If you're a twenty-something girl navigating the dating world, it's no secret to anyone-- finding your Mr. Right is hard.
And annoying, sometimes silly, occasionally fun... but mostly annoying.
As much as I try to be an inspirational helping hand to my twenty-something ladies out there, I can't exactly vouch for what hardships you may be encountering while embarking on a single gal's adventures. I say that, because I'm the girl who's been in a relationship basically her whole life.
I fell in love for the first time at the age of 14, when my middle school locker buddy turned unavoidable neighbor turned schoolgirl crush, finally turned high school boyfriend. Our teenage romance lasted right up until we left for college, and he taught me all the basics about falling in love, how to deal with a heartbreak, and what it means to grow up and grow apart in a relationship. I've always been a sucker for love, and I'm convinced that the term hopeless romantic had to have been created for me... I swoon at romantic gestures, I'm always the one suggesting romance novels at my book club, and there truly is no situation Sleepless in Seattle can't fix.
I dated a couple of guys throughout my freshman and sophomore year of college before then meeting my current boyfriend, Bobby. We met the summer after our Sophomore year of college and two months later we started dating, in September of 2014. I was 20 years old.
Naturally, my take on dating in your twenties may look a little different than some of you who are reading this. Since I'm not exactly an expert on the musings of a girl navigating her way in the world of the single life, I asked some of my closest girlfriends to weigh in on what they've learned so far as they've bravely faced the dating world as a twenty-something gal.
This is what they had to say:
Advice for the girl who thought he was the one
"Dating in my twenties has taught me one thing and one thing only - you can't love anyone else until you love yourself first.
In my life I've been in two long term relationships. One with my high school sweetheart, and one with the guy who at twenty had me thinking..."Yep, this is it. This is my forever." Here I am at twenty-four, looking back at twenty year old me and thinking, "Dodged a bullet there, sister."
At a ripe old age of twenty, what I had built up into a perfect relationship in my mind was perfect to no one else around me - including him. Looking back, I was in a toxic relationship that took a toll on who I was. I was more in love with the idea of being 'in love' than I was actually 'in love' with him. Because of this disillusion, I let things happen in our relationship that started to strip me of who I was. When the relationship inevitably crashed and burned, I was numb. I would tell myself I'd rather be miserable with him than be miserable alone.
Little did I know, miserable with him would last forever. Miserable alone is temporary.
If you're reading this, and you feel like you can relate on any level - here is my advice:
I'm not going to tell you to leave. But if you feel a connection to any of these words just know that when the ending comes, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel and life will go on. As I sat surrounded by my best friends at my birthday this year they asked me what I wanted for my twenty-fourth trip around the sun. I told them I wanted to love myself - before anyone else.
I've been without my "forever" for some time now. Days go by I don't think of him. Days come when I do. It doesn't hurt anymore and I don't care if he is thinking of me. My misery is gone, and I still can't believe that it was in fact temporary. Now with only being four years into my twenties, it is safe to say I'm no expert. But for the first time in awhile, I'm falling in love with no one - but myself. Once I love myself, maybe I'll be ready for someone new. But for now, I'll keep my best friends close, my wine cold, and my self worth high."
Advice for the girl on the verge of a breakup
"After being in the most serious relationship I've ever been in and amid all the sacrifices that came with it, I've learned that if you love them, make the leap. If I didn't travel with my ex-boyfriend, it would have been a long distance relationship and we weren't okay with that. Since he'd been away from home for so many years, I made the decision to tweak my life and move away from my home for the relationship. It was an amazing experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done.
However through that experience, I learned how important it is to know your self worth and understand how much to give for someone you love who doesn't necessarily give the same back. Unfortunately in many ways, it can be very abusive.
It's good to be generous & kind, and to do anything and everything for the one you love- but it's also important to know what you deserve.
I also learned that you have to figure things out for yourself. Though you may agree with all the things your friends and family repeatedly tell you is wrong with the relationship, clinging onto that little piece of hope that they could be wrong can take over you. However it only takes that one moment of clarity for you to finally realize it for yourself and to gain the strength to finally do something about it. That is truly one of the greatest lessons."
Advice for the girl who's looking for love
"If there’s one thing I’ve learned while dating in my twenties, it’s how important self-love is. I think people go through their whole life and don’t fully grasp the concept of self-worth and self-love and I’ve found it to be one of my most valuable lessons.
I’ve had my fair share of serious relationships and two month flings over the past 6 years, so I like to think that I have a pretty well-rounded experience in this whole dating scene. I fell in love for the first time (or so I thought) when I was 21 and here I am still shacking at age 24. I don’t regret any of the boys--not men--I’ve chosen to spend my time with but when it all boils down, there’s a similar theme through all the lessons learned:
I’ve finally realized that before I love anyone else, I have to love myself.
Over the past two years, I’ve done just that and if you’re reading this, single or not, I hope you can too. I want you to put as much focus on YOU as you can. Realize how much you’ve accomplished, how beautiful you are, and how much you truly have to offer so when the man of your dreams does come around you are the best version of you. The energy you release is the exact energy you will attract. Be so happy with who YOU are that you don’t have to change for any guy and you know exactly what you deserve in a relationship.
If you really want to know what falling in love feels like, try falling in love with yourself. "
Advice for the single girl who's ready to take a chance
"So you've graduated and moved to a new city and it's admittedly been a couple months since you've shaved and you're at home on a Friday night crying at The Princess Diaries 2 because why can't you have a love story like that? You are all of us. Here's some tips to putting yourself out there in a new place in your 20's:
1. Don't look back. It's very easy to slip into reminiscing-mode and forget that he still laughs at the number 69 or his commitment issues rival even yours. As comforting as it is to reach out to an ex, there's a reason you broke up and it wasn't because he was 'too perfect'.
