Every seven years or so (depending upon the institution), professors can take a sabbatical, which is time away from work, where they can travel or study, and come back to their position, energized and refreshed, with new knowledge and perspectives to influence their teaching and research.
Once upon a time, I had this long term boyfriend, and then we broke up. Then, I had another boyfriend, and we broke up, and at the end of it all, I decided to put myself on dating sabbatical, for the mere fact that all of that was just so emotionally draining, and I really just wanted to take some time away from it all. I told myself no dating, no boys for at least a year (which has actually turned into something quite longer), and after reflecting on this dating sabbatical, I am so happy I took some time off. Like the professor, I feel refreshed, motivated, a new sense of enlightenment, and would recommend a dating sabbatical to every 20-Something.
Now, I will say that going on a dating sabbatical is definitely not easy. In our society, we tend to develop our value and worth through other people; when you have a boyfriend, you get asked tons of questions and get lots of attention, but we don’t quite know how to react to those single-ites, we don’t want to ask them too personal questions, so we just don’t ask them at all, they get no attention, compare themselves to the person who does have a boyfriend and IS getting the attention, and feel invalid/unimportant. It certainly takes a tremendous amount of courage to show up to a wedding by yourself–when everyone else appears to have dates–and you have to stand on the wall while they play those slow, love songs (or run to the bathroom to try to avoid the only other single guy there who has bad breath), and it takes a tremendous amount of confidence to deflect those, “Why are you still single?” questions without falling into to societal pressures, but those are certainly character-strengthening lessons to learn. But, like anything in life, the good stuff never comes easy, and there are a plethora of gifts that come out of a dating-sabbatical:
The ability to strengthen non-significant other relationships: In our lives, we need all kind of different friends and influences. We need the kinds of friends who want to stay out late, dancing like maniacs, and the kinds of friends who enjoy meeting for a cup of coffee and deep conversation. We need the kind of friends who are good at organizing and decorating, and the kinds of friends who are more free-spirited. Certainly, when we get into relationships, we start finding couple-friends, and we spend much of our time together, and our relationships stem around us, as couples. However, I think it’s also really important to have your OWN friends that you can talk about your OWN passions and hobbies with. When you meet these people whilst on your dating sabbatical, you build relationships that center on YOU as an individual, and revolve around your travel adventures, your pets, conversations about books and movies, rather than just “what are you and your significant other doing this weekend” and “he makes me so mad when he folds his socks like that”. These relationships maintain when you are off dating sabbatical, and you continue to discuss your travel adventures, your pets, books and movies, so you can continue to carry your own identity into this new chapter, while still holding those couple-friends as well.
The time to heal your wounds: Allowing yourself to fall into intimate territory with another person is magical, but can also be deeply wounding. We have this tendency to jump from relationship to relationship, because we are uncomfortable to be by ourselves, because being by ourselves means we have thoughts come up that we don’t want to deal with–so we ignore, cover up, repress–until one day, those become festering wounds and present themselves in unhealthy habits. Say, for example, I have self-worth issues, and I think that by dating the hottest guys, I’m worthy enough of their attention. So, I date one douche bag who calls me a bitch, the next one who tells me I’m fat, another one who will only take me out if I wear slutty dresses. Rather than addressing the problem of my self-worth, I’m really just adding more and more debris and self-hate onto my self-image, making it worse, and never giving myself time to really reflect. But, when I put myself on a dating sabbatical, although those self-worth issues will inevitably come up when I’m alone and it will be really uncomfortable to confront, at least I will be able to work on them, rather than adding more junk to my already depreciated self-image. It’s like overcoming any kind of addiction–I can remove the thing from my life, but until I can deal with the root of the issue, I will always find myself tempted and on edge.
The confidence that you are not settling: When you put yourself on dating sabbatical, and you start filling your time with many other pleasurable and fulfilling activities (Bible study, flag football, grad school, painting classes, etc) and you tell yourself you are not dating anyone, a really interesting phenomenon begins occurring: you start getting picky, and you don’t waste your time on someone who is just a placeholder and is filling a void for you. I always tell myself that, hopefully, when I get married, I will spend 50 plus years with someone. That’s a really, really long time, and while these 20-Something years seem to last forever, in the grand scope of my life, they really are just mere moments, so if I have to “suffer” and spend a little more time being single, I’d rather wait it out to ensure I am not settling–and not miserable for those 50 plus years. Like, I really don’t want to wake up in ten years from now and realize I don’t actually think my husband is funny, and the only married my husband because I didn’t want to go to weddings by myself anymore.
The opportunity to learn independence: My friend’s grandma got married very young, and when her husband died, because he had done everything for her, she didn’t even know how to pump her own gas. Now, she certainly lived in a different generation, but in today’s society, we must learn to function independently on our own. Inevitably, my significant other will be away on a business trip, be dealing with a family crisis, go hunting, etc.–and I will have to know how to pump my own gas, pay my own bills, turn on the Kitchen-Aid mixer all on my own. I must know how to attend a wedding by myself (in case we get in a situation where he has the stomach flu or another obligation and can’t attend). I must know how to walk into the auto parts store by myself (in case my car breaks down in Seward, Nebraska, and he can’t save me). I must know how to take out the trash by myself (in case he oversleeps and we certainly cannot have that turkey in the trashcan one more day). Again, this is not always the most ideal situation to be in, but definitely important in today’s society.
The time to develop your own identity: This is perhaps the most important reason to go on dating sabbatical. I truly believe that I cannot fully invest in someone else, until I have invested in myself (because otherwise, our identities become ill-formed, disjointed, and our sense of self is built on an unsteady foundation). While knowing yourself is a life long journey (because experiences change our perceptions), the better I know myself, the better I can serve in a relationship, the better I can communicate, the more conflicts we can avoid, etc. For example, they say the top two reasons people get divorced are due to financial issues, and raising kids–it is not until you are in a financial strain, or you are raising your kids, that you realize you have completely different views of the world, and because these are stressful situations, it’s not the most ideal time to “sit down and try to see the other’s viewpoint”, so you just kind of end it. However, if I invest in my own identity, I can say from the beginning, “I want separate bank accounts”, “I believe in Saturday chores”, “This family will have to work around my yoga schedule” and we can know those things early on–when the conflict isn’t so heated, immediate, and necessary to resolve.
So, the next time you are feeling lonely and start to reach for your Tinder Ap, remember nothing good ever comes easy, suffering is good for us, and investing in your dating sabbatical now will only lead you towards a greater future later on.