As a Single Person in Your 20’s or 30’s how do you Define Adulthood?

“Should I swipe left or right?” “I’m thinking of trying OkCupid. I know people that have gotten married through that site!” “No, you won’t meet quality people unless you pay for it, you have to join or eHarmony.” “No, I want to meet someone organically, it’s just so hard because it’s not like I have a ton of coworkers to network with.” For most singles in their 20’s and 30’s these conversations are part of the norm.  Our culture is saturated with companies interested in helping you meet that perfect someone so you can (finally) “start your life.”

But that poses an interesting question, how do you define adulthood as a 20 or 30-something when you haven’t yet found that one thing that the world around you is telling you you’re missing. We live in a culture obsessed with coupling.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often work with clients struggling to figure themselves out, even when they are part of a couple.  However, when it comes to singles, the message being received often seems to be, “once you find a partner, you can finally take that big old step into being a “grown-up.”

Recently on a train I was sitting next to two 20-something women and one of them was saying to her friend, “When I go home I feel like a kid again. How do people take you seriously as an adult when you’re single?” It is often the singles in the family that get the awkwardly placed chair in the corner  of the table at holidays, the ones that might get tacked onto invites with their parents, etc.  And, it is a good life question, how do we place value on our personal achievements, growth, etc.? The answer is surely based on the individual, but no matter what your beliefs, we do live in an environment that is chock full of companies offering partner-meeting assistance.

While “singleness” allows for personal/professional growth, the ability to find one’s own individuality and the time to figure out which types of partners surely don’t work, it can also be confusing to navigate through at times. For some, there is no desire to couple at all.  The decision is a completely personal one and can often raise life-meaning questions for people.

As a family therapist I have never had an individual walk into a room completely solo. Even when working with people individually, we always bring others into the therapy room with us. Because, after all, we are each of us, children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, coworkers, etc. Sometimes when we hear the words marriage and family therapist we think couples therapy. And of course that is part of the work. However, as a marriage and family therapist I have found my work with individuals some of the most rewarding. It is often a space for people to explore these questions of being single, the search for a partner, or the desire not to partner, etc.

What do you think about this? Are these questions you’ve asked yourself, talked about with friends/family, etc.? Feel free to use the section below to comment, pose questions or thoughts, etc. And, if you’re interested in exploring more of your own personal experiences and think that therapy might be right for you now, see our site for more information and contact details.

Linda Nelli
is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Director at North Brooklyn Marriage & Family Therapy. Linda believes in working collaboratively with clients to make positive changes and achieve greater fulfillment from their lives. Working with the knowledge that we are all experts of our own lives, Linda believes that through the therapeutic relationship, clients can re-author their stories. Read more about Linda