They say that 30 is the new 20 and as a newly minted 34-year-old, “they” are not wrong.
There seems to be a certain je ne sais quoi when you reach this point — especially if you’re single and it comes to the jungle that is the dating scene.
Before my current relationship, I was single for five years — and if I look back at what I went through in the last year of my twenties and then earlier thirties, there’s no possible way I could have sustained a healthy relationship.
I learned so much from that time — mostly because I was constantly evolving and changing — and am grateful for my single years. Sometimes, whilst we’re in the midst of it, we forget to appreciate the solitude that comes from being “alone”.
There’s the ability to do as you please, work on your innermost self and lighten the load of baggage you may have accumulated over the years.
Clinical psychotherapist Dr Karen Phillip says that for the most part, our partner choices are considerably different between each decade.
“When we are in our 20s, we are often wanting someone who is fun and fits into our lifestyle,” she said. “We are not necessarily looking for the person to settle down with for life,” she said, although, in the past, this was more the case.
“Women and men once settled down in their mid to late 20’s as this was expected. They did this to prove they were a worthy catch for someone. Nowadays it is accepted and preferred to be in your 30’s before settling down. Young people want to study, travel and enjoy the rewards of single life experiences.”
But often, single life experiences can also come with some serious consequences. You may also know it as “baggage”.
“There is past baggage and [then there is] past experiences. Baggage is an experience that ‘haunt’ or have hurt us and these can be taken into new relationships and cause havoc,” she said.
I was one of those people. A serial “relationshipper” who went from boyfriend-to-boyfriend carrying the heaviest of baggage to each person, unable to spend a single minute alone in fear of having to deal with it… until I had to.
In my twenties, I was a self-sabotaging, emotional wreck. I went from job-to-job and friendship-to-friendship, relationship-to-relationship — a disruptive life, but one in hindsight, that taught me my most valuable lessons.
While I craved having the love of a significant other, to be completely honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to date me — and that was the problem.
My earlier thirties were all about learning, and because a few years prior I had gone through some of the toughest years in my life, it was a time of reflection. Without those years, I wouldn’t have learnt to accept and love myself (something I am still working on), be able to spend weekends alone and I most likely wouldn’t be navigating a brand new and healthy relationship in the way that I am now.
In fact, my older sister and I were speaking about this the other day. I told her that I wouldn’t ever have imagined I would be 34, unmarried and without kids. I had so much planned for myself, but it hadn’t turned out that way. But, as she (and all the other adults in my life) have said, “everybody is on their own timeline”.
“When women hit their 30’s, they realise their time clock is ticking faster,” Dr Karen explained to me.
“If they want children their alarm is ringing. They often seek a man who wants to settle down and have children. Often in our 30’s we look more intently and set our requirements higher to find that permanent connection. We want that deep love but may accept ordinary instead.”
Dr Karen then gave some wonderful advice when it comes to being single after 30 — and as someone who wrote a list in February and found a new partner with those qualities in March, I couldn’t agree more.
“Set a clear criterion of the values and standards you want and need in a partner,” she said. Most of us seem to want someone who makes us happy, likes similar activities and is fun to be with. This isn’t criteria. Criteria include things such as their family, are they similar to yours and do you like them — this is essential — are they into food, sport or fitness like you? Then we consider how they interact with others, perhaps their care of the environment, animals, their financial responsibility, sense of humour and type of parent they will be and if they want kids. Then the crucial characteristics of: do they put you first, are you considered in all aspects of their decisions and are they respectful to you at all times.”
In my 20s, if a guy liked me, that was enough for me, but now my list is as long as it is detailed and I’m not willing to settle for anything less.
Life has a funny way of teaching you about yourself when it comes to finding a significant other and in the words of Goddess Ru Paul herself, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Amen!
Dr Karen Phillip is a Counselling Psychotherapist; Clinical Hypnotherapist, Parenting and Relationship Expert and author of Communication Harmony, she believes that in order to move forward in life it’s important we have a love for yourself first.