Here, a checklist of experiences to try before settling down. By Amy Spencer
This article is currently published on Match.com’s online dating and relationship advice magazine at Happenmag.com
1. Travel alone. Whether you’re trying to find your way through the Paris Metro or the London Underground, haggling over a painting in Mexico or choosing where to bed down in the Badlands, traveling by yourself builds a confidence you simply can’t get any other way. In an unfamiliar place, you have to make decisions by yourself, for yourself every day, which will build a self-reliance you’ll always treasure—even when you become part of a twosome.
2. Wallow in the ache of a broken heart. Oh, the pain. The agony. The pints of Ben & Jerry’s in front of the cable TV. Yep, getting dumped is beyond awful, but guess what? It’s the only way that you’ll develop the empathy you’ll need to be a better partner in a relationship. Because if you’re sensitive to the grief someone else has caused you, you’re less likely to do the same to anyone else. So, consider this painful milestone a lesson in karma that’ll serve you well as you travel through your dating days.
3. Spend a weekend with a married couple your age. On lonely nights, it’s common for single folk to envision marriage as a cozy scene from a J. Crew catalog. But spend 48 hours with a real couple and you’ll learn that in between the snuggling and pet names comes growling, bickering, silent treatments and maybe even a slammed door or two before they ultimately compromise. It will show you what married life is like, warts and all, so you won’t over-idealize the two-becomes-one phenomenon again.
4. Don’t come home all night. That’s right, wild thing. Crash on a friend’s couch, take your friends up on that offer of a last-minute trip… Once you have a mate, you can’t just take off on your own without explanation. And, truthfully, you won’t want to. So if you don’t have someone you have to call and check in with every few hours, take this opportunity to check out!
5. Stand up for a cause you care about. Whether you volunteer to help register voters for the next election (why not start early?) or convince your neighborhood or apartment complex to start recycling, get fired up over an issue when you have the time to devote to it. It will remind you that while, yes, finding your soul mate is pretty darn important, there are other issues at stake in the world that could use your help. And besides, the big-heartedness you’ll be cultivating is very attractive.
6. Have a real adventure. Learn to fly a plane, surf some big waves, or start your own business. Give yourself a high by doing something just for you, just for the experience—without having someone at home worrying about you or nagging you not to. Oh, and one more gift with purchase: Think about how much fun you’ll have telling your next date about your daring experience.
7. Learn how to take care of yourself. Being solo shouldn’t keep you from cooking for yourself, so learn how to make an impressive meal for one (even if it’s mac and cheese with your own three-cheese spin). While you’re at it, learn how to back up your computer hard drive and sew on replacement buttons. You’ll feel strong and self-sufficient—and you’ll be well armed with skills to share when you are in a relationship.
8. Buy something hugely impractical just because you love it. Once you’re in a relationship, you’ll start thinking about your partner before you purchase pricey items—not just “Will he or she hate it?” but “Is this where I want to be putting my money if we’re saving for a wedding?” The single life means a single bank account and an excuse to blow a wad of cash without (some of the) guilt. So, make yourself happy and buy something you crave, whether it’s an expensive vintage movie poster or a macked-out mountain bike.
9. Develop a hobby. Learn to woodwork, play acoustic guitar, speak French, DJ on turntables, or make digital short films for fun. Of course you can (and should) still have hobbies when you’re dating someone, but your solo time is prime time to devote yourself to something that makes life more interesting for you—and makes you more interesting to others.
10. Be completely, utterly, wholly single for at least three months. Hop-scotching from one relationship to the next can do you a disservice. Why? Because you’re never more ripe for self-reflection than when you’re on your own—and the more you know yourself, the more likely you are to find someone who’s right for the real you.
Amy Spencer writes about relationships and other topics for Glamour, Maxim, Real Simpleand Cosmopolitan magazines. She personally swears by all of the above—though she admits to being a little too chummy with number 8 on the list.