We all know the feeling. You cringe when your date asks if you have brothers or sisters. You take three days to answer your dating emails. You honestly don’t know why you lost interest in that cute guy you brought to your friend’s dinner party.
I knew I had reached my breaking point when I once got ready for a date by pulling on a sweater over my workout clothes, gathering my hair in a ponytail and smearing on lip gloss. Applying any more makeup felt like too much effort. And I was on my way to meet a really nice guy I’d been corresponding with for several weeks.
Yep, that’s when it’s time to take a break from dating. The idea might sound terrifying at first, especially if you’d planned to accomplish this whole falling in love thing by a certain date. Perhaps you hope to line up a New Year’s date, or you want to make sure you’re working towards your goal of finding a partner to have a family with before your eggs self-destruct.
But when you’re burned out, dating is a waste of time. Apathy has replaced curiosity. Your heart is not available. The love of your life could have hired James Taylor to serenade you at your favorite wine bar, and you’d still wonder if you should skip the second glass so you could get home in time for that marketing webinar.
It doesn’t matter why you need to take a break. Maybe you’re not quite over a breakup. Maybe you need to spend more time at work or with family. Maybe you’re worried about why you fell hard for that last guy – even though your gut told you not to – and you want to figure out a few things. Maybe you need to learn how to be happy being alone before you can be good company for anyone else. Maybe you’re just in an inexplicable nasty funk, and you want to retreat into your chick cave and scowl at the world for a while.
Whatever the reason, your soul needs a reboot.
The key is to do it constructively. That way, you don’t end up like your forever date-less girlfriend – you know, the one who’s been “taking a break” for the last six years.
1) Set a time limit
The best way to feel good about taking a break is to know how long it will last, so you’ll be able to give yourself permission to really enjoy your time off. For example, if you anticipate that your break will last through the holidays, maybe you can plan your own little “Eat, Pray, Love” romp around Costa Rica over Thanksgiving. You can then capitalize on the January rush of all those guys who suddenly realize they’d like someone to warm up their cold winter nights.
2) Make clear goals
How many women do we know who say they’re going to get serious about dating “when they lose weight” or “when their work schedule slows down”? That kind of talk will keep you in break purgatory indefinitely. Make concrete goals that fit into your timeline. For example, if you gained a muffin top during the summer that hangs over your jeans, join a weight-loss program, such as Weight Watchers. If you feel overwhelmed at work, resolve to get back out there after your deadline.
3) Spend time nurturing yourself
Breaks give you time to tend to projects that you might have previously ignored. Maybe you want to binge-watch “Breaking Bad” for the first few weeks. Go ahead! But also use the opportunity to engage in activities that make you feel grounded, such as cleaning out your closet, painting your hallway, making Thanksgiving decorations with your niece or learning to make mole sauce. You’ll feel as if you’re taking care of yourself and moving forward in other areas of your life while your romantic life is on pause.
4) Give yourself more time
Sometimes life doesn’t cooperate with your timeline. You might be dealing with layoffs, illnesses or family issues, and you need more time off from dating. But it can be hard to relax, if you’re worried about your biological clock. You might consider freezing your eggs to give yourself more baby-making options in the future. Both dating and break-taking will be a lot more satisfying with a little less stress.
5) Make a re-entry strategy
When you decide you’re ready to date again, jump in with renewed energy. Post new photos to your profile. Update your essay with seasonal references, such as “I’m addicted to pumpkin spice lattes and would love to try snowshoeing this winter.” Get a new haircut or new highlights and put together a few outfits that make you feel good about yourself. You’ll signal to yourself – and others – that you’re fully present and ready to find a partner.
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.