Love and relationships aren’t always easy, especially in our 20s.
But that doesn’t necessarily make the experience unpleasant.
In every failed relationship, we learn valuable life lessons and ultimately, come out on the other side as stronger, wiser individuals.
Here are seven things we learn about relationships in our 20s:
1. Developing emotional intimacy requires authenticity.
Authenticity comes from within. If the desire to develop emotional intimacy isn’t fully rooted in the search to become better versions of ourselves, it will never truly lead to happiness with another human being.
Having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are and exactly where they are in their lives – both emotionally and mentally— takes practice.
But, doing so paves the way for us to be more intentional and purposeful in our pursuit of love, thus ensuring we have more meaningful relationships.
2. Vulnerability isn’t as scary as it sounds.
The older we get, the more we realize that relationships — romantic or otherwise — require vulnerability.
Vulnerability implies having the courage to do things that may seem difficult, like telling your best friend you’ve started developing feelings for him or her, asking someone for help, apologizing to your friend for hurting his or her feelings or sitting with a family member as he or she receives their chemo treatment.
The more you practice being vulnerable, the more comfortable you’ll be in its presence.
3. There is a natural ebb and flow in giving and taking.
Our 20s are meant for selfishness. We do what we want, we learn what we like and what we don’t like, and we begin growing fully into our authentic selves.
Once you’re in a long-term relationship, you have to start taking into consideration someone else’s wants and needs. We realize life isn’t all about us.
Life has its ups and downs, and over time, you will each understand each other’s happiness, contentment, fear, grief and hopelessness.
Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your partner and other times, he or she will have to make sacrifices for you.
4. Some relationships are temporary and fleeting.
People will come in and out of our lives, but in all of those failed relationships, there is a valuable life lesson. When we look back on those failed relationships, it’s clear they ended because he or she wasn’t your ideal match.
Maybe your goals and interests didn’t align, maybe you had different priorities and values and maybe, the entire relationship was built on lust.
When we lose love, it can be devastating, but breakups happen for a reason. When we start accepting that some of our relationships aren’t meant to be, we can begin to see the grace in having experienced them.
We learn from our successes and our mistakes and carry those with us into future relationships.
5. Real intimacy is more than just sex.
Sex is both a basic desire to feel pleasure and a way to express our emotions toward someone about whom we love and care. But, it isn’t proof of love.
We all have an innate desire to feel connected to someone and we believe sex is a means to that end. From experience, it dulls the pain of loneliness, but only for a brief moment.
Over time, if the emotional intimacy doesn’t exist between you and the person you’re sleeping with, it most certainly won’t work out.
The best kind of sex is when you truly feel connected to someone beyond just lust.
6. We stop leaving love to chance and start pursuing it.
Our brains are hard-wired to think that love will “find” us, magically appearing when we least expect it. But this kind of mindset leaves love to chance.
Somewhere along the way, you learn that the fairytale ending doesn’t just find you. You have to pursue it, which means acting with intention and purpose.
Meeting people becomes infinitely harder after college, so whether it means giving online dating a try or joining Meetup groups, you have to pave the way for love to exist in your life.
Sitting at home, eating Ben & Jerry’s and binge-watching Netflix won’t get you love, even if it does sound appealing.
7. The “in-between” phase is just as important as the “taken” phase.
We all know people who can’t stand being alone. They jump from relationship to relationship and never have a chance to discover who they are outside of whomever they’re with.
Just as being with someone can teach us about ourselves, so, too, does being alone. Plus, being happy alone and reaching self-acceptance is important for us to have a successful relationship with another in the future.
When we build relationships on wanting, clinging or needing, we set ourselves up for failure. Knowing who you are and being independent is incredibly sexy.
Love is a wild, messy ride, but every relationship we have can help us grow and evolve.