“You’re bad at playing the game, that’s why!”

As I sat in a circle of high school girls passing Oreos and Twizzlers around, they proceeded to tell me I was doing everything wrong when it came to dating. They analyzed my dating habits, my texts, my past relationships and my current lack of a present relationship to conclude that I seemed to have everything completely backward.

While I appreciated their well-intentioned advice (none of which was remotely worth taking by the way) about the proper amount of time to wait to text back, how many dates you should go on before you kissed, and how to make sure he was into you I couldn’t help but chuckle. Again, they were in high school, and I was well past that, but while I wanted to think they were completely out of their minds, I couldn’t help but notice that we all seemed to view dating through the same lens.

We all thought it was a game.

When I realized that I had been treating dating as a game in which I either won or lost I discovered that maybe I had been playing the game wrong all along. It was no wonder that I viewed every date as either bad or good aka a win or a loss. I viewed each relationship as another level getting me closer and closer to finally beating the odds or guys as people who could ultimately be manipulated into giving me what I desired most. The realization was pretty haunting, and I decided that maybe it was time to push pause on the dating scene after all.

So how do you know when it’s time to take a break from dating? What do you do next?

Not everyone is the same, but I knew it was time to take a break from dating when I felt more discouraged than encouraged. Not to say that encouragement necessarily resulted in relationships, but there’s a fine line of when you feel like dating is bringing out the best in you and causing a lot of growth and when you feel like it might just make you spiral down into your unhealthiest and lesser human self. If you’re tuned in enough to know that you’re capable of being in either a healthy and constructive state or an unhealthy and destructive state, then you’re already ahead of the game.

This self-awareness is worth listening to and checking in on after you go on a date. Did you enjoy your own company? Were you able to be yourself and speak freely? Do you feel like you learned more about yourself, him, and the human experience as a result of your date? Did something surprise you? If you can’t really answer these questions in a positive way consistently, then it might be time just to lay low and take a break from the dating scene.

Sure, dating will bring out our insecurities just like any relationship will, so that’s not a sole reason to stop dating, but if the insecurities seem to overshadow and outweigh the confidence and personal growth you’re experiencing then it could be a sign that you need to step away for a minute.

Stepping away from dating doesn’t have to be anything dramatic- no email announcement or Facebook post required. But should some well-intentioned friend try to set you up or if you do meet someone who seems interested in pursuing more than a casual conversation it might be worth mentioning that you’re not actively dating at the moment? Most people worth spending time with will respect such a clearly communicated boundary.

While you’re on your dating break spend some time getting to know yourself and grow in ways that constantly dating could potentially prevent. If there are books you know you need to read, therapy you need to seek, groups you need to join, or classes you need to take then your dating hiatus would be the perfect time to explore those options. Don’t rush anything or set a particular time frame. You’ll know when it’s time to get back out there.