I’ve been single for a few years now, excluding a couple of those recurring casual relationships that are not exactly “sing it from the rooftops” material. I’ve been neither miserable nor 100% happy about this singledom—it’s never felt like a giant burden, but I’ve certainly had moments of really yearning for a deeper connection with someone. Yet, as we all know, the grass is always greener on the other side, so when I find myself particularly thirsty for real love, it doesn’t take long for me to snap out of it (usually because I see a couple fighting on the subway or have to help a friend navigate her significant other’s setbacks).
It would be impossible to say who’s better off—me for growing on my own for the last few years, or the select friends I have who’ve been coupled up for the same amount of time. In fact, I think it’s a negligible faceoff. I’m sure we’ve all benefited in very different ways, but to the same degree, and, presumably, the lessons we’ve missed so far will catch up with us eventually.
That said, there has been one benefit of this me, myself, and I time that I wouldn’t want to trade for steady romance: a level of fashion experimentation that seems lacking among the paired-up set. Now, this is no scientific conclusion, and I’m sure—in fact, I know—there are exceptions, but the ladies in my life who’ve spent years by the side of a boyfriend or girlfriend have appeared much more stylistically stagnant than the rest. Can I blame them? Not at all—we all know how much contentment and comfort can breed routine. But that doesn’t mean I’m not very grateful for the extra time I’ve had, all to myself, to try on a few different hats (both figurative and literal).
When I look back on how I dressed while in earlier relationships, it’s clear to me that I was very unsure of myself and taking most of my style cues from the dudes in my life. He liked all-flannel everything? So did I! He preferred more-feminine looks? So did I! He was into the quirkiest vintage finds? So was I! And so on. Part of that certainly just came with being younger, but it was also the result of falling into a lifestyle that was partially dictated by another person. When you’re in such close contact with someone on a regular basis, it’s only natural for you to adopt a few of his or her preferences. That’s no crime, but it does make it harder to figure out what you, alone, are partial to.
When I shook off my last relationship, I was finally free to go about my days, and my life, exactly as I pleased. This meant trying a lot of different styles and trends that weren’t necessarily “guy-friendly,” not trying things purely because someone else liked them. There were a lot of questionable looks along the way, and dates where I wished I had just worn something straight from the cliché “rule book,” but all of that trial-and-error paid off in the end.
I now have a much better sense of what I truly like and what to buy that I’ll actually wear. I never feel the need to ask my friends, or a guy, for fashion guidance—although I still receive a lot of texts from my coupled-up friends re: what they should wear. When I go on dates, I find myself thinking more about what will make me feel good than what might impress the guy I’m meeting.
Of course, it’s not that women in relationships can’t, or don’t, experience this too—it’s more that it might require being on your own for a bit to really learn what suits you. Because as fulfilling as a relationship might be, it’s got nothing on the crucial (and freeing!) self-awareness that a few years of going solo can bring you.
Scroll down to shop some of the quirkier styles I've tested (and loved) throughout the years!