I've recently gotten out of a 3+ year relationship and am trying to adjust to being single again after so long. We were living together and during our relationship I feel like I lost myself. Now, I want to regain my independence, but I'm not completely sure what that even means or where to start. At 25, I feel like I'm trying to start my life all over again after putting so much of myself into our relationship. Where do I go from here?
This is a great question, and something that I think many people (ladies and gentlemen) struggle with after ending a relationship. It is really common to do some serious thinking about who you are after going through such a major change, and, while it’s never easy, it can be an immensely important rung on the ladder of self-discovery.
I know this process can feel overwhelming, but here are a few things you can try to start regaining your independence and feeling like your (awesome) self again.
1. Not Everything Needs to Change
The first thing I want to mention is that not everything in your life needs to change. Many people think that they need to wipe the slate completely clean after a break-up, but there are probably many things about your life you like and can remain the same. You can still enjoy gabbing on the phone with friends (even if they are mutual friends, they’re still your friends), the eggs at your favorite breakfast spot, biking home from work, your favorite section of the paper. They may feel different without your normal sidekick by your side or to go home to, but it doesn’t mean they are wrong or need to change.
2. Try All the Things
If you are having a tough time remembering what you—as an individual—love to do, reaching back in time to a place before you were in your relationship can be helpful. Ask yourself questions such as: "What did I like to do for fun when I was younger?” “What did I like to do for fun when I first moved to the city?” “How would I really like to spend a free hour now?" The answers can unlock some of the passions or hobbies you've been meaning to try or get back into, but have fallen off your radar.
Also give yourself permission to try lots of new things: Join the office softball team, go to an alumni happy hour, start a cooking blog, learn to knit, take a design class, commit to reading one book a week, whatever! Getting out of the house and your routine to try new things is the best way to feel like you are taking control of your life. This is probably the part of the journey that feels the scariest, but it can also be the most rewarding.
3. Swap Out Unhealthy Habits With Healthy Ones
Usually, ending a relationship means that you have a lot more free time in your day then you used to. And this is a great opportunity to fill that time with meaningful, interesting, productive work. If there are any positive habits you wanted to start but didn't make time for previously—now is the perfect time to do them.
And this doesn’t only apply to eating and exercising goals, but also to moving towards your own bigger-scale life goals. A major life change is a great time to inject some new energy into thinking about your career’s next steps or getting some information about some out-of-state master’s programs you’ve always been wondering about.
If there was ever a time you said “I would do that, if I didn’t have someone I loved here”—this is the time to go after those goals.
4. Remember: You’re Not Alone
It probably feels scary, but it can actually be really fun to discover independence, if you have the right attitude and the right people by your side. Talk to trusted loved ones who have known you through other life changes—they can help remind you of other challenges you’ve overcome.
Friends, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and more can also help give you some perspective about how loved you are and how this is a temporary life change and hurdle. Don’t be afraid to ask these trusted people how they get over their heartbreaks, too: You can both accumulate some good advice and remind yourself that everyone, even your happily married 60-year-old aunt, once had her heart broken and recovered.
5. Time is Your Friend and Your Foe
Unfortunately, regaining your independence isn’t an item on a to-do list that can be checked off. It takes time to feel awesome again. But each day that you push on, that you wake up and get out of bed and maybe are a little bit scared or sad but keeping moving and trying to be your best solo self, is a day to be proud of. Don’t begrudge that time takes time: Embrace it and look at time as an opportunity to subtly refine your personality and interests without being forced to make big changes all at once.
I’m proud of you for working to turn a stressful life change into a positive one, L. And I think might look back on this time of self-discovery as one of the most important of your life. Go for it!