7 Dating Lessons I’m Still Working On Learning
1. Getting your heart broken won’t kill you.
I think everyone I know has this problem (of being a post-breakup drama queen), and if you haven’t had your heart broken by somebody and are some shining breakup unicorn, you will. Mark my words, celestial fantasy horse. It sucks, but it’s also an important part of getting older, realizing that life has the ability to break you. You need to get your heart broken by somebody to realize how important love is and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted, so that when the right person comes along, you’ll be the right person for them. You won’t be that person who doesn’t realize how lucky they are to find the kind of relationship some people wait their whole lives for. You’ll come into the relationship with your heart and eyes open.
I know this rationally, but I put so much of myself into relationships that it’s difficult not to be completely devastated when it ends. I’m a naturally emotional and empathetic person (it took intense concentration not to cry during Silver Linings Playbook), which is one of my favorite things about me. I love my big heart and its infinite ability to get bruised, but being “the person who feels” sucks when you are eating ice cream straight out of a giant bucket at three in morning while watching the fifth episode of Grey’s Anatomy in a row, a show YOU DON’T EVEN LIKE. But eventually you run out of episodes and move on. You can only stay on that couch for so long before you become the mother from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
2. You can trust people.
I think that the hardest part in any relationship is that sinking feeling that you’re in the movie Groundhog Day and you just don’t realize it yet. We feel like because we’ve been hurt before that we’re going to be hurt again, and we want to protect ourselves from that pain. It’s part of our natural desire to avoid harm, and Veronica Mars even went so far as to background check her boyfriends and put tracking devices in their cars. Do not do this.
Letting people in and trusting them to be different is a challenge for that type-AAA part of yourself that likes certainty, but there are no certainties in a relationship. The person you’re seeing could be a secret member of the Skull and Bones Society, Bloodyface or the Prince of Freedonia, and you’re going to have to deal with that. All you can do is push yourself to be as trusting and loving as you can be, even if that means you get hurt. It’s better to know that you gave everything you could and be proud of your infinite ability to put yourself out there than be the one who holds back and can’t be there emotionally. Stop being afraid, or you might miss out on the Prince of Freedonia. Also, I’m sure those Skull and Bones kids have great parties, corpse masturbation notwithstanding.
3. Don’t take everything so seriously.
As a recovering serial monogamist, it’s hard not to look at every single relationship, hook up or romantic dalliance as the MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED and to obsess about it to the point where your brain starts to boil over like in a Roger Corman movie. We’re so trained to find love in our society — to always be looking for the carrier of our future children and the person we want to grow old with — that we forget to relax and enjoy the uncertainty of it. Who knows if the person you’re seeing is your Astronaut Mike Dexter or Mike Dexter, the ever-inebriated high school boyfriend you’ll barely remember in ten years. They could be the one, the one who’s great right now or the one who gets hit by a bus tomorrow. You can’t plan these things, so don’t try.
Also, I happen to think that your dating mistakes can be kind of fun. We all need to kiss some losers to get to the one who makes you forget them. I once dated a guy who spent most of our relationship avoiding his drug dealer (who unironically wore grills), and another guy who enrolled in “Clairvoyance School” after we broke up. Not only did it make me feel so much better about that one not working out (bullet = dodged), but it also made for a great story afterward. If you’re going to date some losers, it’s best if you at least leave with a tale to tell.
4. Not everything is your fault.
When yet another relationship doesn’t work out (as your friends and family love to remind you), it’s hard not to blame ourselves, and you will find yourself asking many of the following questions.
1. “What’s wrong with me?”
2. “Why can’t anyone love me?”
3. “Was it the size of my breasts?”
4. “Am I too intimidating?”
5. “Am I not smart enough?”
6. “Did her friends not like me?”
7. “What could I have done?”
8. “Why am I always the one who gets left?”
9. “Who is Keyzer Soze?”
10. “Am I doomed to be single forever?”
