The Dating Advice I Wish I Had Heard In My Twenties

Sick of all those dating games? You don't have to play along.
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Sick of all those dating games? You don't have to play along.

Sometime between my parents’ generation and my own, our twenties became the time to “find yourself.” To spare ourselves the pangs of waking up one day in an unfulfilling marriage or career, we gifted ourselves a decade of low-pressure dating to figure things out.

New rules for dating during one’s twenties—the details of which no one seems to know—have developed to protect this time of exploration. Generally speaking, the rules prevent ardent, true-love seekers from coming on too strong or from tying others down. It’s not until age 30 that the quest for the elusive “self” is, at last, no longer socially acceptable. This means a thirtysomething can finally discard the strange dating rules of a twentysomething and unapologetically pursue love with purpose and intention.

But what if you are in your twenties and are serious about finding love and marriage sooner rather than later? What if you don’t want to play those dating games?

Even if you are not 100 percent sold on settling down right here, right now, you should skip the twentysomething shtick and date like you’re a thirtysomething instead. Take it from me, dating like a thirtysomething will transform your love life for the better.

01. You will use your time well.

My husband tells me that when he dated in his early twenties, he thought he was supposed to give each relationship a real shot, even when the young lady wasn’t what he wanted in a wife. In effect, he at times pushed aside who he was and what he valued to accommodate the person he was dating. (He is very polite.) This led to some shallow relationships that were mostly a waste of time and prolonged his search for me.

But, when you turn 30, you can’t help but do a simple calculation that tells you your twentieth birthday is as far in the past as your fourtieth is in your future. A thirtysomething realizes that time is precious and stops wasting it on the wrong people.

If you are in your twenties and want to someday find yourself in a loving, committed relationship, understand that you don’t have all the time in the world. It takes time to figure out what you value in a life partner—I'm not talking about whether he eats organic, too, but whether he shares the same core beliefs. If you examine who you are and don’t like it, then that takes some time for fixing, too. So start thinking seriously about marriage now and go out and date accordingly—it doesn’t mean you have to get married at age 23, it just means you don't have to wait until 33 to start.

02. You won’t go breakin' your heart.

When I was about 12, some kids at the pool taught me how to do a back dive. I loved the feeling. I back-dove with reckless abandon, all caught up in myself, the moment, and the physical thrill. When we are twentysomething and young, dating with reckless abandon can have the same strange appeal—there’s a thrill in diving in backwards and blind and telling the stories afterward. This kind of dating encourages throwing your heart and/or your body at many various people, in the name of gaining experience.

In our thirties, the danger becomes more apparent, and the thrill isn't really worth the risk. We’ve seen friends get hurt. We’ve been hurt. And for the most part, no one is better off for it. When you date like a thirtysomething now, you consider both your heart and your potential significant other’s, hopefully leaving you less battle-worn and in a better place to be open to real love when it presents itself.

03. You will find someone who feels like home.

In my mid-twenties I dated a guy who was some kind of charming. We danced, played tennis, and had seriously good banter. This led me to believe we were meant to be, and I assigned to him all the other qualities I was looking for in a mate: depth, character, a willingness to commit, etc. The problem was, he never really exhibited any of these qualities. When we got to discussing more meaningful things in life (yes, I broke the twentysomething rules by broaching sensitive topics too early), he started calling less. He completely ignored me the week of my birthday, and I finally called him to hear the official break-up.

As a twentysomething, the thrill of witty repartee, the allure of an avid outdoorsman, or good ol' chemistry can cloud our judgment. The idealism of our youth leads us to believe that relationships are built on that special spark. But this is not what a home is built on.

In our thirties, we shed a little of this naïve romanticism and think of our partner as our life-mate. Whom do you want to wake up next to… in the middle of the night, with a sobbing, teething baby in the next room? What person would you choose to love you through your middle-aged weight-loss program, or escort you down the aisle at your father’s funeral? This is your life-mate.

Take it from someone who spent all of her twenties dating. Finding lasting love is the best. If you’re in your twenties today and want true love someday, why wait? Start dating like a grown-up now and you are more likely to end up with one when the time is right.