When my mother was my age, she had just given birth to me, her first child. I could not even fathom this concept for myself right now. Her generation and the generations that came before her were often resigned to motherhood and marriage before they could even have a legal drink.
It is no secret that people are getting married and having children much later nowadays, but this reality has also stirred a discussion in the psychological community about a new phase between adolescence and adulthood.
The American Psychological Association cited the credence in a new segment in the lives of modern 20-somethings. This period is known as “emerging adulthood.”
According to a study by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D., people between the ages of 18 and 29 feel general discontent and lack of direction regarding their life prospects, which leads to settling down later. We could speculate that this has to do with how much more time Millennials spend in the education system than before.
These days, many young people earn advanced degrees and specialized certifications, which doesn't afford them financial self-sufficiency until a much older age than their parents and grandparents before them.
It could also have to do with modern dating trends, as people tend to explore possible partners more, and online dating and urban living encourages this practice tenfold. We could also site the economic conditions of the past couple of years, which financially prevented people from settling down, purchasing property and finding permanence in their 20s.
More than likely, all of these factors contributed to the tendency of solidifying a life path a decade or so later than what used to be the norm.
In many ways, emerging adulthood is a blessing. It provides young adults the opportunity to truly hone their crafts, explore the world, discover what they want and live their lives with far fewer structured expectations and responsibilities than their parents had.
While it's a good idea to know the importance of a 401(k) and aim to procure a savings account, it's good not to worry about your biological clock upon college graduation. It's nice to have the freedom to make a career change in your 20s if what you started doing wound up not being too satisfying.
It is important to use this period in your life to make shamelessly selfish decisions about what you want and what you do. Here is where this piece becomes personal for me. When I moved to New York at the age of 22 with my boyfriend of two years, I assumed we would get married and that my life path was pretty much set.
I don’t think I was being naïve, per se; I had built two years of love, trust and responsibility with this person. Yes, I was in my early 20s, and I had no intention of marrying in the immediate future, but my partner and I had been through a lot together.
We had held each other up, wiped each other off and managed to keep each other happy, so I had no reason to think that the rest of my life wouldn’t be more of the same. I could go ahead and blame our relationship's failure on the fact that we moved to a stressful and expensive city, that we both grew and changed.
All or none of my reasons could be true, but they also don’t matter.
What really made the difference to me was being here in New York City — a place where to simply afford living, you need instinctual motivation to perpetuate your existence, both personally and professionally. It made me realize that I wanted something more for me.
What I picked when I ended my relationship was not to be angry, bitter or sad that the vision I had for us didn’t pan out. What I chose, instead, was the blissful optimism that has kept a smile on my face since the day we called it quits.
I don’t want to generalize my experience to be any sort of representation of any other relationship. I am fortunate to have realized that what I had wasn’t working and that choosing myself made me happier within a relatively short amount of time.
What the experience taught me, however, is that you pave your own path. Loving a person is the single most beautiful experience of human existence, and in my opinion, it is the sole point of living on this earth. And, though it may seem contradictory, picking myself over my relationship provided both me and my ex the opportunity for greater, more satisfying and fulfilling love.
I spent the last eight months or so of my relationship trying to fix all of the problems that had suddenly arisen in hopes of re-establishing how I used to feel about being with him. And, I would’ve continued to do this because I am not naïve enough to think that relationships are not about working through issues together.
But, I felt like I was the only one who was trying to make it work. And, what I wanted was someone to work with me; if I couldn’t have that in my relationship, I wanted to work on myself.
After making the decision that I was better off alone than in an unhealthy relationship, I realized the endless path of opportunity that stretched into the expanse of my new life. Everything I did, I did with the internal motivation that the only person I owed it to was myself.
I had to succeed professionally because there was no one to catch me if I fell. When something bad happened in my life, it was because of decisions I made, not because someone else affected me.
I needed to let go; damaging part of my life to experience this transformative self-discovery is something all “emerging adults” deserve to experience. I encourage you to reflect deeply on what you want, regardless of your relationships, original goals and current paths.
It is a scary prospect because you may discover others thing you feel comfortable with that need to change. However, this point of our lives is when we have both the level of control and freedom from responsibility to important, selfish decisions.
Maybe you are living somewhere you don’t want to live or have a job you don’t like or are in the wrong relationship. When you reflect on these aspects of your life and then pick the decision that leaves you feeling motivated and fulfilled (though not necessarily safe), you open yourself to limitless opportunities for personal growth and happiness.
Maybe my unwavering optimism comes from how positive this experience has been for me, but as corny as it sounds, if I continue to be wholeheartedly true to myself, I can never be anything but sure of my decisions. I owe no one an explanation other than myself. I am solely responsible for my own happiness, which is why every day, I chose to be happy.
When the time comes to share the responsibility of happiness with another person, it will be because I know that that is what I want and that it will only add to my life. Until then, being single is one of the most liberating, monumental, enlightening experiences I have been privileged enough to have.
Sure, I feel lonely, lost and at times, self-conscious, but mostly, I feel I am simply going through a process that will lead me to where I need to go. And, I am okay with letting myself naturally happen upon this next step. Maybe I will get anxious about this a few years down the line, but that is what emerging adulthood is all about — having the extra time to get there.
Photo Courtesy: We Heart It