The Single Millennial’s Guide to Self-Discovery

by Nicole Mak 2 years ago in advice / dating / love / breakups / single

How “The One” Was Holding You Back

The Single Millennial’s Guide to Self-Discovery

At the risk of having my pending wedding invitations revoked, I have to start with the disclaimer that I’ve been in love, that it’s wonderful, and that I respect the couples that I know who truly complement one another -- This article isn’t for you. It's for my fellow single millennials whose compositions of friend groups range from the "happily married" to "previously married" to "never married but with children" and everything in between. It's for those of us deciphering societal expectations, questioning if they apply to us, and deciding whether or not we care.

I wouldn’t be able to defend the other side if I hadn’t had my share of serious relationships. Each one taught me something new about myself, about other humans, and about love itself. They also taught me that being single, at least for a time, can be critical to your own self-discovery.

First, it’s time to change your perspective on being single. Regardless of the circumstances that led you here, embrace this as an exciting time of your life in which your responsibilities to anyone else are minimal. Your lack of a significant other is most definitely not a reason to feel like “less” of a person because you aren’t part of a couple.

Treasure the time that you have now to focus on you, and only you – There is no better or more appropriate time to be shamelessly selfish. This quick-tips guide will have you getting butterflies at the thought of, well, yourself, and everything that you're capable of accomplishing.

Stop Listening to Society

There is no deadline as to when you have to "settle down" -- I personally hate the term itself. Our parents' generations lived in worlds different from ours, where timelines as to what stage of life you were expected to be in by certain ages was much more clearly delineated. Stop freaking out if you don't have the picket fence and golden retrievers and baby on the way that your parents did at your age. Our generation is breaking down societal norms in terms of how we view domestic life, and when and how we approach it.

Empower Yourself

This is the time to find what drives you. After a breakup, there is an inevitable void that you eventually have to acknowledge. You have the power to decide that filling that void is an exciting opportunity to rediscover, and even redefine, who you are.

I have so many interests now that I never would have discovered if I were still in any of my past relationships. After my most pivotal breakup, I focused on empowering myself in all aspects of my life. I enrolled in self-defense classes to empower myself physically, began meditating to empower myself mentally, and rediscovered writing to empower myself psychologically. While art and writing has always been a part of my identity, both had easily fallen by the wayside when I was preoccupied with a significant other.

Be adventurous. Try new things. Empower yourself by diving deep and uncovering your passion. While it may take some soul-searching, when you find something that gives you an adrenaline rush and is also an emotional outlet, it will absolutely change your life.

Date Yourself

As a formerly serial monogamist, I occasionally will catch myself thinking, out of habit, “I wish I had a boyfriend to [take me out/walk the dog/reach something that I can’t]” – you get the idea. When a thought like that crosses my mind, I turn it into something that I can do for myself. I’ll buy myself flowers (and maybe a stepstool) with no shame. This is basically a valid excuse to treat yo’self, without apology, because you’re amazing and you deserve it. It's also a way of pinpointing why you may want to be in a relationship, and if it's for the right reasons.

Dating yourself isn't just spoiling yourself. It's spending time with yourself, getting to know yourself again, and being okay with alone time. Taking the time for self-assessment will bring you clarity as to who you are as an individual, when you aren't in a relationship.


This is the opportune time to explore what you want out of your life. Set aside some time to recenter on your goals and aspirations. One exercise I like is to write down a list of people who inspire you, what qualities about them you admire, and what you can do to emulate them.

Next, write a list of the top things that you most want to accomplish, in whatever time frame that you want to specify. If you’re a bit dark like me, it can be called “If I die next week, I’ll regret not having accomplished these.” Lighthearted crowd, feel free to title it “bucket list.” These are personal lists that no outside influences, like a relationship or the prospect of one, should interfere with.

If you do want a relationship, this is the ideal time to decide on the attributes that you want in your "future person." Someone once recommended that I do this while I was single, or "while the blinders weren't on." Then, keep that list and see how your choice of partner matches up later. Obviously one person won't match all of your criteria, but establishing what your personal deal breakers are -- and not compromising your standards -- is key to your own health and happiness.

Embrace Your Open-Ended Future

The grass is always greener, but never forget that your friends who are in serious relationships and building families have significantly less freedom than you do. The life decisions that you’re making now are based on you and you alone. If you want to accept a job in a new city, you can do so without consulting anyone or having to worry about finding your partner a job nearby. You have the ability to be as spontaneous as you choose when it comes to your career, your upcoming vacation time, or your plans tonight, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. That is a level of freedom that you should never take for granted. (P.S. Also remember that you have your entire bed to yourself, a benefit not to be overlooked.)

Evaluate - and Grow - Your Social Network

With any breakup comes a natural casualty of “friendships” – Sometimes you find out who your friends are the hard way, but even this is a blessing. Consider it a healthy cleanse of the remnants of a period of your life that is now over.

Meet new people. Network, and enjoy working the room without having to worry about if your significant other is having fun or not. Go to lunch or drinks with coworkers. You don’t have to deal with anyone’s jealousy, or update anyone on where you are or who you’re with, so go wherever you want for as long as you want. Stay out late now and then, get lost in conversations, make friends with strangers. There's no better time for adventures and new friendships that you never would have had otherwise.

Reconnect with your true friends who haven’t been getting the time and attention from you that they deserve. There is bound to be an occasional strain on friendships when one friend is in a relationship. Rediscover the Girls’ (or Guys') Night Out, or bond over how hilariously awful dating apps are. Speaking of ---

Swipe Right

Embracing your single status doesn’t mean that you can’t browse. Anyone single (ahem --- Since there seems to be some, or a lot of, confusion, ‘single’ means that you are not in a relationship) has the right to have any dating app that they want. Have fun with it – don’t take it too seriously. If anything, these apps are a great way to make new connections, maybe new friends, or just to entertain yourself (and your friends, with screenshots).

Adopt a Pet

My current best friend was a breakup dog. Meaning that my dad, who I was living with at the time, saw the pathetic state that I was in and changed his “no indoor animals” policy. The unconditional love and company that a pet provides is so healing, and they talk less than your ex. Adopting a pet is the most rewarding post-breakup purchase that you can possibly make (just make sure that you are able and willing to care for them – pet ownership is a huge responsibility).

Stay Open-Minded - but Independent

You’ve been in love, and you’ve been loved. Just because you’ve already been there doesn’t mean that it’s over – far from it. Acknowledge and appreciate the experience that built you up, broke you down, and made you better. From it, you now know what you can change about your own tendencies, what qualities you may want in a future partner, and those that you absolutely do not want. When you start spending a significant amount of time with someone new, you’ll know sooner rather than later whether or not they’re going to fit in with your lifestyle and personality because you’ve already experienced what it’s like to intertwine your life with someone else’s.

But in the end, maintaining your sphere of independence and your own sense of self is critical to your psychological well-being. Don't lose yourself in someone else. Keep the clarity that you worked so hard to achieve alive, fuel your potential daily, and don't lose sight of your dreams. Another person should never be your whole world. Your world already has so much going on in it for that to ever be the case.

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Nicole Mak

Nicole aspires to be the Carrie Bradshaw of the Midwest, minus the cigarettes and swap the Cosmo with a caramel macchiato. She writes about the millennial experience of love and dating, and travel.

Follow Nicole on Twitter: @snicmak

See all posts by Nicole Mak