Let me introduce you to a much younger, more fun, and less stable version of me: Single Josie. I always prioritized my life and my friends over boys, no matter what stage of life I was in (good job, single Jo!), but I had my fair share of staying up late to text with boys who weren’t worth my time, keeping up with ex-boyfriends I didn’t even want a future with, and even lusting after the occasional douche here and there (don’t we all fall victim to a douchebag every now and again?).
Five months spent in Paris ended up changing the entire trajectory of my life for more reasons than one (quick personal apology to my coworkers who have to listen to me say “this one time when I studied abroad in ~Paris~” about three times a day). It was the first time in my life I really, truly discovered who I was, in the most Carrie-Bradshaw-cliché way possible. Before going to Paris, I pictured I would start up a love affair with a Frenchman who would say romantic things to me in adorable broken English while baking soufflé au chocolat (a girl can dream, right?). Spoiler alert: that is not what happened (though that sounds like a killer rom-com premise).
Instead, I spent every day in French classes and working at ELLE magazine, an internship I had longed for all my life. I spent every evening exploring the city by myself, sitting in cafes and people-watching with a glass of wine and a croque monsieur. I traveled every weekend, sometimes on my own. I started to know myself in a way I never had before. And then a funny thing happened: Despite my swearing-off relationships, a cute baseball player from back home had been reaching out to me. Near the end of my time in Paris, his persistence finally wore me down, and I decided to respond.
A Facebook conversation turned into phone calls for hours, and phone calls turned into mailing gifts, and before I knew it, I was head over heels before I even crossed the Atlantic to come back home. I traded in a Frenchman for a baseball player, and years later, I swear it’s because of the ways I got to know what I really wanted during my alone time in Paris. The End. Thank you for reading my memoir. I’m hoping it becomes an Eat, Pray, Love kind of best-seller, and Julia Roberts will play me in the movie adaptation. I’m just spit-balling here.
While I still have much to learn in my life, looking back at the girl who was drinking a little bit too much punch at frat houses (relatable me) or crying in a Paris métro station because she couldn’t find which train took her to the Champs-Élysées (bougie me), here are the 12 things I wish I could tell my single self and maybe you’d want to tell your single self too:
1. Your relationship status is the least of your problems.
Not to be such a Debbie Downer, but get this, single Josie: You’ve got a lot more to worry about than which frat guy you should bring to formal. Your young adult life will bring a lot of major changes that will be bigger than the box you check under “relationship status.” You’ll want to find a career that fulfills you, feel financially stable enough to do so, and move across the country multiple times to find the place you’re meant to be. Enjoy your life, laugh a lot, and have a whole lot of fun, but spend more time figuring out how to create a life that will fulfill you more than you spend swiping through Bumble. You have the rest of your life to be in love. For now, just be in love with your life.
2. When you feel a lack of something, give it.
It may sound counterintuitive to give away whatever you feel is lacking from your life, but it’s the secret to filling voids that I wish I had learned sooner. Feeling a lack of something—whether it’s time, money, support, or love—is all mental, no matter what. It’s a glass-half-empty situation: Realizing you have enough water (or Pinot Grigio!) to give some away will show you it’s half-full instead. If you’re constantly stressed about not having enough money to buy the expensive skincare treatments you want or go out to the nice restaurants with your friends every week, consider donating $5 a month to a charity that needs your money more than expensive skincare treatments or nice restaurants do. You’ll start to focus on what you do have.
Likewise, during those moments when you leave a bad date feeling hopeless or lay in bed at night feeling lonely, give love instead of wishing you had it. Call your mom and tell her how much you love her, ask a friend that’s struggling how she’s doing, or better yet, stand in front of the mirror and compliment all the things you admire about yourself, knowing self-love is the most worthwhile kind of love to give.
3. Invest your time, don’t just spend it.
Also like money, some people are natural investors and some are spenders. We often think of time as something to spend: spending the day going to work, spending the night going out with friends, or spending an hour taking a nap (because who doesn’t need a nap?). But instead of thinking of spending time between relationships, think of how you can invest your time to become the person you want to be when you do find the right relationship. More importantly, invest your time so that you’re not waiting to find the right relationship. Think of every moment as something you could be doing for your future self, whether it’s learning a new skill or working on building up your friendships. Just like financial investing, you’ll be buying yourself more time to spend later.
4. Take note of the moments that make you feel unsafe.
We are all strong, confident, capable women—duh. Spending the time alone that you need to spend, whether it’s traveling or being alone in your own city is necessary, but it can also put you in situations that give you that uh-oh feeling in your gut. No matter how much you try to protect yourself when you’re alone like your mom and Freshmen Seminar taught you, you’ll still have consistent moments where you’ll be wearing a scarf and jacket and the Uber driver will say something to you that makes you feel like no amount of layers is enough.
You’ll have moments when a stranger on the Paris Métro looks at you in broad daylight in a way that makes you uncomfortable in your own skin. There will be times that someone will not take no for an answer, and something so momentary will feel so scary for the rest of your life. As painful as these moments are, or as normal as they feel, take note of them all. Use them to feel empowered when you’re alone. And when you notice them enough, “gentle” will show up on your list of who you let love you, even above handsome or funny (but don’t worry. You’ll get all three).
