My name in Italics perfectly printed on a crisp, white envelope. An invite on a heavy sheet of cardstock adorned with a picturesque background and garmented in lace. Another ‘Save the Date’. Another wedding to attend. Another friend entering into the next stage of life- marriage.
I have been going to my friends’ weddings since I was 19 years old. Let me paint the picture— my family moved to the Bible Belt (Tulsa, Oklahoma, a.k.a. the buckle of the Bible Belt) when I was 16. Church on Sundays and holidays is expected. Neighborhoods were lined with identical, pristine houses with perfectly, manicured lawns and neighborhood watch group meetings to boot. When it came to dating, marriage was the end goal. It was expected.
It wasn’t until I finished my college years that I began to question this very black-and-white, linear system of plotting out relationships like math equations and whether or not it was for me. I always dreamed of being a magazine editor and living the big city life. Few boys in Oklahoma were interested in moving to New York or LA to follow me. I remember my college boyfriend actually telling me that my dreams were too big. While I wanted marriage and motherhood, I wanted it someday, in the future, not then. I was still very much figuring out who I was. No matter how much I wanted to be married— I knew that I was not ready.
Yet, I began to believe that if I did not fit the cookie-cutter system of marrying in my early to mid-20s, then there had to be something wrong with me. No one said it explicitly, but as the ‘Save the Dates’ rolled in so did the questions. Are you dating anyone? Are there any guys in your life? Have you been dating lately? With the questions, came the unsolicited feedback. You’re just too picky. You are intimidating. You should be more open. You are so pretty— you just have to put yourself out there.
As the ‘Save the Dates’ rolled in so did the questions. . . With the questions, came the unsolicited feedback.
The well-meaning feedback felt more like criticism, and it began to pour in from every direction, from family, close friends, acquaintances, coworkers and even strangers. After nearly a decade of voices speaking into my life throughout my 20s, it became easy to believe that romantic love might never happen for me.
I have had many failed attempts in relationships. I have met strangers in coffee shops and exchanged numbers. I have swiped left and right on dating apps with no success. I have even gone on a few dates when I lived abroad. I have had my heart broken and broken some hearts. I don’t regret a moment of it because this process, my process, has allowed me to learn about myself. While it has not always been easy, it has been beautiful. I am stronger than ever— and I really like the woman staring back at me.
Now that I am in my late 20s, I am able to take the comments from others about my dating life with a grain of salt. Because the fact is- this process is mine, not theirs. Just as I should never criticize a friend who married in her early 20s, it is no one’s place to question my dating status. I know now that my process does not have to look like anyone else’s process. Marriage in your early 20s is beautiful but so are the marriages that take place decades later than that. High school sweethearts can last a lifetime, just as a second marriage can hold true to “’til death do us part.” What works for one person, may or may not work for you, but take heart. This is how it should be. Love is not one-size-fits all.
If you are single and perhaps facing criticism from the people around you, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Singleness is not something to be cured.
In a culture that says marriage is supposed to hit in your 20s or maybe 30s, it is important we remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with being single. Throughout my 20s, I have gotten to know myself— both the good and the bad. I have learned my strengths and areas where I can grow. I have learned to communicate often and intentionally. I have traveled and lived in different states and countries. I have taught teenagers, planned events and managed teams of writers. I have had to learn how to stand on my own two feet. I have gotten knocked down and learned to pick myself back up. I have learned, over and over again. Singleness is a gift of discovery. It is not something to rush or wish away.
Singleness is a gift of discovery.
2. Filter the voices allowed to speak into your heart.
I have a close friend back home who is a few years older than me and who got married in her mid-20s. For years, this friend has told me I am too picky when it comes to dating. I typically roll my eyes and ignore her. Finally, one day on a phone call from my North Hollywood apartment, I dared to ask her what she meant. I leaned in perhaps to see if there was any feedback I could take. She said I wanted a gorgeous model-like man who works out all the time. I wondered how this was her takeaway from our previous conversations. I had to try not to laugh! This couldn’t be further from the truth. I know my heart, and while my friend is free to have her opinion, I can choose what to do with that feedback. I get to decide whose opinion will carry weight.
3. Follow people who are where you want to go.
In the battle of filtering voices, I have learned the importance of discerning who gets a voice to speak into my life. I want advice and feedback from people who are where I want to be. Friends who are in loving, healthy, whole (not perfect since there’s no such thing) relationships, they are who I allow to speak into my heart. Someone who is in a dysfunctional relationship does not have a place to give me advice. I want the people who are a step ahead of me in life to advise me. Just because someone is older does not make them wiser. Learn to choose mentors who are where you want to go.