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I got married at 26. I don’t have the experience to speak to a single lady who’s hoping to find the love of her life in her thirties, forties, fifties, or beyond because I didn’t live it. Attempting authenticity here, people. Stick with me. This is me, sneak eating an ice cream bar while my husband watches the kids.

A super-sweet blog reader who is in her early twenties emailed me and asked for forward-looking advice. She’s clever, virtuous, and doing all the hard work of living authentically and developing her best self. I emailed her this (perhaps) shocking list of things I would tell a lady in her position to ponder on, looking ahead to being as prepared as one may be for marriage and kids.

Unsolicited advice to the rest of you! Eat it up! I didn’t do all of these things, but some, and others I watched my friends endure.

1) Do lots of things you want to do, things that are on your heart.

Travel, career, buy nice boots, color your hair, spent an entire month eating dark chocolate every day, whatever. You give up a hunk of your autonomy to your husband, and then the rest is shredded by small kids ;) I joke a little, but truly. Don’t put off anything you feel called to spend money and time on, because those decisions will no longer be your own.

2) Pray specifically for a spouse who can handle your sh*t.

That’s a crude way to put it, but genuinely pray for someone who has the grace to handle the worst of you. Even though you are in a time where you’re devoting a lot of energy to being your best and striving, a bare-knuckle, drag-down, heart-ripping relationship could be in your future: marriage. You want someone who can handle your ugly, too.

3) Heal fractures within your family.

The middle twenties are still such a time for cementing friendships and individuating as much as you can from your family of origin because, please, you moved out seven years ago and as much as you love them, you are not a little kid anymore!

Despite that, whatever hurts lay in your family of origin will only widen if//when you bring a serious boyfriend and then fiancé, and then husband into them. Your mother’s nagging? You complain about it to him because you want to explain who you are and where you come from. He pegs your moms as a banshee and can’t shake the impression.

Your family will be the foundation in many ways for how you family yourself. Don’t underestimate those roots. They’re what you go back to when you’re derangedly sleep deprived and he didn’t wake up to change the baby’s diaper and you want to scream his face off.

4) Get healthy.

If you’re comfortably healthy, then maintain. And I don’t mean lose weight. I mean set your food cycles to healthy habits, your body movements to frequent (not poop, but regular poop is always a good thing!), and your mind to clear.

Developing a foundation of health means when the crazy comes, you have something to go back to. Also, this way, if you love to party a little too hardy or smoke a cig a few times a month just when drinking with friends!, these won’t be insanely hard to break when you’re pregnant and going through withdrawal.

5) Be happy where you are.

I remember gazing with longing into my crystal ball, wanting SO MUCH to know who and where and when I would meet the love of my life.

For many of us it can consume a deep part of our energy. Happiness means happiness pheromones and those exuded from your body attract other happy people. There’s seriously some science behind it.

Remember you get to choose who you fall in love with, to a large extent. Don’t give your heart away if the relationships is fraught with drama (as exciting and sexy as that can feel) or the guy isn’t happy at his core. One happy person cannot hold up an unhappy one for life.

Get your happy on. Find a therapist. Find essential oils. Find the right medication. Find enough chocolate. Find your relationship with God. Whatever will bring on this deep peace & joy.

I wrote more on how my relationship with God took an unexpected turn for the deeper over at Blessed is She today!

Things I omitted: wake up many times a night and sandpaper your nipples. Poop while holding a squirming live creature. Splash urine (not yours!) on your face. Sing children’s songs in a happy tone. Repeat yourself about 38 times a day, in a “calm” voice.

What’s your best advice, sisters?

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34 Responses to My Advice for the Single Lady in Her Twenties

  1. Lea says:

    Serve as Jesus served. The best leaders in the world will tell you servant hood is at the core. Learn to do it cheerfully, for your own sanity! Marriage is absolutely about 2 people choosing to serve each other as they build a family for the rest of their lives!
    Take care of your health. Make healthy, intentional habits before you have a husband and kids vying for 90% of your time. Then you won’t have to try to figure out how to eat/cook/exercise while being a wife am mama.
    Of course, chocolate!
    Your suggestions are hilarious Nell.

  2. Gina says:

    Ha! #2 is so great, and I wish I had done this. Lucky for me, I did marry a guy like that.

    Also, spot-on with getting healthy and doing lots of things. Such a great list, Nell!

