I turned 27 this past March, and it was a birthday of realizations. I realized that when someone suggests moving your birthday party to a warehouse concert in Queens at 2 a.m., your answer should be “no.” Similarly, I realized that, in your late 20s, hangovers brutally last all day. But I also realized that I am now officially older than my mother was when she had me, her first child. That one totally threw me for a loop, because it snapped into focus where my life was at that very moment — and how it was nowhere near where I’d expected it to be.
From the time I was a little girl, I always assumed that my life would follow a very similar pattern to that of my mother’s and the rest of the women in my family. They all met their partners young and married young. They started having children in their mid-20s. By the time they were 30, their lives were full of play dates and caring for sick kids and generally putting everyone else ahead of themselves. And it’s not as if my mother ever told me that this was the life she expected from me. In fact, she’d subtly suggested that I might find a different way. That's not because she regretted her choice to stay home with her kids, but because she knew that I had dreams of living in New York, of being a writer (after I’d given up on being a ballet dancer), and of doing as much traveling as my wallet would allow.
But I also had big dreams of falling in love. And since the examples I grew up with were the women in my family, the characters in my YA novels, and the princesses in my Disney movies, I figured that this love thing would be the defining factor of my life. I’d meet someone, and that’s when my entire life would begin. So, in my late teens and early 20s, finding love was at the forefront of my mind — more so than school, or friends, or even work. Now that’s not to say that I completely blew off all of those things in order to sit around swiping on Bumble all day. But given the choice between something that would benefit my romantic life and something that would benefit literally any other part of my life, I seemed to always swing in the direction of situations that might align me with love.
I figured that this love thing would be the defining factor of my life. I’d meet someone, and that’s when my entire life would begin.
Sometimes, this came in the form of sacrificing myself for a relationship I was in. When I was a sophomore at Manhattan College in the Bronx, I was dating a guy who went to Columbia. And one rainy Saturday, my roommate, Carly, and I decided that we wanted to be incredibly lazy. So instead of running down to my boyfriend like I normally would, Carly and I ordered a pizza, popped in a Seinfeld DVD, and just loafed around our dorm all day. When I did eventually make it down to Columbia to see my boyfriend, he was pissed. “If I had a day where I had nothing to do, I’d want to spend it with you — not anyone else,” he yelled. He made me feel bad for choosing myself (and my friend) over him. So from then on, whenever I had a free moment, I’d rush down to Columbia to see him, always choosing him over my friends. He was my boyfriend, we were in love, and that’s what I thought you were supposed to do.
This misalignment in my priorities was so present that I wasn’t doing so great of a job of celebrating my accomplishments in other parts of my life. When I moved into my first apartment on my own, I felt a twinge of sadness that I wasn’t shacking up with a partner. When I landed this very job, and started writing this column (which now brings me so much joy), the first thing I thought was, Will a guy want to date a woman who whines about her dating life on the internet? Since I hadn’t hit the love milestone yet, I measured every other life event against it, and everything else fell short.
Eventually, I found myself planning future events, expecting to be in a relationship when they came up. When a friend of mine invited me to California for New Year’s, I turned her down, because if I met someone between now and then, I’d want to spend New Year’s with this imaginary “him.” I’d keep certain nights of the week open in case someone asked me on a date, even if it meant turning down plans that someone had actually presented me with. It was insanity. But given the fact I that I was dedicating so much of my free time to finding The One, at the time, it made sense.
By not following the blueprint of the life I thought I wanted, I wound up with a life I absolutely adored.
Around this time last year, in the midst of bridesmaid duties that felt like a constant reminder of my singlehood, I started to recognize that the life I’d planned for myself wasn’t happening. But instead of falling into the panic I typically succumbed to, I decided to take a look around instead. In place of tween Maria’s “ideal life,” something incredible had sprouted. I may not have had a wild romance to fill my time with, but I did have a fun and inspiring group of friends. I had hobbies and travel plans. I had a job that, if I really thought about it, likely wouldn’t have happened for me if I’d been like my mother and found my person at 19. By not following the blueprint of the life I thought I wanted, I wound up with a life I absolutely adored.
In hindsight, I can see that, had I fallen in love early on in my life, I wouldn’t have learned to rely on myself as much as I do now. I likely would have continued to give pieces of myself to a partner and not expected much in return. The bad dates and the broken hearts have helped me become the person I am today, and have helped lead me to a career and a life I actually treasure.
Next March, I’ll turn 28. When my mom was that age, she had two children — and she completely loved her life. Her daughter’s 28th year will be vastly different than hers, though. A few weeks after my birthday, I’ll head on a month-long, solo trip to Europe that I never would have booked had I gotten married in my mid-20s. Neither life is better nor worse than the other, but I’m finally happy that this one is mine.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.