I’m sure you’ve all seen the posts floating around the blogosphere touting the “ideal” path to a happy love life: “23 Reasons to Be Married By 23”, “18 Reasons Your 20s Are Best Spent Single”, “How to Find the Love of Your Life in 5 Easy Steps”. It seems everyone with internet access has an opinion on how, when and why to be in a relationship or be single, and often that your relationship status is somehow the only factor that determines your happiness. I am here to argue that not only is there no one right way to be in or out of a relationship, I am going so far as to make the claim that there is no wrong way either.
Our 20s are tumultuous enough with finding and succeeding in a career, becoming financially independent, and figuring out who we are and what we want to accomplish. When you add the pressure of having to worry about people’s perceptions of your relationship status, it becomes almost too much to bear. We all have fears and insecurities about our love lives. We all wonder whether we are making the right choice when we start a relationship, leave one, stay in one, go back to one, or forgo them altogether. Relationships and singledom are equally scary, often making us feel vulnerable, lost, or confused. Instead of condemning one another for the way we’ve chosen to live our love lives, especially if the decisions depart from our own, I think we 20-somethings should be supporting one another’s life choices and embrace the idea that there is no wrong way to be happy in love and life.
Here are my ideas about why your relationship status is not and should not be the only key to your happiness:
There is more to you than your love life.
Think about all the qualities that make you, you. Think about your career. Think about your dream vacation. Your talents. Your favorite meal. The ways you help the community. Your goals. Your interests. What excites you. What scares you. The way you make a positive impact on the world. All of these things, and many more, are what come together to create your unique character. These things do not disappear or dramatically change dependent on your relationship status. They are special to you and nobody can take them from you or change them without your approval. You get to decide the type of person you want to be, because you are the only one who knows what it means to be you.
There are infinite paths to happiness, some longer than others.
I believe every person has the capacity to be truly, unabashedly happy. This happiness could start in childhood and grow throughout a lifetime, it could be had then lost then found again, or it could take years to define, find, and keep. Happiness can also manifest itself in myriad ways. True happiness could be climbing the corporate ladder. It could be traveling the world. It could be realizing your dream job. It could be marriage and kids. It could be marriage without kids. It could be kids without marriage. It could be anything that gets you up in the morning ready to take on the world. Some people find this happiness at 20, some at 40 or 50 or 80. Some never find it. Some think they found it and then realize they were wrong, only to search for it again. All of these scenarios are possible and all of these scenarios are okay. The point is that there could be a million things that make you truly happy, and a relationship may or may not be one of them. It is up to you to discover what they are. You owe it to yourself to never stop searching for happiness, realize when you have found it, and fight to keep it.
True, unconditional love starts from within.
There is a quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower that reads “we accept the love we think we deserve.” I have never read something more true in my life. This is both empowering and terrifying to think about. We hold within ourselves the power to create and adhere to standards for the quality of love we are willing to accept. This starts with the love we feel for ourselves and then extends into the relationships we have. We cannot accept love from others until we accept love from ourselves. We cannot give love to others until we show love to ourselves. Believe that you are worthy of love, empower yourself with positive affirmations and self acceptance, and find the strength to be happy with you.
You do not need the approval or agreement of others to validate your life choices.
Making choices about the way you want your life to be is scary. So scary, that many of us seek validation from society and our peers because we are terrified of making the wrong decision. We want affirmation that the choices we have made are good ones. We want to be told that what we are doing is right, often at the expense of criticizing the differing decisions of others. If instead of seeking validation from outside sources, we search for affirmation from within ourselves, we will be much more satisfied with and confident in our decisions. We will let go of the need for outside approval, knowing that we’ve made a choice that suits our needs. This will also allow us to become more accepting of the fact that different decisions can result in equal amounts of happiness for different people.
What you lack should not devalue what you have.
No matter how much you have, how great your life is, or how successful you are, there is always going to be something you lack. The sooner you accept this as a truth, the sooner you will be able to realize and appreciate all the wealth and goodness you already have. Realistically, the average person can not, in one lifetime, devote themselves fully to being everything they’ve ever wanted to be. There are simply not enough hours in a day for someone to be a rock star/entrepreneur/parent/doctor/teacher/artist/traveler. Sometimes happiness requires sacrifice. The secret is deciding which of your passions will lead to the most fulfilling happiness, and knowing that this happiness is worth potential losses of other opportunities along the way.