It’s easy to build a life around a series of “one day”: One day I’ll be able to register for that dish set I’ve been wanting for six years. One day I’ll feel confident enough to go after that promotion. One day I’ll stop pining after that guy who broke my heart. But the thing about one day is that it may never come. You start saying it at nineteen and keep saying it at twenty-five and suddenly you’re forty-four, standing in the kitchen, surrounded by none of the things you wanted in life but a whole bunch of one days you promised yourself.
It’s time we stopped with the one days and started embracing the life we have today. There are lots of things this world offers, and we can’t keep putting them off until after a wedding that may never come just because our parents or well-meaning friends tell us that’s what we’re supposed to do. I’m tired of one days and supposed tos. Here’s my new list, everything I think we should stop putting off until marriage—because why are we waiting?
Get to know yourself. One of the advantages of being single later in life is that we have time to figure out the way we tick without having another person eavesdropping on the process (or worse, interfering with it). It’s time to figure out what you bring to the table. What are your strengths? What are your needs and wants? What are your values?
Buy a house. I know this is a biggie, so I don’t offer it up lightly. There are plenty of y’all out there who can afford it but have been waiting, knowing that you are wasting money on renting and that you are in a local community worth investing in for the long term, but you’re scared to death of buying a home on your own. To you, I say this: do the dang thing. Buy a house you love. Build a life you love. I know it’s a big commitment, but if you keep putting it off, we could have this same conversation in ten years, and then how much time (and money) will you have lost?
Find your outlets. One of the best things therapy ever did for me was help me identify my healthy outlets for creativity, anger, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. They were all different, and once I knew what they were, I could gravitate toward them in times of need. What healthy coping mechanisms do you have? Having these already established and being able to articulate them puts you ahead of the curve.
Make big decisions. I know it’s easier to make these decisions with someone at your side affirming them, but we don’t have that luxury. As terrifying as it is to buy the car or take out the loan, you just have to do it on your own, and you should do so with confidence. While your “I” might become “we” one day, you will always be an “I”—an individual with needs and preferences and goals—and that means something. So pull out your glasses and start looking at that fine print.
Get grounded. That feeling of finally getting settled isn’t one most single people are familiar with because we like to stay in a state of slight upheaval, just on the edge of “everything can change,” so that we’re ready if a perfect somebody comes along. But that’s a hard way to live your life. Let yourself settle, plant your roots, and plan to stay awhile. If a perfect someone comes along, it’ll make sense with everything you have going on.
Create habits. Whether it’s taking a long walk every morning or having girls’ night on the second Tuesday of the month, creating these habits, big and small, works to help establish discipline in your life. The single life can be erratic and hectic, and without anyone else to plan around, you can easily float from one place or event to another. These habits can help ground you, acting as anchors in your schedule and even your life.
Treat yo’ self. Because you don’t have a spouse to spoil you or surprise you with sweet things, you might miss out on the more fun treats, so budget in a treat day. Save up for a few months and then grab a friend, head to the mall, and splurge. Buy a new outfit, get that perfume you’ve been sneaking samples of for months, snag the leather tote, and top it off with a cookie cake. Because sometimes you need to remember what it feels like to be spoiled, even if it’s by yourself.
Know your money. “But I’m not good with money” is not a good enough excuse to not be familiar with credit scores, 401(k)s, and Roth IRAs by the time you’re in your thirties. We have to take care of ourselves, and that means we have to be smart with our money, especially since most of us don’t have much of it. Ask questions, save for retirement, and know that even if it’s just you, you’re going to be okay.
Learn healthy confrontation. Most people save the nastiest parts of fighting for marriage, and even then, only a small percentage actually learn how to work through those nasty parts to get to healthy confrontation—but it doesn’t have to be that way. In your current relationships, you can begin working toward healthy confrontation. You can learn how to dig in instead of running away, how to express your needs, how to figure out when you need to cool off (this is okay!), and how to let others cool off instead of forcing a heated conversation to the point of combustion. This will make your relationships stronger and make you a better communicator and friend.
Face a fear. Life is full of things to fear. Start by conquering smaller ones and work toward the bigger ones. If you can confront your fear of heights or roller coasters or eating squid, you’ll begin to realize that the fear of being alone, while sometimes paralyzing, can also be overcome.
Explore your career. Whether it’s changing careers completely or choosing to throw yourself in headfirst for the promotion, you can take on your 9 to 5 with gusto, and you shouldn’t let your indefinite future make you proceed with caution. If anything, your lack of a spouse should give you complete freedom in this area, so use it!
Relocate. Moving to another city can be a huge decision. Doing so with no support system and only the U-Haul attached to the back of your Camry can be even more difficult. But you don’t have to wait for someone to come along to confirm that the pull you feel to Nashville is the way to go. It will be hard to start over, but sometimes it’s harder to stay.
Celebrate relationships. Too often the only relationships we celebrate are romantic as we honor anniversaries. But, as Leslie Knope shows us through her friendiversaries and Galentine’s Day, we can celebrate all of our relationships—we can and we should. So how can you begin to celebrate your relationships, and how would that acknowledge their value?
Travel. Traveling as a single person is a little daunting, but there’s mace and knives that look like lipstick for a reason. There is a great big world, and if you spend your entire life just waiting on someone else to join you before you go explore it, you might end up on the same postage stamp of land you started on. So strap on your hiking boots or grab your map of Paris, pack your bags and a whole lot of moxie, and book your ticket.
Be an authority. Sometimes people equate singleness with immaturity, or they assume that because we’re single we don’t have the right to speak on other topics. But it’s time we take our rightful place as legitimate sources of authority on life experiences, and while part of that is people trusting us with that place of authority, part of it comes when we step into that place and claim it.
Have nice things. Stop lusting after the KitchenAid mixer and buy it already. Whatever your “KitchenAid mixer” is, you should have nice things in your home. If you can afford it, you shouldn’t just be sitting on dilapidated furniture, using chipped dishes, sleeping in a too-small bed, all because you’re convinced that when you get married you’ll upgrade all your belongings then. Start surrounding yourself with the things you love now.
Feel loved. Sometimes we put off finding family until we find a spouse, until we find that one person we can rely on. But I think that’s where we mess up because we should have lots of people we can rely on. Start building that community all around you, whether those people share your DNA or not, whether you end up sharing vows with them or not. We can find belonging and love from unlikely places, and we need to give ourselves permission to look outside the box.
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is a managing editor with Christianity Today and winner of the Evangelical Press Association's Higher Goals in Christian Journalism Award. She’s been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Salt Lake Tribune, Virginian Pilot, and Christ and Pop Culture. After earning her MA degree in English Lit, Joy Beth had a brief stint as a teacher, but now she happily resides in the Chicagoland area, where she no longer has to give anyone permission to go to the bathroom.