Picture it: Freshman in college, first big party of the school year.
We had a time is an understatement.
The lights turn on and the DJ packs up, my friends do a roll call to leave; I’ve sweated out my roots and all of the liquor I consumed so there was no argument from me. A semi-familiar face offered to walk us all home and we accepted. By the time I reached my room, I was smiling at a text from the semi-familiar face on my Blackberry, “This is […let’s call him] Kevin.”
“Kevin” and I exchanged texts all morning then I threw on some sweats to meet him for brunch in the dining hall. We ended up spending the rest of the day in front of my 32-inch TV watching movies, talking, and eating whatever snacks and microwavable food I had on hand.
As an 18-year-old, I was smitten. As a 30-year old, I’d likely never see him again.
This isn’t to say “Kevin” did anything wrong, because he didn’t, but the bar was incredibly low for me. I had no experience dating as an adult (I’m using the word “adult” very loosely here) so I was impressed by new experiences, no matter how basic they were. But I learned that with different phases of life comes different expectations.
Here are four of the biggest changes I noticed in how I dated in my early vs. later twenties:
I Became Less Impressed
While my twenties introduced many ‘firsts’ in dating, I love that I was also able to see courtship evolve in some ways.
From frozen food and dining hall trips to reservations for fancy drinks and overpriced shellfish
From walks home to booking flights
From movie marathons to baecations
(& list goes on)
As the guys I entertained became more mature, paid, and domesticated, the dating playbook shifted.
The men are GROWN and educated.
They pay attention.
They’re cooking [well].
The gestures are grand and the gifts are expensive.
My first taste of this had me feeling like I hit the jackpot; I can see how easy it is for a younger woman to fall hard and fast. I love it here! I have to keep him around or I won’t find this again.
But after some trips, expensive trinkets, homemade brunch spreads and bowls of fried rice, the novelty wears off. Sure these things are still nice to have (and appreciated), but they don’t “wow” me the way they once did.
These days, I’m way less impressed by material things and performative gestures and more concerned with who we are as people and how we treat each other in a relationship.
Playing Games? It’s a No for Me
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get some twisted thrill from playing games in my earlier dating days. Having the upper hand in a relationship can be intoxicating, but there was so many f*cking rules.
Don’t text first. Play it cool. Match their energy. And some other manipulative sh*t I wrote about here. All for what?
The sad part is that I wasn’t always playing these games because I wanted them–I was doing it because I wanted them to want me.
Selfish and childish AF, I know, but thankfully I grew up.
No more guessing games and wasted time; whether I’m interested or on the fence I’m letting people know where they stand with me. Unapologetically. I learned that being [TACTFULLY] straight-forward benefits everyone involved, especially me.
I Started Being More Selective
Like I mentioned before, the dating bar was incredibly low.
“OMG, you like to drink and go to parties, too? And we’re both cute. So much in common!” That’s basically all it took in the young and dumb years of my early 20s. I’d date whoever I had chemistry with; I didn’t care if it didn’t last because, at that point, I was just meeting new people and trying new experiences.
I learned over time, however, that chemistry isn’t always compatible; some of the things I wanted in a man were a far cry from what I needed.
The qualities I used to care about now made me roll my eyes. I started paying closer attention to different things:
Are they consistent? Reliable? Trustworthy? Faithful?
Do I feel safe?
Do they have and respect boundaries?
Do they communicate well?
Are they emotionally intelligent?
Do their goals align with mine?
Are they committed to growth or just like to appear that they are?
Simply put, becoming more selective saved me lots of headaches and heartbreak when it was all said and done.
I Spent Less Time on Bullsh*t
One thing about the younger me: I loved giving people multiple chances.
I didn’t like to write anyone off after one ‘screw-up’ because we’re human and I wouldn’t want anyone to write me off for one mistake. Next thing I knew, I’d been in mostly on-again-off-again situations that weren’t healthy or fulfilling.
With age and experience came the ability to discern the difference between mistakes and red flags. This new discernment meant saying no to men who bring drama to my doorstep. It meant to stop circling back when I know nothing has changed. It meant not dragging relation- and situationships on for longer than they should’ve lasted. It meant knowing when it’s time to leave.
Basically, if I can do better by myself then this is some bullsh*t. I’ll see myself out!
Though I certainly had some missteps in dating as a young adult, I wouldn’t do it differently. My experiences helped me define exactly what I want in a relationship as well as who I want to be. Keeping that in mind, I encourage you to go ahead and feel things out as you go. Don’t be afraid of the mistakes as long as you’re learning from them!