Romantic relationships in your 20s
Romance. We are all suckers for it (yes, even you guys -- because you know what it leads to!) Images of romance surround us: the couple holding hands at Starbucks, the gazillions of bridal magazines you breeze past on the way to buy toilet paper, or the frolicking couples on billboard perfume ads. Newsflash: real people don't do this.
Since most twenty-somethings are entering their first serious romantic relationship, expectations of what it's supposed to be like are fueled by advertisements and Hollywood rather than real-life experience. And this is where the guys have my utmost sympathy. Unless you have a screenwriter following you around, it is nearly impossible to live up to the movies of the latest Hollywood heartthrob. Let's examine one of the most popular aaahh-inducing lines in a movie: "You complete me" from Jerry Maguire. He even says it in front of a room of the woman's closest friends! After that, the two embrace in a "you-are-my-soul mate" hug.
I bring this line up because I see so many twenty-somethings craving a relationship in the hopes that it will complete them in some way--make them happier, relieve some kind of stress, keep them on par with their peers, or please their parents. The most dangerous thing you can expect or do in a relationship is to hold onto the expectation that the person you are with is there to do something for you. That is not the point of a relationship. A healthy relationship is defined by two independent people who share a love for each other but are not dependent on each other.
Whether you are currently swaying to your own beat, sashaying between different partners, or waltzing with one person in particular, it's important that you take the time to dance alone, to understand your personal rhythm, before matching yours to another. Take some single time, especially in your twenties, to learn who you are sans a plus one. You have the rest of your life to share a tube of toothpaste with someone else so enjoy these years of being on your own -- savor it. Living your own life, making your own decisions about your future, and dealing with the "real world" is a plate-full. Serious relationships can make it more difficult for you to figure yourself out, and not knowing who you are can do damage to future relationships. You will probably change more in your twenties than during any other decade in your life. The person you are at thirty may have a vastly different opinion about what you value in a partner than who you are at twenty-three. So date yourself. Fall in love with yourself.
Okay, so if you are still aching to register at Crate & Barrel, will some statistics make you feel better about staying single and feeling "complete" on your own first? Know that Americans are getting married later and later in life. A USA Today analysis of the new census figures shows that just 23.5 percent of men and 31.5 percent of women ages 20-29 were married in 2006. In 1970, 19 percent of births were to women 25 and up. Now, over 50 percent of births are to women 25 and up. Think of it this way: ideally you'll get married and have a long life together. You'll be with this other person for decades, maybe even over half a century, so what's the rush?
And if you're bummed because you are receiving more wedding invites than junk mail these days, just go and enjoy the chicken dish at your friends' weddings. I know it can be stifling and frightening. It may even make you want to bash your head in with the complementary champagne flute. To make matters worse, your family starts dropping hints about settling down. Or maybe they say you have plenty of time, but you feel like time's running short. Just take a deep breath, swallow the last bite of wedding cake and know that when the time and person is right, it'll happen. Don't compare yourself to other people, even if they are your friends. It's your life and your schedule.
And if you are in a relationship, just be sure that you are conscious of continuing to develop your own sense of identity. Sure, a relationship takes compromise, but maintaining your own sense of individuality and independence is important. Do things alone, enjoy time with friends or on hobbies without your mate and continue to invest in your own personal growth. The best relationship is when two people that complete themselves come together to enjoy each other. Look for your "soul match," not a fantasy "soul mate" who will complete you in some way -- that's your job!
Confused about whether or not you complete yourself? Here are some signs of personal completion:
• Whether you are single or in a relationship, you cherish your alone time. You don't feel lonely. You actually enjoy doing things on your own. A movie or dinner alone does not scare you.
• You can be around other couples by yourself without feeling jealous or sad about not having a significant other (or not having your significant other with you).
• The idea of being in a relationship sounds wonderful, but it is not something you obsess about everyday. If you are in a relationship, it does not consume your daily thoughts or activities.
• You have a clear sense of who you are and what your values are -- another person would not be able to sway you to sacrifice or change the things that matter to you the most.
• You realize you are responsible for your own happiness and do not look to anyone else to make you feel a certain way. You have no expectations of what a relationship is supposed to do for you.
I realize these signs are not exactly the making of a greeting card or blockbuster romantic comedy, but I guarantee you: if you learn how to complete yourself in your twenties, you will eventually attract your "soul match."
Remember, we attract a reflection of ourselves, so consider working on completing yourself as an investment into upping the quality of your lifetime companion.