I have referred to The Man Diet several times as something I have done and recommend. After explaining it repeatedly, I’ve decided to write it up and simply refer people to the article.
I call it the Man Diet, but that’s really a misnomer. It should be an SO Diet or Relationship Diet or something like that. Those don’t roll off the tongue quite as well, so just take it as given that I’m referring to anyone with whom you would normally have romantic/sexual relationships.
There was a time when I went from one relationship to the next. If I didn’t have one or more SOs, I felt incomplete. I didn’t have incredibly healthy relationships, but I was seldom alone! I derived much of my self-esteem from being in relationships with others.
Unfortunately, that led to “settling” for people who didn’t really meet the standards I thought I wanted in significant others, and often to accepting treatment that ranged from unpleasant to downright abusive.
Right now, I do not completely remember what triggered the realization that I’d never have a truly healthy relationship if I felt that I absolutely had to have a relationship with someone other than myself—that, in fact, cultivating a healthy relationship with myself, being complete in myself, was vital.
I didn’t think all that out so clearly at the beginning. I was just tired of the crap. I was tired of going from one relationship to the next and having the same issues come up over and over again. I was tired of the merry-go-round. I didn’t count on having any more significant others. I decided that I was done, and I swore off men for a year.
At the beginning of that period, I felt anxious. I felt lonely. I felt more than a little desperate because I had never been unpartnered for any significant length of time. I’d spent my life using relationships to avoid having to deal with my own issues in a deep way. If I hadn’t told several friends what I was doing and asked them to help keep me honest, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.
In the next few months, I seemed to meet potential SOs every time I turned around. It was truly raining men, and I was NOT singing “Hallelujah!” That was difficult. It was terribly tempting to just make a little exception, because hey, he was just so nice! Or so smart, or funny, or whatever. But there’s nothing like true friends to kick your butt when you need it.
I’ve never had a problem dealing with most practical things—balancing checkbooks, basic home repairs, even simple auto maintenance. I didn’t need a man to take care of any of that. No, I looked to SOs to keep me company, to keep me occupied, to suck up lots of energy. I only felt beautiful because they said I was and because they wanted to be with me.
But I found other ways to use my time and energy. I went out with friends as friends. I developed new friendships that were much better because I wasn’t putting anything into wondering whether or not the relationship would move into other areas. If nobody else wanted to go see a particular music event, I went alone.
I finally faced up to some of the issues I was avoiding when most of my energy was going into interactions with an SO—like why did I need a man around to feel worthwhile? Why did I accept treatment that I wouldn’t want any of my friends to accept—that I had, in fact, told other people to walk away from? Why wasn’t I holding out for the kind of person I wanted? Hell, why hadn’t I simply become the person I wanted, to take a clue from Gloria Steinem?
While I was really counting the days at first, by the end of that year I didn’t even realize it was done. I didn’t think about it until a couple of months later when a friend mentioned it. Hey, it was over! I realized that I didn’t feel an urge to run out and start anything new. I was just fine with being me, without a man.
I won’t pretend that I’m all past all of that stuff. It comes back at times, but not nearly as strongly. It’s much easier to insist on the kind of treatment I deserve from an SO now because I don’t fear being alone. I can be alone and be happy. Not a problem.
I think spending at least a year alone as a truly independent adult is a good idea for absolutely anyone. If possible, live alone. Be solely responsible for yourself financially. Develop a healthy social life that has nothing to do with whether or not you have an SO. Do anything you’ve been putting off. Were you waiting to take a vacation until you had someone to go with? Go now. Go back to school. Change jobs. Volunteer. Learn to dance. Just do it, whatever it is, and enjoy it.
During that year, practice celibacy. That means not only do you not have SOs, but you don’t have “friends with benefits” or one-night stands. Just be with yourself. Honor yourself. Love yourself. Treat yourself as you would someone you truly treasure. (Note: Being celibate doesn’t mean you can’t be sensual as hell and make love with yourself. You just don’t have sex with anybody else.)
Set up an accountability team by telling several people what you’re doing. They need to be people you can trust to help you continue on to your goal. If someone isn’t supportive, distance yourself from them. I don’t care if that person is an immediate family member. You need to maintain boundaries, and you don’t need anyone tearing you down. Seek out new friendships with people who are supportive.
It may take some people longer than a year to get past the “omigod I’m gonna get old and be ALONE!” panic. That’s fine. Take whatever time you need. I promise that you will be healthier and happier for it. The world and all the people in it will still be there when you’re ready.