Change is always hard no matter what stage of life you’re in; from moving cities or switching careers to learning to live through broken relationships, friendships and everything in between.
While we often talk about what it’s like for people to go from being in steady, long-term relationships to suddenly adjusting to the single life, we rarely ever talk about the other side of the coin — the struggle of getting into a steady relationship and embracing emotional intimacy after being single.
There are a host of reasons someone might struggle with re-adjusting to a relationship after being single for a while. You might feel like you aren’t ready to share your space or time, experience dating app-induced FOMO if you’re monogamous, or not know how to ask for what you need from your new partner.
From the fear of being vulnerable to losing your autonomy and independence — allowing yourself to trust completely can be a daunting experience. We spoke to some experts to help you overcome your fears and navigate your way back into a relationship.
Loss of independence
Taylor Gallagher, a 27-year-old PR representative, is all too familiar with the feeling of having lost her independence. She recently got into a relationship after being single her entire life, and adjusting to having someone else in her life has been difficult, but the compromise, she says, has been worth it.
“It’s been hard to accept that I can no longer be selfish, and I have to take his feelings and what he wants to do into consideration as well. It sounds so bad, but I was so used to doing what I wanted when I wanted and now, I have another person that I have to think about.”
In fact, it may actually be harder to re-adjust to being in a relationship after a period of being single, than the other way around, according to Dr Pepper Schwartz, relationship expert and Married at First Sight co-host.
“People build up walls about maintaining their independence,” she says, “There’s this sense of accomplishment of having had a good single life and there is a fear about the possibility that you will become dependent or be asked to change.”
“There is a degree of lost independence and individuality once one enters into a relationship, but it doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Hopefully, a couple can work out a balance within their relationship and strive for interdependence,” assures Angela Nicole Holton, a dating and relationships expert at Love Sanctuary.
Making sure your needs are met
If you’ve been single for a while, you will have become used to meeting your own needs – trusting someone to start meeting them for you is not only scary, it can also be difficult. How can you know which of your needs should be met by another person and which are better tended to solo?
“Anyone who has been single for a long time can be out of touch with their relational needs and if it’s been long enough, those needs may even have changed. But what many singles aren’t aware of is how their emotional needs in a relationship may have also evolved with time,” explains Lori Ann Kret, relationship therapist at Aspen Relationship Institute.
This was the case for Kristi Hedrik, a Publicist Assistant who got divorced in 2018 and was single for several years afterwards. “It took me a while to get back into the dating game,” she admits. “Maintaining my own independence is very important to me. I understood that being in a relationship with someone again, let alone living with them, I would be giving up some of my independence since I’d be working towards building a life with this person.”
For Kristi, learning how to find that balance and set boundaries that allow her to maintain her independence has been key.
Abundance of choice
Being overwhelmed by the seemingly endless amount of ‘options’ offered up to us on dating apps may have also encouraged us to play the field, and could also be causing us to burn out and doubt our decisions to commit.
This choice overload also makes it increasingly difficult for people to get out of the single mindset. If you’ve been single for too long and gotten used to being on the lookout for potential partners, hookups, or new crushes – it can be hard to turn it off when you’ve decided to be in a committed relationship – which can leave you feeling guilty or doubting your relationship.
If you continue to find yourself attracted to or craving relationships with other people, you could also reflect on whether you want to explore non-monogamy or an open relationship with your partner.
Rachel*, a 24-year-old journalist, remembers how devastating her experience was when she found someone else attractive for the first time while in a relationship with her current partner.
“At first, it was no problem at all. In the honeymoon phase, I only had eyes for him. I still love him with all of my heart, but when I first found someone else attractive in our relationship, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a nervous breakdown that evening and I was telling myself I needed to break up with my partner because I clearly didn’t love him -— even though I knew I did. It took me months to tell my boyfriend, but when I did he totally understood. That helped, but the anxiety was still there,” she recalled.
Because of the catalogue of options on dating apps, Rachel always felt like there was a nagging voice in the back of her head telling her it was “wrong to settle down without playing the field”, even though she is perfectly happy with her partner. It took talking things out with her therapist and exploring her needs and attachment style to really get her thoughts under control.
Finding other people attractive is just a part of human nature – it is what you choose to do with it that can become a cause of concern. “The human animal is not monastic – noticing someone attractive is part of being human,” Dr. Schwartz says,
“You shouldn’t feel guilty for finding someone attractive. But you’d better check your own emotions if you’re planning to slip them your phone number.”
Today, we’re seeing daters be much more intentional and honest, with 59% of people on Bumble saying that they are now more upfront with partners about what they want, otherwise known as ‘hardballing’. There is a heavy emphasis on maintaining your independence while also being in a nurturing and loving relationship. However, these two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
It can be very hard to enter a relationship after being single for so long, but as it is with any transition, all you need is a little time to adjust.
*Name changed to maintain anonymity.