Navigating My Early 20s: Relationships

It’s 3:50pm and I’m writing this from our new office. This used to be our rarely-used spare bedroom, so instead we thought we’d take advantage of the natural light that floods in by turning it into a working space.

It’s a clean mix of white IKEA furniture and monochrome art prints, with the occasional remnant of it’s past life still lingering, like the tv mounted on the wall, looking at the empty space where the bed used to be. It reminds me of many happy nights curled up together watching Lost or Grand Designs when we’d sleep in this room as a ‘treat’ because the mattress was infinitely comfier. Now, this room is where we work together, spurring each other on to be as creative as possible. We’re listening to Brian Eno and the rain is tapping at the window, it’s a slow but peaceful day.

As I’m sipping my coffee, I’m procrastinating writing by looking through old uni pictures and it dawns on me that I’m turning 23 soon. That’s hardly cause for a midlife-crisis, but as someone who still gets a brief feeling of disappointment when seeing a sign that says “18 only”, and then has to remind herself that it’s been a long time since that rule applied, 23 seems a little out of my depth.

If you ask me how old I feel at heart, my initial answer would be that I still feel as I did when I was 17. I’m still very sociable and thrive off being around people with a similar sense of humour. I still have FOMO and will rarely turn down an invitation to socialise if I don’t have work or other engagements. I’m still naive in many ways about ‘adult things’ like changing energy suppliers, ISAs and tax returns. I still just want to cuddle dogs all day, every day and eat tomato pasta for every meal, is that such a crime?

But the deeper I reflect, I arrive at a different conclusion. At 22 I’m living in a city that I did not grow up in, in a house that I rent with my partner and dog; I pay the bills through my part-time job, whilst I simultaneously pursue my self-employed career (which is now officially professional), whilst maintaining an Instagram job. By all intents and purposes I am an adult.

I’ve done a hell of a lot of growing up in the past few years it seems. Looking back, I’m unashamed to say that I’ve always been a serial offender when it comes to long term relationships.

My late teens and early 20s have seen their fair share of them come and go, with only a short while in between. I used to find it very difficult being single and would only be on Tinder for a few fleeting swipes before I’d found the next love of my life... I think it was because I didn’t know who I was yet, and I was looking for someone to ‘complete’ me (despite never admitting it). Cue some awkward dates and casual arrangements that my friends and I still laugh about to this day.

I’d been in a long term relationship from the age of 14 to 18. At such a young age I was so impressionable that his interests became my interests and his taste in films was my taste in films, and so on. Hurtling head first out of that into living in a strange city with people I didn’t know and my first taste of adult independence, left me with a sense of loneliness and uncertainty. I was on my own, for the first time in longer than I could remember and I didn’t know who I was or what I was about. Instead of starting over and opening myself up to new things, I reached for my comfort blanket by jumping straight into another serious relationship with the first person that showed me the blindest bit of interest.

The least said about him the better. That unfortunate charade lasted a year and a half, by which point I‘d reached 20 and was in my final year of uni.

It’s widely known that your uni years are the ones where you find your people and find yourself, but despite finding my solid group, I’d wasted so much of my 3 years battling someone who was trying to stop me doing both of those things. I knew that I couldn’t waste my very last term, and after far too long it was “goodbye” from me.

As disgustingly cliche as it is, it’s when I stopped looking that I found someone that was truly right. Anyone that knows me could tell you how much I love my boyfriend. I’ve found a level of love and contentment with him that I’ve never known. But the time that I was single is partly to thank. Without that chance to truly be alone, be around my friends more often than ever before, and to let loose and do whatever I wanted without anyone to answer to helped me understand who I truly was. Now I’m content because I’m not searching; I’m not feeling that I could be missing out, because I’ve had the chance to get to know me, and I know what makes me happy. I’m comfortable with who I am, at last, and I’ve found someone who loves me as that person and doesn’t want to change me or control what I do.

So whilst this blog post is about relationships, I think it’s important to advocate being single. Now that’s not to say I’m having second thoughts, or that you should dump your boyfriend and burn all his things. I’m saying that we shouldn’t be scared of being alone, because often that is something that we really need at points in our lives, even if it terrifies us. If you’re like me and you hop from one relationship to another, ask yourself why? Is it because it brings you happiness? If so, go get ‘em sis. But if not, taking the time to get to know yourself better and surrounding yourself with the friends that elevate you, will give you a sense of enrichment that you can carry into any future relationships and will make them 10 times more rewarding. We all know that Ru Paul quote that I’m basically force-feeding you now, please don’t make me say it.

Whilst I’m sure this decade of my life will have more twists and turns and ups and downs when it comes to relationships, the one thing that I don’t doubt is that your 20s are for you. I’ve come to that conclusion, from my reminiscing, contemplating, and most likely from the amount of caffeine in my system right now. I won’t pretend nobody has ever said that before and I’ve just come up with a notion so profound that it’s going to be written on those tacky love hearts decorating peoples’ living rooms. It’s important for me to say it, though. If not for you who is reading this then for myself.

We’ve been told by all the films we’ve watched right from being small, that finding someone is the end goal. I hope we all know at this big age that’s a load of shit.

Emily x