I was blacked out on Xanax and Dayquil for my first date with my future first boyfriend. It was an unintentional move, brought on by undiagnosed mononucleosis mixed with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder. He caught me in the beginning of my infectious disease phase and at the tail end of my casual dating one. I was going on 27, and I had never been in a real relationship.

In my few moments of lucidity, I remember him asking me about my past relationships. It’s the question I dreaded most on dates. What are you supposed to say? “Oh, well, I’ve been alone forever, how about you?” Usually I just avoided giving a direct answer, but since I wasn’t quite all there, I told him the truth: I hadn’t had one. 

“You’re lucky,” he said. Had I been fully conscious at the time, I’m sure I would have rolled my eyes and thought, the only people who say that are people who have had relationships. I would have assumed he was patronizing me, because obviously being in a relationship has to beat being single. Right?

I wondered how I had never managed to find someone so right for me before. Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t me before. At least not this version of myself.

But the longer we dated, the more I thought he might be right. We seemed to gel on so many things. We agreed on how to spend our time, thought of money the same way, and were both hyper-considerate of others. We also clicked on the small stuff. We had the same texting style, similar senses of humor, and even mirroring flecks of yellow in our eyes. I wondered how I had never managed to find someone so right for me before. Then it dawned on me: I wasn’t me before. At least not this version of myself.

During my years of raging singleness, I watched as my friends paired off with their respective partners, many of them slowly turning into versions of themselves I didn’t recognize. They let their boyfriends and girlfriends shape their personalities and interests. Two people became one. Bennifer, Brangelina, Kimye etc.

I got to be selfish with my time and energy as I navigated the maze of my teens and most of my 20s. I spent Christmases hiking the Grand Canyon and flying in a 10-seat plane over the mountains of Vermont. I took an entire month off from socializing after work to get into the best shape of my life. I watched every rom-com and Netflix special I wanted, when I wanted. I I took care of my own needs and figured out how I wanted my life to go, so by 27, I felt like I had solidified at least the basics of my being. Sure, it’s nice to have someone, but there are three main things that I’m glad I accomplished alone.

1. I learned to be self-sufficient.

I didn’t follow my partner or ask them to follow me anywhere after college. I moved to New York City and slept on friends’ couches and air mattresses until I found a roommate. I took jobs that furthered my career path, no matter where they were or how many hours I had to work. I was also fully financially independent — if I wanted to quit a job, I had to know I could cover myself. That forced me to make smarter, more responsible decisions.

2. I made my space truly mine.

I got to decorate my own apartment. First came my room, and then eventually, a 500-square-foot studio. I like dark woods and color-blocking. I like wall art, but not personal photographs. I’m tactile and need soft blankets and rugs. I have a cacti shower curtain and a cacti plant. I didn’t have to ask someone if they approved of my cat astronaut print. I like it, so up it went.

3. I defined my values.

At age 19, I came to NYC to become a filmmaker. I hoped to create art that would touch the world. I wanted to mingle with the rich and famous. I wanted to go to cool parties and get drunk on expensive Champagne. Which I did, for a bit. But as I grew older, I realized I much preferred the food-trucks-and-overpriced-beer lifestyle. I shifted my focus from what was happening in Hollywood to what was happening in my neighborhood. Instead of hitting up a hot new bar, I put my money toward eating at the Chilean restaurant down the block from my apartment and volunteered my video services to a local yoga startup. My priorities became much more micro in nature. I wasn’t as concerned about what was happening in the wider world. Instead, I focused on bettering myself and helping out close friends and family. Neither is right or wrong, but I’ve now had enough consistency in my feelings to know which is truly me.

So flash forward eight months after my first date with Nathan. The mono has finally subsided, and this dude continues to fit well into my life. Yet we still each have our own. Don’t get me wrong — I’m excited to continue to learn and discover with him as time goes on, but only because our individual foundations are there. We are a couple, but we aren’t Hanathan. We are Hannah and Nathan, and that was worth waiting for.