This past February, with a crew of my closest girlfriends, I entered my 30s in a singing, dancing cloud of cheap hairspray, outdated makeup, and as much neon as I could find. As I passed from one year to the next, I channeled the amazing decade during which I was born—the 80s—to welcome in a new one. I was more than happy to leave behind my twenties; our twenties—the years we spend anxiously waiting to be able to flash a legitimate ID just to get upset when the bartender no longer asks for it—is a somewhat chaotic, tumultuous time all about figuring out who you are, who and what you value, and, ideally, is a time to get your proverbial shit together. And, I am not pulling this comment out of my ass just to drive home a point, either. It comes from years of developmental research that indicates that figuring out who we are and who we want to surround ourselves with is the major developmental conundrum 20-somethings face.
With that being said, one might think that crossing that magical threshold into your 30s automatically indicates that you must know who you are on an existential level, know with whom you want to spend your time (read: life), and have all of your shit together. And crossing this threshold inevitably will happen, and despite an education, career, active social life and community involvement, if one surpasses this milestone as “a single” those around you will assume that there is no way on God’s green Earth that you can have it all together. Nope. If you cross the great divide into your 4th decade of life without a soulmate, you certainly cannot possibly have it all figured out. And, society and Great-Aunt Martha will shame you for it, because obviously giving Great-Aunt Martha a Great-Grand Niece or Nephew should have been at the top of your “Get-Your-Shit-Together” list.
Perhaps you are wondering how I am going to connect this to dating in your 30s or perhaps you have already figured it out. It is simple, really. If you want to be successful with dating—and I am going to define “successful” as ending up with a worthy partner—you have to know who you are and what you value in life, in a partner, and in yourself. I once was on a place from Denver to Atlanta and found myself next to one of Ludacris’s guys. We got to talking and he asked if I was single, to which I begrudgingly replied that I was. And he said “Darlin’, that’s okay. You gotta know what you’re worth, and what you’re willing to put up with”. I’ll never forget it. Now, you’re either thinking that I’m making this up or that Ludacris’s guy has a future in life coaching. I don’t really care either way. Let me be clear: if you don’t know who you are, dating is a waste of your time and, perhaps even worse, the time of the person you matched with on Tinder, who could be spending that time with someone who knows who they are and what they want.
Ladies, let’s try this. Instead of drinking wine and whining over the fact that we can’t seem to meet the right man, let’s spend the time we have with each other figuring out what the “right man” actually looks like (and, not just physically). If we are able to identify what we value in our friends, then we should be able to identify what we value in a partner. eHarmony refers to these things as your “must haves” and “can’t stands.” Use all of those crappy relationships (and yes, if it hasn’t worked out thus far, it falls in this category) to reflect and figure out what you want. Instead of asking “what the hell happened?,” ask yourself “what did I learn about myself and who I am as a person?” Spend time with a therapist revisiting your parent’s divorce, join a MeetUp group of like-minded women with a purpose, drink a bottle of wine and write hardly legible lists in your journal, whatever, just spend time getting vulnerable with yourself before you spend time getting vulnerable with someone else. It is worth it.
And guys, you aren’t off the hook, either. For all you self-proclaimed “black and white thinkers” this is going to be a little uncomfortable. Hang up the Superman costume and put aside the idea that spending time in self-reflection means that you are weak. Newsflash: it means just the opposite! I don’t care if you want to spend 4 months in Puerto Rico serving margaritas from a straw hut—if that is what it takes for you to find yourself and learn who you are and what you want, go for it. Just don’t expect me or any other self-respecting woman to wait for you to come back a new man or accompany you to do the bookkeeping. Spend the time now so you can be ready when the woman of your dreams pops up on your Tinder. No girl wants to get a text saying, “Everything was perfect, but it moved quickly and I panicked.” That is the text from a man who doesn’t know what he wants. Know what you want so you can see it when it is in front of you.
Can we—all the 30-something singles—agree that we will spend some time getting to know ourselves before we spend time trying to get to know each other? Can we agree that we will reflect back on the relationships that didn’t work out and learn something from them? I would guess that our collective relationship experiences have been challenging, heart-breaking, humorous, beautiful, scary, and trying. We have found ourselves on dating apps, websites, blind dates, and sitting on a barstool at your local haunt watching game 5 of the World Series and drinking an overly-hoppy craft beer because you received the aforementioned “perfect” text that morning (hypothetically, of course). So instead of wasting our time swiping and accidentally super-liking someone, let’s spend time super-liking ourselves so that our dates, whether they work out or not in the long run, are more meaningful and less likely to cause you to pay for your own tab and leave the date early at halftime and miss the Broncos getting a field goal and winning by 1. If we all spent just a little more time on ourselves, this whole dating-in-your-30s-thing would suck a little less. If we are willing to take the risks that come with dating, we should be willing to take the risk to get to know ourselves. Just saying.