What I Wish I Knew About Love and Relationships in My 20s

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If there is one thing I could take from my 20s, it’s the profound lessons I learned about love and relationship. I think it applies to all of us. It was through the changing seasons of boyfriends, broken friendships, and break-ups where we learned our best lessons.

Now that I’ve turned thirty, I realise that my ideas about love and relationship are no longer the same as the ones I once had.

What a Meg Ryan film or Nicholas Sparks novel don’t show you are the real-life imperfections hidden in every love story and relationship. Some love stories are flawed. Not everyone gets a happily-ever-after.

If I could go back in time, here’s what I would tell my younger self about the realities of love and relationship.

1. Some friends are not meant to stay

I had the pleasure of meeting people who eventually became my closest friends. I also had the displeasure of meeting people who became my worst enemy. I always believe that the people who walked into our lives brought along a lesson to learn. Some good, some bad.

For anyone who spent their 20s pleasing everyone they met, dealing with a friendship that turned sour was quite an experience.

I met Sarah when I was a junior writer in a publishing house. She was funny, witty, and was friendly to everyone she met. Naturally, I confided everything about work to her.

A few weeks before my annual review, she unreservedly told my manager about my dissatisfactions at work. That led to a warning letter about my ‘work gossip’ situation, which took my promotion off the table. It was a bitter betrayal, one that I will never forget.

That was when I learned that not everyone has your best interest at heart. Despite how friendly they appeared to be, there are people who will be envious of your accomplishments and treat you terribly. These are the friends you shouldn’t keep in your life.

2. Keep your parents close

Someone once asked about my greatest fear in life, and I said ‘heights’. The truth is, I’m afraid of losing my parents. Death is inevitable, but the thought of ambling through life without their guidance, support, and strength scares me.

Life feels more fragile as I grow older. Whenever I read Facebook updates of friends who lost their parents to sickness or unfortunate accidents, my heart aches.

The closest thing I felt to losing a parent was the night my grandmother passed away.

It was an hour past midnight when my mother received the call. My grandmother had drawn her last breath. When we arrived at the hospital, I remember my mother ran down the hallways while holding her tears the best she can.

The moment she saw my grandmother, she hugged her lifeless body and refused to let go. Then, for the first time in my life, I saw my mother wailing in grief. It was also the first time I saw sorrow break the strongest woman I know.

They say death is a gentle reminder of life. Like an epiphany, I know that the same sorrow will find me when my parents leave me one day.

If I could impart one reminder, I’d tell my younger self to love my parents as much as I can. Love them unconditionally, care for them wholeheartedly, and cherish them completely – before time runs out.

3. Some relationships weren’t meant to be

Screwed up relationships and break-ups? We’ve all been there.

Whether it’s the heart-warming tale of your first love or the heartache from a dysfunctional relationship, you’ve lived and learned them all in your 20s.

Most of the time however, we don’t get a fairytale ending. I know someone who recently finalised her divorce after two years of marriage. Another friend dated someone new after separating from his wife.

Some relationships fail, and that’s okay. Some marriages don’t end with happily-ever-after, and that’s okay too.

I learned that complications and challenges happen in different stages of our past and present relationships. While some are meant to test a couple’s commitment and trust towards one another, others are designed as life lessons in disguise.

Halfway through my 20s, I dated a really great guy. We had great chemistry and loved each other, but we wanted different things in life.

He wanted to pursue his career abroad, while I preferred to stay close to my family in Malaysia. He planned to invest in a home in Ipoh, while I loved the city life in Kuala Lumpur. He disliked my parents, while I hated his best friend.

No matter how much we wanted to make the relationship worked, we weren’t meant to be. Eventually, we parted ways.

Looking back, this failed relationship taught me the importance of finding a partner with life goals that complement mine.

A true relationship goes beyond love and commitment towards each other. I would tell my younger self that it’s about finding the one that shares the same views about life, career, family, and everything else.

4. Love yourself before you love others

Self-love is the most profound thing I learned in my 30s, and I wished I realised it sooner. When we’re in a relationship, we spend most of our time putting others before ourselves. Often times, we give more than we receive.

Sometimes, this lack of self-love spills over into a relationship. When I was unhappy in the past, I depended on my partner to make me whole again.

There were many moments in my 20s when I was unsure about what I wanted. I had big dreams for my career and relationship, but things didn’t turn out the way I hoped.

While everyone else was soaring in their careers, I dealt with a boss who hated me. While everyone else was flying across the world for business trips, I was stuck in a crowded workplace for nine hours a day. While everyone else was settling down with their partners, I was still figuring out whether he was the one for me.

I felt lost in the midst of uncertainty, and ultimately, I became unhappy with myself.

Instead of fixing it, I channelled my dissatisfaction towards my boyfriend and depended on him to make me feel happy.

When I had a bad day at work, I criticised the little things he did. When I envied my friends, I compared him unfairly to others. When I had a low moment, I blamed him for not understanding what I went through.

This emotional dependency became the barrier which prevented me from improving and loving myself. Instead of troubleshooting my problems, all I did was blame my boyfriend for everything.

After we broke up, I realised that it was my responsibility to find my own happiness and mend things on my own. It wasn’t my partner’s job to untangle my mess or make me happy. I mean, he had his own life to worry about.

Despite how painful some experiences were, I’m thankful that it didn’t turn out the way I initially wanted it to be. Every failed relationship helped me become a better lover. Every screwed-up friendship helped me become a better friend. Every family moment helped me become a better daughter.

People say age brings wisdom, but I’m more grateful that my experiences did all the work in shaping me into who I am today.

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After being raised on a steady diet of chic flicks and Mum's spaghetti, I've decided to do the things I love most. So I bade farewell to my desk job, moved back in with my parents, and started my freelancing career. You can either wish me luck or read how I'm coping with taxes and annoying aunties on In Real Life.
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