Romantic relationships can be a wonderful thing. Not only does it feel good to have someone who is always in your corner and who thinks the world of you, there are even health benefits to being in a long-term relationship or married. But these benefits apply only to healthy relationships in which both partners are ready for everything that commitment entails. Sometimes, when people aren’t quite ready to be in a relationship — for any number of reasons — it can be a lot healthier to just be single for a while.
Dating is stressful as it is, so how do you know if you just haven’t met the right person yet, or if you should take a break from the dating scene? I spoke to several relationship experts about the signs you should just be single right now.
You think a relationship will solve all your problems
It’s all too easy to look at the happy, successful couples around you and think the reason they’re so happy is that they’re in a relationship. It can be just as easy to assume then, that if you’re feeling depressed, lonely, or unfulfilled that getting into a relationship will solve all your problems. Unfortunately, that misguided sentiment can actually lead to more problems down the road.
“Many people mistakenly think that everything will be fine if they can just get that perfect girlfriend or boyfriend,” said David Bennett, a certified counselor, relationship expert, and co-author of seven self-help books. “The truth is that being in a relationship won’t fix your problems, and may even make them worse. If you believe a relationship is the magical answer to your numerous problems, then it’s time to work on fixing some of your issues — for yourself, and on your own — so you’ll be ready for a healthy relationship later.”
Everyone you meet is automatically “the one”
We all know those people, or maybe you’re one of those people. As soon as you get in a relationship, or maybe even go on a first date, you’re convinced this is the person you’ve been waiting for. This person is “the one” and you’re already hearing wedding bells.
“This is a sign of neediness and co-dependence,” Bennett said. “Many single people are so desperate for a relationship that they instantly fall for nearly every guy or gal that comes their way. This is a sign you need to be single and work on yourself.”
Similarly, Dr. Venessa Perry, the psychologist behind LoveWrite, told me that meeting someone for the first time and having strong feelings for them, hoping that they will feel the same way, can also be a sign you’re moving too fast and need to take a break, especially if “when you first [meet] someone, instead of getting to know them, you quickly introduce him/her to your friends/family hoping that they will want to be in a relationship with you.”
You can’t be yourself in a relationship
While a healthy relationship may challenge your beliefs and encourage you to consider new opinions and viewpoints, that doesn’t mean that when you’re dating someone you should abandon who you are to become the person you think your potential partner wants you to be.
Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City, told me that if you’re dating someone and you “turn into a chameleon” rather than being yourself, it isn’t a healthy situation. It also may be time to take a break if you don’t like who you become when you’re in a relationship or dating new people. Thompson said examples include if “you became more possessive, less confident, and overall felt bad about yourself.” She added, “This is a signal to take some time to regroup and come back to yourself.”
You’re focusing on people who aren’t good for you
One of the great things about being in a relationship is learning new things, having discussions, and maybe even having your opinions challenged (in a respectful way, of course). But sometimes people end up dating all the wrong people who go against everything they typically stand for. This can be a sign it’s time to take a break and reassess.
“If you find yourself matching, messaging, and dating people who don’t share your values, and you always end up leaving behind your goals and values in the pursuit of a ‘bad boy’ or ‘bad girl’ partner, then be single for a while and get your priorities straight,” said Bennett.
You’ve just gone through a significant breakup
If you’ve recently gone through a breakup, you may feel like the best thing you can do is get back out there and start dating again. While that may be true if a couple of dates didn’t pan out, Thompson told me that if the breakup was significant, it’s best to be single for a while.
And other experts agree. Psychologist Paulette Kouffman Sherman told Glamour that you should wait at least a month before jumping back into the dating pool. “Most people need a month or two to process the breakup, to mourn, and to integrate lessons before jumping back in if they were in a fairly serious relationship,” she said.
You obsess over the fact you’re single
It’s one thing if you’re single and going on occasional dates, letting things play out naturally. It’s an entirely different thing if you feel like you need to be going on dates constantly and you’re obsessing over the fact that you’re single. Mary T. Sambrosky, the founder and president of the dating and relationship coaching site Be Plus One, told me that if “dating, or the search, is causing you anxiety, depression, stress, and extreme loneliness feelings, it is imperative that you take a break.”
She said signs you might be at this point include, “Obsessively thinking about how single and alone you are, or how you can meet someone,” as well as “compulsively participating in/checking in online dating sites and apps.” Not only can this make your own loneliness and desperation worse, it can also be off-putting to potential mates. “The desperation and fear of being alone is almost palpable to others, and is a very big turn off,” Sambrosky said.
Alex Reddle, an online dating specialist and the chief editor of the Flirt.com blog, agreed. “Dating sites and apps are a great way to meet people, but when you obsessively are looking through those profiles in hopes of finding someone, it’s more of an addiction or a compulsion at that point,” he said. “It’s unhealthy because you’re seeking the approval of strangers, rather than focusing on the good that you already have in your life.”
You’re needy or jealous
If when you’re dating someone, and you feel like you should spend every second of every day together, that clinginess and dependency is bound to cause problems. Suzanne Casamento, a dating expert and the creator of Fantasy Dating, told me that neediness is a giant red flag when it comes to relationships. “If you need constant attention, it’s a sure sign that you need to do some inner work,” she said. “Needy people are missing the self love and self esteem required to have a healthy relationship.”
