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Dating Advice #181 - Growing Up

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

How to jump-start the engines -- when you want to get married but don't feel emotionally ready.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

When I read your columns, I often find myself very frustrated. What if a person doesn't know at the age of 20 how s/he wants to spend the rest of his/her life?! I am 20-something, haven't yet graduated college, and spiritually have not found my peace.

Am I the only one in this situation?!

So often you speak in the ideal, but what of the reality? Am I supposed to wait until I have my whole life figured out before I get married?


Dear Hanna,

Relax! We're not trying to rush you. Many 20-somethings are still in the process of finding out who they are and the direction they would like their lives to take, and for many it is early to begin to date for marriage. Furthermore, even 20-somethings who have a pretty good idea about what they would like to do with their lives and where they are spiritually will be undergoing some changes over the next several years. Human beings are not meant to live static lives; growth is part of the life process.

We do think that it is important that at some point in young adulthood, men and women make a concerted effort to clarify their value systems, their personal goals for the present and the future, and their personal strengths as well as qualities they would like to work to improve.

We're concerned when fun and adventure becomes an end in itself, rather than a vehicle for personal growth.

We know that there are many young adults who would prefer to use this period in their life as a time to seek fun or adventure, to experiment with all that life has to offer, and enjoy few responsibilities, and we're not saying that anyone should give up the opportunity to engage in this rite of passage. However, we're concerned when this lifestyle becomes an end in itself rather than a vehicle for personal growth.

We don't believe that adolescence should be extended into the late 20s and early 30s. Instead, we believe that people who are in their early 20s should gradually start to focus on using their experiences to help them figure out who they are and what direction they would like their life to take.

You certainly aren't the only 20-something who is still figuring out what you want to do with your life and where you want to be religiously. The important thing is to make the effort to sort things out. And you don't have to have your life all mapped out before you are ready to date seriously. The fact is, even when we make maps, life takes turns we don't anticipate. You just need to get a good sense of the general direction in which you are moving, as well as the values that are important to you.

If you're having some difficulty with this process, we suggest that you keep a journal to memorialize your experiences and your feelings. Periodically review what you have written -- it will help you gain some clarity and will help you see how you are "evolving."

In addition, you can set some "mini-goals" to accomplish, which can help you learn more about yourself, such as reading a particular book or attending a lecture that can help clarify an issue that has been troubling you; learning a course or craft just because it interests you even though it may not advance your career; attending a spiritual retreat; taking a temporary job to help clarify your career goals; going on a trip that you have been hoping to take; or setting aside a couple of hours each week for a volunteer project.

You may not get everything figured out, but you'll have enough clarity to begin dating for marriage.

It's a good idea to make a list of all of your mini-goals and check each one off as you accomplish it, and keep making entries in your journal. This way you'll avoid falling victim to the inertia that tempts many of us when we are trying to address a challenge.

You may want to give yourself an overall time frame for following these suggestions. It could be six months, a year, or 18 months. Someone who is younger may want a little more time. At the end of this period, take the time to reassess where you are and the direction in which your life is moving. You may not have everything figured out, but you probably will have a great deal of clarity, enough to have a general idea of the values that are important to you, the direction in which you are going, and who you are as a person. With that awareness, you can formulate an idea about the qualities you are looking for in your future husband, and can begin to date for marriage.

We know that for many people, singlehood is difficult, and that some people deal with the difficulty by unwisely rushing into marriage. We can't wave a magic wand and make the difficulty go away, but the suggestions we have made can help you accelerate the self-discovery process so that you will soon be ready to date for marriage.

We wish you the best of success,

Rosie & Sherry

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