Last week I had a weird Twitter experience. (I don’t participate in Twitter very much so almost any experience is weird.)
A journalist from Brooklyn (who checked out my book Quirkyalone from his library) tweeted a blog post to me and asked me for my opinion. The post was called “Why Developing Serious Relationships in Your 20s Matters.” It was written by Elizabeth Spiers, the founding editor of the gossip website Gawker and a highly accomplished woman in digital media.
I’ll summarize the post’s argument. If you are an ambitious twenty-something, pay as much attention to your romantic relationships as your work and practice being in a committed relationship. If you don’t, you will be more or less f*$^$%^, because it will be much harder to learn those relationship skills in your thirties. Then you’ll be sorry.
My tweet in response was “people continue learning how to love and be w others their whole lives so i don’t like a fear-based attitude of ‘too late.'”
That was my 140-character response. I’ll say more here. I instinctively recoil to any advice about how to “architect a life” as if there is one way to do it. The author of that post mentors young employees about running a successful business.
But running a life is not like running a business. Life is more of a mystery.
There is no age limit on love. And there is no one-sized-fits-all plan for how to live your life.
We all evolve at our own pace. We learn according to our own circumstances and how our soul gropes through life and expresses itself. We may have biological clocks on having children but we have no expiration date on our ability to grow. If we want to evolve in our ability to love (or create, or learn to be contentedly single) the most important thing is the word “want.” We simply need the desire to evolve and grow. (Studies show that belief is the most important requirement for any kind of change—the belief that change is possible.)
Many people have had a string of serious relationships in their twenties and are unskilled at being in a healthy partnership. Many people learn how to really love later on in their forties, fifties, sixties, even seventies! I’ve witnessed the stories of people who feel like they never really had a healthy partnership and are opening themselves up to develop one. I listened to one such story of a woman in her early seventies. It is never too late. I shared this post with a friend in her late 50s. We agreed that it is also absurd to think that you could learn everything you need to learn about relationships in your twenties–and then enter your thirties as an “expert” knowing it all. You simply don’t have the depth of life experience you will have in your fifties or later. It would be nice to think that you arrive at a certain age and have it all figured out, but that’s a fantasy. The learning never stops!
Wouldn’t it be disappointing if you could figure it all out in your twenties. How boring would that be for the rest of your life?
The worst part about this kind of one-size-fits-all advice is the shame factor that goes along with it if your life hasn’t gone according to the advised plan.
If you didn’t have the requisite number of “serious relationships” in your twenties it would be easy to think “I f@#$@# it up. It’s over for me. No one would want me now.” You think there is something wrong with you and your not-good-enough relationship history. That shame of thinking there is something wrong with you is exactly what prevents connection because it makes us hold back. We all evolve and grow at our own pace. We learn a lot from relationships. And we learn a lot being single and contributing our gifts to the world.
We continue to evolve our whole lives in our own—and yes—quirky ways.
So that is what I think of that article.
On a related note: I help women and men get clear on what they really want in life and relationships in Project Connect. It is truly never too late. It’s all about the desire for a healthy relationship, not your age. If that speaks to you, check it out here.
Yea on your response! I am in my late 40s, have had a number of “serious” relationships, and I feel I am still learning about how to love and be loved. It’s not over till it’s over.
My relationship skills in my twenties were absolutely horrible. Having been an Army brat, everyone had an external shell that hid their inner soul. As a result, I not only learned to hide mine, I was very deficient in reading myself and others. Everyone was a mystery. Relationships were painful. My work relationships always seemed to have a sexual undertone. What a mess. Being Quirky has helped me tremendously in my adult life. I have been able to do some deep introspection not only about my thoughts, behaviors, and inner soul, but also other people are now “making sense” to me. My niece has a Master’s in both Engineering and Business and just now marrying in April to a wonderful man with life experience. They are both in their mid-thirties. Plenty of time for that ticking clock and plenty of time for maturity.
Overseas Brats, also known as Military Brats, come to the party with a whole set of skills and defenses that non-Brats neither have nor understand. I, too, am a Brat, having spent my entire childhood in “foreign” countries and I am absolutely sure that accounts for much of my own Quirkiness.
The tweet of Elizabeth Spiers makes sense to me. It is important to develop skills in relationships, not only develop work skills. True. As true as it is more efficient to start learning a new language when you are young. Or as true as it is more efficient to eat healthy when you are young (instead of fat pizza’s the whole time). True. But definitely uninspiring! The effect of the tweet of Spiers on behavior is probably zero. Or on my behavior it is. Such a tweet is interesting, but it doesn’t move anything inside me. I am even getting in a mood for a dirty pizza now! 😉
Griet (from Belgium)
In my own quirky way, I went the other direction. I paid as much attention to my personal relationships as I did to my career building in my 20’s and 30’s, less in my 40’s and 50’s, and now that I am retired and in my 60’s, I have no interest at all in a romantic relationship. I get to live alone – well, alone without another human; I do have rescue dogs – and love my quirkiness in all its splendor.
