Sharing your life with someone is a beautiful thing, but it’s important to have a life to share first. Being your own person first allows you the freedom to settle down knowing that you’ve left nothing undone.
1. Live alone.
Remember when you were a kid and couldn’t wait to make your own decisions as a grown-up? Well, now’s your chance. Stay up all night and eat ice cream for breakfast if it makes you happy. Living alone also has its down side; experiencing it will give you a greater appreciation of sharing a household someday. You won’t know how good it is to have someone care for you when you’re ill or do the dishes when you’ve had a long day until you’ve had to do these things for yourself no matter how tired or sick you felt.
2. Finish school.
There may not be time or money enough to finish your education once you’re settled down, especially if there are kids in the picture. Few people have regretted getting too much education, but there are legions who wished they’d stayed in school when they had the time, energy, and focus to study.
3. Enjoy your friends.
As with your education, time constraints may one day keep you from devoting as much time to your friends. Friendships can and do last a lifetime, but they change as friends marry and have families of their own. Now is the time to build the foundations of those long-lasting friendships.
4. Date others.
While there are cases of high school sweethearts who wind up marrying, most people aren’t lucky enough to find The One until a bit later in life. Get to know actual men, not just the Cosmopolitan version. Real men are not the delicate, difficult man-children that women’s magazines too frequently presume they are. Take a broader and more realistic view of men by meeting more of them; you’ll gain a deeper appreciation of The One whenever you do find him.
5. Manage your own money.
Knowing that you have the wherewithal to handle your own finances insulates you from the worst effects of unforeseen circumstances. It’s also possible that your future Mr. Right has no head for figures and will be all too happy to let you take the reins with the household finances; if you manage your own money, you’ll be able to do it with confidence.
6. Do something that scares you a little bit.
Want to go sky-diving, but haven’t plucked up the nerve? Afraid of asking for that promotion? Love being on stage, but fear auditions? Whatever you’re afraid of, do it; knowing that you can overcome your fears now could be important later on when you’re facing down some of the frightening things that any long-term relationship can bring. Remembering how you had the guts to make that leap (figuratively or literally) now will fortify you for the future.
7. Travel freely.
“Unattached” isn’t a negative word. Without attachments, you’re free to move as you please. Take advantage of it and see places you’ve been wanting to see, either by yourself or with friends. Who knows, you might just find the place you want to go on your honeymoon; you’ll already know the best sights to see if you’ve seen them for yourself.
8. Be a bridesmaid.
If you’re lucky enough to have a friend who invites you to be a bridesmaid or maid of honor, take her up on it. If she’s laid-back and considerate, you’ll learn from her example. If she’s a fearsome “Bridezilla,” you’ll learn what you don’t want to put your own wedding party through when it’s your turn. Either way, you’ll be better prepared for your own wedding day.
9. Write out every detail of your perfect wedding.
Once you’ve described “your day” down to the last lily in your bouquet, wad those papers up and toss them. Weddings last one day; marriages (ideally) last a lifetime. Dispose of your notions of perfection, both literally and figuratively. Even if everything else isn’t how you planned it, you’ll still look back on your wedding day with joy if you make the right call on the only true necessity for a perfect wedding–the right spouse.
10. Be comfortable in your own skin.
Embrace who you are before anyone else embraces you. Living with another person means a great deal of intimacy, and not just in the bedroom. He sees you at your best on dates, but when you share a household, he’ll also see you without makeup, with your hair mussed up first thing in the morning, when you’re sick, when you’ve aged. Have the confidence to know you’re beautiful without making special effort to get that way.
11. Pursue your own interests.
A woman with her own interests is a more interesting woman. While it’s easy to imagine living on love, the reality of long-term relationships is that both partners need their own interests beyond each other. If your only answer to the question, “What’d you do today?” is “Sat around and thought of you,” your partner will grow a little bored.
12. Get involved.
Money and time can often be tight for people starting a life together. Devote some of each to something you find meaningful while you have a surplus. If there’s a political cause, religious organization, or charity you’re passionate about, now is the time to act on it. Caring about things bigger than yourself is the sign of someone who is truly an adult.
13. Know the basics.
Everyone–male or female–should know how to do at least a few things in life. If you don’t already know how to change a tire, sew on a button, cook a few edible meals, or check the oil in your car, there’s no time like the present to learn. Having a husband doesn’t mean having a caretaker; being a little self-reliant makes you an equal partner, not a dependent.
14. Buy something extravagant, but of lasting quality.
It’s an old wives’ tale that two can live as cheaply as one. There will be times that money is scarce. You may be eating cheap boxed meals, but eat them off good china. A few prized possessions can ease the pinch of a tight financial bind and serve as a tangible reminder that better times are ahead.
15. Talk to your parents.
Whether your parents are still together, divorced, or remarried to new spouses, talk with them; they have a lot of valuable things to say about long-term relationships, even if it’s knowing what went wrong. Ask them what they wish they’d done before settling down. Another bonus: you’ll discover more about them as people and not just parents.