Twenty Lessons I Learned Being Single In My Twenties

It’s totally bizarre to think back on the plan I had for myself as a young girl.

I was supposed to go off to college, date a boy on the baseball team, get engaged after graduation, and be married to him all by the time I turned twenty-three.

Well, I’m now twenty-three years old, still working on my Bachelor’s degree, and I have not had one solid relationship throughout my entire post-secondary education.

I think it’s safe to say that things didn’t quite turn out exactly as planned, but truthfully, I couldn’t be happier about it! These several years of singleness have taught me so many lessons about who I am as a person, what I want in a relationship, and most importantly, what I don’t want in a relationship.

Here are just twenty of them:

1. Dating isn’t what it used to be.

I know many of my fellow single ladies out there can feel me on this one.

Back in the day, I envisioned rides on Ferris wheels, conversations in coffee shops, walks on the beach, picnics, or simply going to see a movie…you know, normal, low-maintenance activities for a first date!

The reality of what “dating” is in today’s society hit me like a brick wall and is probably one of the main reasons why I’m still single; I swear, if I receive one more “you up?” text message in the middle of the night, I am going to rip my hair out.

Don’t get me wrong, first dates are usually painfully awkward and, more often than not, a total bust; but, how else do you get to know a person? How else do you decide if someone would be a compatible partner in life? Netflix & Chill? Get real.

2. High school was not the time for relationships.

Or, I guess I should say, high school was not the time to stress over relationships.

I can now regretfully admit that too many of my teenage years were wasted crying over I guess what you could call “boyfriends”. Looking back, not one of those boys I lost sleep over in high school even remotely resembles what I want in a man now, and I’m sure if you were to ask them, that feeling would be mutual.

The truth is, I had no clue who the heck I even was in high school (most of us don’t), so how in the world did I expect myself to know who would make a good boyfriend or how to be a good girlfriend? Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was basically setting myself up for failure by trying to “date” in high school.

Moral of the story? Go to the football games with your friends, dance at prom even if you don’t have a date, and forget about Joe-Shmoe because you will in about five years, anyway.

3. Most people are not genuinely happy in their relationship.

Sorry, I’m not actually sorry.

Having served as a free relationship counselor for many friends over the years, I feel qualified enough to make this assertion.

I know people who are in unhappy relationships because it makes sense financially. I know people who are in unhappy relationships because they’re afraid they won’t find anyone else. I know people who want to end their unhappy relationship but won’t because they feel that after spending so many years with the same person, they’re not allowed to change their mind. The list of relationship horror stories goes on and on.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is that it’s easy to get caught up feeling envious of the seemingly perfect relationships you see on social media; don’t buy into it. Instagram is a highlight reel and you’re only going to see what people want you to see.

4. You have to be happy alone before you can be happy in a relationship.

Following up on my previous point, I feel like the overwhelming reason why most people remain in unhappy relationships is because they’re not used to being alone and it scares them; I used to be one of those people.

I used to rely on other human beings, particularly men I dated, to provide me happiness; this was one of the most self-destructive habits I ever developed. It is so unbelievably unhealthy to allow your happiness to depend on anyone other than yourself. There was once this period in my life when being in a relationship and being happy were one in the same.

But now? Now, I’ve become so comfortable in my solidarity that I wouldn’t even think of allowing another person to jeopardize my peace unless their presence truly added to the quality of my life.

In short: quit looking for a relationship to fix your unhappiness; it never will.

5. Do not ignore red flags.

In the words of the great Maya Angelou,

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” 

If there was one person in the world who needed to learn this lesson the most, it was me. I used to be the queen of giving the benefit of the doubt and overlooking the ‘little things’; well, I’ll tell you right now that those ‘little things’ more often than not snowball into the big things that will ultimately end the relationship.

Here’s my advice: pay attention to the details about your significant other that you’re afraid to admit to your close friends and family. That’s usually the first sign of trouble.

6. Establish and stand by your ‘deal breakers’.

We all got ’em!

There are certain things in romantic relationships that we are simply not willing to compromise on… and that’s okay! You should never have to forfeit the things that make you who you are for your relationship to work; if you do, you’re probably in the wrong relationship.

