Throughout my almost 4-year relationship, I always thought of myself as a particularly Independent Woman—yes, so much so that the phrase required a capital I, capital W.
I had a full life aside from my man: friends, activities, hobbies, and projects that were 100% my own. In love but aloof, it was important to me to never be needy or clingy. I didn’t realize all of the little ways that being one half of a whole had seeped into my subconscious, influencing every decision I made, and coloring my life with compromise. It was a harsh realization that, for all of my independence, I still needed to take time to “find myself” post-breakup.
Being single—not to mention living alone—for the first time since my early 20s opened up so many opportunities to figure out what I liked instead of what we liked. Everything from the neighborhood we lived in, to the bedroom furniture we bought, to the brand of cat food we chose was a mutual decision…Would I have made the same choices on my own?
Through a process of trial-and-error, I’ve finally become the Independent Woman I always wanted to be. Here are the steps that got me there:
1) Taking Time For Myself
While the natural reaction might be to seek consolation and human connection in friends or new hookups (which definitely has its place), I made sure to take time to focus on myself first. When I was totally and completely alone, emotions I’d been fighting for years finally surfaced and I faced them head-on. A bubble bath was always my sacred space; it gave me the peace and quiet I needed to feel all the feelings. I cried because I was scared to be alone. I had a solo dance party to celebrate my freedom. I went through pictures of us and missed what we used to have. I looked forward and envisioned the better times ahead of me.
2) STAYING BUSY
After I took time alone to process my feelings, staying busy became more than just occupying my mind- it became meeting new people, trying new things, diving into my work, and starting the passion project I always dreamed about. Filling my schedule with worthwhile activities that I didn’t have time for before gave me new purpose and perspective. I was amazed at how much I accomplished, and how much harder I worked, with only myself to focus on.
3) Making New Girlfriends
And solidifying friendships with old girlfriends. It’s cliché but true: men may come and go, but your girls are forever. When I made an effort to reach out to friends, I realized that my girls offered a way better emotional support system than a boyfriend ever had.
Recommitting to friendships filled my life with love again, so that I wasn’t looking to fill that void in other, unhealthy ways.
4) Going On Dates
Dating is fun, which is easy to forget in a LTR where “date night” often means Netflix and ordering in. As a newly single lady, I looked at each first date as a means to self-discovery. At every restaurant I ordered something new, which is how I figured out that I have an affinity for fried silk worms. I tested out new moves the dance floor and learned that I love to get down. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but through a series of cocktail dates I found my alcohol of choice: mescal. Going out with someone new was an opportunity to be someone new: there are no expectations, no preconceived notions, no limits—it was the perfect environment to reevaluate who I’d been in relationships and who I am on my own.
A fresh look often goes hand-in-hand with a fresh perspective. I moved into a completely new apartment post-breakup and painted the walls bright white- a blank canvas. I invested in a cozy new comforter. I framed inspirational quotes and made my home the girly paradise it could never be when I lived with my man. When I had a safe space that felt 100% “me”, it was easier to identify who that was.
6) Saying “Yes”
After my breakup I made a conscious effort to say, “Yes” to every opportunity that came my way. When I saw a sign-up sheet for the LA Undie Run—you know, where people run miles in their underwear to raise money for charity—I said “Yes”, even though I hate working out and have always been self-conscious in my skivvies. Saying, “Yes” and holding myself accountable forced me to focus on my fitness and learn to love my body. When a volunteer application for an LA women’s center popped up on Facebook, I said “Yes”—and after 3 months with the organization, I am now a sexual assault counselor with a newfound passion in life. Saying, “Yes” helped me expand and evolve by challenging my own ingrained ideas about my identity.
Of course, there are times when I miss “relationship me”—the girl who could spend an entire weekend cuddling on the couch, content to be one half of a greater whole.
But more often than not, as I lay in my brand new bed, in a brand new neighborhood, and watch my cat chow down on a brand new brand of cat food, I’m thankful for this chance to become a truly Independent Woman.
Jessica DeFino is a wardrobe stylist and content creator in Los Angeles, CA. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Conde Nast Traveler, L’OFFICIEL, ELLE, and many more. Currently, Jessica is focusing her attention on her organization I Dress For Me, a collective of strong women with style advocating for awareness, education, and prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment. You can find out more about Jessica and her cause here and here.