When you’re in your teens, the concept of dating is fresh and exciting. New relationships are full of surprises and adventures, and that’s part of the fun. Then in college, with several hundred single people everywhere you turn, it’s easy to meet someone through in class, at school activities or around campus. Something changes when you set out into the “Real World,” though, and have to deal with full-time jobs and expensive rent for that dream apartment you just had to have. Or maybe just trying to find a job — any job — and a reasonably nice apartment to live in.
Alissa Erin, 27, entered the twenty-something singles scene a year ago after she realized that her five-year relationship with her then-boyfriend no longer made sense. “It should have ended about a year before it actually did,” she says. “We moved in together, and I thought that would bring us closer together. But it ended up doing the exact opposite.”
Caring about someone and wanting to spend the rest of your life with them are two different things. When her ex-boyfriend started talking about the M-word (marriage!?), Alissa knew that it was time to end the relationship.
“I would immediately change the subject,” she recalls. “I felt trapped, so I finally ended it. He didn’t take it very well at first, but it was the right decision.”
But being a single woman in your twenties brings on questions from relatives and acquaintances about your unattached status. People wonder aloud why you’re still single, why you’re not married, or at least engaged, and what do you plan to do if you hit 30 and nothing has changed. Exploring the dating world in your twenties can be a challenge, just as much as riding solo. How can you rock the singles scene as a happily single twenty-something or a single-and-looking post-grad?
Realize that your single status is totally rockin’ on its own, too. Considering that there are 54,250,000 other people in the United States in the same situation, you’re not alone. You might even be in great company. Taylor Swift, 24, once told Seventeen, “I’m perpetually single. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.” It’s possible to embrace your singleness without closing yourself off to the possibility of love. Actress Charlize Theron, too, was happily single, but then she started dating Sean Penn and is happy in love too.
Do that “Cool Thing” you’ve always wanted to do. Maybe your last significant other didn’t share your interest in bungee jumping, so you just never followed through with it. Or you wanted to backpack across Europe, but your relationship held you back. Now is your chance! According to Alli Burg, marketing confidence coach, being single means that you have plenty of time to devote to yourself and your interests. “The best part for me about being single is the solo one-on-one time to really assess, confront and embrace aspects of my life that may or may not be working,” she writes on EZ Dating. “You only consider yourself in these instances, which can help uncover true and helpful insights.”
Try online dating, at least once. Your twenties tend to be a busy time because you’re working or looking for work and are often always on the go. Meeting people in person is awesome, but breaking the ice over the Internet can introduce you to people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. “I’ve been blogging for a few years now and have made a lot of friends because of it,” says Alissa. “So it was natural for me to start online dating. [The guy I met on Match] was very nice, but he was recently divorced with two young children and it was clear that we weren’t on the same page.” While you might not find a perfect match, online dating gives you the opportunity to expand your dating pool and narrow down what kind of relationship you’re really interested in.
Forget the list. You know which one. We’re not suggesting that you lower your standards because you absolutely deserve the best. But don’t discount the ones who don’t look like Zac Efron or sing like John Legend. According to Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, your list should include character traits like honesty and kindness but be flexible on superficial requirements. “Know for sure what your deal breakers are,” Meyers told CNN. “Some people get caught up in, what I call, the picky problem, meaning they create a checklist that is so rigid, hardly anyone makes the cut.” Relying on a narrow checklist—he must be over six-feet tall, he should work on Wall Street—might be restricting your potential to meet someone real. That 5-foot-8 handyman could be writing a literary novel on his off-hours and be the soul mate you were looking for, but skipped because he didn’t satisfy the height requirement on your list.
In the end, dating (and being single) in your twenties is what you make of it. “I’ve learned a lot about myself,” Alissa says. “The last time I was single, when I was 19 or 20 and in college, things were a lot different back then. I was willing to accept way less than what I deserve, and now I know that I’m okay on my own. I no longer panic and cling to someone who isn’t right for me.”