  3. Erica says:

    One of our mutual friends sent this to me because it helped her today and the it helped me! So much good food for thought – currently making plans to go to Cuba (which an unnamed ex did NOT want to do), buying really nice sheets (as if I don’t already enjoy bed enough) and going to take some classes to learn a new skill! Plus, I’ve seriously been getting nervous that no one will ever love my ugly! I must turn that over and believe that it will be outweighed by my good. Love you

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      You’re gonna find the man who loves your ugly. And gets it. And heck yeah on Cuba and the sheets!!!!!!! Love you!

    • Pomeline says:

      One of the greatest things I did in my single years was travel, travel, travel. It really helped me be fearless, and know that I can do things on my own. I can’t predict the future, but I know there is one person who adores your ugly, and that’s God. He sees all that you are, and loves you. Hold on to that truth, and let it shape you. Sending much love to you, and kudos on getting the fancy sheets.

  4. Michele says:

    Love this, Nell!!! And make sure you know and love yourself – it’s the only way you can truly give yourself away!

  5. Lis says:

    Love it, Nell! I get so frustrated with these posts that are written for single women without the Christian perspective and without chocolate mentioned at all! How is that realistic?!

    Just shared. :)

  6. Julie says:

    Wow! These are great suggestions! Since I’ve been happily married for 24 years, I would only add: make sure Jesus is first in your life–really sure! He is the love and the food that will sustain you through EVERYTHING–not only in marriage but in life. I know. If He isn’t first, in both your lives, you’ll know it the first time you are faced with heart-wrenching circumstances (whether it be loss of life, loss of income, loss of freedoms). Pray always–preferably with your potential future mate.

  7. Sara R says:

    Oh yes these are great! Love yourself lots! Spend tons of time with friends that make you happy and are good for you. Say yes more than no. Did I mention love yourself?! Not that you don’t when you get married and have children but it’s not always in the forefront while the children are small.

  8. Laura says:

    As a twenty-something single Catholic, thank you, Nell! Usually advice posts like this really annoy me because they come from (awesome!) people who are no longer single….which makes me feel like they can’t identify with the struggle. But your approach is nicer. I’ve prayed for a long time, but have never heard someone suggest praying for someone who can take my crap. Ha! And that’s such a good point to work on healing family relationships. I appreciate being addressed! And I think I’ll take your advice and go get some chocolate ;-) That’s something I think we can all benefit from, no matter what stage of life we’re in!

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      I tried really hard not to be annoying. I remember reading those kind of well-intentioned posts too hahaha go get some chocolate too!!!

  9. Beth Anne says:

    I agree with the others #2 is great. I recently read another list that said something like “Be able to love your spouse even when it’s hard.” And my boyfriend was all yeah…I do that all the time…trust me it’s hard.

    #4 is really good and I’d add go to any kind of doctors you need to. I avoided doctors and dentists for way too long and have spent the last 2 years playing catch-up to make sure my health is okay and it feels good.

    A few years ago after several family deaths I finally went to therapy and it was one of the best things I did. I’m still a work in progress (but aren’t we all) but it’s been great for me.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Great thinking on the all kinds of doctors. Also so glad you have worked so hard in therapy! Therapy is awesome for all of us!!

  10. Sarah says:

    Really great post! Thank you. I met “the one” and quickly married him at 29, so i remember all this very well. You’re spot on and my self of 5 years ago would def appreciate this post also.

  11. Jocelyn says:

    This is the first post I’ve ever read from you; I thought it was great. As a single in her thirties I appreciate the acknowledgment that you can’t speak to the challenges of being single and over 30 (40 or 50 etc.). I will say being single in my 30s is very different than being single in my 20s, some aspects easier, some harder. Your advice is wise. In my 35+ years I have tried to live what you advise to do. I think it takes a while before we can learn the lessons you speak of, married or single. You wish you would have done everything you wanted to do; I wonder when I’ll no longer have time to do anything and everything I want to do. ;) There are moments in life I run out of dreams and have to figure out more. “Where does God want me now? What’s next?” I got the dream job, travelled, took a course… So I check in with God and find out what’s next. Living a full and healthy life no matter our state in life is so important, I also wish I had learned that in my twenties. Imagine what more I could have done!!!

    I will take tip #2 to heart, I’ve prayed for years that my husband is close to God but I never thought I better pray he can put up with me! A new line of prayers coming right up! Thank you for your post. I’ve shared it with a lot of friends.

  12. Erin says:

    I didn’t meet my spouse and marry until I was 38. Those were some long lonely years. I love all your advice and would only add to get your financial health in shape. Open a retirement account, pay off any loans, buy a house if you wish, etc. Don’t let it stop you from doing the things you love, but make decisions with a long term view.

