Why Your 20s Are Lonelier Than Anyone Told You

Your 20s kind of suck.

Culture loves to dictate that your 20s are the best years of your life. You’re in your prime! Your entire life is spread out before you! The opportunities are endless! That means you’re having so much fun all the time…right?

Not necessarily. Actually, not even close.

Something no one really talks about is how lonely your 20s are. That you’re going to be spending a lot more time alone than you ever anticipated—and that’s okay. Take it from someone who recently left her 20s behind her and is glad they’re gone for good.

Early 20s: College Life & Degrees

I’ll start by saying this: I loved college, but not for the typical reasons. Being a lifelong academic, I honestly just loved being in school. If someone would foot the bill for me to go to grad school and get my master’s or even a PhD, I would sign up for classes tomorrow.

But I really didn’t make that many friends in college. I went to a mid-size state school moments away from downtown Kansas City. My main goal was to get a degree, so I focused on my schoolwork. I also wasn’t a party kid in high school, and our sleepy college didn’t have a vibrant social scene.

And being the somewhat introverted person that I am, I certainly wasn’t going to just go out on my own and hope to suddenly find a group of friends to glom onto. I’ve watched enough Law & Order to know how that ends. Most of my nights consisted of video games and reading.

The worst part was that I knew there were things going on outside the walls of my apartment, I just wasn’t able to access it yet. I hadn’t found my group yet. I kept telling myself they were out there, and if I looked hard enough, I would find them. And then suddenly, college was over and I was heading back to my hometown of St. Louis, still feeling completely detached and I like I was missing something. My early 20s were over.

Mid-20s: Entering “The Real World”

With a bit of a false start for years 21-23, I was feeling more optimistic. After an exhausting job search (and working in retail for a year despite having my bachelor’s), I finally had my first “adult job.” I was working as an entry-level copywriter making barely more than minimum wage. But hey, I had a stable job! I mentally checked that box on my list of “Things You’re Supposed To Do In Life.”

Except then my life got upended by moving away from my hometown at age 24. Because I made $11 an hour at my job back in 2017, I couldn’t afford to live on my own. God bless my parents for letting me move back home, but that also meant that when they decided to move, I was along for the ride.

I was homesick. And miserable. And lonelier than ever. My mental health was quickly deteriorating.

Being back in St. Louis, my friends from high school would swoop in to visit every now and then. I could see them over holidays. But now I was even more isolated. I was working remote and knew zero people in my new home of Indianapolis.

This is also the point in my life I started going to therapy and was diagnosed with ADHD, OCD, GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), and high-functioning depression. Despite having reasons for why I was feeling the way I was (and an entire alphabet of letters explaining why my brain liked to throw a mutiny every so often), I was still feeling disconnected.

And then COVID happened, and we know how that went down. Let’s just keep piling on the isolation, right?

Late 20s: Running The Race & Grieving

Age 27-29 can only be described as me flailing around trying to grasp onto something as I fall from a building like Hans Gruber at the end of Die Hard.

I moved back to St. Louis in 2021 and (spoiler) felt equally alone, despite being back in my hometown. Everyone’s lives had moved on. Things weren’t the same, and they never would be. It was one of the worst, but most important lessons I ever learned.

When my mental health was at its worst, I decided to move back to Indianapolis in 2022 since that’s where my family was. I was jumping from place to place in an attempt to find solid ground. Some form of connection. Anything.

I began to question my decisions. Was I even doing this right? Shouldn’t I have this figured out by now, considering everyone else does? Where is my core group of people? My ride or die? Were they ever going to show up?

This is such a weird part of your life. Your late 20s can have everything from people married with 2+ children, a house, and a dog to people like me: unmarried, attempting to find a spouse in the toxic waste dump that is modern dating culture, no children, renting an apartment. You’re running a race where everyone is in a wildly different spot. And you start to feel like you’re falling behind with every passing day.

This is also the time in my life I grieved the loss of dreams and expectations. I was sure I would be married by 30. I was confident I would have my life together and feel like an “adult” going into a new decade. But as 29 grew to a close, I had to face the harsh reality that my life was not turning out how I imagined it would.

What’s worse, most of this is out of my control. I can’t manifest a partner into my life. I can’t change cost of living, inflation, or the housing market. It’s a constant feeling of circling the drain hoping something pulls you out of the cyclone.

30: Looking Ahead

I just turned 30 in April of 2024. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay if your 20s suck. Overall, I hated my 20s, and I don’t feel back about saying that now. I experienced some of the worst loneliness, isolation, and heartbreak during my 20s.

But they did bring some good things. At the age of 28 (almost 29), I finally found my core group of people. And guess what? Their ages are all over the place. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are my ride or die I’ve been searching for.

And while I’m thankful for the positives my 20s gave me, I’m glad they’re done. And if you’re feeling that same way, just know that it’s normal. Because being 30 has been better, even in the this short time. I don’t want to leave you with an empty platitude, because I know how patronizing that is. Instead, I’ll leave you with this quote.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

Your 20s are painful. But you don’t have to suffer through them.