In our dating, everyone has different issues they have to work on, different baggage they carry around, and important relationship lessons they've learned along the way. Some people jump into relationships constantly, isolate themselves from the friends, and stop doing the things they love. That's never been me. I'm in the group that has problems forming real relationships in the first place, and then relaxing into them once I get there. And 28 may not be the age of a wise, old sage, but when I look at what I was like at 22— just having moved to London and completely all over the place — and I'm not ashamed to admit I'm proud of the strides I've made, romantically speaking.
I'm not claiming to be an expert, I'm really not. The last time I tried to cook a romantic dinner I ended up having a blender of boiling marinara sauce explode into my face (true story). I try to wear knee high wooly socks with skinny jeans on a romantic evening and my ankles look like Saturn. And when my girlfriend and I had a date last night I pulled out my wallet and it was covered in lettuce. (I haven't eaten a salad in weeks.) But I have learned some things through my twenties, big, big things. And a lot of it I wish I'd known at 22.
So if I could go back to when I first finished college, here's what I'd tell myself:
1. Holding Out For Good People Is Totally Worth It
We all know that being single is better than being in a bad relationship and I'm an advocate of friends with benefits if that's what works for you. But when I was younger and single I would hook up with people who were fun, but maybe not particularly good for me at the time. As I got older I realized that even for hookups, and especially for dating, holding out for decent people, people who you can respect and respect you, makes a huge difference. People who make you feel yourself, who you're not putting on a show for. It's a non-negotiable.
You may spend more time alone, but you should be proud of the people you've been with. And it means that even if doesn't work— either sexually or romantically— you can still be friends after. I'm good friends with pretty much everyone I've hooked up with in the past three or four years. That might be extreme— and it's so hard to do when you're feeling undesired and alone and you just want the instant fix of feeling wanted, but I'm glad that I did.
2. Kindness Is Key
I need to be with someone who is smart and someone who is funny, those are my non-negotiables. But even more important? Being a kind person. It sounds cheesy as hell. But it's true. When it comes to those fights or difficult conversations or hard life experiences, being with someone empathetic and considerate is so much more important than the person who's the center of attention at a party. Spend some time getting to know people and you'll realize the ones who catch your eye initially might not be the ones you should be focusing on.
3. Accept Good Things
We all have so much baggage that it can make us suspicious and angry and weird. And it's hard to accept good things at face value, for what they are. And if you haven't been treated well in previous relationships, it's even harder. But if you can't accept acts of kindness or even just support, then it's going to be impossible to be in a caring relationship. Explain to your partner that it might be the easiest for you, but you also have to do the work to open up to it.
4. If You Plan For It To Fail, It Will
If you've had a lot of bad relationships it makes sense that you start to expect the worst. And while it's important to be realistic and protect yourself— I'm not someone who lets emotions run away with me— but there's a line where cynicism becomes self-fulfilling. Whether you start to look for reasons why it's wrong or the person is wrong, or even subconsciously organizing scenarios where they're doomed to fail— if you want it to go wrong just to prove yourself right, it will. Be realistic, but also allow things to just be OK sometimes.
5. Love And Sex Can Be Different, But They're Effing Awesome Together
If you're like me and you've always been OK having sex outside of relationship (I've had great f*ck buddy experiences), the compartmentalization can get a little out of hand. And I have no regrets about the FWB experiences I've had. And I've been in relationships where I've really cared about the person but the sex has't been great. But when both of them line up it's so effing amazing that it's worth holding out for.
6. Say How You Feel...
Are you feeling massively in love? Really unhappy? Scared? Confusing things that have nothing to do with the relationship? Say it. Just talk. Communicate. Don't worry about looking crazy or emotional or being "that girl" or any of those terrible things that engrain self-correction in us. No matter what it is. If your partner cares about you, they'll be receptive and understanding. And if they're not, then you shouldn't be with them.
7. ...And Say It Soon
Don't let things build up. If something doesn't feel right, and it's constantly on your mind, it's not going to go away on its own— it's going to get worse and then turn into something bigger than it is. Problems and feelings don't need to turn into fights. If you have concerns about the relationship or if you're just struggling in life generally, talk about it in an honest, mature way. Don't get defensive or accusatory. And if you're compassionate in how you bring up and discuss issues, it should be received in the same way. Difficult, awkward, talks can't be avoided, but fights can.
8. It Has To Be Built On The Good Stuff
When I was younger, I f*cking loved a good angst. Relationships built on fights, struggles, one person's "you couldn't possibly understand" issues. It feels so big. But that's not real — don't confuse things being a constant struggle with them somehow being deeper or just more. That's all smoke and mirrors and self-indulgence. And you know what? Life is tough. Bad things happen. You try to get by. And there's no point in adding extra angst into it. Having a relationship that's built on support, kindness, laughing, and warmth gets you through those sh*tty things that, unfortunately, happen to everyone. So build it on the good stuff.
9. Don't Tell Your Girlfriend You Love Pizza More Than You Love Her
Sorry, babe. That one's on me.
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