A year after college, I found myself in an unhappily single place in life. College dating and a couple bad breakups behind me, I found myself clueless about postgraduate dating and even more lost when it came to navigating single life. It seemed like my only options were participating in the hookup culture or focusing all my energy on finding a significant other. I tried both and ended up completely unhappy and lost.
Unlike our parents’ generation, most young people today are not married. I never felt the desire to be a stay-at-home parent, but I didn’t feel comfortable being single, either.
When you’re in your early twenties, there is so much pressure to get the different parts of your life in order that truly embracing single life is really difficult to do. But I finally figured out that the only way I was ever going to be ready for a marriage-oriented relationship was by embracing exactly where I was in life at that moment — and enjoying that. After all, if I wasn’t comfortable with myself, how could I expect someone else to really get to know me?
I decided not to stress about single life one way or the other, and instead set out to live my life the way I wanted to. I made plans to do things I had always wanted to do — even if it meant doing them alone. Instead of always looking outward for fulfillment, I turned inward and tried to really get to know myself. I didn’t need to worry about getting married right now, just enjoy being single.
Here are five things I did to make the most of this single time:
1. Travel alone
Of course, vacationing with friends is fun. But depending on other people for plans can be really limiting at times. Being a lifelong cycling fan, I had always wanted to see the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, a race through Colorado. But (not surprisingly) I didn’t have any friends who were willing to use their vacation time to watch cycling. Instead, I drove 500 miles across the country by myself to spend a long weekend in the mountains and following the race.
As a young woman traveling alone, taking a trip like this was definitely a risk. But it also taught me to be careful and responsible, while still having a great time! I think learning to walk the line between smart and adventurous was an important milestone of adulthood for me.
And guess what? It turned out to be one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had! Admittedly, I’m an extrovert, but I truly think I had more fun and met more people because I was there by myself. To this day, I am proud of myself for making the decision to not wait for someone to go with me.
2. Go on dates
Embrace singlehood by dating — sounds counterintuitive, but I promise it’s not! There are better ways to enjoy single life than going on a dating fast. I found casual dating to be really helpful for understanding the way I get to know people and talk about myself. Dates can help you figure out the kind of person you want to date and the way you want to date when you find someone to possibly have a more serious relationship with.
What is casual dating, you may ask? It means actually going out and getting to know someone — not getting caught between hooking up and hanging out. A real date means intentionally getting to know someone. You don’t have to decide if you could marry them, just whether or not you want to see them again next weekend.
Plus, meeting new people is a great way to open the door to new experiences: from trying a new restaurant in town to once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I had a second date take me to a movie premiere where I got to walk in on a red carpet and hear Liam Neeson recite poetry. Even though it didn’t work out romantically, I don’t think either of us would trade the experience.
3. Take up a hobby
Everyone is busy. From work to a social life to staying caught up with Netflix releases, it can feel like you have no free time. Taking up a hobby is a great way to ensure that you are making time for yourself. A hobby isn’t something you do for anyone but yourself — which means they are great for tipping back the scales of work-life balance.
For me, that meant seriously trying to get better at cooking. I had recently switched to a plant-based diet, but that quickly turned into eating almost the same things week over week and was very boring. I bought a vegan cookbook, shopped at the farmers’ market more often, and gave myself more time to make dinner each night. This built-in time away from work helped me spend more time with myself and learn a life-long skill.
4. Give your time to others
What I love about the concept of giving your time to others is that “volunteering” can be as unique as you are. There are countless ways to make a difference in your community: from serving at a soup kitchen to serving on a committee.
I felt strongly about building up a community of young adults in my diocese so I jumped at the opportunity to be on a Theology on Tap planning committee. The dozen hours a month of my time that I gave was very fulfilling to see the result of our work turn into successful social events — not to mention the new friends I made by getting more involved.
5. Discover your personality
When I bounced between hookups and relationships after college, I never took time to embrace my adult self. I had a pretty good idea of who I was in college…but that seems to change as soon as you get a job and move off-campus.
It turns out that there are certain things you should know about yourself before marriage, like your love language or Myers-Briggs type. I set out to discover my true self — and it prepared me so much better for a serious relationship when it did come along.