Acceptance doesn’t come with age, or from finding someone else, it comes from within yourself.

Whether you’re on gay apps or going to bars to find Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, there’s absolutely no denying that almost all of us are out there looking for someone to share our lives with – in whatever capacity that relationship may turn out to be.

As a gay man about to turn 26, I’ve spent the majority of my adult life so far hopping from one unhealthy relationship to another, believing that finding validation from another person will somehow turn me from this functioning host of unhealthy insecurities into what I believed all adults are supposed to be and feel like.

As someone who grew up a bit awkward and with a very obvious stammer that still impacts my life, I moved schools numerous times due to bullying – something a lot of young LGBT+ people will have experience with – and so by the time I got to uni and began to explore my sexuality, I began searching for validation wherever I could find it.

This led to me quickly entering into a relationship that I wasn’t ready for, that went from intense and passionate to unhealthy and toxic within months. But as someone so desperate to be validated, I stuck around for almost two years before being unceremoniously dumped. It turned out to be a double-edged sword because things just worsened when eight months of that relationship were spent entirely sexless and desperate for any form of attention from someone who refused to grant it to me.

I lost a drastic amount of weight and formed an unhealthy relationship with food, found myself almost having to quit university, and my stammer returned to an extent where it was hard for me to even have regular conversations some days – and yet that didn’t put me off. Dumb, right?

From then on, I would break up with a boyfriend, and within 24 hours be on another date – and my experience certainly isn’t just a one-off. There are so many gay men who jump into relationships easily, without any breathing room or opportunity for the self-discovery that is so vital in our 20’s, and it’s doing real damage.

As gay men, it can be hard to find love growing up, whether that be from your parents, school friends or a significant other, and some of us find ourselves desperately trying to fill that void in adulthood in such unhealthy ways. The idea of being single can be utterly terrifying. Who’s going to validate me? Who’s going to make me feel like I’m wanted? Or even think I’m attractive?

We spend so long being told we’re not loved and that we shouldn’t accept ourselves by those who see us as stains on society, and it does damage far beyond the realms of simply feeling a bit left out as a teenager. Gay men’s obsession with youth doesn’t help either, considering apps would have us believe that once we hit 30 we’re no longer attractive and we’re going to die alone surrounded by 47 cats all named after pop icons.

But being single is vital for so many reasons, even though it’s something the majority of us spend our time complaining about until we’re not, rather than embracing and savouring every second of it.

Personally, five years on from that first relationship, with two or three severely dysfunctional relationships in between, I’m experiencing being single again. And for the first time I’m able to say that I’m happy.

Why? Because I’m not looking for validation about how I look from a man – I’m hitting the gym, looking in the mirror and giving that to myself. I’m not looking for validation about whether I’m loved or not, because I’ve spent the past few months rapidly expanding my friendship circle and learning that I can get that same feeling from healthy relationships with friends.

I’m flirting with guys, enjoying safe casual sex, and even going on the odd date when I feel enough of a connection, rather than with any guy that comes my way. But whether those work out or not, knowing it doesn’t matter is the most freeing feeling. For the first time in my life, I’m able to go home, sit in front of the TV and enjoy my own company, safe in the knowledge that I don’t need anyone sat next to me to be happy – although, you know, that’s not to say it wouldn’t be equally great if there was.

@joshcharles_21