I’m not going to lie to you: A lot of things are your fault. It was your fault that you didn’t listen enough, that you didn’t pay attention to the signs telling you she was unhappy, that you tried to make him be someone he wasn’t and that you just weren’t there as much as you could have been. However, relationships and break-ups are a two-way street, and in most cases, both parties are equally at fault. (Except cheating or abuse, which are ALWAYS their fault. Unless you are holding your significant other at gunpoint or have locked them in a room with Angelina Jolie, it’s impossible to force someone to cheat.)
As Boy Meets World and The Wonder Years prove, maturity is difficult and not all of us are perfect at it, so you can blame yourself for everything and make yourself feel like crap for not being perfect or accept that you have growing to do and work on it. If you can’t learn to come to terms with faults as part of what makes you the crazy, beautiful person you are, you’ll never take the time to examine them introspectively.
5. Shaming you about your body appearance is not okay.
Do they constantly tell you that you need to lose weight, grow your hair out again or engage in A-B-C-D behaviors in order to be sexy? FUCK THEM. I slept with a guy over the summer who told me — right after the first time we had sex — that I was hot, but I’d be even hotter if I just started going to the gym more. He didn’t talk about how amazing it was or channel his post-erotic release into a cigarette. No, he took time out of our regularly scheduled programming to offer me some helpful body negativity. I’ve never wanted to accidentally kick someone in the face so much. Sorry! Reflex!
And rather than kicking him out of bed for being a total asshole, I continued to see him every week, letting him make comments about my hair, body hair, facial hair, clothing and eating habits. (I eat like a Gilmore Girl. Deal with it.) I want to believe that I’d be the type of person to storm out and NOT TAKE IT ANYMORE, but I was weak because I secretly believed what he was saying was true. He was my rebound from a rough breakup, and I needed him to validate my insecurity and brokenness. He was my depression enabler.
I learned a lot from letting myself be walked all over in a way I told myself I never would be. I learned that words matter, and no one has the right to dictate your appearance. You’ve chosen to look a certain way for a reason, and they can accept that or get out. We all want to be fitter, smarter or look like Ryan Gosling, but being shamed for that natural desire to improve ourselves won’t help. It will just make you feel like there’s something wrong with you. And there’s nothing wrong with you. If they can’t deal with that, that’s their problem.
6. You can be honest about your feelings without scaring the crap out of them.
We all have this tendency when we start feeling someone to put all of our feels in a box and not talk about them, lest we end in a Taylor Swift song. We think that if start telling them what we’re thinking that they might not reciprocate our feelings and Usain Bolt it out of there. But there’s a difference between saying “I love you” on the first date (which may make them file a restraining order against you) and telling them that they are beautiful and you enjoy spending time with them. We like someone who keeps us guessing and that inscrutable silent type, but it’s just as sexy to know how someone feels about you. Don’t say everything that’s on your mind, but never feel the need to hide.
7. Take it slow.
When we find someone we actually like, it’s hard not to go all in right away. My best friend started seeing someone I actually approve of — which is a fucking Festivus miracle — and took this as license to start seeing him all the time. He spent four consecutive nights at this person’s house and started texting them all the time. Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but when he asked if they should spend a fifth night together, I said, “Oh, hell no.” He looked shocked, like I told him Meryl Streep was the new lead in Transformers. I explained that he shouldn’t do that, because it’s something I would do. We all do it. And we shouldn’t.
There’s this great honeymoon period in every relationship where you spend all your time together, and you develop mentionitis when you aren’t with them. “Dr. Steve said the funniest thing the other day. Did you know he’s a doctor? He saw Holy Motors and actually understood it. He’s so smart!” However, just because you start dating someone doesn’t mean you don’t have other things in your life, like friends and family members who existed far before the five-week span in which you’ve known this other person. Just because you’re dating someone doesn’t give you license to forget about everyone else in the world.
Besides, the person you are seeing is going to respect you a whole lot more as a human being with their own things happening if you establish your independence early on. Instead of throwing everything in the relationship bag, setting it on fire like dog poo and letting it burn out, let your relationship be a slow burn. Agency is so much sexier.
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