I was raised by one of the most badass women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting — my single mother. My mother wears all black, can quote Vygotsky, and wrote her PhD dissertation when I was in elementary school, while typing on our OG Mac computer and sucking on See's lollipops as I slept. She’s basically a real-life, feminist superhero who offered me a constant stream of comfort, love, and understanding while I was growing up, never belittling or disrespecting me — even when I spent hours complaining about petty issues (middle-school girl spats, which Limited Too shirt to wear to a school dance) that paled in comparison to the things she'd been through (divorce and single motherhood).
My mother didn't pay attention to the judgements our conservative town made about her. She was acutely aware of the effect her own romantic relationships might have on me, especially since it was just the two of us. She didn't parade dates through our living room, rarely let a man spend the night, and never passed up spending time with me in favor for spending time with a guy.
Instead of lamenting her lack of a man to take out the trash, help her discipline me, or split the early-morning school drop-offs, her mantra was "we are women, we are strong." This meant that, even though we may not always want to do it all, it's important that we remember we can.
My mother's strong example instilled countless important lessons in me about life as a single woman. They've guided my life as I've become a single woman myself and begun negotiating the world of dating — her words always float around in the back of my head, reminding me that I don’t need to be in a relationship to be whole, and reassuring me that I can wait to settle down with someone until I have found the right person and want to be with them for the right reasons.
I'd like to say that I've followed all of her lessons perfectly, but I haven't — but being kind to yourself when you fail to live up to your own ideals is one of the most powerful lessons that she taught me.
1. Respecting Yourself Is The Key To A Respectful Relationship
One of the most important (and ever-present) themes across my mom's life lessons was the necessity of self-respect. She not only reiterated to me the importance of self-respect in building healthy relationships, but served as an example to me of what a self-respecting woman looked like — she never belittled herself (or me), went after what she wanted unabashedly, and didn't apologize for things she wasn't truly sorry for.
I saw how this translated into her romantic relationships, too: she ended relationships when she was lied to, undermined, or either overtly or subconsciously made to feel "less than." Though you cannot make people respect you, she taught me that you can remove yourself from relationships when you don't feel you're getting the respect you deserve.
2. Love Comes In Many Forms
My parents are essentially model divorcees. They are best friends, and still consider each other family; my mother even kept my father's last name (mostly to have that connection with me), we all still travel together, and my parents have gone on double dates with their respective significant others. It's not a romantic love, but they still love each other.
Their relationship taught me that romantic relationships do not need to be considered the most significant mark of life's success — fostering loving relationships with family, friends, and yourself can bring you just as much (or more) joy and contentment than romantic relationships, and shouldn't be swept aside in favor of romantic pursuits.
3. Don't Settle For Second-Best
From a very early age, my mom taught me that we are all worth more than second-best — that we are wonderful and deserving, and should only be with people who see and celebrate these qualities. She taught me not to settle for being a side piece, a guilty pleasure, or a back-up.
4. Independence Is Attractive
When you are independent, strong, and mentally and emotionally healthy, people are attracted to you. This is why people always say that "the second you stop looking, you find someone." If you believe internally that you are not whole unless you are in a relationship, you are less likely to become a part of a healthy one — the best time to enter a relationship is when you decide you don't need to be in one.
My mom exudes independence. She goes out to dance with her friends, not to meet guys; she kicks ass at work; she wears all black because she likes it, not because it supposedly makes us look skinnier. But at the same time? Men love her, and I think it pretty much directly correlates to her ever-present air of independence.
5. Actions Always Speak Louder Than Words
Someone can tell you how beautiful or special or interesting or smart you are all they wants, but if they don't treat you like you are all of those things, then they don't really mean it. Growing up, my mom was a big fan of the "actions speak louder than words" mantra in our own relationship — and this translated directly into romantic relationships, too.
6. Being Single Is A Valid Choice
If all you want is a warm body at night, you can find one — especially in today's world, where dating apps have made hundreds of romantic options available at a swipe of the screen. Being single is a choice, and it is a respectable one. It is not pathetic, or sad, or unfortunate and should never be regarded as such.
7. Always Love Yourself First
My mom always taught me that the first person you should love in this world is yourself — that you should believe in the legitimacy of your own feelings, shouldn't let external doubt become self-doubt, and should dress for yourself instead of others.
8. Love Itself Isn't Always Enough
Just because you love someone, it doesn't mean that you should be with them. You will love a lot of people, in a lot of different ways, throughout your life, and that is okay. That doesn't mean that the first person you love should be the person you love forever, or that love is enough to make a relationship work.You can love someone who doesn't respect you, who doesn't understand you, or simply doesn't love you back.
9. Some Lessons You Just Have To Learn Yourself
My mom has wiped away my tears when I cried about boys hurting me in ways that I should have expected, and did not say "I told you so." She has been perfectly nice to guys that she knows have treated me with less respect than I deserve. She hasn't made me feel silly for wanting a big, romantic proposal and wedding, or for living my life in many ways according to my favorite romantic comedies.
By loving, respecting, encouraging and understanding me, she has taught me to love, respect, encourage and understand myself. By not being hard on me, she has taught me to not be hard on myself. Most of all, she has supported me through choosing paths different than her own — she understands that the life she has chosen is not necessarily the life I will, or should, choose for myself. But she has also made it clear that wherever my relationships do take me, these ideals should be there too.
Images: WB; Giphy (11)