Whether you’re happily or begrudgingly single, spending time uncoupled can be incredibly good for the soul—you can learn things about yourself that will help you the rest of your life, and in future relationships.
“Now is the time to thoroughly enjoy not being defined by being someone’s partner” and “getting lit up about your own life,” said Jen Rives, Minneapolis-based licensed marriage and family therapist.
She shared her thoughts on the most underrated aspects of being single—and what coupled folks can learn from single people’s habits.
First things first, Rives said: “Single people are way better at friendship.” Single folks are closer to their siblings and their extended family, and interact more with friends, neighbors and coworkers, she said. Because they don’t have the “fallback comfy roommate situation” of a partner, they spend more time working on their platonic relationships.
They also have “more diverse networks than married couples,” Rives said. Rather than falling into a routine, that might include a “Friday night pizza and Netflix binge,” single people are often out making friends, and “continue to initiate new friendships as they age.”
When you’re partnered, “you always have your plus-one in life and it becomes really easy to go on autopilot” in social situations, she said. “A lot of the habits of single people are habits partnered people can really learn from.”
Whether you’re single or coupled, make sure you’re making time for your friends the way you would for a romantic partner. If you’re in a relationship, regularly text with friends and make weekly plans with them that don’t include your partner. Go on regular double-dates to keep date night fresh and not routine.
“(Keep) up your network, don’t let that stuff slip, and try not to get into that rut of hanging out with your partner all the time,” she said. “Anything that is good requires a significant dose of energy.”
When you don’t have someone to lean on to check your oil or cook your dinner, you have to learn how to do it yourself. Single people “are forced to learn new skills” all the time, Rives said, and it makes them more capable and well-rounded people in the long-term.
They’re also more willing to do things on their own. If they want to go on a trip or take a drawing class or try out a new brunch spot, they can just go do it (or ask one of their close friends to come with). They can come up with their own retirement strategy, or figure out their monthly budget. From the fun to the practical, single folks are constantly learning and relying on themselves.
“Doing what they want whenever they want to… is sort of the epitome of single bliss,” Rives said. “You get to be your own boss and have independence.
“Being in a partnership, there’s tons of constant communication, constant sharing, constant collaborating. Which is wonderful, that’s great stuff, but (when you’re single) you don’t have to do any of that with a significant other.”
When you’re in a relationship, especially if you live with the person, it can be hard to find time and space to work through difficult feelings. When you’re single, on the other hand, you have a lot of space to feel your feelings. If you’re having a hard time with a breakup, Rives said, take advantage of that space by processing it fully.
“It’s really important to feel all the feels,” she said. “It’s always better in the long run to process what you’re feeling.
“Buck up and take some space for yourself to be sad, for as long as you need to be sad. Watch sad movies and snot cry in the dark… (or) do the Superman pose until something helps.”
She also recommended finding a playlist of empowering songs: “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor and “Good As Hell” by Lizzo are her personal favorites.
If you work through these emotions now, it means you won’t be taking them into your next relationship. And “try to remember the grass is often greener,” she said. There are “married people who yearn to be a single, and single people who yearn to be in a relationship.”
You can also take the time to get professional help.
“Get into therapy, so you can sort through the breakup with a trusted professional” and have “a clean start for the next chapter in your life,” Rives said. “If there’s some heavy baggage thats weighing you down, it helps to unpack your heart in a safe space.”
Single people have the opportunity to focus on their own happiness without balancing that of a partner’s. Being happy in your own right, without a relationship, is so important, Rives said. She works with clients who have never lived alone and had time to just be with themselves. She also works with unhappy people who believe that being in a relationship or being single will make them happy. But, she said, that’s likely not the case.
“There are happy people who are partnered and there are unhappy people who are partnered,” Rives said. “Same with single people. So if you’re generally unhappy or happy, it’s likely it will stay that way” regardless of your relationship status.
If you’re single now, don’t spend all your energy looking for a partner, Rives said. It’s okay to focus on yourself. And though you might feel pressure to find someone, you’re not wasting your time by looking inward.
“Try to be in the here and now and absorb what it is that you have in your life instead of trying to change it,” Rives said. “Whenever you work on yourself, it’s not time wasted. …
“Take that time to be selfish… and do what’s important to you. And if you don’t know what’s important, make a vision board; everyone’s doing it.”
She uses the analogy of a cake. An excellent cake is great with or without frosting. But covering a bad cake with frosting won’t make it a good cake.
“Would you rather have sh-tty cake and be looking for frosting all the time? Because that’s what it’s like searching for a partner when you’re not happy with yourself. … Work on the cake and in time you’re going to get some really good frosting.”