Why I’m Grateful That I Didn’t Get Engaged In My 20s

I learned how to be alone.

Photo by istock

I dove into a slew of crazy, haphazard, confusing, wild, fun, terrifying, anxiety-inducing, blissful, and oh-so-depressing experiences in the whacked-out decade of my 20s.

Photo by Celine Claire 

I had inebriated sex in the elevator of a chic Santa Monica hotel with a person I wasn’t even remotely attracted to on the night of my 20th birthday. In fact, that strange experience sums up my 20s perfectly. Drunken-yet-stylish. Sexy-yet-repulsive. Frowned upon by society-yet-great brunch fodder for the party girls. But really, beneath the entertaining story and the pretty, overly-decorated exterior, it’s kind of sad. It’s sad to f*ck someone you think is vile, even if you’re f*cking them in the Viceroy Hotel right by the Pacific Ocean in one of the most beautiful cities on the West Coast.

Photo by Matt Plunkett

Of all the confusing things I did, of all the wild risks I took, of all the fabulous fleeting moments of reckless fun I had in my 20s; there’s one pivotal thing that I did not do. And that’s get engaged, babe.

Yeah, I fell in love. I had a bevy of long-term relationships and awkward one-nighters and steamy short-lived love affairs, but I never adorned my ring finger with anything closely resembling a diamond. The only diamond to ever come close to these shaky hands in my 20s would be the fake white crystal I used to adhere to my nail polish during my year-long nail-art phase.

I remember sometime around 26 it started happening: All Of My Friends Began To Get Engaged. As my eyes burned in the static glow of the computer screen, as I sat there, exposed and vulnerable and ringless, scrolling through Facebook with a brutal hangover I would think, What’s wrong with me? Why am I the only one that doesn’t feel ready for all of this? And why don’t I even care?

Maybe I’m just missing the gene that makes women want to settle down, I decided, shivering at the word “settle” (for the record I still shiver at the word “settle”).

But here I am years later, still a wild card, only now I’m 31 and freshly engaged– most shockingly, excited to be engaged. And I realize that I’m in the place that I’m in, because in my 20s I was a free f*cking bird.

In my 20s, I didn’t come close to even entertaining the concept of a forever unionship. And I thank my higher power (Lana Del Rey) that I didn’t. Here’s why:

I had horrendous taste in women.

Due to my poor self-esteem and the mixed-up idea that a relationship could only be exciting and “passionate” if it was destructive and unhealthy, I dated a fleet of toxic women.

In short: If you easily erupted into screaming fits, if you disapproved of the core of who I was, if you didn’t believe in “complimenting” your partner, if you were a control freak, a narcissist or a sociopath, I felt obligated to take my clothes off, have sex with you and fall into the throes of a dysfunctional love affair that hacked away at my self-esteem. These people were not really the “marrying kind” unless you’re a surefire masochist. Which I still am, only now I channel my masochistic tendencies into healthier things, like pouring my heart out on the internet only to get bullied by the masses daily!

I moved 11 different times. 

Not having found the “one” in my 20s was such a massive blessing because I didn’t have to compromise my ~wanderlust~ for anyone. I lived in Los Angeles, Manhattan, Brooklyn, back to Manhattan, London, West Hampstead, My Parent’s House In Florida, My Girlfriend’s Apartment In Florida, back to My Parent’s House In Florida, and back to New York City (where I’ve had three apartments in three years).

When I grew bored of a city, I left. When a good opportunity sprung up somewhere random, I took that opportunity, with not a semblance of hesitation and without ever having to consult anyone. I made my own money, built up my own collection of furniture and never, ever, ever had to say “no” to a moving impulse because of another person. And babe. That’s what your 20s are about! Seeing new cities. Figuring out what city you want to lay roots in. Locking yourself out of your apartment in a city where you have no friends yet, and figuring it out on your own. Meeting new people! Bad people. Good people. Confusing people. People who will be your friends for life and people who will be your friends for an unforgettable three-month stint.

