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Being single in your 20s teaches you 3 really essential lessons

In the early years of adulthood, a breakup or two… or 10, is bound to affect your life. Not only in your own personal relationships, but those of your closest friends. In these instances you get to take on the role of the rock, the chocolate provider and the companion as they learn to cope without their significant other.

I’ve taken on this role quite a few times. As I took it on recently, it became one of the most rewarding experiences I had in quite a while. It wasn’t enlightening simply because I felt like a good person after drying my best friend’s tears, but because the process of consoling my friend after her breakup helped me learn more about myself, and more about navigating my twenties than I ever expected to.

I was sitting in a drive-thru when my best friend called and I pondered not answering because I didn’t want to be rude to the cashier. However, something felt off. I answered and heard a strained, tear-filled “hello” answer back my greeting, before she proceeded to express that she had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years.

More: 12 Ways dating in your 30s is totally different than your 20s

“Can I come over later tonight?” she asked. I instantly said of course, ignoring my pang of regret at the words. By the time we met at my house it would be nearly midnight. I reminded myself this is my moral obligation as her best friend, to be there for her. So I got through my shift at work, stopped on my drive home to buy her cookie dough and sunflowers. Soon she was crying on my couch and the discussion began. By surprise to me, this is what I learned.

1. Being in a relationship won’t magically make you feel secure.

With a mouth full of cookie dough, she told me despite the overwhelming despair she felt, she had to end it because she constantly felt like she wasn’t enough throughout the entire relationship. I looked at this young girl with a million amazing qualities and wondered how on earth she felt like she wasn’t enough.

Then I realized most of the time I felt exactly the same way. I felt as if I wasn’t enough because I wasn’t in a relationship anymore, and I hadn’t been in one for quite some time. I remembered all the times she reassured me that I was in fact enough, and I was single simply because I refused to settle. I never believed her. Now that the coin was flipped, I realized everything she said was true; I deserve the best just like she does.

2. You need time to be you. You need time to be selfish.

As the night wore on, she expressed to me how she had lost who she really was while catering to someone else for two years at such a young age. She confided in me her need to figure herself out. She desired to live on her own and become her own person.

I realized that in all the time I spent alone, I made every single decision for myself during this crucial time in my life. I worked full-time and was a full-time student. I took amazing internship opportunities because I threw myself into my future instead of throwing myself into someone else. Although I know there is nothing wrong with wholeheartedly being in a relationship, I know for a fact I would have compromised one of the career-building opportunities had I been in a relationship.

More: Thirty-somethings share: What I would change in my twenties

My desire to spend time with whoever it was that I was dating would have trumped these obligations. My best friend thirsted to be secure in her independence, to know she could navigate through life on her own. I learned how to do just that, and I felt more confident than ever.

3. Never let your fear of being alone cause you to settle.

As she expressed how much this teared her apart even though it was simply something she had to do, I recognized her amazing strength in this moment. Despite her immense hurt and her sadness in being single, she was still going to make this decision because she knew she deserved better. She knew she deserved something more than an all-consuming relationship that made her feel as if she was not enough.

I realized if I was in that situation, and I was quite some time ago, I would have never had the strength to do what she did. I would have continued to settle purely based off of my fear of ending up alone. As she continued to tell me she feared she would never find someone she was that close to again, I reminded her how young she was and how much life she had to live and how many people she was still destined to meet. As I said these words, I remembered the numerous people that had told me the exact same thing in my single despair and I never believed them. In this moment I once more realized it’s true for her, and it’s true for me.

As the tears dried and my best friend left, my heart hurt for her, and my mind swam with the relationship advice I gave her. I knew she would overcome the tears and in the process, she would discover herself and the strength that she possessed all along. I realized that I in fact needed to go through the same process.

Although I didn’t endure the pain and heartache of being freshly single, I discovered security in being alone through a breakup that wasn’t mine. Your twenties are a crucial transition period. The time where you figure out the world and yourself. There is something beautiful in learning to stand on your own two feet during this time. A unique confidence grows in knowing you can go at it alone.

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