What Having My First Boyfriend at 30 Taught Me
It was never intentional. My perpetual state of singleness started as an accident more than by choice. At thirty, I entered my first long-term relationship. I now had a boyfriend, a partner in life, a significant other—what a strange new experience.
Most people cross that bridge in their teenage years or early twenties. From serious to silly, first loves to life partners, most experience love and some form of long-term before their thirties. I tried. I really did.
I wanted an epic first love at fifteen. Unfortunately, the boys at my high school were uninterested. Fortunately, I never dated one of the many who bombarded me with harassment and abuse for a laugh. There are few eras of my life where I think, “dodged that bullet” as often.
College was harder. I left high school thinking that is where I’d find someone worth dating. Countless crushes later and it still wasn’t in the cards. There were formals and dates and group hangs and “just us” hangs. But never did one of the many wonderful young men feel compelled to date me even after I made it painfully clear how interested I was in them.
After graduation, I spent two years in South America as a missionary. Dating would have complicated an already intense time of my life. After landing back in Ohio, Columbus seemed the hub of dateable bachelors. The years of horrible and fun and boring dates commenced. None ever went past a handful, let alone into relationship territory.
Thirty arrived. The big 3–0. I didn’t do anything different. I met men in the wild outside the digital pre-screening mania. The same dating apps still applied. It was on one of those I met my boyfriend. We hit it off, texted endlessly, met in person for a whirlwind first date, met up again that same weekend because we were smitten, and haven’t stopped seeing each other since.
That was twelve months ago. I navigated my first exclusivity conversation, my first “I love you,” my first actual boyfriend, at thirty. He knew I’d never had a long-term partner before. We covered that on dates three and four. While confused by how someone can go that long without a significant other, he was entirely gracious and curious about my life experiences.
We’re celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend. Regardless of how our relationship goes, I am grateful to figure it all out with a patient and caring man.
Entering into my first long-term relationship at 30 has taught me a few things.
When another person believes in you, the world is not as intimidating. I know how to handle myself in tough situations. But hearing another person say that affirms my sense of self. He’s not making me who I am. He is letting me know that person I already am is powerful and loved. This does things to one’s confidence. It also helps keep me open to growing internally and relationally alongside him.
I realized how much I had been missing and how much stayed the same. I’m still the same woman working on her career, nourishing deep friendships, and supporting my family. Yet I’m softer, gentler, less angry about all the injustices in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still an enneagram eight with more than enough fire in my gut to fight for the underdog. These days it is tempered with a deeper understanding of people’s failings and the forgiveness needed to move us all forward. There’s more grace at work, both in me and in the world. It is marvelous.
Constant conflict resolution, compromise, and prioritizing another person alongside yourself is a recipe for growth—growth harder to access outside a committed relationship. Growing as a person at this point is like growing branches and blooming flowers after all the years of growing roots and a strong trunk to hold up the light-catching beauty.
I learned loyalty and conflict resolution from life-long friends. Lessons of compromise and selflessness came from family and work situations. This growth isn’t impossible without a significant other. I’d never deny for myself or others who choose singleness the ability to grow meaningfully in these areas. What I do know is I haven’t grown this much as a person in years. That’s saying a lot for someone who regularly pursues self-awareness, internal work, and healing.
Relationships, committed and meaningful, bring out the best and refine the worst in a person. Singleness, intentional or accidental, provides the space to become the person you wish to be. The purpose of becoming that person is not to find a life partner. Investing in yourself is a worthy pursuit in its own right. No one else can do it for you. Having a relationship as your solidified self makes it more enjoyable, and arguably raises the chance of success.
Be single. Be dating. Be committed or anywhere in between.
Do not mistake singleness as a curse or relationships as a cure. Do not mistake relationships as inevitable or singleness as martyrdom. Take the time to strengthen your sense of self and live all the life experiences you wish to have.
I’m enjoying the life experience of a loving boyfriend.