“You just need to date,” they said of my solo situation.

My friends made it sound like riding a bicycle. Like I was out simply out of practice. While true, there was a bigger reason I’d accepted my life as it was. It wasn’t fear of heartbreak that held me back from dating. It was trying to imagine what it would be like with someone else in the picture. I had no idea how to divvy my time up with someone who wasn’t my daughter. I guess that’s what happens after being a single parent for seven years.

Sure after divorce I had relationships here and there, but it’s almost as if I dated men whom I knew weren’t ready to be lifelong partners. The one who didn’t even know how to make a grilled cheese at 30. The fantasy sports junkie. The one whose mom was like an extension of our relationship, weighing in on every decision we faced as a couple.

Lexi and I have had our routine and the comfort of leaning on one another. And only one another.

Would she feel like I was abandoning her if someone else was in the picture? Would our bond somehow weaken? These were risks I wasn’t sure I was willing to take.

Every time I attempted to get to know someone, this overwhelming feeling came over me, halting any forward motion of a potential relationship. The “it’s not you, it’s me” went from being an iconic chick flick line to a phrase that really resonated with the way I lived my life.

Being a single parent had become easy in the sense that I knew exactly what I had to do in order for each day to run as smoothly as possible. I didn’t have to rely on anyone to make my daughter’s lunch, take the trash out, be on drop-off or pick-up duty. The thought of having to depend on someone else filled me with anxiety. Of course Lexi and I could continue our MO, but in order to have a true partnership with a man (something that has lacked in all previous relationships), I’d have to let go. I’d have to trust that there were men out there who could seamlessly fit right into our daily grind. But I had to break the habit of pursuing unavailable men. And I, too, had to be available.

So I went to a basketball game with one guy. No complaints but no spark. Coffee with another. A little (OK, a lot) too old and lacking zest. Dinner and a stroll with another whom I had great conversation with, but he repeated himself to the point where I think he’d had a few drinks before our few drinks.

Even though none of these men worked out, it felt like I was on the right path.

How did I know I was “ready” to date? Ironically, when loneliness didn’t sting anymore. I finally had gotten to the point where I didn’t yearn for the presence of another. Deep down I knew I wasn’t meant to be alone. I liked my time alone, I liked my one-on-one with Lexi. But I’m also a hopeless romantic.

Finally I figured out that the overwhelming fear I felt about merging lives with someone else was because I was scared of losing myself. I had always stopped my life for men in the past. Even the unavailable ones. My whole world, so to speak, revolved around them. As independent as I thought I was (the solo traveling, dates with myself) I’d lose my strength when “involved.” But after stepping away from the dating scene for a while, reclaiming my passion of writing and practicing yoga and developing my spiritual side, I felt like I had my confidence back.

Turns out, I didn’t have to give up anything. Just my fear. Which is dissolving more and more each day as I continue to fall for someone who reminds me of who I am as an individual … the wholeness I possess regardless of whether the three of us are bowling together, or if just Lexi and I are snuggled up in bed or I am reading quietly in the corner by myself.

Erinne Magee

Erinne is a Maine-based Mom and writer. Her work has appeared in publications like: New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, The Washington Post, Redbook, USA Today, Prevention Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Men's Journal and more. For more, visit: http://www.erinnemagee.com/