I have watched countless friends, family members and classmates long for romantic relationships. They crave it. They actively seek it and deem it life’s ultimate purpose. They live in a false reality that finding “the one”means that they have made it. And they believe that finding this person and settling down means they have proven themselves to others and they are worthy - of love, of happiness, of life itself.
My little sister of 18 - a senior in high school getting ready to enjoy prom, graduation and her entry into college - just experienced her first major breakup. She had been dating a boy for five months, and she described her post-breakup feeling as “emptiness.” But this emptiness does not come from a lack of him, but rather, a lack of her.
My sister has lived in the same small town her entire life. She has years to live, cities to visit, people to meet, and to be honest, she doesn’t really know who she is. She placed so much of her worth and identity in this other person that she feels lost without him.
I watch these thoughts, feelings and words of dependency unfold not just from my sister but also from other people around me - I watch friends push aside their dreams and careers, their values and ideas for another person they swear they cannot live without. I counsel middle-school girls who hop from one relationship to the next, tossing love around like a rope at sea. I coach high school athletes and watch them commit themselves to boyfriends because, at that moment, they want their relationships to become something permanent. I have watched engagements happen too soon, leading to divorce shortly afterwards.
That’s not to say women who are married to their high-school sweethearts or who found significant love at a young age were misguided. But the women who are clinging to this false hope that a relationship equates happiness, the women whose sole motive is to settle down with someone because they fear singleness, they will live by these illusions forever unless they fight back.
How can we begin a serious relationship if we do not know ourselves? How can we jump into a career if we do not know we enjoy it? How can we commit to living in a city if we do not know it fits with our lifestyle? Sure, risk-taking can be positive and healthy. But, there is a time and a place for that; there is also a difference between taking a conscious risk and being reckless with your life. We have to approach relationships, careers, big moves, education - the big decisions in life - in a way that will propel us to be the best we can be for this world today. And that starts with self-exploration.
So, how do you practice this? How do you get to know yourself?
If you have the resources, visit as many new places as possible. Plan your next three-day-weekend in a new state. Pick the mountains over the beach next time you get the choice. See the world and the diversity within it.
If finances are tight, go even simpler: Drive 20 minutes out of town to watch the sunset. Shop at a different grocery store. Research the top ten things to do in your hometown and go do them. The world is vast.
The other day, I sat down for lunch at Whole Foods, and a gentleman asked if he could pull up a chair. Rather than staring mindlessly at our phones, we had an engaging conversation about life, family and traveling. I learned about new places to see in Phoenix, and he learned that my generation isn’t as bad as he thought.
There are billions of people living in the world and billions of stories filled with challenges, triumphs and defeats. Learn about them. Learn from them. And apply them to your own life. We live in this world together, so why not make the best of it with one another?
Creation is broad. What matters is that you are making something new in this world - something directly from your heart and soul. Journal. Draw. Paint. Write a book. Build a birdhouse. Map out a road trip. Design a website. Learn the guitar. Create poetry. What you create from your heart tells a lot about who you are, what you like and what you dream about.
Then, share your creation! Express yourself through your chosen medium, and let others see that side of you.
4. Collect And Reflect
Through all of your journeys and adventures, collect memories - tangible or not. Keep photos, postcards, bumper stickers, coins from foreign countries. Collect scents and tastes - remember the way the horse’s saddle felt when you when rode through the mountains or the lights in Time Squares when you watched the ball drop or the words of wisdom people of all ages and races shared with you.
And stay in a state of constant reflection. It’s one thing to visit the Grand Canyon and keep a stone you found there, but how did that memory affect you? Did it inspire you to reach for bigger and better dreams? Did it make you feel big or small? Reflect and remember.
And through all of this - the traveling, the talking, the creating, the collecting and the reflecting - you become dependent on yourself. You figure out the subway system on your own. You learn how to speak for yourself in another country. You learn how to answer the questions about your interests confidently. You learn about the dreams you have, how to chase them and how to make them visionary. And every ounce of exploration you do on your own - in your singleness - you learn to be independent.
You’ll begin to understand your values, what work brings you happiness and what doesn’t. You learn that sometimes, selfishness is okay. You’ll learn how to make yourself happy without relying on another person for it. Singleness is a gift - an opportunity - not a hinderance.
Because the next time you face a challenge, like a breakup or a layoff, you will have the tools and strength to thrive through it and come out stronger. You’ll know that you have so much more to offer than what you had or gave to that one person or to that one career.
You’ll know you, and that person is pretty damn awesome.