Navigating Relationships in Your 20s

As human beings we are social creatures by design.  We are not meant to be alone and certainly not meant to live alone.  Somewhere around the age of 12 we all experience the desire to be with a special someone.  Unfortunately, schools do not teach us about friendships and relationships.  We learn by watching what other people do, what our parents do, and, unfortunately, what we see on television and the internet.  The last two, of course, are absolutely the worst places.  Still, we all seem to get into relationships that are doomed from the start.  Women, unfortunately, settle for “Mr. Right Now” instead of waiting for “Mr. Right.”  Men look for someone to take care of them, someone to replace mom.  We men will never admit to that but it is true.

Life is all about priorities and choices.  Young people, myself included when I was young, I am 66 now, seldom prioritize anything and are prone to bad choices.  Also, life is messy, just accept that truth and do not worry about it.  As much as you might think you do, you definitely do not know what someone else is thinking about you, never assume.

I recommend that all young people stay in school as long as possible.  Getting well-educated for young people must be priority number 2.  That assumes that priority number 1 is taking care of yourself and whatever that means.

It is not just young people who find the concept to self-care illusive, it is older adults as well.   I believe the most basic element to solving absolutely any problem we have or will have is that we keep a very sharp focus on taking care of ourselves.  Those basic things include eating healthy, annual visits to our primary care physician and dentist, regular exercise, and even something as basic as dressing ourselves.  The old cliché’ of dress for success is true.

That done we need to have a plan for our future.  This is also a self-care issue.  Until we finish the highest level of education possible or necessary, our education has to be priority number 2.  Few people at age 18 know what career they want to pursue.  Even some of those who think they do really do not.  What I recommend is that high school seniors who are undecided do one of three things: 1) take a year or two off from school and enter the work force while you discover yourself, 2) join the military, 3) when you enroll in the college of yourself do not decide upon a major, go as “undeclared.”  During the first one or two years in college there are more than enough courses all college students must take to qualify for a degree.  Those courses almost always are enough to fill a freshmen year and at least in part a sophomore year.  And during that first and second year discover what truly thrills you.  Discover what your dream career is and then ask questions of college advisors what it takes to achieve the highest level in that career.  With a few exceptions, physicians, lawyers, nurses, and some others, your course of action will probably not be obvious.  But regardless of what college you attend, there is someone there who can give you the advice you need going forward.

I have a B.S. in computer science and a masters in U.S. History.  The latter degree came from an extremely good university and I pursued that degree because I really like U.S. history.  But had I had my senses about me after I finished my time in the army, I was 21 at the time, I would have pursued a career in astro-physics.  At the time I would have complained that I sucked at math.  But the truth was simple, I did not know how to study and overcome obstacles.  Math would have been tough but manageable had I had a plan.  When I retired at age 58 I was sprinting away from a 30 year career because I simply could not stand going to work anymore.  I made a lot of bad choices and did not have the courage to pursue my dreams.

Between the ages of 18 and 25 young people are usually absolutely obsessed with being with that special person.  And unfortunately this obsessions becomes priority number 1 in their life.  In my priority list here it does not belong even in 3rd place, still too high.  But relationships in general do belong in place number 3.  One of the craziest ideas people have is that they should never date a friend for fear of ruining a friendship.  I believe people who think that way have only a tenuous hold on what makes a good relationship.

Our most important relationships necessarily are with our family of birth.  Our parents and siblings are our first relationships and given all the years such relationships exist, should be our best.  Too many times, however, that is not true.  Sometimes it is for good reason but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.  Young people, myself included at the time, think our parents do not understand us.  It is a ridiculous thought but prevalent.  What we all need to do is put forth whatever effort is required to understand our parents, where they came from and from that why they are who they are now.  There is no substitute for understanding.  Within the family unit one of the most common negative emotions felt is resentment.  Resentment, along with jealousy, is one of the most useless feelings we all have.  Resentments are founded in fear, doubt and insecurity and serve no good purpose.  When you feel a resentment ask yourself why and what happened to make you feel that way.  Then take good honest look at yourself to find the role you played in developing that resentment.  That done, let it go, get over it.  Resentment is the poison you drink while you wait for the other person to fall ill.

I have three daughters.  When she was in high school my eldest daughter came to me and complained that she did not have any friends, that no one liked her.  I knew that could not be true and asked her if she had one good friend.  She responded that she did.  I told her that she already had all the friends she needed and to not worry about anyone else.  She later told me how good that advice was when she suggested to her younger sister that she come to me about friendship advice.  It is my belief that people should practice being a friend and how to have friends prior to moving on to something more serious.  That is not to say you should not date, you should.  Just refuse to commit to anyone before you are ready and certainly not before you have the friendship concept down cold.

It is at this point people oft times find themselves interested in a good friend for a more serious and intimate relationship.  If you still feel you cannot be intimate with that person for fear of ruining a good friendship then I suggest you still do not have the friendship concept down.  Why would you want to be in an intimate relationship with anyone who would not also qualify as a best friend?

Try to avoid getting married before you are 25.  Considering 50% of all marriages fail, why not wait it out as long as possible?  I am not saying you cannot find that right person prior to 25 you can.  But when you think you have that right person in your life make sure you ask and answer the tough questions.  You want someone who is secure, devoted, monogamous, honest and who, when you are not engaged in sex or having a conversation with, you can sit quietly with and enjoy their company fully.  This is also the person who, when you are about to do something dumb, will lovingly suggest you consider your options.  This is the person who is not jealous, always courteous, thoughtful, and loves you when you are at your worst.  This is the non-judgmental person with whom you share your greatest fears and who knows all your shortcomings and loves you all the same.  But even my short list here suggests that you must be willing to invest a serious amount of time in the relationship prior to agreeing to marriage.

The long and short of all this is simple, make sure you can exist happily on your own before you make a commitment to be with anyone else.  Sometimes even with our best efforts relationships fail.  And when they do, do not be that person who has to scramble to find a place to live, to feed yourself and otherwise take care of yourself.  Do not be the person who will have difficulty in making ends meet.  Do not be the person who thinks because the relationship failed you are a failure too or that you are unlovable.  And definitely do not be the person who, on the heels of that failed relationship, quickly jumps into another because you feel desperate, lonely or anything else that puts you in a negative light.  Without being annoying or narcisstic about it, always consider yourself a catch and that whoever might want to be with you should be lucky to have you.


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