COLUMN: A summer without dating teaches valuable life skills

I lived alone for a month last May. I was impressed with myself because I kept the apartment impeccably clean. Having no other people there made me feel accountable for each crumb or shirt off a hanger.

I didn’t have much to do while my friends were out of town. Cleaning the apartment kept me busy after work. And for one weekend, Rick kept me busy too.

He and I matched on Tinder and I knew I recognized him immediately. I texted our one mutual friend, my childhood best friend Anna and asked where I knew him from. “Did you guys hook up in high school?”

“No,” she wrote back, “but we were in the same friend group in Jordan.”

I was in the clear. I swiped right and immediately messaged him, “Anna says ‘hi.’”

We had a quick conversation about how I used to visit Jordan every spring, our favorite spots in Amman, and what a small world it was.

The conversation stopped but I didn’t think much of it until Anna texted me a screen grab a few days later. Rick’s old phone had broken and he wanted my number so he could ask me on a date.

On the first date, knowing me, I probably should have been more put off by his cigarette smoking and stick-and-poke tattoos. On the second date, when I went to see him, I should have thought more about him living with his parents, or that he paused for a break to roll a joint after sex.

None of these were clues that Rick was what I was looking for. But I was bored, working alone in D.C. with an impeccably clean and empty apartment, and I thought Rick might fill my time as the clock ticked down until my friends arrived in town.

But after standing me up three times in one week, Rick was out of the picture. I do not take sex lightly. And I knew I’d made a mistake.

For the next three months, I followed a set of self-imposed rules so that I could get to know myself better. I stopped swiping on dating apps. I only opened them up occasionally as a joking social interaction with my guy friends. I didn’t go on any dates.

This means I didn’t seek out dates or accept any.  I wouldn’t have sex. I could still kiss boys occasionally and dance in bars, but I needed to take some time off to figure out what was negotiable and what wasn’t.

I knew I’d miss the physical aspect, but I hadn’t yet figured out what I wanted from guys, or how to demand these things once I figured it out. I met Sam one night at a bar.

He was much taller than me and — for a guy at a bar — quite impressive. He was an Amherst grad; we knew some of the same people from my New England connections. He played baseball there, and I could tell his body was still chiseled under his linen shirt. He was working his way through law school as a baseball coach for kids in D.C., and he didn’t pressure me to exist anywhere in his life outside of the bar.

The first time I met him, I told him I had to leave with my friends, pulled away from him,and giggled the entire walk home.

All spring, the men I encountered had left me wanting more without a trace. But that night, although in the most micro sense, I had reversed that role. He had my number, and for a while we had a nice thing going.

We’d text only on weekends, only past a certain time, and meet at bars. He’d joke around with my friends and me, we’d make out and I’d leave when I felt like it — but never with him.

Eventually, he asked me on a date. After almost three months, the summer without boys was beginning to wear on me, so I caved and said yes.

My friends knew I was on the break, so they gently asked if it was a good idea. I said I’d only do it if I were sure. So when that Saturday rolled around, and I realized how few weekends left I had with my friends in the city, I canceled on Sam. All of the sudden I knew what I wanted.

My break stopped when I got back to Los Angeles this fall. I went on a date my second day back. By the third date, and the question of sex came around, I clearly listed my expectations: no one night stands, no sleeping around with too many other people and total honesty.

When that agreement stopped working and I started to want exclusivity, I had that conversation too. When it didn’t work, I moved on to the next boy. Knock on wood, I haven’t experienced a shock like Rick since.

Emma Andrews is a senior majoring in international relations. Her column, “Before & After,” runs Fridays.