Written by Kelle Salle
Image by Winnie Harlow
I never received helpful advice about love as I was approaching my 20’s. What I was told about love and relationships wasn’t very encouraging, so I went into my 20’s not really knowing what to expect from guys and eventually ended up learning every lesson love wanted to teach me the hard way. Hindsight is a beautiful thing because I now know that I had a very naïve and limited view of love when I was in my 20’s. Somewhere along the line, I stopped believing I was worthy of love so I’d always go for the guys who were wrong for me.
Growing up in a single parent household also had an impact on the quality of my relationships. I would always accept and glorify the bare minimum, which was always a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t until my last relationship ended that I was really willing to receive the lessons love wanted to teach me. I needed to self-reflect in a way that I had never done before, which involved checking myself and focusing on the learnings instead of what happened in the relationship.
Now I’m in my 30’s, I have a much better idea of what I want and need from a relationship. I’ve also been able to do a lot of inner work to unlearn all of the unhelpful things I’ve been told about love. Here are a few things I wish I knew about love in my 20’s:
Love isn’t enough
Many of us have been led to believe that love conquers all because of what society and the media tells us. Movies and TV shows sell us the biggest dreams about love but the reality is that it takes a lot more than love to make a relationship work. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone in their 20’s who is actively dating, it would be to focus on the characteristics you desire in a partner. Make a list if you have to. Of course a potential partner won’t tick every box, but if you focus on character before everything else, it will be a lot easier to cut off the guys that aren’t right for you.
Stop forcing things
The thing about interest is that it doesn’t come with guarantees. I know how difficult it can be when you put yourself out there hoping for the best and almost all the dates you go on seem to disappoint. Forcing yourself to go on dates with guys you don’t actually like or forcing a relationship that you know isn’t right for you will only make you unhappy in the long run. If you feel like you tend to force things whenever you date, it might be time to take a break from dating. Use the break as an opportunity to centre yourself and remind yourself of what you really want before putting yourself back out there.
Don’t ignore red flags
It’s easy to fall into the cycle of justifying or ignoring red flags because you don’t want a dating situation or relationship to come to an end, but what you ignore in the beginning will always come up later. One thing I wish I did in my 20’s was reevaluate the relationship I had with red flags. Yes, nobody likes them but their purpose is to alert you to something that needs your attention. If you change the way you think about red flags, you’ll be able to navigate dating situations with your best interests at heart, no matter how hard it may be to end things. You’ll also be able to focus on how things are really going, instead of how you want them to go.
Find out what your love language is
Knowing your love language makes you aware of how you want to express and receive love. For those who don’t know, the five love languages are: words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service and physical touch. Something to keep in mind is that it’s possible to have more than one love language and most partners won’t have the same love language. I would highly recommend taking the quiz (be honest with your answers) as it can help you identify what it is you need in a relationship. It can also help you build better connections with loved ones too.
Know when to let go
Letting go of a relationship is never easy, especially if you’ve conditioned yourself to believe that you can’t do better. As someone who’s been there, your 20’s go by very quickly and as they do, you’ll always be evolving. Your friendship circles, career aspirations and dating life are some of many things that could be subject to change. What you need from a potential partner at 23 might not be what you need at 26. If you ever have doubts about your relationship, don’t be afraid to ask yourself the difficult questions in order to get the clarity you need. Just want to add that if you have to keep reminding yourself of how awesome things were when you first got together, let that relationship go sis.
Dating is a great opportunity to get to know yourself better. It is also a good opportunity to think about what you want and need from a potential partner. While you navigate dating with your best interests at heart, don’t forget to have fun and don’t be afraid to let go of anything that no longer serves you.