At the brutal end of a three-year relationship with the person I thought would be the love of my life, I hit rock bottom.
I had left my career as a freelance fashion merchandiser to be a stay-at-home stepmother to his then 2-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. When it all ended, I didn't go out for months. My friends wondered who this meek, timid girl was, and where the no-nonsense, take-charge Nicole was. I would cry every night, hoping to get out of this awful place, but not knowing the right way to break free. I moved back home, feeling like I had lost everything.
The first two years of my relationship were bliss. We were living together, and he shared such a special part of himself with me—his daughter—so I wanted to stay home and be a part of her life. It was the third year of the relationship when everything went wrong. We both lied to each other a lot, our drinking habits got out of control, and he even cheated on me. The smallest argument between us would end in fits of rage. The relationship was violent, toxic, and completely unhealthy. We called it quits shortly after my 30th birthday. I cut ties with him completely.
The decision to move toward my own personal goals—and away from whatever would have me—came after a few months of going on a series of let-down job interviews and lackluster dates. Since the opportunities being presented to me were just so sub-par, I decided to take a stand: I simply wouldn't participate until conditions improved, whether that was in my personal or professional life.
For the former, that meant a vow of celibacy. This included cutting out dating and relationships altogether. No Tinder. No set-ups. No one-night stands. And definitely no sex—of any kind.
My friends laughed at first, but they quickly realized I was dead serious. This was for my own good; I had a list of goals for my career and my personal life that I wanted to achieve. For me, getting rid of the distractions of casual dating and hooking up was the only way to meet both these ends.
I set an ambitious end date. By the time I reached 31, I wanted to have established myself professionally, financially, and emotionally. I wanted to be in a steady career, preparing to purchase my own home, and be comfortable putting myself first after backburnering my needs for so long.
Articulating these benchmarks has been transformative to my life. I turned 31 this past October, and I just started my dream job at an e-commerce merchandising start-up company. It's only been a month, but I already feel so welcome in this work environment by my kind, respectful colleagues. The pace is demanding but I wake up truly happy every morning to start my nine-plus-hour days. I come home every night, hop in a hot, relaxing shower and curl up with my Netflix, content to start all over again tomorrow.
I'm not concerned about anyone texting me back or if they really like me or if we're just friends or whatever. Everything is unequivocally about me right now—and it's glorious. My ambition isn't clouded by any background noise. My friends often note that they can see that the assertive, self-assured Nicole returning.
This decision to quit dating and focus on myself and my career is something that I've wanted to try for a long time. But I've generally been so dependent on relationships that I didn't believe I had it in me to take this leap. Starting any kind of relationship right would mean compromising the strides I've made in settling down in my 30s with this new job and new, self-loving outlook, which has significantly rebuilt my confidence. And that's something I'm not willing to lose right now.
When people hear the word "celibacy," they make jokes to me about romantic comedies. I laugh along with them and explain that this isn't a religious thing whatsoever, and it's not an infinite vow of abstinence. It's more of a zen thing—a personal commitment to mending myself from the inside out. I've learned, the hard way, that it's so unhealthy to start a relationship when you're unhappy with yourself. And for the first time, I'm not.
I had a great time in my 20s—that was my time to paint the town red, or white, or whatever color I wanted. But here in my 30s, I know I've just hit my stride.
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