She added that jealousy is also a sign that you should be single for a bit because jealousy, at the end of the day, isn’t about your partner — it’s about you. “Jealousy is usually not about the person you’re dating. It’s about you not feeling good about yourself,” she said. “Confident people with healthy self-esteem don’t get jealous.” She said that if you are dating someone who loses your trust due to cheating or other behavior, that’s another sign you should take a break from dating. “Break up with that person and ask yourself, ‘Why did I allow that type of behavior?’ and ‘What issues do I need to resolve before I enter into another relationship?’ Then do the work,” she said.
You’re emotionally invested in the outcome of a date
Of course you want your dates to go well, otherwise why would you waste your time with them? But feeling like the outcome of a date is a life-or-death situation, or that you have a lot riding on whether a date goes well, may be a sign that dating right now isn’t the best idea for you. Perry told me that if someone is “falling apart when a date doesn’t lead to a second date” or is getting angry, upset, or depressed if dating for a while doesn’t pan out and lead to a relationship, it might be time to take a step back.
Kevin Darné, author of My Cat Won’t Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany), agreed, telling me that some people react like they’re going through a breakup if a first date doesn’t turn into more. “They’ll attempt to hunt down the person they went out with and demand to know why they didn’t want to go out with them again,” he said. “Trust me when I say that’s not a ‘good look’ for anyone who has gone out with someone once. You creep people out or come off as a stalker and possibly a fatal attraction. One date does not make a marriage!”
You’re starting to settle
Dating can be incredibly frustrating, especially if it seems like the more people you date, the fewer people you find who actually meet the requirements for what you’re looking for in a partner. You may start to feel like you’re being too picky and your friends might even tell you as much. Don’t listen to them.
Darné told me that if “your ‘must haves list’ is getting shorter by the day and your ‘deal breakers’ are starting to fall more into a grey area,” you’re essentially on the path to settling. Rather than starting a relationship with someone who won’t make you happy just because you feel like you should lower your standards so you’ll no longer be single, take a break from dating instead. It will give you more time to evaluate which things are the most important to you, which are truly deal breakers, and help you move past any “dating burnout” you may be feeling.
You’re stuck on your ex
We’ve all been there. It’s late at night, maybe you’ve had a few drinks, and you’re single and thinking about your ex. It doesn’t take long before you find yourself punching in their telephone number or pulling up your last text conversation and sending off a cute emoji. If this is you, it’s time to pump the brakes.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re drunk or sober, if you talk to your ex and you feel those pangs of sadness or longing, you haven’t moved on and aren’t ready for a new relationship,” Reddle said.
Darné agreed. “You can’t get to second base if you insist upon keeping one foot on first,” he said, telling me that carrying around the baggage from a past relationship keeps you from being “in the moment” with new people that you meet. “You’re not emotionally available,” he said. “You’re probably in need of a ‘relationship detox’ to develop a clean slate again.”
You’re looking for someone to complete you
We’ve probably all heard at least one person in our lives say that their boyfriend or girlfriend completes them. This implies that something was missing, or wrong, prior to the relationship. The experts I spoke with agreed that if you’re looking for someone else to complete you, it’s time to take a break and figure out why it is you’re feeling incomplete in the first place.
“If you’re feeling empty and lost, you might think that by being with someone, you’ll become a whole new person because they complete you,” Reddle said. “That’s not how dating should work. You want to find someone who will complement your personality, not give you a personality and complete you.”
Casamento agreed, telling me that if you feel like you can’t exist without someone else, it’s because you don’t enjoy spending time with yourself. “Real joy comes from inside yourself — not from another person. So, if you want to be with someone just because you don’t want to be alone, you really need to be alone, face whatever issues you’re avoiding, and do some work on yourself.”
You have other priorities
If you’re feeling incredibly busy, stretched too thin, or like you don’t have time or the desire to date, it’s totally okay to let dating take a back seat to your other priorities. Kimberly Hershenson, a NYC-based therapist, told me that it’s important to sit down and consider your goals and priorities.
“If you sit down and ask yourself what your goals are for the next five years, and marriage or children are not on your list, you may not be ready for a relationship,” she said. “Career or self discovery are important aspects to a person’s life and if there are other priorities taking immediate precedent then the focus should be on other areas of your life. If climbing the corporate ladder is your most important priority right now, for example, it is often difficult to have your attention divided.”
She also said that self-discovery and working on yourself may also take priority over beginning a relationship or finding a partner. “If you feel you still have work to do on yourself such as developing better self esteem, learning independence, or managing anger issues, it is important to get yourself together before settling down. It is nearly impossible to be present for others when you have not taken care of yourself first,” she said.
“Single” isn’t a bad status
We live in a society that seemingly values long-term monogamous relationships above all else. For women especially, our worth seems to be determined not only by our career and our accomplishments, but on whether and when we’re married and have kids. In spite of all this pressure, it’s important to remember that being single isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, being single now might actually make your future relationships more successful.
“Feeling settled in your life and truly knowing who you are as an individual is very important before settling down with a partner. Feeling secure with one’s self leads to more security in the relationship,” said Hershenson. “If it takes later in life to achieve this that is okay.”
So if you’re starting to feel burned out with dating, find yourself desperate to meet “the one,” or are beginning to settle and lower your standards, there’s nothing wrong with stepping back, taking a break, and embracing being single for a while. It may just be the best thing you’ve ever done.