Start Dating. Immediately.

I am a recently single 20-something female.  The dating world, as my coupled-up girlfriends like to remind me, is my oyster.

Picture this:  a naturally beautiful type glides into a bar, tosses her sweetly auburn hair and smiles–disarming every man in the joint long enough for her to bat her eyelashes and ask for a drink.  She’s offered more than she can count, and so she spends the evening giggling and discussing post-Modern literature; nursing her cocktail and delicately swiveling on her bar stool.  She’s powerful, and so she has her pick.

I am definitely not that girl.

Instead, picture this: a girl with chronic b*tch face stands with her arms crossed, refusing to let loose and ride the mechanical bull with her girlfriends (because, of course, overtly sexual behavior gives her anxiety).  A man approaches her and says, “hey there, sweetheart, can I buy you a–”  Before he has time to finish, she spins to face him, batting his hand off her shoulder and snaps, “don’t call me sweetheart, homie.  You don’t even know me.”  He walks away and warns his friends.  The girl pays for all her beers.  Of which she can afford only two.

When you’re newly single, you’re charged with the task of digging through the layers of commitment-gone-astray to find where you buried your once sparkly single gal charm.  Now it’s covered in cobwebs and the last of your early 20-something insecurities.

This particular obstacle came as a bit of a shock to me at first–mostly because I’m the epitome of a flirt.  I’m fairly certain my spirit animal is a sloppy, hyperactive golden retriever puppy that can tap dance.  It would turn out, however, that the comfort of a relationship kept the stakes low when interacting with other people. When you’re newly single, the stakes are suddenly high again.  That’s a lot of pressure for you and your rusty single gal charm.

And that’s why you’ve got to rip the band-aid off and start dating again. Immediately.  Easier said than done, you say?  I can see how you might think that.  But really, it’s as simple as re-defining what dating means.

Kirsten’s 3-Step Program to Rock at Dating in the Millennial Era:

Step 1: Date Your Friends.

When you’re newly single, the way you communicate with your closest female friends changes.  They listen intently as you work through your crap; make you laugh when you need to; and they’re hard on you when someone has to be.  Without ever having to discuss it, they’ll delicately and deliberately piece you back together.  They’ll bring you strength.  These are the women that make you truly whole again. Spend as much time with them as you can.

Step 2: Date Yourself.

In a previous post, I explored the challenge of being alone as a young woman.  This is an imperative step.  I like to take myself on hikes, have intense dance parties to Bey in my kitchen, and grant myself hours to record every detail of my stupid adventures in a journal while I binge drink coffee.  I repeat: this is an imperative step.  This is where you re-discover yourself, on your own terms, with no one’s opinion standing between you and your intuition.  You should commit to seeing yourself at least 3 times a week.

Step 3: Date [Wo]Men Romantically…but Casually.

If I may be so bold, young women do themselves a great disservice when they exit one serious relationship only to enter that RomCom-style search for “The [next] One.”  If you’ve been in said serious relationship for the past however long, do you even know what you like anymore?  What you’re attracted to, truly?  You’ve grown as a woman, you’ve changed; and therefore logically, so has your ideal mate.

To rock at dating, you’ve got to lower your standards a smidge and give Mister/Miss Right Now a chance.  Stop looking for the father of your children.  Stop looking for a solid life partner with good credit.  Date casually.  If someone piques your interest slightly, take the reigns and ask them out.  If your only reason to say no is they’re so not your type, than do the crazy thing and say yes.  Date casually.  Spend an evening here and there, connecting (or maybe not connecting) with another human being and explore what you like (or don’t like) about them.  Lower the stakes and use causal dating to re-discover what you’re even searching for in “The [inevitable] One.”

Of course, it won’t all be smooth sailing.  The first time I asked a dude out, he rejected me.  For a while, if drinking on a date, I ran a serious risk of inappropriately crying about all my oh-so-confusing feelings.  I’ve also recently learned that I have a flirting style akin to that of a 10-year old boy: I become a slightly aggressive playground bully.  Coming from a 26-year old woman, you can understand how this might be sending the wrong message.  But with a healthy combination of my aforementioned 3-step program, this behavior does in fact work itself out, and you slowly dust off that single gal charm.

And then you might ride the mechanical bull.  You’ll be powerful.

On Learning to Be Alone.

For much of my life, I have been what they call a people pleaser.

The Urban Dictionary defines people pleasers as “doormats that let high expectations, resentment, and saying yes when they mean no run their lives.  They are set on being perfect and nice.  It affects mostly women because they are socialized to do for other people instead of for themselves.  This has been linked to codependence.”

Additionally, I recently learned that I have likewise been what they call a serial monogamist.

UD defines this term as “one who spends as little time as possible being single […].  The defining aspect of serial monogamy is the desire and ability to enter new relationships very quickly, thus abbreviating any period of single life, during which the serial monogamist may begin to ask questions of an existential nature.”

It’s true: I am a young woman of 26 years, fresh out of a relationship that has defined me for a long time. And when that relationship started, I was fresh out of a different but equally significant one.  The last time I was single for any noteworthy period I was a girl, 19 years young.

People pleaser + serial monogamist. You can imagine what such a combination does for one’s personal growth.

But the thing is: many young women don’t consider the consequences of this sort of pattern.  I know that I didn’t.  I was comfortable coasting in and out of relationships with good, affectionate young men; young men that had a certain passion for what they did and who they were.  I was comfortable defining myself in terms of these young men.  I was comfortable growing within the context of a we, an us.

I was horribly uncomfortable being alone.

And as the wonder that is Urban Dictionary so crassly put it, with enough time to fester, this behavior turned out some deep-rooted crap.  It surfaced in panic attacks, irrational confrontations over trivial issues, and even some bridges burned.  Through a significant amount of trial and error, I discovered that the remedy to this personality rut was a little alone time.

It isn’t easy becoming a woman.  The 20-something experience, chaotic and inconsistent, is rough regardless of one’s gender; however young men are more so effectively raised to explore their individuality, their sexuality, and their aspirations as they grow.  20-something females, equally in need of self-exploration, face prominent social and biological pressures to factor in a strong commitment to marriage and motherhood.  Not to mention a certain lack of encouragement to explore as freely as young men, generally speaking.

Learning to be alone is uncomfortable.  For a while near the beginning, I was accustomed to locking myself in the bathroom of our small apartment and crying into a hand towel until my head was pounding.  Eventually, of course, the fear fades a little and you learn to revel in your own silence.  And that’s the place you might discover you’re the kind of woman housing a fiercely creative soul; the kind of woman that will be an incredible mother; the kind of woman dedicated to her feminism.  It’s the place you find that you are a woman with a powerful and unique voice.

If I may be so bold, allow me to say this: in her journey, every woman must learn to be alone.

Cry in the bathroom if you need to.  Dance like a crazy person to some gross club jams in your bedroom by yourself.  Have a long and perhaps slightly uncomfortable stare at your face in the mirror every once in a while.  Don’t wear make-up when you do.  Commit to some form of creative self-expression that is only yours.  Actually commit to it.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was feeling lonely and insecure.  I hadn’t felt that way for a solid few weeks, and it hit me pretty hard.  My mother was visiting my sister and me for the first time since our West Coast move; and I allowed my crap to surface as trivial confrontations, or what UD would refer to as drama.  Somehow we survived the weekend, we always do, but this time she said something that stuck: she told me not to worry; that I would be fine because I’m seizing the opportunity to be alone and grow independently–something she never did.

Take the time to listen to the woman that you are and be true to her.  You owe it to yourself.  And I owe it to my mother.  And my grandmother before her.