The Newly Single Girl's Guide To Beauty

how to find time for dating and self-care

Photo by Isa Wipfli / Collage by Liz Riccardi

In a long-term relationship, your person will eventually see you doing the you-time things that maybe no one else should ever be present for, especially if you live together. It’s an inevitable byproduct of cohabitation. For me, it was my beauty routine: I’m a “paint my nails while I do a hair mask and a face mask” kind of party animal, which is a ritual that doesn’t necessarily need a witness. But there we were, me pampering myself through a series of potentially compulsive behaviors and my partner of half a decade laughing with surprise every time she looked at my green clay-covered visage. It was fine because intimacy takes many forms, or whatever. I also had the freedom to request that she not touch my face because it made me break out, and she eventually got used to the fact that sometimes I put things on my skin that smelled weird, because beauty isn’t always a pretty process. There was also the flip-side of this brand of honesty: For example, I had to be okay with the fact that if I wore lipstick, she wouldn’t want to kiss me in public because it would get on her, which hurt my feelings but was ultimately understandable-ish.

But when you’re a twentysomething (cough) in a five-year relationship that is stable and generally good yet doesn’t make you as happy as you know in your heart you could be, and then Venus retrograde aligns with a textbook-classic quarter-life crisis, it’s probably obvious to everyone but you that you’re about to go through a major breakup. At least, that’s what happened to me. And I then had to embark upon the excruciating process of getting unstuck from my own life—which meant figuring out how in the world to break up with the person I’d spent my entire adulthood sleeping next to, moving to a different borough to live alone for the first time ever, and reemerging as a butterfly who goes on dates with attractive strangers from Tinder. Worth noting: last time I was single, I had a flip phone.

So, here I am on the other side of my quarter-life crisis, realizing with surprise that one of the most comfortable parts of being in a relationship was that I got to have my full beauty routine and a partner (I’m a Taurus, can you tell?). My single life—though full of joy and excitement—suddenly seems to lack the space for my rituals, and it’s an issue I never saw coming. After all, I thought there’d be more time for my weird habits; but skin care and makeup are presenting problems, especially on dates. 

First of all, lipstick. It's recently come to my attention that I'm someone who likes to make out on a date. But I also want to look my best, and I feel my best in a really dark, really matte lip. Do I just accept that it’s going to be all over her and hope that she doesn't mind? Or do I skip it and feel slightly less than my best but free from that specific worry?

Secondly, mascara. I’m so pale that the whites of my eyes basically blend into my skin, so I rely on mascara to keep me looking human. Waterproof mascara is great, but if you don’t wash it off before you fall asleep, you end up with your eyelashes essentially glued together—which is neither cute to look at nor pleasant to experience. And who wants to run to the bathroom to grab makeup remover after a romp? Not this girl, especially not at someone else’s apartment. 

Also, keeping my skin looking halfway decent is already an all-the-time struggle that involves devotion to a routine that’s too long to discuss here but includes regular visits to my aesthetician and a strict product regimen (I have pretty severe adult acne, thank you genetics). Kind of hard to keep up with that when I’m letting someone’s unwashed hands touch my cheeks because it just feels so nice to have my face held, even though I know exactly where I’ll have pimples the next day. And it’s doubly hard to speak up about these things when you’re trying to maintain an illusion of Chill/Cute Person so that someone else likes you. Twitch. 

So basically, even though I’m having a sort of spiritual reboot, my skin is looking worse than ever. Add that superficial anxiety to the deeper anxiety of trying to figure out how I want my life to lookand I’m sure I’m a really cool person to meet and get to know right now. 

Luckily, as I gradually grow accustomed to the rituals of dating in our modern world (I feel like a time traveler!), I’m also coming up with little tricks to make myself feel less like a gross mess and more like a semi-functional grownup. While I still can’t figure out how to make time for a mani/pedi in my new life, I’ve slowly gathered a tiny arsenal of secret-weapon products that make everything better: 

- Eyeko’s water-resistant mascara has proven to be highly effective. It’s a fiber formula, so—instead of running—it comes off in water (or, um, sweat) in little tubular particles that are really easily wiped away.

- Charlotte Tilbury’s new Mini Miracle Eye Wand is also helpful, especially for mornings. One end is an eye cream and the other is a natural-looking concealer and brightener. 

- I’ve found that Clinique’s Even Better foundation doesn’t make me break out if I accidentally sleep in it, mostly because it’s zinc-based, so that’s been a go-to. 

Skin care is a little more complicated. In order to wash my face before passing out on top of someone, I have to dig deep within myself for strength of spirit. Of course, washing your face in someone else’s bathroom isn’t easy, especially when you have a lot of hair on your head that you need to get out of the way. Pro-adult-sleepover tip: Use a towel to create a turban to keep your hair out of your face while you splash water on it; that way you won’t have weird, stringy bits of wet hair when you return to bed. If I don’t see face wash, my first instinct is to just use handsoap, but now that it’s getting cold out, that’s not an actual option (hi, it's super-drying!). Always check the shower if you can’t find face wash on the sink. 

Finally, the most important part of skin maintenance while dating turns out to be pretty obvious: I have to plan ahead. Yes, spontaneous sleepovers are great, but restructuring my life means always being prepared for the possibility of one. Overall, it's an exciting thing but also requires extra effort. I’ve started carrying around an exfoliating lotion to use after washing my face, which sloughs off dead skin and moisturizes in one very quick step (it doesn’t smell great but whatever). My aesthetician also gave me a few tiny lances for whiteheads with the strict instructions to—instead of popping my zits and making them worse—simply puncture them and then wipe the goo away with a tissue. Also, I’m trying really hard to care less. A zit is a zit is a zit. 

All that being said: A few weeks ago, I was wearing Dolce & Gabbana’s matte lipstick in Inferno (my favorite) to get drinks for a first date. I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat dinner before meeting up with her around 8 p.m. Then suddenly it was 1 a.m. and I was beyond starving. She said we should go get food and I sat in front of a taco for a full ten minutes before confessing my worry that as soon as I ate it, my lipstick would be all over my face. She promised to tell me, and then watched me take a bite. “Still looks good,” she smirked, and I felt myself turning as red as the salsa. Later, when she kissed me on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, I forgot to worry about what was happening to my makeup. I’m going to go ahead and assume that she didn’t notice, either.