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, wanting (or not wanting) to have kids, or your religious beliefs, learn to stick to your guns.

Mutual compromise is one thing; total blind compliance is another.

7. Never lose your identity in a relationship.

It goes without saying that when you’re in a relationship, you often pick up habits from your significant other: cheering for their favorite sports team, liking the TV shows they like, and sometimes, even beginning to talk like them!

All of that is great… in moderation.

However, what happens way too often, is people lose their individuality completely when they get into a relationship; they stop going to the yoga class they love, they suddenly don’t have time to catch up with friends, and their relationship becomes the absolute center of their universe.

Please, please, please: do not be this person. You will 100% regret it one day.

8.  Choose someone who fits your lifestyle.

It blows my mind how many people are in a relationship with someone that they have absolutely nothing in common with. The awful, judgmental part of me often looks at couples who have no similar interests, no aligning political views, contrasting religious beliefs, and the most surface level conversations and it causes me to wonder… what on earth makes you two humans want to be in a relationship?

If you’re a devout Christian woman, a man who doesn’t believe in God probably isn’t for you.

If you’re a man who enjoys the simple country life, a woman with dreams to travel the world and live in a big city, probably isn’t for you.

Yeah, sure, doing things you don’t like to do for the sake of your significant other is sometimes necessary; that’s understandable.

But quit trying to force something that just does not fit.

9. Give yourself time to heal from a break up before starting a new relationship.

You know how they say, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else”?

Yeah. That’s bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong; you have every right to hook up with whoever you want after your relationship ends! You’re single now, it’s time to mingle! Having fun with someone new may help distract you from the sting of that break-up. Trust me, I understand.

What I’m trying to say is: stop using other humans as scapegoats for your pain. Break ups hurt…but it’s not right to put someone else’s heart at risk just because yours is broken.

10. Communication really is key.

I’d be very curious to see just how many minor issues in people’s lives would immediately be resolved by proper communication; my bet is that it would be an overwhelming amount.

It legitimately confuses me how frequently people will stress and over-analyze the smallest details instead of simply expressing their concerns If you know that all you want with someone is a casual hook up, be upfront about it. If you know you’re looking for a relationship, be upfront about it. If you don’t know what the heck you’re looking for, be upfront about it.

I stopped playing the ‘He Didn’t Text Me Back All Morning So Now I’m Not Going To Text Him Back All Night And Cry About It” game in high school and I think it’s about time my fellow twenty-somethings get with the program.

11. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

I have a list of things that I wish I could go back in time to tell my teenage self; this one is at the top of the list. I have extremely vivid memories of the teenage version of myself constantly agonizing over the same questions: “Why doesn’t he like me? What does she have that I don’t? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not good enough?”

It hurts my heart to know that there are many grown men and women who still, to this day, struggle internally over these same questions.

The truth is…as human beings, we are all so vastly different in such an incredible number of ways; we each have our own personal likes and dislikes, turn-ons and turn-offs, attractions and pet-peeves! It’s illogical to believe that every person you meet will take a liking to you.

It’s okay to not be everyone’s cup of tea… it means you’re not ordinary!

12. It hurts more to break a heart than it does to have your heart broken.

If you’ve never had to break the heart of someone you care deeply about, then you’ll probably think I’m making this one up. Hear me out: I’m not saying that getting your heart broken is small fries. I know first-hand how gut-wrenching and horrible it is to suffer from a broken heart. However, what’s much worse, is the guilt of knowing that you have personally inflected that pain onto someone you love.

Feelings fade. Time changes a person. You might meet someone new. Circumstances can a drive a wedge between a couple who were once very madly in love. It happens. Life happens. Sometimes, what used to be right and happy to you, is no long right or happy.

When this is the case and you have to break someone’s heart, yours will break twice:

once for yourself, and once for them.

13. Friendships are just as important as romantic relationships.

Now, don’t go getting your panties in twist just yet.  I’m not trying to say that you should be having more wild nights out with the girls or that every Saturday should be reserved for ‘the boys’; I’m saying that while your significant other should be your friend, they shouldn’t be your only friend.

