Getting your heart broken in your 20s is one of the most utterly traumatic privileges you could ever have in your formative years. I call it a privilege because nothing puts things into perspective like feeling as though you have hit rock bottom. Coping often involves daily trips to McDonald’s and knowing which public bathrooms you can cry in without getting caught. The only thing I discovered to be harder than going through heartbreak in your 20s was learning to love being alone.
Getting your heart broken in your 20s is one of the most utterly traumatic privileges you could ever have in your formidable years
Like your average college-educated, family-oriented, career-driven girl, I spent the majority of my free time in my early 20s searching for a boyfriend. In between getting over my college ex and swallowing my pride and dabbling in online dating, I fell in love – the I-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-with-you kind of love. I turned into a flaky, doe-eyed girl with a crush so big I wondered why anybody ever did anything besides try to fall in love. I spent countless dinners with my friends getting advice every time I got in a fight with my boyfriend, and countless hours by myself rationalizing why all the red flags in a relationship were really more like blips on the path to sheer happiness.
Just as quickly as I had updated my Pinterest board featuring my dream wedding with no budget, I was dumped. The friends and favorite restaurants that I had made “ours” evaporated so quickly I almost convinced myself I had made the whole thing up. Then it sunk in that I was so alone, as in: table-for-one, spinsterhood-is-in-sight alone. Months into grieving the devastating loss that was our genetically gifted, hypothetical children I had imagined, I had the epiphany that the freedom I had in my 20s was a one-time shot. I had no mortgage, no kids and nobody to answer to besides my boss and the IRS. So why on earth was I spending that precious time, while my backside still defied gravity and wine on Sundays was a common practice, making my life all about a man? Or even worse, why was I defining my college-educated, family-oriented, career-driven self in a negative light because of one failed relationship?
That is when I began what I will coin my “20-something walkabout.” The time when I decided to leverage my worry-free lifestyle to do nothing but selfishly discover what made me happy, and do some serious self reflection to figure out what I loved about myself. A practice I realized, much like binge watching the ‘Real Housewives,’ one can only do alone and not while in a relationship. I started trimming the fat in my life, and not just ending my months-long McDonald’s pity party, but trimming the negative and insecure behaviors from my life, which I had once let take over my personality when I lost myself in a relationship.
Anybody can live happily ever after with a man, but not everybody can put in the legwork beforehand to be proud of who they are as an individual once the fairytale is over
Even after embarking on my walkabout, I have not figured out why no one ever encouraged me to strive to be alone in my 20s. Instead I have received so much advice on how to land a guy or how to move on from a breakup that I could easily write a self-help book titled “How to Get a Guy and How to Get Over Him: Why You Should Save it for Your 30s.” I wish somebody had sat me down and explained to me that my 20s is debatably the only period of my life, when I could do some self-indulgent soul searching and have enough wisdom to be able to do it constructively. Anybody can live happily ever after with a man, but not everybody can put in the legwork beforehand to be proud of who they are as an individual once the fairytale is over.
Editor's note: Read Diana Oates response "Dear singles: Life isn't over after you say 'I Do'".