Every other day on the internet, a new term to describe the intricacies, nuances, and mishaps of our single and not-so-single lives emerges. Between breadcrumbing, love bombing, and everything in between, if you don’t spend at least 47% of your day on Twitter or TikTok, you will, unfortunately, miss the next popular term. Here is another one for you: heart sabbatical.
I had just heard of the phrase in October 2021 when a good friend sent a screenshot of the rules for a heart sabbatical to our group chat. At the time, I was awkward with a close male friend who had expressed his romantic feelings for me earlier that year. His confession was a surprise as this man wasn’t remotely on my radar as anything other than just a friend but between his persistence and my friends claiming they knew along that we should date. His grand gesture of flying out to see me and wine-and-dine me in my city–I went against my gut and gave in.
We ended up spending a month together over the summer in his city. He’d pick me up, and we’d go on spontaneous dates all over town, crack endless jokes, and enjoy each other’s company. It was weird at first because this was just my friend, yet slowly but surely, he broke out of the friend zone. It was a lot of fun, but something didn’t feel right. He could be distant, and I felt anxious when he wasn’t around—even sometimes when he was.
So one night, I asked him if he was seeing other people, and he confirmed he was seeing one other person. I played it cool at first, but after going home and thinking about how this man put in so much effort to convince me to date him, I was frustrated. I thought he was only focused on me.
I later learned that when he wasn’t with me, he was with her—taking trips to their hometown (they’re from the same city), working on projects together (they work together), and going on vacations (if he posted, he was somewhere, she was there too). It stung because this was another man who didn’t choose me. After my last relationship ended, I dated but never found someone equally interested in something serious. With my friend, I tried to remember that we weren’t together, and I, too, could date other people if I wanted, but it still hurt.
Eventually, I went back home. Long distance was challenging, and work obligations grew, so I decided it would be best if we moved on from our romantic relationship. I decided to start my healing process.
When trying to do more research around the formal concept of a heart sabbatical beyond a grainy group chat screenshot, my online searches came up dry, redirecting me to results about work sabbaticals or extended solitary retreats.
So, I went to Instagram and connected with Dr. Ginger Dean, the founder of Loving Me After We and a psychotherapist who has helped many women embark on their heart sabbaticals. According to Dean, “The heart sabbatical is time for deep introspection away from dating, sex, caretaking, auditioning, performing and perusing dating apps so that you can focus within to heal. It is the time your heart needs to break so that you can attend to the feelings, wounds, and traumas you’ve been avoiding in your relationships.
Here are some reasons you should join me and embark on your heart sabbatical.
It’s all about you – you’ll be less obsessive about romantic relationships.
I don’t know about you, sis, but I grew tired of most conversations with my girlfriends about men. Now that I’ve been on a heart sabbatical for about a year, I’ve been in a serious relationship with my star player, me: I treat myself to vacations, spontaneously do all the things I want to do, like go hiking or try a new restaurant, got a promotion at work, started hitting the gym, going to therapy, and continue to connect deeply with family and friends.
I’ll be honest, while I’ve had a few casual relationships, the way I’ve engaged with men since my last intentional relationship has drastically changed. Since I’m not currently looking for a relationship, I’ve been more emotionally detached, more honest, less anxious, and way more fun. Removing the focus on dating allows space for our self, community, family, and spiritual (word to bell hooks) relationships to bloom.
As we level up in emotional intelligence, our boundaries strengthen, and we’re less likely to tolerate red flags.
I’ve become more direct in expressing what I will and will not tolerate with people, whether men, people at work, family, or friends. This heart sabbatical has given me time to explore why behaviors upset me and establish boundaries. In the case of romantic relationships, Dean says, “A heart sabbatical can help you learn not to choose emotionally unavailable partners, actively engaging in harmful behavior with no plan to seek help.”
You’ll also learn to be deeply intentional about what you want for your next relationship.
Dean suggests, “Create a life that isn’t focused on just having a man, but more being a great partner.” A heart sabbatical is about taking a step back to reassess your role, boundaries, standards, deal breakers, and any conflicting core values you may need to address.
Dean’s questions to ask yourself before you get into a new relationship:
Are you aware of your relational patterns and how you show up in relationships?
What about the cycles of generational trauma that you’re ignoring yet bound to repeat in your romantic relationships?
How can you become a more well-rounded partner focused on achieving but becoming the best version of yourself?
There may be one downside to taking a heart sabbatical: if you’re over 30, prepare to ask endless questions about why you’re still single. But that’s expected because we all know there is something medically wrong with unmarried women over 30, am I right?
While I miss dating and that feeling of endless possibility pulsing through my body as I see where it goes with a new person, the journey I’m currently on is a sacred one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s been introspective, it’s been healing, and most importantly, it’s been worth it.