As I move into my mid-late 20’s I’m taking a few moments to look back and opine about a few revelations I have had over the last decade in the context of dating. To sum it up, I think everyone should spend a significant period of their 20’s single, and here is why:
1. You have no kids or obligations. You’re healthy and energetic, and you have time on your side
20’s and even early 30’s are like a gift from the Gods. You have your health; you have your sense of wonder; you have no familial ties; you don’t have a ton of possessions and debts weighing you down; you don’t need to stress about retiring in ten years… You are given a set of conditions that is entirely unique to the rest of your life before or after this period. USE IT! Whatever your passion is, follow it. Take risks in pursuit of it, and for heaven’s sake seize the day! It’s not going to get easier as you age. My passion has always been traveling, exploring and living life for the beauty of daily experiences. Most young people date someone a bit older, someone who has a stable career and probably a house, car, etc… So if your passion is pulling you away from where you are… Don’t go get into a relationship that will anchor you down. In ten years you will probably be single, and you will look back and regret not following your dreams.
2. Your brain is not even capable of completely rational thought
According to researchers at MIT, the human brain is not fully developed until about 25 or 30 years of age. Essentially when you are 20, you are not thinking rationally, and you are not yet who you will be the rest of your life. Rental car companies figured this out years ago, hence why you can’t rent a car until you are 25. You are mentally still a developing child. Most people in their early 20’s spend a period of time in a relationship with someone 5 or so years older than they are. The end result is that you will change and grow, while your partner will remain fairly set in their ways. This typically causes problems, because what you used to think you wanted changes as you finish developing.
3. You don’t know how to be independent
Let’s face it. Most of us (Americans born in the 80’s) were not really independent when we were 18-20. We either were in college being supported by parents, scholarships and student loans, or we were still bumming around our hometown. Independence is a life skill that is learned. If you turn 20 and jump into a relationship with someone 25-30 who already has a career, you are not going to learn how to really take care of yourself. If the relationship changes and you want out… you need to know how to and (be able to) leave and support yourself. If you don’t, you will stay trapped in a relationship you desperately want out of. A lot of us have been there, and there is nothing worse than crying yourself to sleep every night because you feel like a prisoner… a young bird locked in a beautiful golden cage.
4. You need to learn who you are and learn to love yourself BEFORE you can love someone else
I don’t expect a 20 year old to read that statement and have any idea what I really mean. But for all of those in their 30’s and beyond– you understand it! After you finish developing into the person you will be, you need to spend some time getting to know your adult self. You need to “find yourself” as they say, and I think this is where the whole “quarter-life crisis” thing happens. You get to your mid 20’s, you’re mentally an adult, and you have no idea who you are or what you really want in life. I strongly suggest you spend 2 or 3 years exploring yourself one on one. You really can’t honestly give someone the love they deserve until you have truly learned to love yourself. Once you know who you are and what you want… THEN go out and get it!
5. You need to get educated
At some point in your 20’s you need to get around to learning some specialized skill. The successful workforce of the future is a workforce of specialists. No, a high school diploma doesn’t cut it anymore nor does getting a BA in Philosophy or a liberal arts degree. These sort of broad spectrum educational pursuits aren’t worthless, because on a personal level there is a benefit to being well-rounded. However, when it comes to establishing a career for your future, knowing a little about everything is much less useful than knowing a lot about one specific topic. This sort of education takes time, commitment and a stress free home life– something you rarely have when you are 20 and “in love”. I can’t say it enough: investments pay the largest dividends when given a long time to grow… that’s true in economics, but also personal investment. Start investing in yourself when you are young and reap the rewards the rest of your life.
To conclude, I know this may seem like a “know it all” sort of post—all soapboxy and preachy. But to be honest, I made this mistake personally. I spent 5 years in a committed monogamous relationship with someone 9 years older than I was from age 20-25. I put a lot of my dreams on hold. I made sacrifices about my education. I delayed learning who I was and how to be financially independent. I’m not trying to be trite and holier than thou telling young people how to live their life. I’m just trying to help others learn from some of my mistakes.
And with that, I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving 2013 from Penang, Malaysia. I am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and for the support of my readers! I invite you to comment about this post or about other lessons you are thankful for learning that might help someone in their early 20’s!