Most of your 20s will be an inconceivable mess. Where you call home will change as often as the title on your 3x5 business card does. The most unswerving relationship you'll have will be with your email inbox and the most reliable love letters you'll receive will come monthly from credit card companies, telling you how happy they are to have you in their lives before demanding that you fork over your hard-earned cash. You'll find yourself going on as many first dates as job interviews. They'll start to feel exactly the same.
You'll master your "About Me" speech and soon realize that the only way to kick the nervous jitters over whether or not you'll ever hear from them again is to frolic around your apartment like a total distraught maniac.
In your 20s, being single will make you feel like a lightweight. There's only so many times someone can ask about your dating life (or lack thereof) before you burst out a monologue about how there is more to life than just twirling your fingers around the heart of someone else.
Others will suddenly take interest in your single status. While your uncle is carving the turkey at Thanksgiving, the chatter will turn from Obamacare to, "Jen, honey, why aren't you dating anyone?" Your dentist, the stranger you meet in line at the post office, even your 4th grade teacher who you bump into at Target will ask you why it is that you're still single.
Who you are at 21 won't be who you are at 25 and then again at 29. Your 20s are a scrapbook, a hodgepodge of growing up, of making grand mistakes, of changing careers, relationships and interests as many times as you'll change your hairstyle or workout routine.
But if you do, indeed, find yourself single for any amount of time in your 20s, you'll learn these chaotically gorgeous truths:
1. You will go on a lot of first dates. Most of them will be anticlimactic.
Some of them will just be bizarre. You may find yourself acting more like Dr. Phil than a potential suitor as you try to help the person across the table from you cope with his recent breakup. Maybe he'll spend too much time talking about his failed relationships or maybe you'll spend too much time talking about how your job is giving you gray hair. Maybe your personalities, your interests or your morals will clash. And at some point, after you come home and slam your keys down on the coffee table and tell your roommate you're never going on a date again, you'll remember that no first date is ever the same -- and at the very least, you have a new story.
2. First dates will never get easier.
And they shouldn't. No matter how many you go on, the moments before a first date will always feel similar to seasickness. Your palms will sweat, your heart will race and you'll start spinning the wheel of what-if's and oh-my-gods. You should never feel comfortable or complacent with the idea of meeting a stranger who could potentially flip your life upside down like you do your mattress every few years. Wrap your arms around that feeling.
3. All your friends will suddenly start to get engaged -- or at least it might feel that way -- and that's OK.
You'll start to ask yourself, "Did I miss something in the syllabus freshman year?" Somehow everyone you knew in college seemed to get a memo that when they hit 24, 25, 26, they were supposed to suddenly trade their Forever 21 studded rings in for a diamond the size of an overgrown pimple. You'll be there with them: sitting at an eight-person table at a wedding reception watching people slow dance, getting fitted for your sixth bridesmaid dress (in one year), zooming in on another one of your mere acquaintances' pictures of their ring on Instagram with the hashtag #HePutARingOnIt. You might ask yourself, What's wrong with me? Why am I still single? And after dancing the hora with a bride's parents, and going to another bachelorette party, and calling up another person and exclaiming with a face full of tears how happy you are for them, you will -- eventually --- realize the answer to that question is: absolutely nothing. You are just single.
4. You'll try new things.
I once met someone who was 18 and told me she'd never try online dating until she was in her late 30's -- and only as a last resort. I patted her on the back and said, "Just wait until you have a full-time job." It's harder to meet people when you're working 9-to-whenever-your-to-do list-is-complete and it's easy to get sick of being hit on by guys at bars with tequila on their breath. You'll say "yes" to trying new things and meeting new people when you're single, and those things will be nothing but interesting adventures. You'll do speed dating (once), online dating (a bunch) and may even find yourself on a six-person Grouper blind date. You'll also get drunk off gin and sodas with your girl friends and stay out until 5 a.m. sometimes and go to fancy dinners with work acquaintances and drive two hours to see an art exhibit and plan a vacation to place where you barely speak the language. It will all be fabulous -- or at the very least, interesting.
5. What you look for in a person will change. Often.
After every date, every failed relationship, every time you hear your best friend gush about her new boyfriend or girlfriend, what you look for and what your "deal breakers" are will evolve. When I was 21, I wanted to date guys who were free-spirited and adventurous, who tempted me with fantasies of climbing mountains and jumping out of planes over a rainforest in Costa Rica. But now, at 25, what I look for in someone is more concrete and less ethereal.
6. You'll learn how to fall madly in love with yourself.
You'll relish in the fine art of taking yourself out for a movie on a Sunday afternoon or for some pizza and a beer on a Friday night. And you won't be spending the time worrying that everyone around you is whispering about your solo status. This will be hard. You'll be so terribly lonely before you decide to stop ordering in dinner and binging on Netflix that you'll put on a pair of clean pants and say to yourself, "No plans tonight? Fine. I'll spend the evening deep conditioning my hair and then take myself out for some Pad Thai."
7. You'll learn how to say goodbye.
Your 20s may be the time when you said "I love you" for the first time, or when you had to find out through your Facebook newsfeed that your college love just got engaged or that someone you've been dating for a few months is also seeing someone else. You'll learn, over time, that you have to let go every now and then. That you can't zip-line through life with unfinished love tugging at your heels.
8. You'll create memories that you won't want to (or be able to) forget.
Your awkward dates and your late-night mistakes and the "I can't wait to come home and tell you what happened tonight" text messages are the experiences that'll keep you laughing throughout the rest of your life. Your 20s are what it looks like when you dump the items in your dresser drawer on your floor and your clothes explode all over your room. Slowly, because of your myriad of entry-level jobs and your addiction to Netflix and your constant march toward true indendence, you'll start to pick up the pieces, metaphorically folding your tank tops in one pile and your jeans in the other. Of course, it'll be a mess. But it will be your mess. And it will be a whole lot of fun to clean up.
After all, you're only in your 20s. You have time.
To read more in this series...