Your 20s are about clutching on to all the selfish opportunities that come your way. Your 20s are the decade to be a fiercely independent, wander-lusting bitch who does whatever the f*ck she wants, when she wants, with tons of fear yet zero apologies.

I worked through my shit with a shrink.

When I reached the ripe, old age of 25, I woke up one morning with my heart beating so fast and so hard I thought I was having a heart attack. I drove myself to the hospital, praying to a god I didn’t believe in for the entire car ride there. I don’t want to die on a highway in Florida. God, please don’t let me die on a highway in Florida. 

“I’m having a heart attack!” I screamed to the nurse the moment I flew through the hospital doors.

“You’re having a panic attack!” she screamed back. She gave me a handful of pretty blue pills and within 15 minutes I stopped attempting to convince everyone around me I was in the thick of a life-threatening medical emergency. The moment the Xanax kicked in and my heart rate stopped speeding down the proverbial highway, I realized I wasn’t dying. I was having a panic attack and I needed to see a shrink.

That’s when I met Taylor* the therapist who changed my life.

Two days a week for three years, I sat on her seafoam-colored couch and talked. I talked about high school. I talked about my family. I talked about my sexual traumas and all the nights I blacked out as a teenager and don’t remember what exactly happened but am pretty damn sure that something bad happened, even if I couldn’t exactly put my finger on the specifics. I talked about my binge drinking and my depression and my anxiety and all the fears that consume and paralyze me. I talked about heartbreak and I talked about my dreams for the future and I talked about what I truly wanted out of life.

And sometime around year two, I began to understand myself. I began to understand where the panic attack came from and why I do the peculiar (albeit destructive) things that I do. And once I understood myself in this new, deep way, I began to accept myself for who I was.

Then sometime around year three, I began to actually like myself. I got to a place where I didn’t need a partner to fill the empty voids in my heart and validate my existence. I cultivated this awesome connection and relationship with myself and stopped needing other people to constantly remind me that I was alive. I felt alive, just breathing, all alone in my apartment, and it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me.

I learned how to be alone. 

I was single for all of my time in intense therapy, too. I barely had sex during those years (uprooting trauma can wreak havoc on your sex drive). And by not having intimacy with another entity, as I explored the scariest, most tucked away, secretive parts of myself — forced me to find intimacy from ~within~. And attaining an inner intimacy taught me how to soothe myself when I was afraid. It taught myself how to sexually satisfy my desires when I was horny (which was most of the time as I wasn’t f*cking anyone). It taught me how to make myself laugh when I was bored. Most importantly, it made me a whole, nuanced person.

And when you’re a whole, nuanced person you start to attract other whole, nuanced people. When you’re full of gaping voids and desperately seeking intimacy with another person because you feel so lonely and so terrified to be in your own company, you radiate a certain energy that is very attractive to a very specific type of person: An energy vampire. Someone who can inherently sense that you’re hopeless and vulnerable and easily moldable. They feed off your insecurity and your unconditional love (PSA: Engaging in “unconditional love” with anyone except animals and children, is NOT a good thing). They feast off your unresolved trauma like it’s the sweetest blood to ever exist. They take your bendable body and shape you into the person that they want until one day you look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself.

But when you’re a whole person (and by whole I don’t mean perfect, holy shit, I’m still the most flawed girl in lower Manhattan); when you’re a person who doesn’t require a warm body next to her to stave off the vicious nightmares; when you’re a person who doesn’t determine her self-worth on whether or not she has a partner; when you’re a person who wants a partner but doesn’t need a partner — you’re going to attract a very specific kind of person: An independent person.

A person who will be with you because they love you, not because they need you. A person who will love the authentic, stripped down, raw version of you, and won’t just be projecting an idea of what they want onto you. A person who has already fed themselves so they won’t be tempted to eat your soul and gnaw away at your spirit.

A person who is ready to make a commitment to you. It doesn’t have to be marriage, or monogamy, but a commitment to ride this relationship out for the long-haul.

I wasn’t this person for a long time. I became this person by crawling through the mud of my 20s and navigating the way to the other side, all alone.