Platonic relationships outside of your significant other are so important and so necessary; I don’t ever want to imagine going through this life without the absolute rock that is my support system. We all need our ‘home team’: the people who will always cheer us on but will also always call us out on our bullshit.

Put effort into creating a solid foundation of mutual love, respect, and friendship with a few carefully selected people in your life outside of your significant other… unless you’d rather risk being stuck committed to someone solely because you don’t have anyone else.

14. You won’t have to jump through hoops for the right person.

Have you ever felt as if no matter what you did for someone, it was never enough for them? Have you ever put in an excessive amount of effort to make someone happy just for them to still not be satisfied? Have you ever desperately fought tooth and nail to be what someone needed?

If you answered yes to any of the previous questions, let me tell you something: the right person will appreciate you. The right man or woman for you would never ask for 100% in exchange for 0%.

Hold out for that person.

15. Cheating is a choice, not a mistake.

This one is going to be hard for some of you to hear, and I’m sorry for that, but we have to break this misconception that cheating is a mistake; it’s not.

Cheating is most definitely a choice.

Forgetting to send your mother-in-law a birthday card is a mistake. Accidentally leaving the pizza in the oven too long is a mistake. But completely shattering the trust of your significant other by cheating on them? That is an act that you choose to perform; it is a conscious decision that you, as a competent adult, make.

We need to quit attempting to justify infidelity by referring to it as a ‘mistake’.

16. It’s okay to forgive.

I felt like I needed to take some of the weight off of that last one.

No one is perfect. We all do awful things that we regret. It’s okay. We’re all human.

What I want you to know is this: it is entirely okay for you to forgive yourself and it is entirely okay for you to forgive others. This world that we have coincidentally found ourselves alive in at the same time can be cruel enough all on it’s own; if you can find the grace within yourself to forgive, always, always, always choose to do so.

A grudge is too bitter of a weight to carry on your heart forever.

17. Marriage does not automatically mature you.

Something that I have seen a lot of while living in the south is young people getting married straight out of high school, which is fine.

What is not fine is the arrogance that exudes these young newlyweds as they fixate on the idea that a marriage license suddenly confirms their adulthood and maturity. I have some bad news to break to y’all: it doesn’t.

If immediately marrying your high school sweetheart or getting hitched after a few months of dating is what makes you happy, then by all means, go for it! I’m always happy to see others happy!

But y’all have got to get off the high horse that leads you to believe a piece of paper legally binding you to another human makes you a more ‘adultier’ adult.

18. Good hygiene is more important than good looks.

Can y’all believe that I used to date a guy who wouldn’t shower after working in a restaurant all night? I know. I’m gagging just thinking about it.

Seriously though, as a society, we put way too much stock into appearance when the more important matter at hand is personal hygiene! I don’t care how cute you are or what your abs look like; what I care about is if you brush your teeth twice a day, wash behind your ears, and own more than one bath towel.

I mean yeah, being easy on the eyes and having a good body is cool. But it’s even more cool to know how to take care of yourself.

19. Sex is just one thing, not everything.

I debated for a long time on whether or not to include this point on here; it’s a little weird, talking about sex on an online platform where people can read what I have to say. In the end, I figured it was too important of a topic to pass up, so here we go! (Don’t worry, I’ll keep it PG.)

Here’s the thing: sex is important! It’s how you physically connect and express your love for your significant other; some form of sexual attraction is necessary in a relationship, in my opinion. However, it is most definitely not the only thing that matters. There are many other essential aspects of a relationship that totally trump what goes on in the bedroom.

Don’t ever let sex be the only good thing about your relationship.

20. Being single is better than being with the wrong person.

Ultimately, this final lesson learned is the rule of thumb I now always follow.

When in doubt, I will always prefer to be living my best single life than to be worrying, stressing, and obsessing over a relationship that I’m not even sure I want to be in.

When things do happen to get a little lonely, I’ve learned to direct those emotions into something proactive; I go to the gym, I learn a new recipe, I treat myself to a nice dinner, or I, you know, enjoy a very large glass of wine in a bubble bath.

If you’re someone who is struggling with the idea of being single life in a sea of couples, just know that you are in an excellent position to dedicate 100% of your time to the most important person in your life: you.

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