Dating and relationships are a big part of what shapes our lives. Good and bad. Heartbreak and love can be soul-defining experiences many yearn to go through.
However, if you’re like me (in your twenties without any real dating experience), you can feel a bit like a confused outcast. So many people create a space to normalize certain parts of relationships and breakups, but what if you haven’t been there yet?
I’ll start by saying, that this experience is WAY more common than you may think, and that it’s only becoming increasingly more normal.
“Overall, we’ve seen a shift in our culture that began occurring as millennials reached adulthood,” said Moe Ari Brown, a licensed marriage and family therapist in an interview with USA Today.
“People are staying in school longer, are more keen on exploring their LGBTQ identities and are questioning traditional relationship institutions,” Brown says.
She goes on to explain that serious romantic relationships (and even dating in general) are happening later in life for a LOT of people, and that is perfectly ok.
The pandemic has also been a driving factor in anxiety and hesitancy around dating, for obvious reasons surrounding health risks but also because it permanently altered the social experiences of so many young people.
For high school, college, and grad students, classroom banter and in-person interactions with others were replaced by Zoom screens and the mute button. College parties and cheap happy hours, where many young relationships can casually and naturally ignite, became a legitimate health hazard. The opportunity to travel to new cities and countries–that youthful gravitation towards new experiences and new people– became riddled with (justified) restrictions and widespread fear and guilt.
For many, dating just wasn’t an option, let alone a fun option.
According to Pew Research Center, “Most Americans who are ‘single and looking’ say dating has been harder since the pandemic.”
So this is all to say–if you’re reading this and have not had much or any dating or romantic experience yet, you are NOT alone.
I get it.
I am right there with you.
And that feeling of being on the outside can bring on a lot of insecurity and emotional weight–-not to mention stress.
Let’s take a moment to unpack this feeling together, and normalize an experience that doesn’t get talked about enough.
Is there something wrong with me?
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that the idea of being in a relationship scares me.
And I’m a full-grown, adult woman.
But on the other hand, not having dated has also made me question myself, my capabilities and my worthiness at times. There have been so many moments when I’ve sat alone and thought…
Are my standards too high? Am I running out of time? Everyone else around is getting married and having kids! OR, (worst of all) maybe I’m just not worthy or loveable enough.
BIG statements, I know.
For some of us, not dating yet is an active choice. For others, you’re just wanting to feel something and haven’t yet. But, at the same time, you’re scared of finding it.
You wouldn’t even know what the heck to do if you did because you “lack experience” and are worried that you’re malleable to the other person because of that.
Dating can be scary.
Maybe it’s just me, but being a woman in her twenties with little dating experience can feel very vulnerable. Especially when people get predatory when you open up about never having dated. Add in sexual pressure from social media AND dating apps, and it can leave you feeling even more overwhelmed.
Like I said earlier, your lack of experience may make you feel like you’re malleable in the eyes of the other party. It’s heartbreaking to believe someone might take advantage of your situation, but it’s the truth. Some people can become predatory when you confess to a lack of romantic experience, and it can be terrifying to think about. It’s something that you need to keep your guard up for.
On the flip side, some could also see your lack of dating experience as a “red flag.” Which again makes you feel like something’s wrong with you.
I’ve never really understood this philosophy because how can it be bad? How can you judge an area of someone’s life that hasn’t happened yet? To me, it’s like judging a blank sheet of paper. There’s literally NOTHING on it yet, so how can you even form an opinion?
I have no idea why people see this as a red flag because it’s not. If you’re not ready to be in a relationship, if it’s something that hasn’t happened in your life yet OR if it’s an active choice—nothing is wrong with you. If someone likes you enough, it doesn’t matter.
Communicate your experience only when you are ready. The right person will respect that, and meet you where you are.
But that brings me to what I consider to be the scariest part of being this age without dating anyone yet…what if it does happen?
What do I even do in a relationship?
This is one element that I have yet to hear be normalized.