  13. Emma says:

    Okay this is hilarious! Thank you so much for this post. Finding someone who can “love your ugly”…I love it. That’s exactly what I want. And as far as doing things for yourself I didn’t realize how freeing that is/was: I’ve cut my hair, bought a pretty table cloth, saved a ton of money for World Youth Day in Krakow, and just challenged myself to hit up a happy hour once a week just to meet new people.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I am a young 20 something single and sometimes it is so depressing reading those “advice for singles” articles. This made me laugh and I love #2 on your list. I struggle with meeting new people because I live in a small town and work full time. I think I need to try to start doing things for myself. Your post is very encouraging.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      I remember most of those advice posts being so annoying when I was in my 20’s. Lots of how to snag a date at a bar (horrible shy at bars!) or how to dress for your body type (equally bad at that!). So glad it resonates with you. All stuff we can work on ourselves, for ourselves!

  15. […] My Advice for the Single Lady in her Twenties: Whole Parenting Family […]

  16. Rosemary says:

    Spot. On. I really wish I’d done more of #1 … I thought I was “so busy” … ha! And while I didn’t do nearly enough of #2 (I didn’t realize I *had* sh*t before I got married … I thought I was a catch ;) ), the Good Lord was very gracious and gave me one anyway.

  17. Kate says:

    Hello sweet Nell! I wasn’t going to comment here because my response feels very personal and specific to me, but I keep coming back here and staring at one line of your lovely and wise post, over and over. I’ve come back to it about 5 times now. So I’m going to take a shot at articulating why. The line, of course, is this one (omitting the part about Drama–Doug and I didn’t have that):

    “Don’t give your heart away if … the guy isn’t happy at his core. One happy person cannot hold up an unhappy one for life.”

    This is true. This is so obviously, completely true. I, very knowingly, married a person who was not even close to happy at his core. And I specifically made the choice to love him and join my life to him anyway. My perpetually optimistic self (he called me Pollyanna pretty often) thought that MY happiness would be enough–that I could accept him as he was, love him anyway, and maintain my own happiness because I had the tools and resources to look after my own mental health, even if he could not. I never set out to change him or fix him. I didn’t even really believe I could hold him up, all by myself, though at times I sure tried. Always I tried to encourage him to find some sort of path toward healing, so that he could experience more of the joy that was always around him but somehow out of his reach.

    But I couldn’t. I couldn’t hold him up. For him, the door to happiness never opened. His unhappiness, his continual general discontent with living inside his own mind in this world ate at me. His unhappiness chipped away at our bond with each other, and began to poison my happiness too. So one day after things between us had been quite bad for some time, I told it to him straight–that if he couldn’t address his own mental health, I wasn’t sure I could stay married to him. 36 hours later, he was gone forever.

    I didn’t intend to be so dramatic about this. But of course there’s no skirting around the drama of suicide. Apparently the unhappiness in his core was darker and deeper than I ever saw. My husband told me that he didn’t want to live without me, and then he showed me how much he meant that.

    So this certainly looks like a cautionary tale that proves your advice absolutely true. Don’t choose an unhappy person to be your spouse. No matter how strong or how determined, you cannot bring joy to the heart of a marriage all by yourself. So don’t try.

    And yet.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that if I had a time machine and the opportunity to shift course and marry someone else, I wouldn’t. This was the path of our souls, his and mine, and somewhere subconsciously I knew this when I chose him. I have no trouble understanding why I joyfully told him yes, even as some big part of me knew the risk I was accepting. And though I could not in good conscious advise another woman to do the same, I’d do it again.

    Two healthy people have a far better chance of building a happy and enduring bond. But life is rarely ideal, and sometimes we are led down non-ideal paths for reasons we can’t ever fully comprehend.

    Having written that much, I finally figured out why I needed to write this. The most important piece of advice in your post comes in the next paragraph:

    Find your relationship with God.

    For me this looks very different than it does for you and probably most of your readers, but the point is the same. In my 20s I found God. I found ways that work for me to gradually heal broken things in myself and move ever closer to what is true, which is just love. That’s God, for me. Having learned how to do this for myself was not enough to save my husband. But it was enough for me to love him, and lose him, without ever losing myself.

    None of us knows what life might throw our way. So much is beyond our control. But God is always there, and there’s no time like right now for each of us to walk toward that strength and power and love. Those things are always there for us, in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, single, married, or brokenhearted as we may be.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Oh, Kate. Kate. My heart is rent asunder for you. Watching you going through Doug’s loss, all of our loss of him, has been humbling and pain filled for Anthony and me both. Thank you for trusting this space with your story. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

      And I really meant it about people finding whatever their version of God was, even if lots of my readers are specifically Catholic. I love that you have found God in your life and that that force of love is acting in you and through you.

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