5. Cut it off with your ex-boyfriend already!
There are a lot of reasons we stick around with the people we know are not good for us. Maybe they’re a security blanket, maybe you’re worried you won’t find love again, or maybe you’re subconsciously seeking their approval. For me, it was too much time and history that felt like a lot to give up, even if I knew I’d give it up for something better. It just felt easier to gradually grow apart. As you can imagine, breakups don’t work like that, and they cause a lot more pain in the end. No matter the reason the wrong person is still in your life, as soon as you realize they’re not the one for you, that should be the end of it. Know what you deserve, be honest with yourself and the other person, and don’t settle to avoid pain. Important tip: Unfollow them on social media. Just do it already!
6. Let your friends fill the lonely spots.
I’ve always been a girl’s girl. All of the boyfriends and guy friends in the world can’t compare to the connection I have with my female friends. But friends to me have always just been people to have fun with; I’m not good at opening up or depending on them. But my college roommate became my family as she cried with me through things like a breakup and the death of a family member, and more importantly, became my inherent plus one and other half to the point where I still want to tell her whenever something’s wrong.
If anything, this flashback is a lesson in depending on people. I wish I had been more vulnerable in non-romantic relationships because I learned that good female friendships really do fill the lonely spots. Also, single Josie, you’re currently obsessed with Carrie Bradshaw’s wardrobe and job, but when she says “Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates,” take note of that too. Even as happy as I feel in my relationship now, I do wish I realized then that sometimes happiness is not a whirlwind romance. Sometimes happiness is a trashy show, a whole lot of takeout, and the kind of best friend you make the effort to keep for a lifetime.
7. Dating is about finding out what you want (and it’s supposed to be fun!)
Let’s make one thing clear: Single Josie and in-a-relationship Josie have always been good at keeping high standards. But there were times when I got more caught up in being wanted that I didn’t even think about what I wanted out of someone else. Dating is supposed to be about finding what you want, not becoming what someone else wants. Oh yeah, and don’t take it so seriously! Some people will like you and some people won’t. No matter if a second date follows, it should be fun meeting new people. If it’s not, take a break from dating to reflect on what you’re really looking for in your dating life: is it to feed your own ego and heal insecurity, or are you actually looking for a partner?
8. When you meet the right person, you build the relationship you want, it doesn’t just happen to you.
I’ve learned a lot about what a “soulmate” means since I was last single. To go back to those aforementioned high standards, I truly believed my perfect match would know how to ballroom dance, never get frustrated by me, and love poetry as much as I did (if he’s the one perfect person out there for me, he must!). I only considered seriously dating people with certain and extremely specific characteristics (AKA no one), as if I could create my own soulmate like a computer game (can’t The Sims just be real life!?).
But when you find someone who gets you and loves you more than you even knew to add to your list of high expectations, you realize the other things don’t matter. You trust them and their love for you enough to grow the kind of relationship you’ve always wanted together. So don’t write someone off because they don’t play guitar or have never been to Europe. The right person will support who you are and what you want out of life, so sign up for ballroom lessons and book an Italian vacation together. You both build the relationship you want, but you can’t (and shouldn’t want to!) change the person.
9. “No” is a complete sentence
Inherently, I’m what some would call a “people-pleaser” and what the honest of us would call a “pushover.” I spent much of my dating life feeling bad about people’s feelings and cradling men’s egos. I came up with excuses like “I have a boyfriend” rather than “I’m not interested” to persistent men at bars and spent too much time texting back boys I didn’t want to talk to, just so I wouldn’t hurt their feelings. I wish I could tell single Josie that one day, she will find strength, rather than silence, in her dominant empathy. Until then, work on saying no when you mean no.
10. Focus on growing so much that you crave the feeling of trying something new
Change used to be much harder for me. It affected my dating life because I resisted putting myself out of my comfort zone and didn’t try new things if I could help it. Not only did this prevent me from meeting new people, but more importantly, it prevented me from being my best self. No matter what, focus on growing so much that change becomes your comfort zone. The little things every day make a difference: ordering a new drink at the bar, reading a different kind of book than you’re used to, trying a workout class you’ve never done, and talking to people you’ve never met.
11. Eat the damn pastry!
I’ve never considered myself to be insecure, but looking back on my life, there have been a lot of foods I didn’t eat and a lot of unhealthy meals I regretted eating. I want to hug 20-year-old me and tell her she’s perfect just the way she is, like all those American Girl puberty books tried to tell me over a decade ago. I also wish I could tell her the stress about eating is worse for her body than any piece of pizza or cone of ice cream, and her worthiness of love has nothing to do with her weight or what she eats. Enjoy every bite of your life, and eat with mindfulness instead of insecurity. No matter what magazines or lingerie ads tell us, confidence will always be more attractive than how we look.
12. Wait for a love that feels like a fairytale.
When you’re looking for a relationship, it’s tempting to romanticize the people you meet or stick around with someone that has some endearing qualities, hoping that it works out because you don’t want to be alone. But I promise you’ll be so much happier enjoying alone time than being in the wrong relationship. You’ll learn one day that love will only be worth having when it feels like a fairy tale—not a Cinderella story, per se (I definitely do not want to lose a good pair of shoes!), but it will feel too good to be true.
This person truly loves the you that you love; they’ll think it’s hilarious and cute when you’re on your period and crying while watching reality shows, and they’ll do a lot of unromantic things for you every day that make you smile. You’ll get into disagreements, but they’ll care more about how you feel than about being right. They may not have a horse and carriage (à la Prince Charming), but seeing them will feel like coming home after a long day. Doesn’t that sound like a much better fairy tale? Dear single Josie, for all the wrongs you go through, one day there will be a right that makes all the wrongs worth it. Don’t settle for less, and enjoy your life while you’re not settling.