Maybe this is just another case of Olivia being in her head, but I would have no idea what to freaking do if I were in a relationship.
How often do you stay in each other’s spaces? How often do you hang out? Do you talk to each other every day? What do you talk about? What if you had a long day at work and you just want to be left alone, do you just not talk or boot them out? WHAT DO YOU EVEN DO AND WHERE DO YOU EVEN START?
I can barely make a decision about what I want for dinner, let alone what to do with a boyfriend. I feel like I have no idea what I would even be able to offer a guy in the dating department.
On top of that, whether you’ve been single for your whole life or just a prolonged period of time, you develop your own personal habits and routines. Do those things change or go away when you’re with someone? This is a big concern for me.
I usually get up at 4 AM, do I change that so I don’t bother my boyfriend? I like to do yoga in my living room, what if he wants to watch a football game or something on TV?
Those little things may sound ridiculous to everyone, you’re allowed to laugh at me, but I kid you not they PLAGUE ME with concern and stress!
The reality is — these are normal fears.
Even people who have been in relationships before encounter this anxiety, and it’s a little different with every new person and dynamic.
It takes time to get comfortable and adjust to another person being in your life in any capacity. This is a completely valid anxiety, and it doesn’t mean you’re incapable of having a relationship if that’s something you want.
It just means you may need some time to grow into it, and that’s ok too.
Where you’re at is fine AND normal.
No matter your dating history or “lack-there-of,” you’re going to be OK.
If you haven’t dated yet, no matter how old you are, you are worthy no matter what. You are loveable. And you don’t “lack” anything.
There is no rulebook or blueprint for what is supposed to be experienced at certain points in life.
If dating scares you, it’s OK.
If it’s an active choice to not date, that’s fine.
OR, if you’re just the type of person who wants to be nit-picky and take it slow, that’s alright too!
Pace is an incredibly individual thing, and the person you’re meant to be with will happily meet you there.
Transparency is important, but it’s also important to respect yourself and the pace you’re desiring in connections.
If you are someone who hasn’t dated much yet and is looking for some advice on how how to feel comfortable starting, here are some tips below:
1: Communicate your boundaries: Don’t be afraid to be very clear about what makes you comfortable. Maybe you don’t give out your phone number on a dating app until you meet in person first. Maybe you aren’t comfortable going anywhere “private” with someone new until the fifth date. Maybe dinner dates are too much pressure for you, and you prefer to meet over drinks or coffee. Whatever those boundaries are, they are OK, and you should feel empowered to express them!
2: Try to find what dating style works best for you. For example, dating apps might give you the creeps because you have no connection to the person. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to tap your friends for mutual single people they trust and think you’d like. Or, maybe you want to meet someone organically but you’re not a partier and don’t love the bar scene. Try to meet people other ways, like co-ed soccer teams, hiking clubs or fun creative groups you can join with a friend for less pressure.
3: Take things at your own pace. Remember that you set your own standards for what you’re comfortable with, and remind yourself that no one has a right to pressure you into changing that.
4: Remember that you don’t have to share your dating experience if you don’t want to. It’s possible that the fear of how someone may react to your lack of dating experience can keep you from wanting to date to begin with. This is totally normal. But you should know that you don’t owe anyone that information. You get to share as much as you’re comfortable with, on your own timeline. Eventually, you’ll want to be transparent with a partner about where you’re at, but only when you’re ready!
5: Remind yourself that you are already complete. The most important thing you can do in this situation is not let it impact your self-esteem and sense of self. You are whole without a romantic partner. You are worthy without a relationship, and just because you haven’t had one yet doesn’t mean you don’t know what you deserve as a person. Remember this.
Whatever your standards are, don’t let the insecurity change them just to “fit in.”
Don’t let social pressure make you feel like you have to do anything.
Wherever you’re at, that’s perfect.
There is nothing wrong with you.
You deserve to be empowered by every element of yourself, INCLUDING this.