2. Put yourself out there. Say yes to after-work drinks, download the app, DM the guy from the gym you've been dating in your head for months. Best case? Love, hearts, birds singing, coordinated Instagram anniversaries. Worst case? You never see this human again. Pro-tip: when he says he's seeing someone else, have an 'Ah, I figured! Couldn't hurt to ask, hope she's cool as hell!' handy to seem like you're ~chill~ and definitely not... totally crushed.
3. Choose 'me' over 'us'. If you start seeing someone and you're not feeling him, don't keep forcing it because 'it's better than Princess Diaries 2' (let's not kid ourselves).
Your Tuesday nights would be much better spent trying that kickboxing class or practicing asking for that promotion than sitting through another boring dinner with a dud.
4. Evaluate your priorities. When you're lonely and looking, standards go out the window. Who cares if he hates traveling or thinks he'd like to 'live off the grid' for a while as long as he's hunky? You should. The men you date will be pretty fully-cooked humans at this point, so dig deep and decide what your deal breakers are.
5. Toss your 'type' mindset. Love comes in all ages, sizes, hair colors, careers, and Old Navy khakis. If you only swipe right on tall, blonde, accountants, you're missing the guys you actually have something in common with. Charlotte and Harry were the real love story of that show."
Advice for the girl in a relationship
For me, dating in my twenties looks like weekend nights spent on the couch binge-watching far more Netflix TV shows in one sitting than either of us would like to admit, planning our weekend getaways solely on a city's restaurant scene, and basically avoiding all social obligations like the plague. Throughout this relationship spanning the entirety of my early twenties, I've had to figure out how to find myself and grow into who I am as a woman-- while I'm simultaneously growing closer to someone else. But through that, I've learned that being in a relationship isn't about finding someone who completes you.
I am a complete person all on my own, & that is one half of the reason why we make a good pair of two whole people.
It's not about being dependent on one another in order to survive, but rather- it's about being stronger because we're able to do life together. I wouldn't cripple without having Bobby by side, but I am undoubtedly a better woman because he's there.
That being said, being in a relationship in your twenties isn't all sunshine and rainbows like our happy anniversary Instagram posts make it out to be.
In fact, it's straight up hard.
Amid all of the transitions we've gone through from being in college, graduating, beginning our careers, living in different cities, and a million other things too wordy to list- it's hard work... to say the least. Though it's been comforting to have my best friend by my side throughout all of the chaos of change this period of life has thrown at me, it's also been incredibly challenging trying to navigate these early years of my womanhood with a co-pilot, so to speak. I've had to find a balance of building a strong relationship with myself while also building a strong relationship with someone else, too.
Talk about top-notch organizational skills, am I right?
But in all seriousness, I've learned that you have to put yourself first. Your dreams, your career aspirations, your health, your beliefs, and your self-worth come before the relationship. Yes, marriage is a completely different story in which two lives are morphed into one, and your bond with your husband takes the top spot, but right now- when you're a young woman growing into herself, you're allowed to put yourself first.
My advice to the girl who's in a relationship in her early twenties is to remember that as important as it is to put yourself first, you also have to give that same respect to him. He deserves to grow into who he is as man, just as much as you deserve to find yourself as a woman. Encourage him to chase his dreams, to make the career leap, and to follow his heart. As difficult as the looming truth might be, it's inevitable that chasing dreams may end in the two of you going in different directions, or it might end in a growth period that spits you out on the other end even stronger than before. Our twenties are such a delicate time of growth for both of you, so keep an open mind and a pure heart... and a fully loaded Netflix schedule.
In the end, don't compromise your individuality as a woman to settle for a mediocre relationship with some man. Because trust me, if he doesn't embrace every curve, flaw, bulging insecurity, and off the wall dream of yours- he's not worth all the amazing, hilarious, kind, and simply wonderful moments you'll undoubtedly bring into his life.
I'm so lucky to have a man like Bobby in my corner. He's compassionate, selfless, hard-working, and inspires me to be a better woman everyday. There are many reasons why we've been able to grow stronger by the year, but I think the main reasons we work well together as partners is because we find great contentment in each other's differences and we are each other's number one fan. We are our own people who love and support one another's hopes and dreams, and as two twenty-three year olds navigating this wild roller coaster of life- that's a feat we're exceptionally proud of.
To all the girls
Love isn't supposed to be as perfect as our Instagram feeds. It's hard and scary and weird and uncomfortable-- but it is so beautiful. Life will undoubtedly bring upon heartache, pain, and sadness so wait for the guy who will make the sun shine a little brighter on the good days and will make the rain suck a little less on the totally awful ones.
Some central pieces of advice from my group of girlfriends to yours?
- Love yourself first, and the rest will fall into place.
- Don't be afraid to take risks.
- Realize how beautiful, worthy, and amazing you are.
- Don't sacrifice your priorities for someone else. He isn't worth it now, and he definitely won't be worth it later.
- Give yourself the gift of following your dreams.
If you're reading this as a single woman who's lost all hope in finding Mr. Right, this is me telling you to hang in there because he's out there-- God just isn't ready for you to meet yet. Whether your future husband is sitting across the office from you, is an old childhood friend, or is a man you've yet to cross paths with- I pray that you cherish these precious days before meeting him, because God is molding you into the woman meant to have him. Isn't it a beautiful thought to know he's out there and he was literally made for you? My heart is overflowing at just the thought of it!
And for those of you who're like me and are reading this with your man right by your side, give him a hug and a kiss because life's too short to let the fact that he left the toilet seat up again keep you down.