OPEN UP: Being in a Relationship VS. Being Single

Open Up Series

Remember several weeks back when I went to Humboldt to see my cousin graduate with her Masters in Marriage & Family Therapy? Well, while we were there sitting in the living room, we sparked up some conversation about the OPEN UP series I’ve been doing.

Haley, my cousin, was curious to hear more about the series. She’d been reading and enjoying the posts (when your family reads your blog, you’re happy!). I shared more about the series and read some of the topic requests that will be coming these next few months.

I told her how I’ve been bringing in guest experts when someone ELSE would be the best person to touch on a certain subject (like raising an intuitive eater and eating intuitively through pregnancy), and I asked if she’d be interested in talking about “relationships vs. being alone.”

A reader sent in this OPEN UP request: relationships vs. being alone. Maybe the loneliness of just getting out of a relationship is a good one to talk about, too!

So, Haley was all game. Let me tell you, when I received her final draft last week my jaw dropped. I said to my family this is the best post on my blog so far! It’s just so darn good!

Haley is a Marriage & Family Therapy Trainee with her BA in Psychology and her MA in Counseling Psychology. She’s a Mental Health Clinician working in Humboldt County (California).

I love my cousins neutral mindset, her realistic views, and her empathetic/compassionate approach to talking about being in a relationship vs. being “single” (she says in her post, you’re not “alone” because you’re single – good point!).

So, enjoy! I know you’ll like this post whether you’re embracing being in a relationship, or you’re embracing being single. It’s all good, and there’s something for you here!

Welcome, Haley!

Hello ladies! Relationships vs. being alone. Where to start?! There’s so much to dig into, so I’m going to break this up into smaller chunks.

I think a nice place to begin is with the language we use. “Relationships vs. being alone”. You’re not alone just because you’re not in a romantic relationship! You’re just single, which can be equally as good and satisfying as the alternative. So from here on out I’ll be referring to our uncoupled sisters as “single”. Also, I tend to refer to people’s significant others as “partners”. I like this word because it doesn’t feel as loaded or assuming as boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, husband, wife, etc. You don’t always know what gender somebody’s partner is, and you also don’t know what label they’re comfortable using to describe their relationship with that person.

Now that that’s out of the way…. I want to say that this is MY take on the subject of relationships. I share this all as somebody who has devoted my life and education to understanding and working in the field of Psychology, really values science, and has also had to navigate my own past break-ups. So let’s get started!

Check in with yourself about your needs

Wanting a romantic relationship and feeling like you need one are two different things. All people have needs. We need friendship, social support, physical intimacy (both sexual and nonsexual), and the list goes on. It can be really helpful and enlightening to ask yourself which of your needs aren’t being met, and then look for ways to meet them. You can even make a literal list if that helps. Romantic partners are often treated like “all-in-one” products. You know like a shampoo that’s also a conditioner that’s also a body wash that’s also everything else? We can tend to put all of our eggs in one basket. We’ve been fed this myth that our partner should be our everything, but what if you break up or are single? You have this one person that’s supposed to be your go-to and then suddenly your entire support system disappears with them? How is that supposed to be sustainable?

Look at your support system. Often times people will say they want a boyfriend or girlfriend, but really they need a friend, or a therapist, or a parental figure. It’s not always easy to expand your social circle, but it can be helpful to cast a wide net. For example, did you know single people get touched WAY less often than people in relationships? Humans are social, interactive creatures, and touch is an important part of how we function. Research has shown that children who don’t get held or touched by their caregivers often enough produce low amounts human growth hormone and sometimes literally won’t grow. Now I’m not suggesting that you just go touch everybody on the street, because you might get arrested for that, but I am suggesting that you hug your friends and family more, get a massage, or cuddle with your pets. When you’re touched in a caring way, your stress hormone levels decrease, and your body produces more oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that serves multiple functions. It creates a sense of bonding between mammals, increases trust, and relaxes us. This leads me to the next subject.

Feeling lonely and crappy after a breakup is NORMAL

When you date or hook up with somebody, you bond with them. Your brain produces Oxytocin and other chemicals like Dopamine that tell your body “I like this, this is good, keep doing this”. A lot of times we end relationships and the well-meaning people around us will try to make us feel better by saying stuff like “they didn’t deserve you” or “just enjoy being single”. You know what I’m talking about. Here’s the thing though, breaking up with somebody means you’re breaking a bond that you’ve created. You’re losing a relationship of some sort. And what do humans do when we lose things? We grieve. It’s healthy, it’s normal, its ok. One of the best things you can do for yourself is give yourself permission to feel bummed about it. Maybe you feel a sense of loss because the future you’d planned with that person in mind is no longer an option. Maybe you feel a sense of loss because you have to sleep alone again. Maybe you miss the social interaction or always having somebody to talk to. It’s not healthy to dwell on it indefinitely, but it is ok to give yourself a week or two to just be sad or angry.

That awful pit-in-your-stomach feeling that comes with heartbreak is a real physical thing. Remember, your brain was releasing all of these feel-good chemicals and now the person who caused that isn’t around. You’re essentially coming down from a relationship high. This is exactly why rebounds are so enticing. You’re basically getting another person to fill the void that the last one left. The good news is that with time and self-care, it’ll sting a little less each day. And eventually, it won’t hurt anymore. I’ve never liked articles that are like “10 tips for getting over your ex”, but one thing that is always helpful is making a point to get out of the house and be around other people. It just keeps you from getting into a downward spiral of overwhelming thoughts.

Work on you, because you’re worth working on (tweet!)

So I’ve talked about needs and voids a lot. This post isn’t a letter to some group of super defective people. This is for everyone. Even healthy, stable people can feel crummy and lonely after a breakup. (By the way, if you feel great about breaking up, then good for you for getting out of a situation that wasn’t working for you!) Anyway, I’m going to throw an idea out there. Do you ever hear people talk about how you should “find your other half” and a person who “completes” you? If you ask me, that’s some unhelpful garbage talk. I’ll explain. No other human has the ability to make you feel whole. One of my favorite little therapist phrases is “what you resist persists”. It’s a pretty simple concept. If you avoid dealing with a problem or try to ignore a part of you that needs attention, that issue will stick around and come out in one way or another. That’s just how your brain works.

You owe it to yourself to find out what you want and really need. When you figure out what you need, make a plan to meet your needs. If you enter a relationship feeling secure and stable, you’ll actually be able to appreciate and give selflessly to your partner, because you won’t depend on them for survival. You’re doing yourself and your future partner (if that’s what you want) a favor.

Okay, was that not the best blog post on relationships vs. being single, ever? If you want more Haley, send me an email & I can connect you! To thank Haley, say “thank you!” in the comments or share this post on twitter!

Love, Paige

Unlock a Free Audio Lesson: Prioritize Yourself, Heal Mental Overwhelm, Reclaim Your Self-Trust