The 3 Most Important Pieces Of Advice I’d Give My Younger Self About Love

When it comes to dating and relationships, I was a late bloomer. In fact, I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was 21 years old. Up to that point, my romantic life consisted primarily of fantasies of being swept off my feet. Unfortunately, the best I could do was watch my friends live out these fantasies — the ones I so desperately wanted to experience firsthand.

Then, one day, my fantasies became a reality: I finally met my first serious boyfriend and he swept me off my feet. Falling in love felt awesome ... until it didn’t. Slowly, I began to realize that my desperation for love and my boyfriend’s controlling behaviors were a toxic combination. Arguments turned into physical fights turned into death threats. Never in a million years would I predict that I’d have been in love with an abuser, and yet I was. It took me nearly four years for me to leave.

These days, I talk about healthy relationships a lot — folks actually pay me to do that. Sometimes, they hire me to speak to young women about my experience with abuse, usually at middle and high schools. Every time I do a new talk, I can’t help but think of all the late bloomers in the room. I think about the girls who feel too ugly, too inexperienced, and too hopeless to find love. I know these girls wish my advice was pertinent to their love lives right now. I know they don’t want to wait until they’re 21 to have their first kiss, like I did. So, I tell them all about my abusive ex and our relationship because that’s what I was hired to do — to instill a mix of fear and inspiration into them.

While I care about all the girls, I have a soft spot in my heart for the late bloomers. I can’t help but speak straight to them, sharing three lessons I'd tell myself at their age, if I could. Here they are.

1. You Don’t Have To Connect Your Self-Worth With Your Relationship Status

I mean, you can, and many of us do. But we don’t have to, and a lot of us don’t truly realize that. We don’t realize that we can choose to not base our worth on anything other than our own humanity, that we don't have to believe that without that one thing, relationship, or accomplishment that we don't already have, our lives are meaningless.

Life will be a helluva lot easier for you when you choose to disconnect your self-worth from whether or not you have a partner. Partners aren’t trophies, and finding a relationship isn’t a task to be checked off your to-do list. I know you might be a goal-oriented woman who just wants to feel special and loved. But if you don’t keep those desires in check, and realize that you're more than you relationship status, more than just your love life will suffer.

I often compare self-worth to a muscle. The more we remind ourselves that WE should be the ones defining our worth — not our relationship status, pants size, or accomplishments — the better we'll get at doing so. It's not easy to believe you're worthy when society is constantly trying to tell you otherwise. That's why surrounding yourself with awesome people and doing things that make you feel good inside are probably your two best defenses in this battle. Of course, it's not bad to want a relationship or to feel pretty and special. Wrapping your identity and well-being up in those things, however, is bad news bears.

You self-worth is only up for debate if you let it be. Try not to let it be. Then, try harder.

2. Love and Desperation Do Not Mix

They say love makes us do crazy things. I suppose that’s true, to a point. But really, I think desperation makes us do crazy things. It keeps us in bad relationships and causes us to believe lies about ourselves. Desperation clouds our judgment. That’s why it must be nipped in the bud.

Your desire for love and attention is normal. You could even say it's beautiful, because human beings are wired for connection with others. But when that desire morphs into desperation, you’re in trouble. No good comes from settling for a relationship that doesn't make you happy because you're scared of being alone. And it feels awful doing things you feel uncomfortable doing, simply because your partner asked you to. Trust me, I know from personal experience.

As I said, desperation clouds our judgment. And when you're doing things out of desperation, you'll feel frantic trying to make the relationship work out, instead of just allowing it to work out. The thing is, forcing someone to like you and treat you well just doesn't work. Desperation, on the other hand, tries to convince you that maybe it does work. So you end up settling or doing things that don't feel right, thinking, "Well, at least I'm not alone. But why do I feel so miserable?"

Simply put, love and desperation do not mix. Actually, scratch that. You and desperation do not mix. In those moments when you feel desperate for attention, seek help. Let your friends remind you of how awesome you are and how you truly deserve to be treated by someone else. Then, listen to them!

Desperation is rooted in fear — and fear and love cannot co-exist. Choose love.

3. Yes, He’s Probably Out There, But Other Things Matter Too

It sounds so cliché to tell you that your schoolwork, hobbies, and friends are more important than finding a partner right now.

So instead, I’ll just reassure you that you probably will meet a someone someday. In the meantime, you’ll probably meet all sorts of people. Some will be nice, others will be funny. A few of them will lose interest in you, and you’ll lose interest in a bunch yourself. Just because none of this has happened yet doesn’t mean it never will. Hang in there.

I know it’s hard to wait and it’s hard to feel lonely. Being single, especially when many of your friends are not, isn't always fun. But without appreciating what you already do have, waiting and loneliness will be even harder. Identifying what you really enjoy about being single can help too.

I know it's tempting to obsess about this one area of your life, mainly because you're dissatisfied with being single right now. Humans are great at focusing on what's going wrong in their lives because in a way, doing so helps us fix those things. But perhaps there's absolutely nothing wrong with your life that needs fixed. And perhaps every area of your life is deserving of your attention — not just your love life.

Certainly your love life matters — but so do your values. How you feel about your career matters. Loving your family and friends matters. Doing what you can to feel comfortable in your own skin matters. Learning how to be nice to yourself when you fail matters. Accomplishing goals you never thought you could accomplish matters.

You matter.

Here’s hoping that if any part of these three lessons sticks, it’s that.

Images: Akirah Robinson; Giphy