You should spend more time on Twitter. It’s just about the quirkiest place on Earth!
James you could be right. Twitter is full of people with singular passions! I can hardly handle Facebook though and still stand by this piece I wrote in 2009: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sasha-cagen/this-is-your-brain-on-twi_b_173723.html
WHAT A CROCK!!! For one thing, romantic relationships are not the only ones you develop throughout your life, unless you live under a rock, or are one of those people who drops your friends once you get into a relationship.
As someone who went through life until AGE 41 (pracically ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE!) without a long-term romantic relationship (I couldn’t seem to make it past 2 months…BTW, also a BRAT, albeit a DIPLOTMATIC one…spent childhood in foreign countries, etc), what Elizabeth Spiers said in her post was my greatest fear! I worried that, once the “right person” finally came along, I would be so ill equipped to handle it that I would ruin it.
WRONG! See, in the years of my 20’s and 30’s, I was developing my friendships, artistic pursuits and most importantly, myself as a human being. I had pretty much gotten to the place where I knew I would be okay (and ~GASP~ even HAPPY!)if I never had a serious romantic relationship. I wanted one, but there were certain things I was just NOT willing to settle on. Lo and behold, started dating someone at 41 and here we are, almost 3 years into our relationship, and I find I am perfectly capable of co-sustaining it. And if it ends, I know I am also perfectly capable of being happy by myself.
The world is already skewed in favor of couples and families and it can be REALLY DIFFICULT to find your own authentic life and voice as it is without someone perpetuating the fear that if you don’t find it in your twenties you’re just OVER, especially since it is NOT TRUE.
Hi Carolynne, Loved reading your story. That was part of the reason I wanted to write this post, to open up the space so we can hear other perspectives. The last line of your comment is absolutely true–so we need to hear other stories to keep our centers and not let advice like this inflame our worst fears.
Sing it, sister! BTW, I discovered the Quirkyalone quiz (through Get Crafty) in my mid-30’s and remember being SO EXCITED that someone had finally coined a term for what I was. Was also wonderful to find out there were many more of us out there than I originally suspected!
Carolynne, I agree with your comment so much. Also, the manic NEED in the article for a romantic/sexual/whatever relationship steamrolls the ACTUAL need to learn how to be a fully functioning single person before launching into relationships…because of reasons. One of my favorite quotes is “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I, for one, am much more equipped to start thinking about that line of relationship possibility in my 40s than I was in my 30s or my 20s. And frankly, 40 years of watching too many people try too hard to force relationships because…that’s what you’re supposed to do…has made me even less inclined to date or seek out that kind of relationship. If I cross paths with someone who makes sense to me that way, then by all means! I’m there and all kinds of happy about it. But I’m much more happy being quirkyalone single until/unless that happens.
In addition to that, I don’t feel remotely old at 40. Her blog made it sound like anything after 30 is shopping-for-walkers. One of the joys and freedoms I like about being quirkyalone is letting go of the prescribed timeline for when you need to hit expected milestones and how you’re supposed to feel at a certain age. Who needs that? Not this cat.
THanks very much for sharing your story with us fellow quirkies. As someone in my fifties who also started dating later in life, and having been divorced for many years,(a sole ‘serious’relationship after that but am basically long-term solo) I agree one hundred percent that developing your SELF,pursuing your interests, and refining your ‘relationship skills’ in developing and retaining good friend-relationships is absolutely essential to a happy healthy life in your youth but also beyond this -no matter if you’re single, in a relationship or whatever. Your balanced attitude is terrific and did move me to try and be more inspired in my own self-enrichment, and less into being sad about what I don’t have right now. Thank you again.
I see articles such as this one, instilling fear about needing to have a serious relationship in your 20’s, and others like it, as part of what could be called, just like there is a “consumer machine,” there seems to be “relationship machines,” or “marriage machines.” Isn’t the wedding industry a very profitable one? And isn’t the reality that more people are living alone now than ever before, and liking it? I also see these kinds of fear instilling articles as a kind of backlash against those are content alone. When it starts to seem more like “I NEED love,” or “you NEED to do romance by (X amount of time)” This is wrong. Romantic relationships should be chosen, to enhance, not borne out of neediness.
Did you see the Atlantic article from 3/5, “Women in the 20s Shouldn’t Feel Bad About Wanting a Boyfriend”? http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/03/women-in-their-20s-shouldnt-feel-bad-about-wanting-a-boyfriend/273737/
In case it matters, I am well over 40, never married, have had multiple multi-year relationships, 1 actual and 4 close encounters with engagement rings. I have my own small business and a life that I am shocked EVERYONE doesn’t envy.
WOW. I needed this. I’ve been in a superfunk for the past two weeks because my life hasn’t gone according to plan.
As for the article by Elizabeth Spiers, I have to respectfully disagree. It’s my staunchly uncompromising romantic, adventurous nature that made me hold out for something special (which I damn sure wasn’t finding in New York City) take a leap, and move to Austin, TX to carve a new life for myself where I met the love of my life.
