Did you know that it’s National Unmarried and Single Americans Week? Well, it certainly is. Personally, I think it’s progressive and necessary for a culture that reveres romantic love and children above all else to take a moment to acknowledge that single and unmarried people not only exist, but are even valuable members of society. It would also be nice if more single and childless women were allowed to speak at political conventions, but I guess a national holiday is a start? Believe it or not, there are some single people out there who are completely happy to stay that way, and it’s important that we not treat them like freaks. But right now, I’m going to address the single people who do want to find partners, because I know you aren’t all happy all the time, and that’s okay, too.

Because it’s getting a little bit late in the day, I first thought I’d make a slide show of “things that are great about being single,” but then I remembered I’d already done that. And honestly, I feel like a lot of you are looking for a little bit more than a pat on the head and a “well, at least you can fuck whomever you want!” Personally, I know that when I was single, I didn’t want to fuck “whomever.” I wanted to fuck my boyfriend. But I hadn’t met him yet, so I couldn’t. Which made me sad.

In light of that, I’m writing this with an eye to explaining how being single can actually help with something you probably care about: locating, and establishing a great relationship with, your person. I was single for almost five years before I met my current partner (pictured), and I can honestly say that being single for what felt like an eternity ultimately helped me find, commit to, and have a healthy relationship with, my most favorite dude.

-Finding him

Being single forced me to learn to make friends in a way I’d never done before. Being in an intense relationship in college had enabled me to put this off for longer than I should have. (Why did I put it off? Because it was hard for me, and because I was scared I’d fail.) Besides the obvious benefit of my friends being awesome in their own right, it’s a lot harder to meet someone if you’re not out there, interacting socially. My lovely and helpful friend Amy first introduced me to Sean (my fellow), as well as vouching for him and nudging me firmly but gently in his direction. I hope I can do the same for her someday, as that would create a neat sort of cosmic balance. (So if you know anybody…)

-Committing to him

I’ve had sex with a lot of people. Guys, girls, artists, bartenders, skinny, doughy, etc. I’ve always preferred love-sex, and will absolutely choose it when given the chance, but I’m not a nun, and I wasn’t going to stay celibate for five years. So I experimented “in the meantime.” I went on dates. I went home with random dudes I met at parties. I boned some really, really, hot guys. I boned an ugly guy or two. I figured out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and how to tell people what I wanted in bed and in general. I got my feelings hurt a lot. I narrowed down what kind of person I wanted to spend my time with. And ultimately, this proved valuable. For the stories, but also for the life experience. Now that I’m only having sex with one person indefinitely, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I know what else is out there, I know he’s my favorite, and I’m confident in my decision in a way that I might not be if I, a sexually curious person, had only been with one or two fellows before him. Don’t believe the hype: sluts don’t get punished with loneliness, they get rewarded with wiseness. (And sometimes herpes. Be safe!)

EDITED TO ADD: Years of dating also taught me that I should look for an emotionally stable individual who is nice to me, and not a tortured, wretched, alcoholic, lying, nightmare person who disappears for weeks on end and wants me to be his mom. Which should have been obvious from the beginning, but hey, bitches be crazy.

-Existing with him

Like I said, in college, I had that controlling, codependent kind of relationship that a lot of women in their late teens/early twenties seem to have. I was so excited someone wanted to date me that I needed to be with him every second of every day. We were attached at the EVERYTHING. I spent almost every night in his dorm room, so much so that a terrible, horrible roommate I nicknamed Douchebag Joe was allowed to move into my apartment because I wasn’t around to screen people. (This became a problem after we broke up and I had to live there again.) We fought a lot, and I let him be mean to me in a way I’d never tolerate from someone now. Eventually, he dumped me. This destroyed me at the time, but was definitely the right thing to do, because if it had been up to me, that shitty relationship would’ve lasted forever.

During my years of singlehood, I was forced to develop internal resources. I was never entirely happy being single, but I became more and more comfortable being on my own. I moved to Brooklyn and made some great friends, people I plan to know for a long, long time. I worked on my writing. I gained a sense of self and independence that I don’t think I would have had if I hadn’t been single during those key early 20s years.

When I met Sean, I didn’t need him, per se, but I wanted him, and vice versa. I already had a good life, one that he fit into nicely. And we have a healthy amount of space. If he doesn’t text me back right away, my first thought is not “he is clearly cheating on me and I must hack into his email.” It’s “he is probably working right now,” or possibly, “he dropped his phone in the water again.” We don’t cling to each other 24/7. We each have a lot going on, but the time we do spend together is so good. If we ever move in together (which we are in no rush to do), I don’t imagine this will change. I’m not saying this is the only way to do things, but it’s been the only way that’s worked for me, so far.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I realize I’m still fairly young and inexperienced in the ways of love. But for me, being single helped prepare me for what’s turned out to be a really good thing in my life, which I might not have been ready for otherwise. I’m convinced it’s mostly random chance that determines when and how you meet a suitable mate, but there are certainly ways in which you can try to help things along, as well as ways you can try not to fuck it up when it happens. And many of those ways paradoxically involve being single first. So the next time you’re complaining about how much dating sucks and how there are no good guys in New York/wherever, think of it as just another part of the process. Because it is.