12 Years of Dating Wisdom for My 20 Year Old Self

Everyone will say, “This is going to be the best time of your life”, but to you, it’s confusing, and it is.

Dating in your twenties has its pros and cons. On the plus side, you don’t have any responsibilities other than figuring out what you like and what you don’t like. Experiences are new, exciting, and thrilling and you will feel harder than you have ever felt before or ever will.

On the flip side, you haven’t figured out who you are. Your hormones are off the rails, and your brain isn’t fully developed, so it’s all overwhelming.

Dating in your twenties is like shopping in a mall for the first time.

You’re overwhelmed by the number of options that are out there and in the beginning you are dazzled by the bright colors, patterns, and different cuts. You’re going to want to grab the things that draw your eyes, or that you’ve seen everyone else has or that someone else tells you you should get and you’re going to walk home and feel great about your purchases. But after a few months, you may notice, “ oh actually that was just a trend. I don’t actually like how that looks on me” or you figure out that this sweater doesn’t hold up in the wash. It’s not very good quality.

Over time you’re going to figure out your own style and figure out the trade-offs between quality and price for some things you’re going to want to get the cheaper version but in other things that you know you want to be in your life for a long time you’re going to invest that time and money to finding the right thing and you know that there’s no substitute for it.

So here are my guidelines for your romantic life.

1. Get Exploring

Not only are you trying to figure out who you are, but you’re also trying to figure out what you want in a romantic relationship.

My advice to you would be to explore every avenue and do it with honesty and without guilt.

What kind of options do you have?

You have monogamy, casual dating, casual sex, dating multiple people at the same time, or going all-in on a person that you spoke to on a bus for 3 hours while you’re traveling from one city to another. Try long-distance, try dating someone older than you, someone younger than you, someone from a different cultural background, someone tall, someone short.

Go where your heart takes you, and as long as you are honest with yourself about why you’re doing these things – whether it’s because you feel strongly, you love this person, or you’re not sure what you want you’ll know you are on the right track.

2. Self-Reflect

This is something that you’re going to do really well, whether or not I tell you. But something that contributed to the gradual improvements in your relationships over the years.

At the end of every relationship, you reflected back on what worked and what didn’t. Often, you were the one breaking up with the other person, so those reasons were really at the forefront of your mind. But you also took time to figure out what you could have done better, what became a habit in that relationship that you don’t want to bring into the next one, and how you’re going to work on yourself in between these relationships to figure out how you can do that.

You delved into self-help books, which is now taking up a lot of your time because you started a self-help podcast. (Self-Help Junkie) The desire to not repeat mistakes really helps in your growth. I’m not saying that you didn’t make the same mistake two, three, four, five times, but each time you got a little bit better at it, and you didn’t beat yourself up over failing.

You reflected on it; you dug deeper as to why you did something.

You also moved countries every 2 to 3 years in your time after University, and this also really helped in your reflection and tracking of what you want to do because every physical location that you were in marked a chapter of your life.

One of the benefits of upending your life frequently was that you went to a country where you knew nobody else. This allowed you the freedom to start with a clean slate, rather than having people around you expect that you’re going to act a certain way because that’s how you acted 6 months or a year ago. Instead, you got to reflect on what you wanted to do and do it without any expectations from the people around you.

3. Learn How to be Alone:

This one took you a while to figure out.

Being a serial monogamist, you would jump from one relationship to another, and it became a pattern. You had expectations of your partners; you wanted to spend time with them, to have them support you emotionally, mentally, and physically.

While this is all great because those are the best parts of a relationship, you also didn’t know how to be independent.

By many measures, you are independent; you move to different countries, cook for yourself, got yourself through school, and get new jobs. But your happiness often relied on the other person. If the other person wasn’t having a good day or if you guys were in a fight or there was friction in the relationship, this would completely change your mood.

Being alone helps you appreciate when your partner does things for you, but more importantly, it makes you the master of your own happiness. You need to figure out what makes you happy.

