What I wish I could tell my childhood self about being single and leaving my 20s
I turn 30 this year, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve been looking forward to being in my 30s since I was 7 years old — I’d play house and imagine naming all of my babies and dream up what kind of flowers I’d plant in the backyard. My future 30s era always sounded like a nice, round decade to me. I couldn’t wait to be there.
Except, my 20s will officially end this November — and I don’t have any of those things.
I’m not in a relationship, I don’t have any children — I don’t even have a home. I’ve been traveling the world solo for the past year or so, backpacking through places like Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia. I moved to a new continent on a whim, and I’m seeing places I only ever dreamed of. With this incredible freedom came a lot of sacrifice: I left behind my stable job, my lovely boyfriend, and my cute apartment.
And I’ve never been happier.
In fact, 45% of all Americans age 18 and older — almost half — are single (according to census reports from 2016). And out of all the households in the country, 28% are made up of people living alone. And data suggests that these numbers are only growing.
Within my own circles, I have so many friends of all genders who are choosing to be single. Gone are the days of marriage and babies by your early twenties — these days, many of my friends see 30 come and go without any elaborate weddings or pregnancy announcements. They’re prioritizing things like career, travel, and self-improvement before starting families.
It’s been almost 23 years since I last had backyard conversations with my imaginary husband and fed my dolls bowls of dirt from my pretend kitchen under the big oak tree.
I look back on that young version of myself with so much compassion, because now I know that being single can be completely fulfilling and joyful.
You get to do things like travel the world without having to keep anyone else in mind. You can pick up and go whenever you please. There’s no one else to worry about. Such freedom!
You might accumulate a lot of really cringeworthy dating stories, and I promise, they’ll someday be funnier than they feel in the moment. I’ll forever be able to tell the story of the guy who showed up 15 minutes late in sweatpants and went outside to smoke three times within our two-hour date. (There wasn’t a second one.)
You never have to share a bed with anyone. You don’t have to worry about anyone snoring or hogging the blankets or making you too hot. You get to spread out and sleeeeep, exactly as you want to.
You develop even stronger relationships with your friends. When I don’t have a partner to lean on, I get to notice even more how incredibly lovely my girlfriends are, and how lucky I am to have them.
You get to focus on yourself. You can enjoy a rich period in your life when you can wander the aisles of Target alone, spend hours writing in coffee shops, and rearrange your furniture five times in one day with no one objecting.
You get to take the time to truly get to know yourself, which won’t last forever.
You can be happy knowing you didn’t settle. I sometimes think about how, if I really wanted to be married right now, I could be. But I want to hold out for the kind of love that you find in a best friend and life partner. Until I find that, I’m really glad to know that I haven’t settled for less.
You know that when you find love, you’ll truly appreciate it. All this single time has me really excited knowing that, when I do find the love of my life, I’ll have the utmost respect for the partnership. I won’t take it for granted, and that’s kind of amazing.
A few weeks ago, I was traveling through Tasmania and decided to do a difficult climb up a mountain, totally alone.
It was some of the hardest trekking I’ve ever endured — the hands-and-knees kind of climbing where you don’t want to look down or make one wrong move. It was terrifying and — once I made it back down safely — completely exhilarating.
I invoked my inner Cheryl Strayed and tried not to notice that no one else was hiking alone. I tried not to notice that every other person I came across was in a couple. I tried not to pay attention when a man and woman on their way down came around the corned and asked me, “How are you guys?” assuming that there was some boyfriend or partner who would inevitably be coming along behind me.
There was no one behind me.
I have a pretty good amount of trust that I won’t be single forever. But I also won’t be in my 20s forever, either. I won’t ever get this time back, when I can scale mountains alone and be proud.
So I’m going to enjoy it while I can.