL of my relationships, and towards myself, too.
I used to cringe at people who married themselves, but there definitely is truth to becoming solid in being there for YOU before you can truly be there for someone else. Becoming “The One” for yourself, your own soulmate.
With a shaky sense of self, others’ love will never feel like enough. It will feel like a black hole or void craving love inside of you (speaking from personal experience).
Instead of jumping from one relationship to the next with a gaping wound and refusal to deeply look at myself, it was SO healing to take this year to heal and nurture myself.
When we give love to ourselves and overflow our love to others, everybody wins. When we have a leaky cup or pour from our depleted cups to others’, that love is not sustainable.
There is an abundance of beautiful souls out there and I appreciate every relationship for what it is, what it evolves to, and what it teaches me. The quality of relationships and people in my life are also better than ever, and I’ve experienced deepening of friendships in a way I hadn’t thought possible before.
There have been bumps of course, but I’ve learned how to let love and care in, to sincerely repair, communicate more effectively, identify, honor and share my needs (and even that it’s ok to have needs, it doesn’t make me “needy”), be more compassionate towards myself, advocate for myself, soothe and regulate my nervous system so I can respond, not react, and so much more.
There are many exciting people now who are different from who was in my world before. I’m also finding that what I find attractive in others has also changed to valuing emotional availability, growth mindset, and secure attachment styles more.
Love is EVERYWHERE, once we remove the barriers/obstacles/hurts we picked up over time. We don’t have to go seeking for it; we simply have to remove the barriers and let it come in. We can consciously and easefully create more of it too.
I have LOVED leaning into relationship coaching (with self and all others) and matchmaking this year, helping others expand in their capacities to love and be loved. I truly believe that we thrive best in tribes, with people who truly see, hear, understand and support us.
My own singlehood used to be a barrier and a reason for Imposter Syndrome. But that severely dismisses myself (plus so many other relationship coaches are single too! Such as Matthew Hussey who helped others for 15 years before he found lasting love himself)
I have had multiple relationship experiences, helped others with theirs, and learned countless lessons. Clients have also told me they appreciate that I can really understand what it’s like to be single in today’s crazy modern dating culture and that I walk my talk regularly.
Just because a relationship (of any kind) does not last forever does not mean it was a “failure” and it does not mean a person is back to “square one.”
Each lesson, appreciation, and enjoyment of the experience is a “success” and we grow ever more wise with every experience.
Every time we love, we learn something new about ourselves and create a precious memory, and even if we develop wounds or scars, that only makes us even more uniquely amazing and demonstrates a strength and resilience that some people never have to draw upon (like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing broken pieces with gold).
Anyway, I guess this is what happens when I go 8 months without writing ^^;; Thank you for reading, as always. I hope my lessons could help you in some way, even if all they do is remind you that you are not alone in your struggles.
If you have questions about taking a Heart Sabbatical for yourself and fully embodying and appreciating your Sacred Singlehood, feel free to reach out.
Learning to healthily love ourselves and others, and be loved in return, is one of the greatest journeys we’ll ever have.
Let me know if there’s any way I can support you. I host workshops, retreats, speed dating & friending events, a location-flexible/willing to relocate/remote or nomadic global matchmaking directory, and programs such as Respectful Relationships, Sacred Singlehood, Authentic Attraction, and more.
Stay in touch by joining my email list, messaging me, booking a chat, or joining my Acceptsians: Self-Acceptance for Asians & Over-Achievers Facebook community <3