How do you spend your time? If being with your friends and being a good friend makes you happy and fulfilled, you should keep doing this even when you’re in a relationship. You should not rely on your partner to provide you with the social, mental, emotional benefits of friendship. That’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to you. Develop your hobbies. You are a very creative person now, but in relationships, you so often just adopted whatever they were interested in.

It doesn’t mean that you weren’t interested in it, but you did not take control; you didn’t actively choose it. You passively chose this, and it makes you start resenting the other person for not doing the thing that you wanted to do, even though you never told them.

Which is ridiculous; stop doing that.
Carve out time for your friends, carve out time for yourself, and don’t be afraid that this will hurt your partner. They will be happy that you are happy; they will be excited that you have passions of your own, and it makes you a more interesting person.

4. Safety First:

I’m going to mom you right now. You are 20 years old, and you think that you’re invincible. It’s hard to see into the future of what could happen to you because your experiences are so limited.

If it’s hard for you to picture, go read other people’s experiences.

When I say safety, I mean driving safely, having sex safely, and not drinking so much.

Oh my God, you drank so much.

Drinking is exciting because it’s something that you’re not allowed to do, and you have to be an adult before you do it. It’s incredibly handy because you’re nervous in social situations, and you’re constantly worried about what other people are thinking of you. So having a couple of drinks allows you to lose those inhibitions and be able to enjoy yourself.

However, alcohol is incredibly dangerous. It makes you make stupid decisions, it gets you into situations that you don’t want to be in, and honestly, it’s kind of expensive. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t drink; it is actually something that is enjoyable. But do it in moderation and do it with people who have your safety in mind.

If you need alcohol to approach a person because you’re feeling nervous, that’s not healthy, that’s not safe. If you don’t feel safe around that person, you should not be having sex with them. If you don’t feel loved and admired and safe, don’t have sex with them. It’s alright to feel nervous; it’s alright to feel giddy. But if you need alcohol to make that choice, you should not be making that choice.

5. Be Honest:

Honesty is really important in this because if you’re hiding something from someone, be it your parents or your friends, there’s probably a reason why. Either you’re putting yourself in danger or you don’t like your choice and don’t want to face up to it.

I remember when I was early on in my relationships, sometimes I would hide it from my friends because I felt like they would judge me for the person that I’m dating. Because I personally didn’t think that they were good enough for me. It’s harsh but they were lacking things that I wanted in a partner. But I was still physically attracted to them and honestly loved the outside validation enough that I was in that relationship. Had I been honest with myself and those around me sooner, I would have realized that that’s not what I really wanted.
If I came to terms with that but still felt like I really enjoy being around this person and I would have been able to enjoy my relationship more for what it was. I would have been present and in the moment rather than worrying about what other people thought because I was doing it either way. May as well enjoy it to its fullest.

It wasn’t until I turned 30 that I figured out, I don’t need to be ashamed or deny myself because of what society thinks or has assigned as good or bad. I get to decide that for myself. And as long as I’m enjoying it and I’m not hurting anyone, it doesn’t matter.

It really doesn’t matter in the long run.

I’m 10 years out from the relationship you’re in right now, and I can tell you right now, I don’t talk to that person anymore.

And lastly, we’re all only acting with the information that we have, and as we experience more, we have more information to make better decisions. Being honest with your partner. This may mean that you hurt them, but denying them the opportunity to explain themselves or to understand why you’re making a decision is hurtful in its own right. And it hurts you because, again, you’re living a lie. You have to hide a piece of yourself.


That’s all I have for you! Only 5 pieces of advice to live by, much shorter than some of the other articles so it’s more likely that you remember some of it.

Good luck and enjoy the ride! You’ll figure out who you are and find a life that you love.


by ErikaNg

Communication Coach. Self-Help Junkie. Podcast Host.

Erika is a Canadian Expat who has been living in Asia for her entire adult life. From South Korea to Vietnam to Bali, she has been soaking in the culture and lessons of those countries before moving on to the next to place as an unknown to reinvent herself as a better version.

A people person, her work allows her to help those she can and her podcast allows her learn from her guests along with her audience.

Her perfect day would include waking up late, going to her favourite breakfast spot then returning home to work on her latest craft/art project while listening to podcasts and watching movies with her partner.


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