No fear, no regrets.
I had the privelege to be married twice. Once in my 20’s anmd once in my 30’s. My first marriage, only 2 years long was a mixtures of poor choices and young age. My second marriage of 9 years was to a man I loved with every part of my being but he eventually wanted out anyway. The reason I still believe these both were priveleges are becasue even with the pain and hurt involved they created the 43 year old woman I am today. I never regreat anything in my life I have lived through, I learn from them and have realized they have gotten me to where I am today and if even 1 thing changed I would be a different person today and alter my future tomorrows. So as I start my 44th year of life next week, I do so single, strong and quirkyalone…i can’t wait to see where it takes me…
I wonder if I am perhaps in an interesting position of agreeing with both sides of this debate. I certainly view myself as a Quirky, uncompromising romantic. I’m free spirited and always follow my own path. I enjoy life by travelling and living across the world, meeting new friends and having new experiences.
I am also 30 years old, recently married and want a life with children in it, as well as continued travel and adventure of course! Perhaps I am lucky to have found a quirky-mate who views life the same way that I do at a time when I still have the option of children. It’s almost impossible to say how I would feel if I had never met him.
I have to agree with Griet that the article does make sense to me but I also agree that it’s not very inspiring. We are all different and we all follow our own path, or at least we should! If you want a spouse and kids, this article is completely logical. If you don’t, ignore it and do what makes you happy. 🙂
I, like Carolynne, am now in my first long-term relationship (longer than 4 months) and I’m nearly 39. We’ve been seeing each other for almost a year and it snuck up on me gradually. I had given up on ever having a healthy romantic relationship because there are so many “you are broken if you haven’t done x by the time you’re y.” I think giving up (and no, this isn’t the trite “once you give up, you’ll find The One” wives tale) helped me to focus on myself and really learn to love myself and to enjoy my own company. My years of being alone made me what I am today and I wouldn’t give that up. It’s really cool to finally feel the sensation of “being in love” and to feel trust and trusted, but as Carolynne says, “And if it ends, I know I am also perfectly capable of being happy by myself.”
Loving yourself is the key, and that includes appreciating your personal quirkiness.
So here’s another “I was too screwed up in my 20s to have a healthy relationship, good thing that wasn’t the end of things” vote.
Reading all this nearly made me weep – tears both bittersweet and from relief…
At 54, I have never really had a serious relationship. The closest was 26 years ago, when a close friend and I crossed the line. Things were seemingly fine until the 5-month mark when I made the mistake of telling him that I loved him. After that, though we continued sleeping together and seeing each other regularly (several times a week) for another 8 months, the sex ended (save for one instance 2 months before the end). There have been a few other men, but those relationships occurred years apart, and rarely lasted 6 months. It’s not that I didn’t want a mate – I yearned for one – but there simply was no one interested in an attractive, passionate, intelligent woman who happened to be a double-digit dress size. (I’m not obese, but definitely large-framed. When I lost over 40 lbs. many years ago, I went from a 16 to 14, 12 in pants.) I tried everything I could to get a date – classifieds (remember those?), online sources, friends – but on the rare occasion that one date arose, a second rarely happened.
Fortunately, much to my surprise, turning 50 was a milestone. Just like someone waved a magic wand, my longing disappeared… It’s now 6 years since my last boyfriend. I am happy and content in my life, especially as the lack of a partner is more than balanced by many rich intimate friendships. Sure, I’d love to explore the great frontier of a partnership, but I do not expect it to happen. The single men I meet simply do not see me as a prospect. They’re 20+ years younger (I’m very active in yoga) or my age, seeking a woman 15+ years younger.
Thank you so much, Sasha, for all you do! I discovered you years ago when Quirkyalone was written up in Utne Reader. For the first time, I felt that I was not a weirdo in romance.
It’s Paula White. How are you? Thanks for the post. I’ve been meaning to tell you about this article featuring Maria Shriver in the AARP magazine during the December 2013/January 2014 issue. Just like me,she would know A LOT about the subject of this post, wouldn’t she?
Anyway, she said something that is highly applicable: “I was trying to reimagine my life. You have to be willing to let go of the life you planned in order to make the life you’re meant to live.”
I couldn’t agree more.
I’ve been learning how to relate to other humans (including setting boundaries with hostile or clueless sub-humans) all my life.
I ain’t not never been married, either. (To use vernacular meant purely for self-amusement.) I’m ever-single (what old-fashioned people still call “never-married”, as if we are defined by our “marital” status – and it has conferred “status”) and childfree (what old-fashined people call “childless”).
I think that explains the seeming contradiction of people who find it makes sense but is uninspiring. Spiers makes the ASSumption, which makes an ass out of here but not me, that you have to be married or seriously coupled to learn how to relate to people. WTF? Removing that ASSumption, and seeing the value in learning to relate to others outside of a societal straitjacket definition of a relationship, would make her lame assumption get up and walk and make some sense.